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| COME CELEBRATE! 25 YEARS OF THE SACC: 1968-1993
Come Celebrate! was published to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the South African Council of Churches in 1993. It consisted of two books in one volume.
The first, written by Rev. Bernard Spong, then head of the SACC's Communications Department, is a brief account of the Council's first 25 years. The second, by the head of the SACC's Faith and Mission Unit at the time, Rev. Cedric Mayson, offers some thoughts on the Council's theological stance. The volume also included several important SACC statements.
The introduction to the book said it "does not claim to contain all events of importance, or the names of all who worked so hard within and alongside the Council. Much more remains to be said. "It is a simple offering in the celebration of a quarter century of Christian witness through the SACC and its member Churches and in commitment to the task that lies ahead. "It is dedicated to those servants of the Council and the Churches who died as a result of their stand for truth and righteousness."
Long out of print, Come Celebrate! is now available electronically thanks to the assistance of Rev. Spong.
Rev. Bernard Spong
Served as Head of Communications for the SACC from 1991 to 1997.
He was also Director of the Interchurch Media Programme (1977-91) and Secretary of the Central Region of the United Congregational Church (1967-77)
Rev. Cedric Mayson was Head of the SACC's Faith and Mission Unit at the time Come Celebrate!was written. He was a minister of the Methodist Church (1953-73) and then with the Christian Institute until his banning in 1977. He spent the years 1983-92 in exile.
| "Lest We Forget"
| CHAPTER ONE - A TIME OF JUBILEE
"Remember how the Lord your God led you on this long journey..." (Deuteronomy 8:2)
It was a quiet birth. The South African Council of Churches (SACC) came into the world without a fanfare of trumpets or any special form of celebration.
The event is simply recorded in the minutes of the seventeenth biennial meeting of the Christian Council of South Africa, held in the Observatory Congregational Church in Cape Town on May 29th 1968:
"6. Name of the Council: It was agreed that the name of the Council should be changed to The South African Council of Churches."
It is the shortest sentence in the four pages of minutes. The name is not even spelt out in capitals. It seems that, even if modem word processing formats and typefaces had been available, no special effects would have been used.
Yet this simple change of name, followed by item 7 on the agenda that took the delegates through a long series of constitutional phrases, was a dramatic act that was to change the face of ecumenical co-operation, witness, and service in South Africa. It was as important to the Churches of South Africa as the later establishment of the World Council of Churches' Programme to Combat Racism was to the world Church.
The story of the SACC over twenty five tumultuous years in South Africa is the story of a small name change decision that led to the growth of a major player in the battle against an evil system at home, and a widely acclaimed place for the South African Church in the fellow-ship of Churches throughout the world.
It is in many ways a dramatic story filled with deep emotions, much pain, lots of celebration, and very human beings. At the same time, there is an inexorable pattern of movement throughout, a natural progression of words and actions as this co-operative of Churches seeks to be faithful to the gospel in a time of trial and tribulation in the land. As already mentioned, none of this was evident when the proposal was adopted and the minute placed on record.
Bishop Bill Burnett, General Secretary of the Christian Council of South Africa at that time and the first General Secretary therefore, of the SACC indicates that the name change was not seen as a momentous event. "It just happened," he says. The impression given is that changes in the constitution were being made so it was decided to change the name as well. This may well have been the general view of the event. The minutes and Bill Burnett's recollection suggest it was so.
The late Rev Joe Wing, on the other hand, spoke of it as a "very historic event." But he also added that those present, of whom he was one, did not realise how historic the event would actually prove to be. The member Churches were canvassed beforehand about the proposed name change along with a number of constitutional amendments that would alter the character of the association Churches held with one another through the Council. They came prepared for the changes to both name and organisational structure and voted, without much discussion, for both.
The natural progression began many years before 1968. The pattern of events, decisions and commitments that created a Council of Churches strong enough to stand for truth and justice against the demonic system of apartheid goes back a century.
The SACC was third in a specific line of ecumenical organisations. Its creation came out of a history of change in the model of mission during the present century.
The early missionaries of the late 18th and the 19th centuries, cut off from one another by home language barriers and long distances, kept to their own areas of work and activity. Their link to the wider world was in their connection to the missionary society they represented. News, reflections and interpretations of events were not shared with other missionary neighbours but with the sending society. South Africa was one of the most intensive areas of missionary activity in the world. Sixteen different missionary societies were operating throughout the land, crossing each others paths, creating and building Churches, operating the same kind of services such as hospitals, schools, and the almost inevitable printing press, and making their mark in their own designated geographical areas of activity upon which other groups dared not encroach.
From the vantage point of a century of advances in communication techniques and interchurch co-operation, the picture seems ludicrous. Missionaries of different countries, employed in their task of conversion alongside one another without relating to one another. Each about their own business with an umbilical cord stretching to a far away missionary society.
And it seems that it was often the country of origin as much as the Church affiliation that helped draw the lines of demarcation. So you would have German Lutheran missionaries and Norwegian Lutheran missionaries in separate Churches, and the same for British and American Congregationalist missionaries. This legacy of national denominations has been a cause of much confusion, and a source of further division in a land where division is woven into the fabric of its history.
It is not many years since it was laughingly said that you could tell the Church of a locally trained minister from the accent used to say God. "Gawd”, "Gott”, and "Gard" were signs of particular national Churches as much as any distinctive clothing or clerical garb!
Proliferation of missionary activities within close proximity to one another forced at least some of the societies, toward the end of the 19th century, to make contact with one another and begin what was a painfully slow process of co-operation.
Natal provided the first attempt at ecumenical co-operation. Nine of the 16 Missionary Societies were operating in the Province, so they did not only cross one another's paths, they bumped into each other. It was impossible to escape from contact.
It was on the initiative of members of the American Board Mission that moves were first made to create some form of ecumenical co-operation. This initiative resulted in 1884 in the formation of a Natal Missionary Conference. Its aim was not so much co-operation as a sorting out of divisions of responsibility and spheres of influence. It was a loose association of missionaries intending to make their own work more effective.
It took another twenty years to establish a national organisation, The General Missionary Conference. This was, according to David Thomas in his thesis on "The history of the SACC", (and to whom the writer is deeply indebted for so much of this pre-1968 section) the "founder body of the ecumenical movement in South Africa."
The General Missionary Conference
As its name suggests, the Conference was a discussion forum for missionaries intent upon converting the indigenous people of South Africa to the Christian faith. It met at irregular intervals and was made up of personal members rather than delegates of societies or Churches. Members were listed alongside the name of their Church or society but did not represent that Church or society
At the start, at least, and to only a slightly varying degree throughout its life, it was not a meeting WITH black Africans. It was a meeting of white missionaries ABOUT black Africans. A tendency of format and operation that took a long time to eradicate in the South African ecumenical movement.
The aims of the Conference were set out in an agreed constitution which was as notable for what it did not allow as for its attempt to promote "co-operation and brotherly feelings" to strengthen mission activity for the sake of the "native races." Matters normally placed under the heading of "faith and order" were taboo. There was to be no mention of Church union or debates about doctrine. There was one direction and one direction only, the "speedy and effective evangelisation of the Native races of South Africa."
There was some attention given to activity in the socio-economic sphere. Missionaries had always seen themselves as champions for the rights of those in their charge. They would speak to the authorities on behalf of their members. This was accepted as a solemn duty of their office.
One of the aims of the General Missionary Conference was: "To watch over the interests of the Native races and, where necessary, to influence legislation on their behalf. "
It has to be remembered that the Conference was beginning to operate in an era of political legislation that was setting the pattern for the political and social norms of South Africa for a long time to come.
Apartheid did not arise in a vacuum and create a new pattern of society for South Africa. It built upon the legislation already in place and sharpened it to the final degree. It did not provide contrast with what had gone before so much as take it to its dreadfully logical conclusion.
These were the days of industrialisation with its need to draw on labour from the rural areas and the growth of cities in which all races had to live together to service the needs of the gold and diamond mines and the other industries that developed around them. It is out of this situation that many of the discriminatory laws of South Africa were born. These included the infamous Land Act dispossessing so many Africans of their own property the Pass Laws to control labour flow, and the Mines and Works Act legalising job reservation for whites.
Child of the Nation
Black townships and single sex hostels were starting to arise around the new centres of mining and industry The Union of South Africa was established in 1910 making way for a whole new wave of legislation at national and provincial level. Legislation that saw the African as the child of the nation and a source of cheap labour, with no place in the legislative bodies themselves apart from paternalistic representation through a few selected whites.
The Conference seemed to be aware of its responsibilities on behalf of its charges. David Thomas quotes the Rev R H Dyke of the Paris Evangelical Mission speaking at the 1912 meeting:
"Whether we will it or not, and however much we may dislike the idea of being mixed up in what may appear to be party politics, the purely social aspect of the Natives' case is so prominent that we cannot escape the responsibility of taking our legitimate share in the safe-guarding of the welfare of the people."
That was said, along with a number of agreed resolutions condemning pro-posed legislation, just one year before the passing of the notorious Land Act of 1913 giving black people right to ownership in only a small portion of South African land. Yet, it was not until thirteen years later in 1925 that anything further was said about the Act to condemn it and its crippling effect upon the social and economic life of black people.
True, there had been the interruption of a terrible world war in between. That dreadful event, for the white nation at least, turned the world upside down and called for all energy to be directed to its own spine chilling agenda. However, this does not serve to provide good reason for taking so long to speak out on a local issue once more, but rather prove the priorities of choice for the white missionary when it was called for.
One of the reasons for the continuation of the General Missionary Conference, if not for its original establishment, was the meeting of the different missionary societies in the muddy streets of the new black townships. Geographically designated areas of operation were no longer possible. Members of the different Churches were now working and living side by side in the cramped and cluttered shanty areas centred on the industrial growth points of the Cape, Durban and, especially, the fast growing city of Johannesburg. Missionaries and people had to learn together how to cope with this new form of living without much space, and usually without the amenities of sanitation, health care, and education. The people were separated from the traditional pattern of social life, shipwrecked on a strange island which demanded their hard labour but denied them a share of its rich fruits.
