In 1985 the South African writers of the Kairos Document declared the Dutch Reformed Church’s “state church” theology to be heretical because of its justification of apartheid. In the months following, Desmond Tutu and many other anti-apartheid leaders risked their lives for change.
On the 2012 Centenary Celebrations of the African National Congress, 21 years after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, the Kairos Southern Africa theologians have released, “A Word to the ANC in These Times.” The document boldly calls attention to the “certain contradictions [that] continue to militate against … fully achieving the dream that the injustice … meted out to black South Africans by the colonizers would come to an end.”
The document raised other critical issues, such as diminishing diversity, party factionalism and inappropriate security measures. The authors clearly declared, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Matthew12:25)
The Kairos steering committee met with the ANC executive in a closed meeting February 8. The discussion focused on poor standards of education, unsustainability of an “opulent ‘American dream’ lifestyle, respecting the Constitution of the Republic, and closing the gap between the richest and poorest.
For those who continue to look to South Africa and its courageous people as beacons of hope in the war-filled and economically imbalanced global system, the mood in the post-meeting news conference was electric. Many embrace St. George’s Cathedral as a “holy site” as it is filled with memories of declarations from the likes of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, who urged the Afrikaans regime in the 1980s to “come over to the winning side!”
To now have some of the veterans standing alongside younger leaders in the “struggle” reminding the “ANC liberation party” government of their responsibility for moral leadership was deja vu in the deepest sense.
Well-known theologian and author Dr. Denise Ackermann declared, “we [the faith community] desire to be engaged with you [the ANC] but not embedded.”
ANC General Secretary Gwede Mantashe told the delegation “keep kicking us in the back side to make us do what we must!”
Kairos Southern Africa General Secretary Edwin Arrison observed the necessity for Christians to keep distance from the ANC in order to be effective, “just as light has to be distant from its object to shine most effectively.”
Colleagues around the world committed to justice can be encouraged as well by the "off camera" civil society mobilizing work that continues here in still young and struggling democratic South Africa. There are ongoing efforts by Kairos SA and related agencies, church leaders and NGOs purposefully educating influential people to the similar realities in the Middle East. Hearts are warmed and minds are being challenged by the careful way so many former anti-apartheid activists are not only sharing and applying the post-apartheid lessons in true "constructive engagement" with the ANC, but also with many progressive visitors from Israel and Palestine. These welcome visitors are sharing the journey of transformation and liberation for the oppressed, the dispossessed and poor, including many refugees, in both contexts.
Kairos SA recently hosted 17 "Holy Land" Muslims, Christians and Jews in Cape Town for a 10-day workshop, where they met with Archbishop Tutu and members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Since challenges and lessons from each region are universal, long-term partnerships are being planned.
Thousands of little-known people are building the framework and the spiritual force for change. They continue to bear witness for the sake of those in countless others countries today.
This place continues to be soul food for us – and interestingly often during the Lenten season. As I write, the Lectionary Gospel is the rendition of the parable of sowing of the seed from the Gospel of Mark. It sometimes takes a long time for the harvest to appear –but it always does. The Word of God does break forth in hearts and nations; and sowing leads to reaping of a justice harvest, but often not until somewhere down the line, and in some of the fields least anticipated. There is an unseen partnership between Creator in apparently “lesser” sowers when the conditions are right and opportunities timely.
I asked Archbishop Tutu on a recent trip, “Where would apartheid be without Tutu?”
His typical self-effacing response was: “To the contrary where would Tutu be without apartheid?”
More recently when we were with the team from the Holy Land, he remarked, “How different things would have been if we hadn’t met that day in Senator Hatfield’s office!”
Reflecting on those times, I acknowledged things certainly would have turned out different for my family and me had I foolishly been too busy and turned the emerging young liberation upstart away in 1977. But I am also sure that the “Arch” would have found other ways to “sow the seed” he had come to plant. What a bountiful and rich harvest has been produced because of his faithfulness to sow on very rocky ground.
In like manner and vitality we must share the declaration of the Psalmist (72): “He will be like rain on a mown field, like showers watering the earth…for he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help… he will rescue them from oppression and violence for gracious is their blood in his sight.”
Once again I can testify to the certainty of this transcendent Kairos reality. May we be faithful to do our small part.
Please be encouraged and filled with joy during this holy Lent that your unseen labors are part of the continuing transformation in South Africa, Israel/Palestine, and many other places we care about –maybe and especially, in fractured society of our own USA.
Tom Getman was Senator Mark Hatfield’s Legislative Director from 1977-85. He was on the drafting team for the Anti-Apartheid Act, and served as World Vision director in Palestine from 1997-2001.