1987-93: The Great ‘Famine’ Project

1987-93: The Great ‘Famine’ Project

“I went once to a so-called ‘Homeland’ – which are dumping grounds for the displaced people. I met there a little girl coming out of a hut where she lived with her widowed mother and sister. I asked her, “What do you do for food?” She answered, “We borrow food.” I looked around and wondered who even would have enough food to loan. I then asked her, “What do you do when you cannot borrow food?” She replied, “We drink water to fill our stomachs.”

“We drink water to fill our stomachs in a country that is a net-exporter of food to the world. People die of starvation in South Africa, not because there is no food, but because of deliberate Government policy.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu, Secretary-General, South African Council of Churches, Dublin, Ireland, 1984

Don Mullan was inspired to conceive and launch AFrI’s Great ‘Famine’ Project, based on the quotation above. It was delivered in Sean MacDermott Street Church during Bishop Desmond Tutu’s AFrI visit. Within it Mullan heard echoes of Ireland’s Great ‘Famine’ (1845-1852) during which a million people perished and another million fled Ireland as immigrants and refugees.

The Great ‘Famine’ Project was a multi-disciplined project that involved campaigning, lecture tours, theatre, publications and extensive news items, including three consecutive years of coast-to-coast coverage by the US networks ABC, NBC and CBS. Mullan was one of the first in the Irish world to recognise the approaching 150th anniversary as a ‘unique historical moment’.


Mullan consistently described its purpose as focusing on the moral imperative of harnessing the memory of a major injustice, not for bitterness or hatred, but as a catalyst to show solidarity with today’s marginalised and, inspired by Michael Davitt’s 1879 Land League, to work for systemic change.

The several initiatives and legacy ideas Mullan inspired are recorded in the following pages.


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