This experience, along with the continued activity in the rural areas, certainly gave the missionaries a taste of the deprivation and oppression that faced the black people. The meetings of the General Missionary Conference reflected a growing concern for the social well being of their people and a growing frustration that their voices were not being heard as they tried to draw attention to the plight of their constituency
The Great Memorials
Much energy and effort went into providing the hospitals and clinics, schools and training institutions, Churches and social centres that could alleviate the desperate plight of the new black city dwellers. These, without doubt, are the great memorials to the work of the missionaries of the first decades of the 20th century.
Much was done in this way to try and reduce the pain of the people through the creation and maintenance of much needed social services. In later years even these, however, fell prey in the majority of cases to the onward march of the apartheid regime and its draconian laws that took all power to itself.
The missionary voices were not loud enough or, possibly, not strident enough about the injustice and hardships suffered by so many of the population. And there was no consideration of calling for a different order of society. The requests, for they can hardly be termed demands, were for a more humane administration of the system of Government. They were certainly not for a change in the overall system itself.
More things need to be said about the General Missionary Conference and its period of history before we move on to its successor, the Christian Council of South Africa. The missionaries and, indeed, the missionary societies they represented, spoke with one voice about establishing indigenous Churches that would belong to the people themselves and reflect the Christian faith as practised by the converts.
The London Missionary Society stated this aim very clearly in a fundamental principle not to send any form of Church order or Government with its missionaries but only "the glorious gospel of the blessed God", and that the formation of any Church government "shall be left (as it ought to be left) to the minds of the persons whom God may call into the fellowship of His Son from among them..."
Its missionaries were charged with this principle up until the mid-sixties, despite the fact that the London Mission Church was by then firmly established with its own form of Government and order. It was an impossible principle for the missionaries of the London Society as well as for all others to uphold.
The basic ideal of creating indigenous Churches, rather like the Pauline acts of the New Testament, was commendable but impractical. It was inevitable that the missionaries of a particular denomination should point their converts in the direction of their own ideas concerning Church structure. It was certainly inevitable that this should be so when the finances were supplied by denominational supporters in the sending countries who wanted in their heart of hearts not only to see the glorious gospel of the blessed God be proclaimed but their own style of Churchmanship extended.
And when the established Churches, such as the Methodist, Catholic and Anglican denominations, began their own specific mission activity it put paid to any ideal of creating "native Churches." To lead people to the gospel and let them create their own form of Church government was one thing. To lead them to the gospel and let them be taken over by other western denominations was another!
The Churches that were established, therefore, were western in Government, orientation and doctrine. They were often founded by a denominational society of one nation and some, as many Church buildings in townships such as Soweto showed, were in competition with their own denomination from another western country. The talk was indigenous nationalism. The practice was western denominationalism.
The next facet of the story that needs to be mentioned in this brief examination of the General Missionary Conference is that it lived through a time of growth in international ecumenical activity. Much was happening in the international arena that had bearing on missionary activity throughout the world.
In 1910, the same year as the Union came into existence in South Africa, a World Missionary Conference was held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Out of this came a new movement in missionary activity that was to have a profound effect upon the thinking and practice of the missionary exercise throughout the world.
The Conference was, as its title suggests, an endeavour to bring different missionary societies together to inspire them to co-operate in the missionary movement with the aim, obviously, of ensuring a greater impact on the non-Christian world. Apart from bringing so many groups into contact with one another, it did take an important step forward by giving impetus to united action among both Churches and missionary societies. The division between missionary activities and established Churches may seem difficult to understand in our age where they are closely intertwined. Mission is an activity of the Church. This was not so for many years when the majority of the Missionary Societies were not tied to specific denominations and there was a clear separation between the two.
The fundamental objectives of their existence were different to one another in emphasis at least. Missionary Societies, obviously, were for missionary activity amongst non-believers whilst the Churches held the faithful together in the stronghold of true doctrine according to their own particular denominational beliefs. Even when, as already mentioned, the denominations moved into missionary activity they did so through special missionary organisations of their Churches or, in the case of the Catholic Church, through religious orders dedicated to the specific task of mission.
The Edinburgh Conference, which did include both Church and missionary society delegates, eventually led in 1921 to the establishment of the INTERNATIONAL MISSIONARY COUNCIL (IMC). It took eleven years to fulfil the plans of the 1910 Conference because the first world war had interrupted the planned timetable for action.
The IMC, although predominantly consisting of representatives of Missionary Societies, did count a considerable number of Churches among its membership. It was the first formal international ecumenical body with its own secretariat paid for by subscriptions from its membership.
The IMC, as with the General Missionary Conference in South Africa, was concerned with mission, spreading the gospel, bringing more and more people under the influence of the faith. Its constitution prohibited it from any items of "faith and order." The participating Churches shied away from any suggestion of an ecumenical talking shop on Church union or doctrine. The separation of Church and Mission was still very much in evidence.
It was not long afterwards, however, that an international LIFE AND WORK movement was founded. This was started in 1925, as a result of the Edinburgh Conference of 1910 and the subsequent setting up of the IMC. This movement was concerned about united action on social services as provided by and through the Churches and Missionary Societies.
It was followed only two years later by the launching of a FAITH AND ORDER movement that began to examine specifically those subjects, previously taboo, of doctrine and possible Church union.
Not all the same Churches or Missionary Societies belonged to all the movements, but there was this general mixture of discussions and practical programming throughout the international Church and Mission leadership.
In the meantime, throughout the world, especially because of the energetic activities of its travelling president Dr John R Mott, the IMC initiated National Christian Councils, which would bring both Missionary Societies and Churches in one country together in co-operative consultation and action.
These Councils, although again predominantly concerned with missionary activity, could, and did, take to themselves matters of mutual concern within their geographical areas of operation that may not previously have been accepted as falling within the narrow confines of "mission." They also brought together on an equal footing and within one national organisation both national Churches and Missionary Societies. This was a major step toward placing decision making mechanisms within the country of operation rather than with the overseas sending agencies.
South Africa was very active in that international arena, claiming to send more delegates to gatherings than most. On the other hand, it was slow in implementing policies about ecumenical co-operation which were being implemented in other parts of the world.
There was a strange dichotomy. South African Churches and Missionary Societies were well represented at international gatherings, played a major role in the decision making and forward looking thinking, but moved slower than most on their own home ground. Again, there was a discrepancy between what was said and what actually happened.
In 1926 the secretary of the IMC, The Rev J H Oldham, visited South Africa to raise the issue of starting a Christian Council in South Africa. Another ten years were, however, to pass before the General Missionary Conference was succeeded by THE CHRISTIAN COUNCIL OF SOUTH AFRICA.
Before we come to that stage of the story just one more aspect of the account of the early years of the century needs mention.
It has been said that there were many contexts in which the General Missionary Conference and its members were operating. There was the context of the worldwide ecumenical movement creating its international pressure on national activities; there was the context of societal changes demanding engagement in social activities; there was the context of discussion about creating indigenous Churches alongside the actual establishment of western developed denominations; there was the context of a rising African nationalism.
The African National Congress (ANC) was launched in 1912 in opposition to the tyrannical nature of the racist legislation enacted at the formation of the Union two years previous. It was not a popular mass movement at that time, but did carry the eloquent voice of educated black leaders in the community. It expressed the political demands for participatory rights by blacks in the country of their birth. It reflected a growing tide of nationalist feelings in black South African society.
There are indications that some members of the General Missionary Conference took the ANC seriously and gave it credit for its work in addressing some of the same social issues as the Missionary Conference itself. Indeed, one adopted resolution described the ANC as a "moral, spiritual and social force.”
Despite this acceptance of the ANC as a moral and spiritual force, and despite the fact that a number of the first ANC officials were Churchmen (The Rev John Dube, for example, was the first President of the ANC) the General Missionary Conference had little, if any, formal connection with the organisation. The Conference remained a white, expatriate, clerical, missionary dominated structure.
This led to it and its members being criticised by leading blacks for its lack of support for the black nationalist movement. The Church and its Missionary Conference was viewed as part and parcel of the colonial power.
The missionaries were by now used to the attacks made upon them by white colonists. This was a continuing tension. The interests of the missionaries in the well being, education, and social rights of their converts often clashed with the needs, and certainly the fears, of the European settlers.
Now they were criticised and attacked by blacks as well. The missionaries were indignant and horrified at what was happening. It seemed impossible that the very people for whom, as one missionary put it, "we are spending our lives" should turn against them and accuse them of siding with the whites in political matters.
They were in the middle of two critical forces. The attacks from the majority of white settlers for their seemingly progressive thinking were now matched by attacks from many eloquent blacks for their seemingly conservative practices.
The missionaries were also experiencing a drastic reduction in their influence in Government circles. This created even more difficulties. They were unable any more to challenge the social patterns around them. The close link between the authorities and the missionaries had been broken. The Colonial powers were no longer amenable to the influence of the Church. By now the Dutch Reformed Church missionary movement had started but it was to be many years before it would be able to influence Government thinking and when that time came the influence would, in the most part, be contrary to the influence the "English speaking" Churches would have wanted.
It was a state of great frustration, especially for those whose deep commitment was to change the world around them into an ideal Christian condition. They had no voice in Government, were despised as trouble brewers by the whites and as meaningless liberals by the blacks.
All the more reason then to commend the tenacity and perseverance with which that band of dedicated people kept at their task and established so many of the health, educational, and social institutions that became bywords of community care and development in South African society. Mr Nelson Mandela has, since his release from long term imprisonment, paid tribute on a number of occasions to those Church institutions and their value in black advancement. But there is also much reason to mourn the lack of a viable, far-sighted, and energetic co-operative of Churches which would have ensured a strong united voice and common action against the racism that was already so evident in South African society.
Christian Councils were springing up in different parts of the world. These were affiliates of the International Missionary Council and brought together the local representatives of Churches and missions on a national basis to discuss and decide upon co-operative action in regard to national issues. The predominant theme was, obviously, mission but the agenda also included co-operation among the Churches on matters of national interest.
