It occurred to me: South Africa is no longer under legal apartheid, but apartheid still thrives here — through de facto economic segregation. There are no signs that say “whites only” as they did under apartheid, but there has also been no move by the black government to restore the people to the land that was taken from them.
One question haunted me: How does a white Christian South African live in this apartheid from day to day? 1) One must actively fight injustice, or 2) she must embrace a theology that has nothing to do with it.
When I was eighteen years old I knew that I knew everything there was to know, especially in regards to the “us” and the “them” of the world. Eighteen-year-old me knew that being gay was a sin and that LGBTQ people were not called to leadership in the church (and my conservative Christian college did nothing but reinforce these beliefs). But four short years later I found myself on a hill across from my alma mater, standing in solidarity with dozens of LGBTQ young adults and allies, advocating for change in Christian universities with policies that discriminated against LGBTQ people.
How did I get from “there” to “here”? How did my view of “us” and “them” shift so radically?
IT SEEMS AS though after liberation, the voice of conscience left the South African public sphere and retired to a quiet church life, so that the current generation barely knows that the church ever influenced South African political and public affairs.
On the day of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration, Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously announced that he was returning to do the “real” business of the church by leaving politics to qualified politicians. Years later, during the era of President Jacob Zuma, Tutu often lamented about the undesirable state of the country under the current leaders. He must have forgotten that by leaving politics to politicians in 1994, he too played a role in leading the nation to this position he now regrets.
Kairos South Africa recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Church leaders from as far as Norway, the U.S., and Palestine all remembered how the 1985 Kairos document taught the worldwide church a hopeful language to address injustice. Yet now the majority of young people in South Africa do not know anything about this heroic church history.
South African anti-apartheid leader Allan Boesak referred to the Kairos movement as a “dangerous memory.” It does indeed have the potential to be a dangerous memory—one that should be remembered by every one of the Christians who make up 81 percent of the South African population. Unfortunately, it is a memory held by only a select older minority.
How can this change? This summer several members of the new generation of South African Christian leaders traveled to the U.S. to study how to be effective Christian agents of social justice. At the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina, I listened to Bree Newsome explain that it was her faith in God that gave her the courage to pull down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina capitol after the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!” she said.
Flags are only symbols, of course. Chucking one for another does not automatically overhaul a society’s deeply entrenched structural oppression. Lowering a flag and relegating it, belatedly, to a museum does not change people’s hearts and minds. Under South Africa’s new flag, the Born Frees are inheriting a country awash in contradiction. How free can this generation be with one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world? With the rampant violence that especially plagues black townships and is frequently directed against women and girls? With the remnants of a broken school system that was not designed to educate all its citizens equally?
Week after week, we can take on the biggest issues we face as a society — from continuing racism, mass incarceration, inequality, and poverty to gender violence and human trafficking, climate change, ISIS — and just try to be hopeful.
Or we can start by going deeper, to a more foundational and spiritual understanding of hope — rooted in our identity as the children of God, made in the image of God, as the only thing that will see us through times like this.
I believe we should start there. Because the biggest problem we face — the biggest enemy at the heart of many of the issues we must address — is hopelessness.
And perhaps the most important thing the world needs from the faith community is today is hope.
I was privileged to co-host with former colleagues the visit of former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, an ex-convict from the apartheid era. He served 10 years in prison for the “treasonous” act of standing against the Afrikaans Nationalist regime, along with Nelson Mandela and 1000s of others who spent many years on Robben Island or in Pretoria Central Prison. Many died in the process. President Motlanthe was accompanied by Denis Goldberg, who was convicted along with Mandela and served 22 years. Nicholas Wolpe, the facilitator of the trip, is a cousin of the late Congressman Howard Wolpe. Nic’s father would have been one of the Rivonia accused at the trial in 1963-4 but for having made a daring famous escape with several other comrades.
JERUSALEM — One out of four Christians today is Pentecostal or charismatic, which means one of every 12 persons living today practices a Pentecostal form of Christian faith. This, along with the astonishing growth of Christianity in Africa, are the two dominant narratives shaping world Christianity today. Further, the gulf between the older, historic churches, located largely in the global North, and the younger, emerging churches in the global South, often fueled by Pentecostal fire, constitutes the most serious division in the worldwide Body of Christ today.
One can also frame this as the divide between the global Pentecostal community, and the worldwide ecumenical movement. Each lives in virtual isolation from the other, and both suffer as a result. I call it ecclesiological apartheid, with its own endless, winding walls of separation. And these walls need to come down, for the sake of God’s love for the world.
It’s become my passion, in whatever small ways, to make some cracks in these walls.
In a township called Khayelitsha, a woman wakes well before dawn to catch a bus that will carry her to the beautiful home in Cape Town where her employer/boss/master wants his tea in bed by 7 a.m. That is what “post-apartheid” South Africa still looks like today.
I just returned from a remarkable month in South Africa—the country that changed my life. I’ve often said that I learned my theology of hope from South Africa, during the anti-apartheid struggle I was thrust into as a young man. South African church leaders invited me in years ago. I got to see and experience the costly movement for freedom in the 1980s, witness the miracle of the inauguration of Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation in 1994, and later join a wonderful reunion of South African activists, many of whom had been in exile or in prison, along with some of us international allies. So when I set out on a South African speaking and book tour 20 years after the new democracy, I didn’t know what to expect.
