In its recent annual report, ISKCON South Africa – which has fifteen centers and five Govinda’s restaurants – let readers know about a string of inspiring achievements throughout the nation.
Many of these came from new centers. In Stellenbosch, a town in the Western Cape, devotees acquired a three-bedroom house in the suburbs to serve as an ashram for three brahmacharis and three students. From there, they’re holding several programs at Stellenbosch University.
There’s a Monday Meditation Circle, which features a kirtan on the campus lawn and a free meal for students; Food for Thought, an evening program with kirtan, a Bhagavad-gita class and a feast; local nature hikes with picnics and kirtans; and The Good Life, a student wellness seminar that highlights the importance of time management, healthy living, meditation, and cultivating the mode of goodness. Each program is attended weekly by 20 to 30 students.
Students with devotees at ISKCON Stellenbach
Devotees also take groups of students on annual retreats to India’s holy places and hold weekend meditation retreats. As a result of these programs, 14 new devotees have joined in the last seven years. In the future, devotees want to establish a restaurant and temple in Stellenbosch, as well as a farm community in the beautiful surrounding countryside.
Meanwhile a new preaching center dubbed New Navadvipa was acquired in a busy suburb of Midrand, Gauteng Province in 2014. It ranked in the top ten South African temples for book distribution last year; holds daily Harinama Sankirtans in the city centre; and its Bhaktivedanta College of Education and Culture provides regular classes on Prabhupada’s books.
The center, a peaceful oasis in Midrand, also has a simple living aspect. Cow Laxmi Priya and her beautiful new calf Nitai Priya attract many visitors, while a team of enthusiastic gardeners plant organic flowers, fruits and vegetables.
The picturesque ISKCON Midrand
ISKCON Sandton, launched in 2013, creates a holistic environment with its beautiful over-arching trees and thatched roofs. It did a huge amount of outreach in 2014, distributing 150,000 plates of prasadam to schools, orphanages and old-age homes; and over 5,000 of Prabhupada’s books.
Its Bhakti Yoga Society (BYS) at the University of Witwatersrand has increased tremendously in the past year, with over 650 members and daily programs on hatha-yoga, mantra meditation, Krishna conscious philosophy and kirtan yoga. In 2014, BYS received the Dean’s Award for Best Society.
In November, ISKCON Sandton launched a ‘Township Preaching Program’ which reaches out to local Africans twice a week with prasadam, kirtan and Krishna conscious discourses. The center also caters to devotees with regular seminars on communications, devotee care, and Bhakti Sastri.
Distributing books in Midrand
In January 2015 ISKCON Sandton purchased an adjacent property that will be converted into a fully-fledged temple which will allow for more living space for resident devotees; a larger Govinda’s restaurant, a gift-shop and a conference center.
More established centers are also achieving big things. ISKCON Cape Town, which celebrated 25 years in 2013, is attracting many new people with its weekly vegetarian cooking and Bhagavad-gita classes. And its “Spirit Matters” program for newcomers provides a space for spiritually inclined people to meet and share.
Its popular Govinda’s Natural Food Café is not only catering to Cape Town’s growing vegetarian and vegan population, but also supplying prasadam to wellness warehouses and a franchised health store with more than ten stores in the city.
Several new African devotees are planning outreach programs in local African communities, while a group of children in a nearby township who learned the Hare Krishna mantra from devotees are holding kirtans on their own.
Happy children receive Food For Life
This year, ISKCON Durban is celebrating both the 40th anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s visit to South Africa, and the 30th anniversary of their Sri Sri Radha Radhanath temple.
“To commemorate Prabhupada’s visit, we’ll be hosting programs at the same venues he visited,” says co-president Vibhu Chaitanya Das. “And our guest speakers will share their personal interactions with him. For the 30th anniversary of the temple – which many devotees poured their hearts into building – we have started to restore it to its original glory. It’s a colossal task.”
Other goals for 2015 include using organic products and ahimsa milk for the Deities; increasing book distribution through placing Bhagavad-gitas in hospitals; and reaching out to students by holding university campus programs and establishing a training facility for students serious about spiritual life.
Last year, ISKCON Durban won the Tourism Landmark award at the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It also aims to become the first “green” temple in Africa. Recently the temple replaced all its light bulbs with energy saver or LED bulbs, and began composting all the waste from its devotee, Deity, restaurant and Food For Life kitchens, which it is using on its gardens and lawns.
By the temple’s 30th anniversary, its restaurant and Deity departments will be using only biodegradable packaging. It also plans to use geyser heat pumps to save energy.
“These are small steps, but we have big plans,” says Vibhu Chaitanya. “Eventually we want to have our own solar farm on the property so that we can generate our own electricity. Srila Prabhupada built temples to attract people to Krishna consciousness, and with our Go Green campaign we will attract people who are warriors of sustainable living.”
Many of ISKCON South Africa’s other successes are shared by all its centers.
Vaishnava Youth on their winter retreat
Food for Life, for instance, currently has 20 branches throughout the country, collectively distributing an average of up to 10,000 prasadam meals per day.
The program is very welcome. Almost 20% of South Africans have insufficient food access and 2.4 million children go to bed hungry every night. And devotees are feeding the most needy, with regular distribution takeing place at community clinics, schools, hospices, nurseries, shelters for the homeless, and orphanages. Distribution also goes on at all higher education institutions in KwaZulu Natal.
The program is supported by several corporate entities including Afrisun Trust, Nedbank Limited, and the Metro Bus Group.
Five new kitchens are expected to be serving meals by the end of 2015, and in the future plans are underway for an administrative headquarters in Umgeni and a Central Site in Durban with a fully-fitted industrial kitchen, storage facility and community hall.
The ISKCON Cape Town temple room
In book distribution, self service stations called Smart Boxes are increasing the amount of books that go out, with fifty-three throughout the country and another thirty on the way. Meanwhile the December 2014 Srila Prabhupada Marathon saw 37,465 books distributed, with 330 devotees participating.
In student outreach, the Bhakti Yoga Society is running programs on campuses at eleven different universities, including the University of Pretoria, the University of Johannesburg, Cape Town University and the Durban University of Technology. The BYS also hosts regular retreats and monthly kirtan programs. In 2014 it was named “Most Outstanding Student Society” by Wits University.
There are also programs designed to care for devotees. For example, ISKCON Resolve provides neutral, confidential and informal conflict resolution services for members of ISKCON. There are also ombudsmen and women throughout the country who work with individuals and groups in resolving conflicts.
The International ISKCON Child Protection Office is based in South Africa, with director Champakalata Dasi focused on protecting the children of Srila Prabhupada’s movement from abuse and neglect.
ISKCON youth in South Africa are also active. The Krishna Balarama Youth Group organized a winter retreat last year in the Drakensburg Mountains with japa hikes, interactive workshops, kirtans, sports matches, and prasadam. And they set up a “Chill Zone” at Johannesburg’s Earthdance event, with six hours of kirtan, a book table, face painting and henna.
Youth throughout South Africa also hold weekly Wednesday or Friday night bhajans, and organize six hour kirtan festivals in Durban, Phoenix, Sandton and Pretoria.
“2014 has been a very good year for Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON in South Africa,” says South African GBC Bhakti Chaitanya Swami. “On the whole, ISKCON is developing steadily but strongly, and I feel Srila Prabhupada is happy with how things are going.”[ south-africa ]