As referred to above, the secretary of the IMC, the Rev. Oldham, visited South Africa in 1926 to suggest the setting up of this new style of ecumenical forum. It took a visit eight years later by Dr John R Mott, a leading and inspiring figure in the ecumenical movement and President of the International Missionary Council, to take the matter further. After a number of conferences throughout the country at which Dr Mott spoke and discussions were held, a "continuation committee" was formed under the chairmanship of the Rev A F Louw to work for the inauguration of a national Christian Council. Its work came to fruition on Wednesday June 24th 1936 at the Trinity Methodist Church in Bloemfontein when the CHRISTIAN COUNCIL OF SOUTH AFRICA was constituted.
Like the GMC before it, and its international "parent" the IMC, its constitution forbade any examination of "ecclesiastical faith and order which represent denominational differences." Although during his Presidential address, Ds William Nicol, did say that despite the fact that the Council was not to enter into dialogue on these issues, "I expect that we are going to hear a lot more about Church union during this century."
Although the Council was made up predominantly of "English-speaking" Churches the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) took an active role. Both the President and Secretary of the CCSA, elected in 1936, were from the DRC. Ds William Nicol of Johannesburg was President and Ds J Murray du Toit of Pretoria was Secretary.
In his Presidential address, Ds Nicol, while accepting the manner in which the Witwatersrand was already a place where there was "much running about, much building ... much consuming of manpower, and withal many thousands of heathen untouched by our crossfire." asked for close co-operation to avoid overlapping in areas of mission. He also called for unity in approach to the Government and in the "question of native education."
His particular background and Churchmanship are evident in his comments about nationalism in which he confessed proudly to being a nationalist "at least in so far that I believe in the existence of my Afrikander nation with its own language and culture with such a degree of permanence as history allow." He then suggested that "every Englishman is a nationalist at heart."
Dr Nicol, continuing with his English/Afrikaans theme, mentioned the thorny subject of bilingualism requesting that the Council reach to the ideal, "which has already been attained in parliament" of using Afrikaans and English.
Four years later Ds Nicol and Ds du Toit were to leave the CCSA on the stated grounds of a lack of bilingualism and a general suspicion among many of reaction in the DRC to the Smuts Government decision to join the allies in the second world war.
The positions held by Nicol and du Toit certainly raised the concern of Afrikaner/English division on the approach to racial issues. The "English" Churches and missions of the CCSA can hardly be called radical in their approach to racial questions but for some members the close ties to the DRC created problems. These came to a head in 1939 when an attempt by du Toit to hold segregated report-back meetings In Cape Town was strongly opposed. It was also in this ame year that some members voiced their disapproval of the "watered down statements" of the CCSA and directly attributed these to the presence of the DRC in drafting such statements.
Others, however, felt that the need to hold on to the DRC Churches was so important that when, in 1940, Nicol took the DRC out of the CCSA, the leader of the Church of the Province (Anglican) decided to withdraw that Church also. The Anglican withdrawal was short lived lasting only for a period of two years. The DRC, on the other hand, has still not returned more than fifty years later.
Despite the hard work, tenacity and endeavour of a number of individuals and different groups over the years, the CCSA hardly ever fitted the picture of Christian Councils as envisaged by the international community. It remained primarily a Missionary Society organisation for many years. In 1936 there were 15 Missionary Societies and 9 Churches when the CCSA was launched. Fourteen years later in 1950 this had changed slightly to 7 Churches and 12 overseas -based mission Churches.
The creation of indigenous Churches took much longer in South Africa than in many other parts of the world. The Council remained under the control of expatriates throughout many years of its history. Although it was able to boast a black President, the Rev Seth Mokitimi, in its final years, it could never claim to be under the guidance or control of indigenous black Church leaders.
While the rest of the world moved forward in establishing indigenous Churches, it was not a priority in South Africa. This meant that there was a lack, apart from some notable exceptions, of indigenous Church leaders.
The Rev Dexter Taylor of the American Board Mission, and an active participant in the CCSA, said, "Our worst weakness as a Council, in my opinion, is the small scope we give to the African Church in our affairs. We have not a single African on our working Executive and only two, I believe, on the Council itself. "
So that while the IMC secretary, J. H. Oldham, was applauding the "maturity, experience and leadership" of Indigenous Church leaders throughout the world, the South African ecumenical organisation was still very much in the grip of expatriate missionary leadership. The South African Church has had to pay dearly for its slothfulness in this regard.
Why was South Africa slow in comparison to other mission areas of the world? After all, South Africa had more missionary societies than any other "mission field."
It is suggested that the number of missions was a hindrance to indigenisation rather than a help. The Mission Societies remained in competition and waited until they felt able to hand over a viable Church that would not fall prey to larger Churches.
Different national groups of a similar denomination took many years to co-operate in forming that specific denomination in terms of belonging to South Africa itself. And there was an unwillingness, especially expressed in the days of the Missionary Conference, to allow the Churches to be free of mission control for fear of them being taken over by the growing African Independent Churches.
It is necessary also to look at the racial composition of South Africa. It had, and still has, a large white population. This meant that an indigenous Church was a Church with white people as well as any other indigenous people. The numbers of whites may not have been as great as the indigenous populations but the influence was disproportionately strong. Decision making leadership tended to be white rather than indigenous black.
Within the context of a divided country, where the Church was making its statements of opposition to the segregationist and oppressive racist laws, it was natural for the Church to make a strong stand on the unity of the Church where all would be members together in one fellowship. This did mean, however, that fewer opportunities would be open to black indigenous leadership than would be the case in a Church which was totally indigenous black in membership.
There is a strange way in which the Churches, especially the mission Churches, were so caught up in their need to speak on behalf of their charges that it seemed to give little space for the charges to speak for themselves.
It is a sad comment that it appears that the Churches were so busy ensuring there was no racism in their midst they gave little attention to the special needs for building indigenous leadership. The socio-political emphasis impeded independent progress and growth of leadership among the very people it was meant to serve.
The Black Voice
The lack of a truly representative black voice is noticed in the way in which during the l94O's, despite the voice of the ANC, the CCSA often praised the United Party Government. There was no demand for black participation in central Government, no suggestion of one education system, no thought of South Africa as a black country with a minority white group. Instead members of the CCSA spoke well of any moves to accord the black population greater social amenities. This, obviously, moved it further away from black ideals and aspirations.
In 1948 the Nationalist Party won the election. Any voice, no matter how weak it may have been, which the CCSA had held in the corridors of power was now completely silenced. The Nationalist Government had no need of the advice, praise, or criticism, of the English-speaking Churches. The Dutch Reformed Church, it needs to be remembered, had withdrawn, from the Council in 1940. It alone, among all the Churches, had influence with the new Government.
Despite the endeavours of a succession of hard working secretaries there was a growing 1ack of interest in the CCSA. In 1952 only 29 people bothered to attend the biennial meeting. One great problem was a general lack then and at other meetings over the years of Church leadership presence. The then secretary of the CCSA, the Rev Arthur Blaxall, complained that he had received fewer than a dozen invitations to visit Churches during a whole year. There is no doubt that many doubted the value of the CCSA.
There were occasional events that caused interest. Among these is a conference in 1949, at which Chief Albert Luthuli spoke and which drew up the first ecumenical theological statement against the policy of apartheid. It said that "when individuals have moved from a primitive social structure to one which is more advanced this change should be given recognition." The conference also recommended a franchise vote while recognising that "at present many such persons are not ready for this responsibility."
The major success story was in 1957 when the infamous "Church clause" or "Verwoerd clause", clause 3c of the Native Laws Amendment Bill curtailing inter-racial worship, was proposed by the Government and opposed by the CCSA and its member Churches. The Churches were not only vociferous in their condemnation of the bill, but also stated that they would not obey it if it ever became law. Archbishop Clayton of the Anglican Church said that he would not only disobey the law himself but would also call on his clergy to do the same. This seems to be the only occasion in which such action was threatened during those years. It certainly had its desired effect. The bill was never used.
It has to be acknowledged, at the same time, that the DRC also opposed the bill and was no doubt an influential partner with the other Churches in the success story.
The Churches were not quiet about the laws that affected their own activities. New education and health regulations that were seen to be to the detriment of the people received much vocal opposition. A significant number of individual Church leaders were also outspoken in their condemnation of apartheid. It would not be a true reflection on the era to omit mention of either Trevor Huddleston or Ambrose Revs for instance. But the opposition had no common voice, no central point of unity.
The CCSA continued to speak on behalf of its major constituency - the black population, but still did not include many black persons in its decision-making bodies. Indeed, such was the lack of black confidence In the Council that it received little attention from those who led calls from time to time to establish black Churches in their own right within the major denominations in South Africa. This call was not supported by the mainline Churches and did not succeed, but it was yet another indication of the doubts that different groupings held for the CCSA as well as the growing demand for a black voice in the affairs of the Church.
The call for a black movement within the Church was supported by the now influential and continually growing African National Congress. Black nationalism was making its voice heard through it and through the recently established Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Although no black alternative to the CCSA was formed, nor was any independent black section of any denomination organise, an Inter-Denominational African Ministers Association of South Africa (IDAMASA) was founded. It received much support and played a prominent role throughout the 60's and 70's in local and regional, rather than national, joint activities.
Meanwhile in the international ecumenical movement there were many advances. In 1948, as the Apartheid Government took over in South Africa, one of its soon to be major international opponents, the World Council of Churches (WCC) was formed. This was born out of an amalgamation a number of years earlier of the Faith and Order and the Life and Work movements, together with the growing recognition of the need for national and international discussion on doctrinal matters and Church union.
The International Missionary Council continued with its work until in 1961 it was merged with the World Council. It became the Division of Mission and Evangelism of the WCC. This meant that the two dimensions of the ecumenical movement, the missionary dimension and what is called the faith and order dimension, were now united in one organisation, the World Council of Churches.
It was a marriage that challenged many countries to form Councils of Churches rather than Christian Councils to participate fully in the new ecumenical stream of activity. The Christian Councils were affiliated directly to the International Missionary Council, while the WCC was made up of member Churches throughout the world. The proposed Councils of Churches would have no direct alliance with the WCC but would act on a national level, bringing together Churches that were members of the World Council themselves and other national or regional Churches that were not.