This time, I brought my family so they could see the country that had meant so much to me. What I discovered was a new generation of South African leaders ready to define their own vocation and mission as they help build a new nation. I quickly came to understand that making a deep connection with them was the real reason that I had come back. It’s tough to be in the shadow of a heroic generation of leaders like Desmond Tutu whose agenda has been the political liberation of South Africa—accomplished to the amazement of the world. On this trip, 20 years later, I saw the incredible freedom of movement now for all the former racial categories—but also how the systemic geography of apartheid was still painfully evident.
Economic inequality in South Africa is now greater than it was even during the days of apartheid, and gender violence is rampant. So these are the new agendas of a new generation: economic liberation and gender equality, with a commitment to lead on both in the churches. The rainbow of young people who turned up in such great numbers at all of our events truly want a new South Africa— a society yet to emerge.
Oppressive poverty, like corruption and unfettered crime, is a human condition to be addressed and mitigated by principled choices to alter societal structures. This is particularly illustrated in South Africa with the ongoing historic challenge of the lingering old apartheid effects of legalized separation of races and tribal groups. Attitudes and demographics are still entrenched. The marginalized suffer most. Escalating crime is still in large measure black on black, but all sectors of society live with corruption and hear in the media the drumbeat of violence — and not only when there is a high profile feeding frenzy trial such as for Oscar Pistorius.
In a meeting with Kairos Southern Africa leaders, a senior ANC party executive acknowledged, “We have failed in service delivery and turned a blind eye to corruption … please help us make the changes necessary.” To be true to the liberation pledges, Kairos members are mobilizing civil society to act accordingly, along with an informed electorate and principled politicians, to address the residue of years of oppression both here and abroad.
A public way in which religious leaders from across the theological spectrum participated in this regard was in a solidarity conference called by the South Africa Parliament “portfolio committee” on International Relations and Cooperation. Consensus for action was not automatic on the apartheid-like oppression in Israel and Palestine. But respect for those of differing theological and political understandings was for the most part encouraging and enlightening.
In the Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, Baphumelele Respite Care Centre and Clinic serves abandoned children as well as ill adults. The staff faces daily the anguish of caring for babies and older children with serious congenital alcohol and drug syndrome or HIV/AIDS complications. A compassionate professional team and scores of volunteers provide education and rehabilitative residential care for countless patients and support to child headed homes.
A nurse friend on the staff gave witness to the disparity between day-to-day realities when faced with the inadequate response by government and societal leaders. It is stunningly the case in South Africa in the post-Mandela era. The clinic was started in 1989 by the local founding-director Rosealia Mashale, “Rosie,” who could not abandon vulnerable children to the trash heap.
Even with more than 25 similar agencies active in the sprawling location of mostly substandard housing and services there are thousands still in need.
Professor Jonathan Jansen, a trusted commentator in South Africa and author of We Need to Act, reminds citizens to leave their comfort zones and contribute to righting the wrongs of society
Nelson Mandela turned 95-years-old today and in honor of his parity work throughout South Africa, people of all races are joining together and celebrating his legacy in the form of song and offerings. Although Mandela spends this year's birthday under close medical attention, hospital officials believe his condition is improving. The New York Times reports:
On Thursday, hundreds of people gathered outside the Pretoria hospital where Mr. Mandela has been treated for the past 40 days. Officials from the African National Congress brought a birthday cake, while well-wishers added more posters and flowers to the mountain of tributes outside the hospital, ululating and breaking out into freedom songs from the struggle against apartheid.
Read more here.
Mr. Venter’s question is a constant thought during these declining days of Nelson Mandela’s life, especially today — his 95th birthday. I pray daily for my South African daughter Eliza, husband Jonathan, and their four sons Noah, Aidan, Luke, and Sam, along with the many dear South African friends gathered over the past 30 years. Will they live the on-going dream or in an emerging nightmare?
In 1994, during Bill Clinton’s presidency, I had the honor of meeting President Nelson Mandela in a most unexpected way — just two months after his April inauguration as the first democratically-elected President of South Africa.
Most Americans sat glued to the TV or radio on April 15 (or raced to finish tax returns) transfixed by the horrific Boston Marathon bombing and aftermath. Nearly 100 friends of Fr. Michael Lapsley’s gathered that evening at Busboys and Poets restaurant and bookstore in Washington, D.C., to be soothed with a testimony of faith by South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, soul-stirring cello music, and a transporting testimony of healing by apartheid regime bomb victim “Father Mike.”
One of my favorite newspapers in the world, the South African Mail and Guardian, reported on April 19 this way:
“Boston bombings: the marathon struggle of survival and healing … a priest from South Africa, apartheid fighter and a bomb victim himself reaches out to Americans about forgiveness … He had not planned it that way. The event was to launch his book. It had been scheduled for last October but Hurricane Sandy scuppered those plans. Instead it took place on a day when three people were killed and more than 100 injured in Boston.”
Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his battle against apartheid, has won the 2013 Templeton Prize, which is billed as the most significant award in the field of spirituality and religion.
Tutu, who has not been afraid in recent years to criticize leaders in his country and across Africa for humanitarian and political shortfalls, was cited for his work in advancing the cause of peace and the spiritual principles of forgiveness.
“By embracing such universal concepts of the image of God within each person, Desmond Tutu also demonstrates how the innate humanity within each of us is intrinsically tied to the humanity between all peoples,” Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., the president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation, said in a video statement released Thursday announcing the $1.7 million award.