Indeed there were some moves to create in South Africa an organisation of member Churches of the WCC, which included the Dutch Reformed Church, as an alternate to the Christian Council of South Africa. This was yet another sign of how little regard there was in some circles for the CCSA. It was also a sign that in those same circles there was still a hankering to be in national fellowship with the Dutch Reformed Church.
In 1960, only some months after the terrible killings at Sharpeville, the famous Cottesloe Conference was held. Following this Conference the DRC decided to pull out of the WCC as it was unable to respond positively to the demands made of it in regard to the policy of apartheid. It was by now, with a few individual and courageous exceptions, a committed supporter of that policy in both word and deed. Again it needs to be noted that the Cottesloe Conference was organised directly by the WCC and its member Churches in South Africa and not by the now very much sidelined CCSA.
By 1961 however, even in South Africa, changes were taking place in the missionary movement. The former mission Churches were drawing closer to being indigenous Churches in their own right. The missionary agencies had ceased to have direct control over their interests in South Africa and were transferring these to the local national courts of those Churches. A number were still heavily reliant upon the missionaries who elected to work within the new parameters, but the move toward truly indigenous Churches was now well under way.
This gave an impetus to the possibility of forming a Council of Churches for South Africa which would comprise of established Churches with responsibilities to South African Church courts within their own national denominations.
Among the South African delegates to the New Delhi Conference of the World Council, at which it merged with the International Missionary Council, was the Rev Basil Brown. He was a prominent Congregational Church minister from Cape Town who had already served as head of that Church and was an acknowledged Church leader. He was, as another Congregational minister of note, the Revd Joe Wing, said of him, "a Churchman who had arrived."
In 1962 Basil Brown accepted an invitation to be secretary of the CCSA. It is due to his enterprising service, and that of his successor Bishop B.B. Burnett, that the Christian Council revived in the life of the Church and eventually formed the South African Council of Churches.
Although at first some members of the CCSA objected to Mr Brown's insistence on remaining in Cape Town, his face soon became known throughout all the Churches. He travelled the length and breadth of the country to attend every Church Assembly, Synod, Conference, or special occasion, as much as possible, to which he was invited. He listened to the Churches, spoke with them about ecumenical matters and won them and their enthusiastic support back into the Council.
Basil Brown was white, but he was a South African. For the first time the Council had as its executive officer a person who had been reared and educated in the country itself. His first national loyalty had always been to South Africa. This, combined with his willingness to travel, his organisational ability, and his patience in listening, made him the ideal person for the necessary task of creating a Council that the Churches felt they could support and own as belonging to them.
Basil Brown was succeeded in 1967 by Bishop Bill Bendyshe Burnett, also a South African and also a leading Churchman in his own right. Bishop Burnett says that "it was really Archbishop Selby Taylor who caused me to be catapulted into being the secretary of the Council. I had been involved with the World Council of Churches as a representative of the Anglican communion and it was because of that, I suppose, that it was thought by the Archbishop that I would be the right person to fill it."
By now the move to form a Council of Churches was well underway. The Rev Joe Wing said, "There is a sense in which Basil Brown and Bill Burnett became catalysts in the process of transition from the old missionary oriented Council to the new Church oriented Council of Churches. There may have been a tendency, I think, to play down the contribution they made whereas in fact it was very significant."
Before we finally move to the era of the SACC itself it may be helpful to look briefly at the context of events in which it was founded.
Nineteen sixty had seen the shootings at Sharpeville and the banning of both the ANC and the PAC. This was followed by the organisation of active resistance to the apartheid Government, the Rivonia trial and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and other political leaders. Harsh measures were being taken against any resistance to Government policy. It may have succeeded in quietening the public voice of opposition, but beneath the surface there was deep discontent and anger ready to break out at any time.
The divisive plans of apartheid were now in full motion. One Bantu, the official name then for black people, law after another was implemented. Group areas, for instance, was strictly enforced. Whole societies were being moved from traditional homes to new settlements and older black townships near many towns were being relocated to new, and more out of the way, sites.
Academic freedom was under attack and laws to enforce segregated universities enacted. Indeed one of the first resolutions of the Council of Churches in 1968 was to speak out against the confining laws relating to the Universities.
The assault on the universities turned them into centres of discontent. The National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) arranged protest marches and University Councils voiced their opposition to the new regulations. The University Christian Movement (UCM), later to be banned and its founders exiled, was formed in 1967 to add the weight of its voice and actions to the disagreement over segregated education. The UCM voice included a concern for, what was a new concept: Black Theology.
And, very importantly, despite the actions of NUSAS, a move was made to create a black student organisation with its specific black agenda. Steve Biko was one of the students who attended a NUSAS conference in July 1968, spoke about the need for black people to stand on their own, thanked the white NUSAS organisers for their support, and one year later was prominent in the formation of the SOUTH AFRICAN STUDENT ORGANISATION (SASO). It was not long before SASO was banned by the authorities and some years later, as is well known, its prominent founder, Steve Biko, died under mysterious circumstances while in police detention.
On the Church front, in 1966 the WCC held a conference on "Church and Society" in which the Churches' role in society was discussed. This led two years later to a similar conference in South Africa, which the CCSA and the Christian Institute organised as a joint venture, and where it was decided that opposition to racism in the specific form of apartheid was one of the duties of the Church in South Africa.
The Christian Institute (CI) had been formed in 1963 by Ds R F Beyers Naude, a leading DRC clergyman who had broken with his own Church over the issue of apartheid. The CI sought to bring together black and white people of the different Churches, including the DRC, to actively engage in opposition to apartheid. Its membership was based on individual persons rather than Churches or associations. It was a very active and vociferous voice for many years until it too was banned and its founder, Beyers Naude, restricted in October 1977.
When Bishop Burnett moved the offices of the Christian Council to Johannesburg from Cape Town in 1967, the CCSA and CI shared space in the same building. This led, naturally, to a great deal of co-operation. The Church and Society Conference of February 1968 was one such joint venture and there was considerable personal contact between the two leaders and members of staff.
This then was the context into which the SACC was born: a heightening of political tension throughout the country; the emergence of Black Consciousness; the rigid enforcement of apartheid policy; and some members of the Church community speaking out strongly against that same apartheid policy. These and a history of a slow movement toward Church co-operation and the creation of indigenous Church leadership. A slow movement but one that precipitated the eventual formation of the South African Council of Churches.
| CHAPTER TWO - A SEARCH FOR UNITY
How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God's people to live together in harmony! (Psalm 13:1)
The South African Council of Churches began, as did its predecessor the Christian Council, with high hopes for a united voice to proclaim common Christian standards for South Africa.
Although prosaic in many ways, the minutes of the 1968 meeting indicate a gathering filled with quiet energy and commitment to united Christian action. There were plans to approach government ministers, statements on national issues, and a decision to challenge the Churches through a widely distributed theological statement on apartheid called "A message to the People of South Africa."
Bishop Bumett speaks of his personal priorities at that time in terms of working together with a united witness and common voice on most, if not all, issues.
"If we are going to be effective in the body of Christ, we are not going to get anywhere unless we unite. That was my view. To get the Churches to work together, not necessarily to unite together.
"To be in good relationship with one another and moving forward as much as we could to produce a Church in South Africa where you would expect to be accepted whether you are black or white, and whether you are Anglican, Methodist, Congregational, or whatever you are. If the world can't see the Church agreeing then it becomes a very dubious kind of institution."
The united stand that he believed was necessary if the Church was to turn the country from the path of inevitable destructive confrontation did not take place in terms great enough to save Bill Burnett from deep disappointment. "My main motivation," he says, "was the horror of apartheid. If the Church had come to South Africa united then apartheid could not have happened. It was a result of the disunity of the Churches that gave the opportunity to keep apartheid going."
Bishop Burnett was not the first to express concern for unity, or disappointment in it not happening.
When the Christian Council began its work in 1936 the need for a united voice was expressed by its President, Ds William Nicol. He spoke of the "Native Bills" debated in parliament during the previous decade and of the government's request to the Churches for comment. "With what results? There was no unanimity and the advice tendered by different Churches, and especially by different individuals from those Churches, was so mutually destructive that it could not have had much influence on the final decisions taken this year."
Nicol went on to suggest that the Churches might very well "try to out-manoeuvre each other" in the area of "Native education" and pleaded for co-operation for the sake of "the Natives, the Government, and the Kingdom of God."
He obviously had high hopes of the new CCSA. "What a glorious opportunity this Council is going to give us of delivering a united testimony on behalf of Christendom in South Africa!" It was an opportunity that was not picked up by the CCSA. Nicol's own withdrawal, and that of his Church, the DRC, only four years later certainly put paid to any possibility of Afrikaner/English Church co-operation to deliver any "united testimony on behalf of Christendom."
Twenty years later a rather reluctant President of the CCSA, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Geoffrey Clayton, said much the same in criticism of the Christian Council. He expressed disappointment, amongst others, in the failure "to try to bring the Christian conscience into some sort of united expression." He went on to say, "If we could speak with one voice we should carry enormous weight."
That same call for united action, for a communal voice, is one that has been echoed by a succession of Presidents of the SACC.
The first elected President of the SACC, Archbishop Selby Taylor of Cape Town, raised the issue just one year after the establishment of the SACC when at the 1969 National Conference he said, "As long as Churches remain outside the SACC, the Churches ecumenical witness will continue to be imperfect." He went on to appeal especially to the Dutch Reformed Church to consider membership because "until we begin to share our experiences and our insights, the Christian witness to our country will be partial and incomplete. "
Ten years later the then President, the Rev S.P.E. (Sam) Buti, appealed again for a united Christian voice in South Africa. Speaking about the divisions within the Church that hindered a united witness he says, "(Churches) are so obsessed with discussions and debates about secular identities, that of tribe or volk or race, that they refuse to face up to their true identity, namely to see themselves as the people of God and therefore to move out into the situation of our country..."
The words have greater significance when you realise that the Rev Sam Buti was, and remains, a leading minister of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in Afrika, the so called black "daughter Church" of the DRC. At the same time, however, he did not call especially, as many of his predecessors had done, for the Dutch Reformed Church to join in the fellowship of the Council but for all white Christians to be united with black Christians in one common force for righteousness in South Africa.
"Step out of your self-made prison of fear, of selfishly clinging to power and privilege and say NO to these false securities and step out to meet, to touch, to challenge and to embrace your black brother as a brother in Christ …." The Rev Sam Buti noted the division and the "growing polarisation" within the Dutch Reformed Churches with sadness but he did not proceed, as some had done before him, to make DRC membership of ways deny." One of the ways this denial manifests itself, he went on to say, was in the "practising of a personal religion which refuses to face the challenge of transforming society in accordance with Christ's demands."
This was the real division that made the possibility of a united Christian witness against apartheid so difficult to achieve. The number of Churches named in the membership list was one thing, the number of practising Christians, of both member and non-member Churches who refused to see the challenge of the gospel to change the apartheid society was another.
"Lets face it, " says Methodist Bishop Peter Storey who preceded the Rev Sam Buti as President of SACC, "every Church had its prophets, every Church had its reactionaries, and every Church had its majority who were neither one nor the other."
Bishop Storey then goes on to say that an important role of the SACC in relation to the Churches was to provide a "focus for encouragement and strength" of one another. He mentions especially those who were in Church leadership positions and had a reactionary constituency who could, through the SACC, find new energy and vitality for the task of standing for those things known to be true to the gospel in the apartheid situation.
All the General Secretaries of the SACC speak well of the support received by Church leaders. Whenever they were called upon to discuss and debate issues, to give support in times of crisis, to speak out on behalf of the Council and its activities, they were willing to do so, often at cost to themselves within their own constituencies.
But each General Secretary also speaks of disappointment with the Churches' practical response to some of the calls made through the SACC.
Bill Burnett speaks of this in relation to the "Message to the People of South Africa", a theological document that called for discussion and soul searching on the issue of Christian faith and witness in South Africa under an apartheid regime.
"We thought the Church wouid rally to the occasion, " he says, "but the Church was cowed at that time by fear of what the Government might do. They all with one consent began to look at it and say, 'that's quite good,' but they did not take it up in a strong evangelical way. It was a great disappointment to those who produced it at a certain cost to themselves. We really thought it would rock the boat. But the impact ... was very disappointing."
Hesitancy Of The Churches
This disappointment with the Churches' practical relationship to the SACC was also voiced by both Mr John Rees, Secretary from 1970 to 1977, and Bishop Desmond Tutu, Secretary from 1978 to 1984. They both speak of the hesitancy of the Churches in their relationship to and support of the SACC.
"It was and will remain a strange dichotomy of the Council," says John Rees, "that the Churches wanted to be involved and they also wanted to be at arms length so that when it is convenient for them they wanted to be able to distance themselves from it."
Archbishop Tutu says that there was an ambivalence which meant that "if successful, (they were) ready to acknowledge us and if unsuccessful able to distance themselves."
The same kind of comment was made by Ds Beyers Naude, who was Secretary from 1984 to 1967. "What did worry me", he says, "was that so many of the resolutions adopted by the National Conference or the (SACC) Executive were passed on to the Churches. Then I watched carefully how tardy or over cautious or even how fearful the member Churches were to pick up the issues and implement them. "
"Standing For The Truth"
As an example, Dr Naude mentions the Standing for the Truth Campaign "where we felt that if the member Churches had understood more fully they would have supported the programme much more. "
He also tells of the Council's request for pastoral care for political prisoners and their families. Ds Naude says that no matter how much he pleaded for "these our brothers and sisters and their need for pastoral care" the call would be acted upon only by a few ministers and congregations. "I discovered that many of them were afraid because they realised that if they were seen by the security police to identify themselves publicly too much with the family of a political prisoner or somone who had gone underground that this could lead to action against them."
Although expresslng understanding of the reasons why this matter was not taken up much more fully by the local Churches and Church minlsters. especially in rural areas and small towns, Dr Naude added that, "It was a major concern that we did not succeed at that point in time in adequately conveying to those who were the victims of the whole system of oppression how we held them not only in our prayers but in a practical concern for their well being."
These former General Secretaries are expressing in general terms and through specific examples, what seems to be a conventional view of the relationship between the SACC and it's member Churches. Bishop Peter Storry agrees that there is much to this conventional view. He speaks of Churches which "on the one hand resented the SACC when it made waves among particularly the white membership, and thanked God for it when they could claim to be part of the SACC. When they could say to people overseas, for instance, this is what we are doing, look at the SACC."
Bishop Storey goes on to look further at this relationship of the Churches to and within the SACC. "I think that the SACC provided encouragement to those within the Churches who were seeking to resist apartheid. Without that encouragement, without that strengthening, without that forum where you could find like minds we would have been lost.
"For me the reality of it was that the witness against apartheid by the Church was a minority witness. The witness against injustice and for the Kingdom historically has always been a minority witness. Within the established Churches a vast majority really played no role or even a negative role. It was that minority, I think, that was encouraged by the SACC and that was a crucial role.
"I think the SACC provided a focus."
A focus of unity, of collective thought and common action.
This is at the heart of the SACC. It could never hope to bring into one mind all the diverse theological and doctrinal groupings. It could never create one common active expression of the care of the Church for the oppressed. But it did bring together, and allow expresion in vocal and practical terms, the Churches' involvement in national affairs including confrontation with the apartheid regime And it did create many pockets of united action to express the deep concern of the Churches for the oppressed and marginalised.
Bishop Storey again. "There was always something of an uncomfortable relationship, but it was a relationship, a very real one. One that they (the Churches) could not escape from but it was never comfortable. That is the essence of a prophetic relationship. The prophets in the Bible were in relationship with their people and their people did not like what they herd from them but they could not break the marriage. They could not break the relationship. It is the same between the SACC and the Churches and there it has been a positive thing.
"To me it has never been a negative thing. I would want to say that we must not exaggerate the difficulties and disappointments of that relationship. When the chips were down, not once did the leaders of the Churches leave the SACC in the lurch. Every time they came to the party and they stood with the SACC. That must never be forgotten. "
It will not be forgotten. No matter how disappointed those within the structure of the SACC may have been wlth the Churches from time to time, the Churches, through their own appointed leaders, never once let the Council go or let it down. Essentially when challenged. that fellowship, that pleasant fellowship where, as the psalmist says, "God's people live together in harmony, " is evident in the story of the SACC.
The "uncomfortable relationship" mentioned by Bishop Storey was evident whenever the SACC spoke out on major national issues in a manner that challenged the people, especially of the constituent Churches, to new attitudes and activities.
Although Bishop Burnett himself was deeply disappointed by the Churches' response to the call made by the Council and to the lack of close unity among those Churches, there is no doubt that the Council quickly became a voice from which there was no real escape for any who would call themselves Christian in South Africa.
"A Message to the People of South Africa" published very soon after the 1968 establishment of the SACC was one such occasion.
| CHAPTER THREE -SPEAKING THE WORD
Go to the people I send you to, and tell them everything I command you to say. Do not be afraid of them, for I will be with you to protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken! (Jeremiah l:7f)
The late Rev Joseph Wing of the United Congregational Church said that "around the time that the Council was being constituted we were confronted with a serious crisis in the country. It was felt that a strong statement had to be made on theological grounds regarding the position of the Church in relation to the totalitarian stance the State was taking increasingly, especially after the assassination of Verwoerd and with BJ Vorster becoming Prime Minister. His attitude was a threatening one to say the least.
"The Council felt that it really had to identify the theological issues that were present in the whole South African situation and to oppose apartheid not only on pragmatic grounds but also on theological grounds."
The message was not a document of the SACC alone. Like all the theological declarations that were to follow down the years it was the work of a number of groups and individuals. The SACC played a crucial facilitating role but can not claim credit itself for the content of the message or any such declarations that followed.
The message came out of a Theological Commission put together originally by both the CCSA and the Christian Institute. A number of theologians discussed and debated a theological position in the apartheid situation until agreeing upon the final content of the message.
It arises inevitably out of the same kind of thinking that brought the SACC into existence. This is the thinking that puts Church and mission together, places faith and action side by side.
So the message examined the word of God not simply in terms of personal salvation but in relation to the social and political situation of the country. "This gospel of Jesus Christ offers hope and security for the whole life of man, not just in man's spiritual and ecclesiastical relationships, but for human existence in its entirety."
"In South Africa," it said, "everyone is expected to believe that a man's racial identity is the most important thing about him." It went on to show the gospel as that which transcends such differences and that "The Christian Gospel declares that separation (from God and from one another) is the supreme threat and danger, but that in Christ it has been overcome.
The message ended with a number of questions on "first loyalty and primary commitment" for "every Christian person in the country."
At the 1968 meeting it was agreed that the Council "receives the draft Message to the people of South Africa, authorises its reference to the Theological Commission for revision and publication in the name of the Council. It further resolves that individual Christians be invited to sign the document as an expression of their Christian commitment and that the member Churches of the Council be invited to give it serious consideration."
The message seems small in the context of the huge monolithic structure of apartheid. But it did have an impact. Here was the first attempt of the fledgling Council, and its allies, to speak to the nation at large about Gospel values.
One of the first members of staff to be appointed to the SACC was the Rev John de Gruchy, now Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town and well known author of a number of theological books with special reference to South Africa. His appointment in September 1968 as Director of Publications and Ecumenical Studies, later to be known as Director of Communications and Studies, meant that the task of distributing the message fell mainly on his shoulders.
By January 1969 fifty thousand English copies of the "Message to the People of South Africa" had been printed and distributed and there were Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu, Portuguese and German editions in circulation as well. By the following month a 72 page book "The Message in Perspective" was published. This put together press comments, Church statements, correspondence on the Church and politics, controversy it had engendered and articles on the theological issues raised in the message. (For those interested in increasing costs the book sold for 75 cents a copy!)
The theological interest and prolific writing skills of John de Gruchy helped keep the Message before the Churches for a considerable length of time. Many would, no doubt, have been happy to have seen it quickly forgotten, but that was not to be.
It received continual coverage in KAIROS, a monthly SACC magazine edited by John de Gruchy until he left the Council in 1973 and then continued for a number of years by his successor, the Rev Axel-Ivar Berglund. The Christian Institute magazine "Pro Veritate" also followed up in ensuring that the message was not forgotten. It was also continually brought to the attention of Churches through pamphlets and letters to remind denominations, local Churches and individual Christians to take its content seriously.
But the message received most of its publicity through the generally critical media reporting. Reports on radio and in newspapers were not enthusiastic or supportive, but they did notice it and talk about it. SABC radio (there was no television in South Africa at that time) was especially critical, thus starting what was to be a twenty five year propaganda battle against the SACC. Every opportunity was used to depict the Council and its successive General Secretaries as misguided liberals at best and communist terrorists at worst.
As proof of the communications maxim that there is no such thing as bad publicity, the message was heard throughout the country if only through that critical reporting.
The Prime Minister, John Vorster, heard it. His response was to tell the Churches to "cut it out" and stick to preaching the gospel in the pulpit. A form of response to the Churches that was often used by the authorities in the years to follow.
A group of twelve Church leaders, of whom the Rev Joseph Wing was one, entered into correspondence with the Prime Minister. Correspondence which Joseph Wing described as "very heated at one stage", and which led to nothing of more value than expressing viewpoints.
Some of the Churches not only heard it, but debated it and passed their own resolutions. Not enough, evidently, for in the first National Conference of the SACC, held in Port Elizabeth in 1969, a resolution was passed requesting "its member Churches and member bodies to express its mind in favour of, or against, the principals underlying the 'Message to the People of South Africa' before the next Annual Conference. But it seems that all the responses that were going to be made had in fact a1ready been made. No other group or Church was to send a response to that next National Conference.
Outright support for the Message came from the Congregational, Methodist, and Anglican Churches who all commended it for study at local Church level and for members to sign. The Presbyterian Church's Church and Nation Committee suggested that the Message be a focal point for a denominational call for "reflection on the indignities and hardships which those who bear the burden of racial discrimination labour under in this country." The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) said that they had "never felt able to accept doctrinal statements" and went on to accept the challenge of the Message to "make visible the spirit of Christ in the life of our community"
The Federation of Evangelical Lutheran Churches said that "the theological reasoning of the message is open to criticism" and called for member Churches to study it.
It was the Baptist Union that produced the longest reply in which they began with a statement to say that "much of the theological reasoning and some of the conclusions are unacceptable." A number of reasons were mentioned as to why it was unacceptable, followed by a number of affirmations about the Union and its beliefs on the national life. This included points such as "although we are a professedly Christian nation, and in spite of much that is being done for the welfare of our non-white people, many of them have received an unfavourable impression of Christianity" and ".. our firm belief that in the sight of God all men and women are equal."
The Baptist statement was issued by the Executive Committee of that Church with the "approval of the Annual Assembly" in October1968. The following year that same Assembly resolved to withdraw from the Council of Churches. An interesting aspect of this particular vote that led, after a number of years of observer membership, to a lack of any further contact up to this day between the Baptist Union and the SACC, is that it was taken despite a recommendation to the contrary by the Union's Executive.
The message had immediate effect upon the call made to the Dutch Reformed Church for a renewed relationship. The DRC stated that no relationship was possible unless "amends were made to certain passages in the message..." The SACC National Executive of March1971 thought the DRC had misunderstood the passage in question and suggested, yet again, that there be a meeting.
The Catholic Church, already an observer member of the SACC, approached the Message with caution although displaying a great deal of agreement. The South African Catholic Bishops said, "... the Conference gratefully recognises the document as a prophetic summons to all Christians and Churches to reform their lives according to the Gospel and to apply the precept of Christian love of all men in a truly effective way both in their individual lives and in their communities, whether ecclesia or secular, not allowing any ideology of nation or race to take precedence over the Gospel."
The statement went on to say that the Bishops thought the South African situation was more complex than appears to be recognised in the message, and that some of the theology could not be adopted because it proceeds "from a tradition and outlook different from the Catholic one."
"Nevertheless, it wholeheartedly endorsed the substance and aims of the Message and accepts it as a basis for further ecumenical study and action."
The Synod of the Archdiocese of Durban of the Catholic Church was much more direct in its endorsement. Perhaps this is not surprising with Archbishop Dennis Hurley in charge. In December 1968 it passed a resolution "That this Synod accepts and endorses the Message to the People of South Africa issued by the South African Council of Churches·"
The statement suggested the message be read from all pulpits throughout the diocese on the same Sunday, and that all groups represented at the Synod "be urged to study the contents of the message." The statement finally asked the Commission for Justice and Peace to give attention to the message "with a view to drawing up a plan by which the contents of the message might be translated into effective action."
It is this final suggestion that highlighted the dilemma facing many who agreed with the contents of the message. What do we do now? How can the message be fulfilled in some form of action?
The Rondebosch Congregational Church voiced this need In their local Church resolution about the message.
The Church Meeting expressed thanks to the Council for "its timely document." Their statement went on to accept that "we bear a responsibility for the situation," and then reminded their readers that the racial discrimination and injustice in South Africa "is pursued in the name of God, for the Constitution of the Republic begins with these words; 'The people of the Republic of South Africa acknowledge the sovereignty and guidance of God'" The statement went on to stress that "every man is equally precious to God regardless of colour, race, or cultural background" and then to commit the members of that Church to living "according to our belief in this matter as part of our Christian obedience and calling"
It is the final portion of the statement that points to the same dilemma. They knew that the apartheid structure was wrong and, although the word had not been used yet had some inclination to look upon it as a heresy. The question was what to do about it. So the statement ends, "Though we are uncertain as to what is our immediate task we affirm that we cannot condone policies as at present enforced In South Africa."
Denominations and local Churches were looking for some form of participative action to translate the words of the message Into deeds.
The SACC staff at that time was small and the Council was not able of itself to offer programmes for such deeds. The major programmes offering many opportunities for practical participation in Council activities were still to come.
At the beginning, apart from Bishop Burnett and the Rev John de Gruchy there were five other members of staff. These were Administrative Secretary, Ms Ruth Schoch, assisted by Ms Irene Meadows; the Director of the Inter-Church Aid Programme, the Rev Clifford Welch; Literature Secretary, the Rev Derrick Cuthbert; and the Director of Christian Education and Home and Family Life, the Rev John Tau. That was the complete staff of the SACC. (It needs to be mentioned that Ms Meadows is still a member of the SACC staff having served it faithfully throughout all the 25 years.)
The need to put words into actions was very strongly felt. The Theological Commission was given the task of working on the practical implications of the message and very soon presented the Council, the Christian Institute and the Churches with the challenging "Study Project on Christianity in an Apartheid Society (SPROCAS).
The Sprocas Publications
Before deciding upon any name, the Theological Commission, through the Council and the Christian Institute, set up study groups to examine the social, legal, political, economic, educational and ecclesiastical implications arising from the message.
The Commission also appointed a full time executive-secretary, later to be called Director, Mr Peter Randall, who had been Assistant-Director of the South African Institute of Race Relations. Mr Randall was appointed by both the Council and the Christian Institute to head the joint project.
The sense of urgency that surrounded the study, together with the energy put into the project, was soon evident in reports from the Director and as the plan for a series of study volumes began to emerge. The project was given a two year life span by which time each commission, as the original six groups were now called, would have published at least one study publication.
KAIROS of August 1969 says that the study commissions were "the most representative group of South Africans ever brought together to study our country's problems." More than 140 persons were involved in SPROCAS through membership of commissions or as specialist consultants.
The list of names of those involved contained many that were, and are, well known. KAIROS lists "stalwarts" like Edgar Brookes, Alan Paton, Dr W F Nkomo and Sir Richard Luyt. It also mentions the "brightest and most able younger people in our universities and professions" including Francis Wilson, David Welsh, John Dugard, Lawrence Schlemmer, Dennis Worall, and Andre Brink. The Church Commission included Bishop Burnett, the Rev John Davies, an Anglican University Chaplain who was later denied returned access to South Africa, Lutheran Dean Jim Knutson, the Rev John de Gruchy, Mr Peter Randall, the Rev John Tau and a name that was later going to be synonymous with the SACC, the Rev Desmond Tutu.
There was missionary doctor Anthony Barker, United Party Member of Parliament Japie Basson, Professor Kgware of the University of the North, educational expert Franz Auerbach, and sociologist at Stellenbosch University, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert.
Through what was termed "the pressures of the South African situation" many African, Coloured and Indian leaders were not able to take part and there is no doubt that this was eventually a great loss to the SPROCAS publications. But with that limitation it certainly could be called as representative a group of South Africans as was possible and the results of their labours were outstanding.
The material was dramatic and of high standard. Although originally planning to publish only the six completed reports, the SPROAS organisers began the flow of material instead with a number of booklets containing a selection from the large volume of working documents prepared for the various commissions. "The Anatomy of Apartheid" was first off the press and drew much attention. It will rank as one of the recommended, if not compulsory, readings for any serious student of South African social, political, or cultural history.
Indeed the complete set of SPROCAS publications stand today as a creative and prophetic record of South African history. Many of the issues raised at that time are the ones that face the nation now in the period of transition. Perhaps this is the time, almost twenty five years later, to take the books down from the shelves, blow off the dust and put some of their suggestions Into practice.
In 1971 only two of the planed reports, "Education beyond Apartheid" and "Towards Social Change" were published in both English and Afrikaans. The SPROCAS project was extended for a two year period, with an enlarged staff including Bennie Khoapa, Danie van Zyl and Neville Curtis, in a changed structural form allowing for more autonomy and with a changed use of the acronym to "Special Project for Christian Action in Society."
During that two year period SPROCAS extended to publication of books other than those originally planned. These included volumes that will be recorded as classic South African literature such as James Matthews' "Cry Rage", Steve Biko's "Black Viewpoint", Francis Wilson's "Migrant Labour in South Africa", and the final full report of the SPROCAS project, Peter Randall's "A Taste of Power."
The Church Commission's report "Apartheid and the Church" received wide publicity. Its colourful cover photo of a young bearded cleric playing a guitar getting as much comment as any of the contents!
Once again it raised in public the issue of the Church and politics, a sure recipe to get the Broadcasting Corporation, some newspapers, politicians, and members of the public reacting.
The anticipated critical reactionary reception was tempered in some newspapers by serious comment. The Pretoria News, for example, said that the Commission "has added what could be crucial material to a ferment of thought from which new South African attitudes promise to emerge." The Rand Daily Mail and the Cape Argus also agreed that the Commission report was worthy of serious study.
In the Church newspapers it, obviously, received an even greater reception. Anglican Bishop John Carter writing in Seek said, "Here, then, is the stuff for Synods, Parish Councils, and Christians who are not afraid of the truth." And Professor Ben Marais of the University of the Witwatersrand was quoted in Pro Veritate as saying. "! wish I had a way of making 100 000 South Africans read this volume."
The SPROCAS project was also a scene of Church and State conflict and a sign of more to come in harassment and hindrances on the part of the authorities. There were battles with the Publications Control Board and the arbitrary banning of many of those who wrote for the project. Fr Cosmos Desmond, Dr Rick Turner and Mr Steve Biko were among those whose banning orders meant that they could no longer be quoted.
The loss of finance, creative energy and effort through the enforced destruction of books, reprints which omitted offending passages, and the outright banning of some materials, was enormous. The final list of twenty five publications in the four year history is testament to the courage and determination of Peter Randall and all who worked with him on the SPROCAS project.
Looking back at SPROCAS, Bishop Peter Storey suggests, "That was really the first visionary attempt to envisage a South Africa free of apartheid. It was a remarkable thing to be doing at that time when one realises that the worst years were yet ahead. That was a very very prophetic action and the content of the documentation that came out of SPROCAS Is secondary to the fact that again it was a statement to the world that apartheid would end. Without any question, we were all confident about that and we did have a theological, sociological, educational and economic vision.
A vision indeed and to quote the Pretoria News once again, "crucial material ... from which new South African attitudes promise to emerge." But the SPROCAS material did not produce those promised new attitudes and, despite the quality of material and the nationwide publicity, the project was unable to reach the hearts and minds of the white population it was intended to confront.
The Rev Joseph Wing said, in a typically British understatement, "I think these reports have never been given the consideration which they really merited." He went on to add that, as happened with a number of documents produced In South Africa, the SPROCAS books had a wider impact overseas. He then suggested that "the whole SPROCAS endeavour unfortunately seemed to lose steam partly because we were overtaken by other events during this period."
The "other events" included the 1970 announcement of the World Council's Programme to Combat Racism which brought a new dimension into the apartheid struggle for the country in general and the Churches in particular. But we are running too far ahead!
To understand the response to the Programme to Combat Racism there is need to recognise what was being established in those first formative years of the Council.
Bishop Burnett speaks lightly of his time with the Council but there is no doubt about the tremendous influence he had upon the course it set for itself and which it followed. His disappointments with the Churches' response to the "Message to the People of South Africa" and the SPROCAS material would help him leave the position of General Secretary after only a short stay of less than two years from the time when the SACC itself was constituted. That and his love for pastoral ministry meant that when, in his own words, he was "yanked back to become Bishop of Grahamstown" he was only too willing to make the move. "I was becoming a routine organiser" he says. "My pastoral ministry was hindered because I was expected to be doing a job at an office and that is not what I felt I was ordained to do. So when the opportunity for pastoral work came I took it. I do not regret it at all."
A short period of time, but his three year secretaryship, from 1967 to 1969, saw the start of a new era in the ecumenical movement in South Africa. He established the initial structure upon which the Council was to grow and infused the SACC with a new energy and life that lifted it from being a passive respondent on the issues raised by others to being a significant proactive Christian body with its own positive position in the country
Guidance of God
Bishop Burnett was a symbol that the Council belonged to the Churches of South Africa, that its days of overseas mission domination were over and that its agenda was to be set under the guildance of God by the people of this land.
The Council made it clear from the start that the total needs of the whole nation were to be judged by the standards of the Gospel of Christ. This included that area of politics that many politicians and those who favoured the status quo wished to be left alone.
At the 1968 Conference it was clearly stated, "Since we believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord of all life the Church would fail in its duty if it did not encourage all its members to participate responsibly in the right ordering of society. Its ordained ministry is bound also to seek to give scriptural guidance in the application of the Gospel to social problems. We, therefore, warmly endorse resolution no.6 of the recent Lutheran Ecumenical Reformed Synod which reads as follows: 'In the proclamation of the Word, the Church, to whom has been entrusted the message of Christ's Kingdom should speak courageously and relevantly on the issues of the day, both for the edification and correction of her members and, where necessary, in criticism of the activities and policies of governments and organisations.'"
The foundation was laid for the ensuing battle between Church and State. In military terms, the 'colours" were now well and truly nailed to the mast. There certainly could be no misunderstanding of the stand the Churches of the SACC were decisively agreed to hold together relating to the system of apartheid.
Holding together was also important. If Bishop Burnett was a symbol of the Council belonging to the Churches, then through the Council the Churches belonged to each other in a new way. The common enemy of the evil apartheid structure united the Churches together in a common purpose that formed the priority of Christian mission in South Africa for many years. In expressing the unity of all people under God the member Churches of the Council began to discover the joys and problems of unity among themselves.
In this the South African Churches were catching up with the rest of the world in exploring the meaning of the faith in a world filled with division and inequalities. And like others in the world the SACC was also having to face the criticisms, later to become deliberate hostility, of those who felt threatened by this form of Churchmanship.
But the strong theological basis of those early days helped then and throughout the years for the Council to stand firmly for its beliefs. The members knew that the convictions about unity among themselves and the need for the country to know and experience that unity of equality as God's people was not a blueprint that they had drawn up for themselves or a simple ideal that they had chosen from among many. It was, and remains, an aspect of the revelation of God in Christ that no one can defeat or deny.
| CHAPTER FOUR - CHRIST FOR OURSELVES
"What about you?" he asked them, "Who do you say I am?" (Luke 9:20)
In 1972 the South African Council of Churches was declared a black organisation. The then secretary, Mr John Rees, announced this Government decision to the Executive Committee and added that it was a major step forward.
Mr John Rees became General Secretary of the Council in September 1970, following the resignation the previous year of Bishop Bill Burnett. A prominent Methodist layman, he was previously an administrator in the Non-European Affairs Department of the Johannesburg City Council. When the Government took over control of that Department John Rees decided that he must leave for, as he says, "I refused to work for the Government." It was at that same time that the post of General Secretary became available. Mr Rees applied and was appointed.
He was no newcomer to the Council or to the world ecumenical movement. He attended the Upsala World Council of Churches Assembly in 1968 and was a member of the SACC Executive Committee for eighteen months before becoming General Secretary.
"An evangelical with ecumenical concern" is the way KAIROS of August 1970 described John Rees. He brought the enthusiasm of that evangelical outlook and an energetic organisational ability to the Council and used these to the full in his term of service.
It was during his time that the Council expanded to include many new Divisions. It was during his term of service that the Council grew not only in size but in prominence on the local and international scene.
One of his priorities was to bring more black leadership and participation into the affairs of the Council. "I wanted," he says, "to follow the initiative started by Bill Burnett under the theme "Behold I make all things new", which was the theme from Upsala (World Council of Churches Assembly). A movement towards being able to allow blacks take a leadership role because all the other doors were being closed to them. Making those available through the Church."
It is to his credit that less than two years after he, a white South African, took over as General Secretary the Council was declared a black organisation because of the composition of its National Conference and Executive.
At the 1971 National Conference the General Secretary, John Rees, said that blacks must be given a greater say in the life of the Council of Churches. "I have come to realise," he said, "that in a Council in which the predominance of the membership of the Churches belonging to that Council are black, we must increasingly make plans, not only within the Church structures, but also within the structure of the Council itself for the voice of our black brethren to be heard."
His voice at least was heard. That same National Conference elected a black, the Rev A.W. Habelgaarn of the Moravian Church, as its new President and elected an Executive that included ten blacks out of a total of sixteen. This reversed exactly the white/black ratio of the previous Executive, and set the pattern for the years to follow.
In 1968 the CCSA biennial meeting that voted to become the South African Council of Churches was predominantly white with 38 white men, one sole woman representative, also white, and 7 black representatives all of whom were male clerics.
The Churches did, however, seem to see the establishment of the SACC as a time to make their delegates more representative of the total constitution of their respective Churches.
At the first National Conference in 1969 there were 39 white delegates and 25 black. The sole woman delegate of the 1968 Conference received support from two more women among the total number of 64.
By 1972 the ratio had changed with only 23 white delegates as against 33 black. This was a trend that was to continue and ensure that the SACC was an authentic indigenous Christian voice to the people of South Africa and the whole world.
It does seem to have taken longer to get the Churches to send more women and more lay delegates. It was only at the 1992 National Conference that satisfaction was voiced by the women present that at last their numbers and participation were recognised.
To return to the 1971 National Conference, the appointment of two new staff black Directors, Mr Harry Makubire and the Rev Sol Lediga was announced. These appointments caused the well known Methodist minister, the Rev E.E. Mahabane, to congratulate the Council for paying equal salaries to both black and white staff members. "Our Churches can take a leaf out of the Council's book." he said.
It is comments of this nature that help us understand the encouragement that black Churchmen were receiving from the Council within a very short time of its inception. It is comments of this nature, contrasting Council and Church structures, that are further illustrated by Mr John Rees when he speaks of people who voted one way in the Council and another within their own Churches. "Many people were bound by their own Church structures and felt freer to talk in the context of an ecumenical body. And some of the people who voted one way at (the) Hammanskraal (National Conference) voted another way within their own Church bodies when the same issue came up." He continued to say that in the Council "there was often a chance to vote with more feeling."
Mr Rees then goes on to explain that this situation was during the period when many Churches were not "owned" by the indigenous membership. "And so voting one way at Hammanskraal and then complying within the context of the Church" was an understandable behaviour "until such time as they were able to take over the administration of the Church for themselves."
Black Church members, and leaders if we take the important position of the Rev E.E. Mahabane into account, felt freer to speak openly within the Council than in their own Churches. The Council belonged to them and was the place, therefore, for the expression of their particular experience of the faith.
This new ownership of the Council soon validated its establishment in 1968. This ownership caused the Council to become a conduit of black Christian expression. This ownership set the agenda for the Council. This ownership gave relevance to the Council in the eyes of the local community and the world Church; and even among those who would oppose it because it was a serious and significant organisation that could not be ignored.
Behind the ownership there is, of course, a deeply spiritual need that can only find its complete expression through participation in the ordering of Church and Para-Church structures.
The Christian faith can never be lived by proxy. It does not have meaning if it does not have individual personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That statement would be agreed by all from evangelical charismatic to catholic. The aim of Christian mission is to bring people into that relationship with Jesus Christ and into fellowship through Christ with one another.
This was the aim of the early missionaries who came to proclaim "the glorious gospel of the blessed God." It was the aim of the missionaries who created the centres of learning, health, and social welfare. It was the aim of the Christian Council of South Africa in its attempts to ensure more co-operative and effective operation of missionary activity, and to speak to those matters that made life so harsh for the black people of this land.
The problem, it seems, is that the structures of the Churches and Church Organisations remained for too long in the hands of, mainly expatriate, whites. It was the payment made for the long division between mission on the one hand and faith and order on the other. The second step that takes the convert into active participation in the organisation of the fellowship of the Church was missing. Indigenous Church members needed to express their membership in the ordering of the affairs of the institutions into which they had been drawn by faith.
Black Christians did not want only to express the faith among themselves, through their own separated worship and different organisations, but to participate in the overall structures that affected their lives and the lives of all the people with whom they shared the Church ... and the nation.
Barriers to Faith
And the situation also created barriers to faith for some. The structures in themselves and in the way they operated created the impression that true expression of the faith was practised in a specific way, a white western way. When that structure and that operation felt foreign and uncomfortable it often meant that the faith itself was experienced as foreign and uncomfortable.
We can not but be aware of the number of community leaders, who are now in leadership positions in political organisations or who, sadly, died in the struggle for a democratic nation, who were lost to the Church not because of the faith itself but because of the structures that felt foreign and, therefore, inhibiting.
A number of their younger counterparts did find it possible, through the Council, to remain in the Church and serve the community through it.
Take, for example, Tom Manthata, a member of the Committee of Ten of Soweto which led the people of that huge complex of sprawling townships through the turbulent years following 1976, also a "Delmas" trialist, and one who spent during his adult life as many years behind bars as he did in front of them. He was until recently a staff member of the SACC and remains a keen practising Catholic.
Or think of Joe Seremane. He became a member of staff of the Council through the practical application of the faith by the Council. "I had rejected the faith", he says. He then speaks about coming out of imprisonment, for his political beliefs, and finding that the Council had been helping his family with grants through the Dependant's Conference. "Here were people that I rejected looking after my own family," he says. "They were praying with them, praying for me, making me whole again."
Although these examples are from a time still to come, the Council of Churches in the early years of the 1970's began to offer an opportunity for indigenous expression of the faith, a faith that spoke of freedom, liberty, justice, peace and reconciliation.
It was not an isolated and self made movement. It must also be seen against the background of what was happening throughout the country, the Church, and the world.
These were the days of the emergence of black consciousness, and of black theology. The University Christian Movement had been established in 1967 to provide a fellowship for students who had heard the Christian message and needed to work out for themselves what it meant for them as blacks in an apartheid society. One year later it was voicing its concern for a black theology which took into account the experience of the oppressed.
There were, and are, those who ask why it is necessary to have a black theology or Liberation theology, even Contextual theology. There is, they will say, simply theology, the faith, the beliefs, Christian truths for you whoever you are, black or white, brown or yellow. Such thinking, of course takes no account of the fact that ALL theology is contextual, coming out of the way the faith is seen and practised in a particular culture. St Paul, St Augustine, Luther and Calvin were all as much contextual theologians as any South American or African theologian of today.
The missionaries brought the faith, as interpreted and understood in their own culture. Black theology in South Africa was, and remains, necessary to bring the truth, the core, the basis, of that faith into the context of life for the majority of the people. This is what was happening during the early years of the SACC and helped form the SACC's thinking and practice. In 1971, the Rev John de Gruchy called for "an awareness in the Council of this new area of thinking."
The black consciousness movement also had its roots for South Africa in the student milieu, as represented through the move of black students, led by Steve Biko and Barney Pityana, to create the South African Students Organisation (SASO) in 1969 as separate from the white dominated National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). It was the SASO students who, in 1970, stopped referring to themselves "non-white" and elected to call themselves "black."
Part of the Church background to the process going on in the Council, was the WCC's Division of World Mission and Evangelism Conference at Bangkok in January 1973 at which much was said about the need for indigenisation. Missionary Societies came under fire for clinging to western cultural forms of Church order.
This was reflected in South Africa itself in calls for missionaries to go home or to be ready to serve under local leadership. The Rev Bheka Hlophe, a Lutheran Pastor, writing in a Lutheran journal said "If the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa South East Region (ELCSASER) is supposed to be led and financially supported by Africans, foreign missionaries should not delay but leave us to determine our future as the Spirit leads us..." He went on to call for a share in the "administrative and organisational strains and joys for the extension of God's Kingdom."
This type of call received some response when in June 1970 the Berlin Mission terminated its membership of the SACC in accordance with a Home Board policy that "foreign organisations should not claim a say in South African Church Associations." Another German Mission group, the Hermansburg Mission, followed suit for similar reasons one year later. Both of these societies moved out of the Council as the Churches which they had established had become independent and were able to express their own mind on local affairs through the Council.
And, for the Churches, there was another context. That which was mentioned earlier when the SPROCAS project was "overtaken by other events", the Programme to Combat Racism (PCR).
| CHAPTER FIVE - THE PROGRAMME TO COMBAT RACISM
"Freedom is what we have - Christ has set us free! Stand then, as free people, and do not allow yourselves to become slaves again." (Galatians 5:1)
John Rees speaks about his priority to bring black leadership to the fore in the Churches through the Council being "overtaken" by the furore surrounding the Programme to Combat Racism.. "Only three days after I took office the first grants were made from the Programme to Combat Racism. It threw the Council of Churches into a massive turmoil. Everybody, press from around the world were phoning wanting to know what our stance was. I was pushed right into that."
He goes on to say, "There was a feeling in the Council that we should not be reactive to the PCR, though it became the agenda of the Government with which to whip the SACC. But we were to set our own priorities and they were based on a sound theological base, and that was made manifest in our involvement with SPROCAS, actually translating the theological stance into action."
The Programme to Combat Racism will go down in history as one of the most significant expressions of world Church faith in this century. It ranks alongside the movement for the emancipation of slaves and the missionary movement itself, both of which received strong critical reaction when first mooted in Church courts.
Although the idea of a funding programme for liberation movements had been supported at a WCC Consultation on Racism in May 1969 in London, the actual announcement of the PCR came as a bolt out of the blue for most, if not all, leading Churchmen in South Africa.
Indeed, the General Secretary of the World Council, Dr Eugene Blake, had paid a visit to South Africa in August of that same year but no mention of the PCR was made during that visit.
The Leaders of those Churches with membership in the WCC met on the 10th September and issued a first statement on the issue. "It was acknowledged that the motivation for this assistance accords with the Christian practice of helping those who suffer or are in any kind of need. However, this action can be regarded as identification by the WCC with organisations whose purpose is to change the social order in Southern Africa by the use of force."
It went on to say "We acknowledge that it is in response to an unjust racial situation ... nevertheless ... we disassociate ourselves from this action of the WCC and its implied support of violence."
The statement then pointed to the challenge of the PCR decision for the Churches in South Africa. "The task of the Christian Church has always been reconciliation through the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ and the service of all men in His Name. It is the conviction of this meeting that this task, which includes working for truth and justice and therefore the overcoming of racism of any form is pertinent to the task of the Church in Southern Africa.
"It is acknowledged that the Churches in South Africa have largely failed in their task, and it is therefore obligatory upon the Churches to rigorously examine their own role and responsibility to determine how they can more effectively fulfil their task."
The Churches now began one after the other to make their own responses. The September/October period is when many Churches hold their Conferences, Synods, or Assemblies so the opportunity to respond came quickly.
First off the mark was the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa. A proposal to terminate membership of the WCC was defeated and a strongly worded statement was issued in which they made reference to a point that most Churches raised, "... though it (General Assembly) dissents from violence pursued by guerrilla organisations ... it must dissent at least as much from the violence inherent in the racial policies of the South African Government."
The Presbyterian Assembly had stronger words for the Prime Minister and the Government. It protested against the Prime Minister's threats against the Churches and his "attempt to coerce them by such threats not only to dissent ... but break entirely with the World Council of Churches for political reasons."
The Methodist and Congregational Churches followed. The Methodists pledged themselves to "seek true unity between the races in our Church and nation." The Congregational Assembly said that "the action of the WCC is a judgement on the Church's ineffectiveness in seeking justice, freedom and human dignity for all." And that "desperate people, even when they resort to terrorism, are the concern of the Christian Church."
All the other WCC member Churches faced the issue in similar manner. The overall consensus was to retain membership of the WCC, criticise the implicit support for violence in the financial aid to liberation movements, criticise the racism in South Africa, and call for a meeting with the WCC leadership about the PCR. A decision by some to withhold affiliation fees soon became academic when the authorities banned the sending of any money to the WCC.
The National Conference of the SACC in 1971 made reference to the various Church resolutions, especially that "the member Churches ... are committed to the eradication of racism and are increasingly seeking effective ways whereby this commitment may be carried out." To help provide "effective ways", the Council established a Programme on Justice and Reconciliation, soon to become a Division of the SACC in the place of "Church and Society", with the expressed mandate to co-ordinate the work of the Churches in eradicating racism in both Church and nation.
In June 1972 the Executive stated that "the word 'justice' has a much wider interpretation than just the legal term, but refers in a Biblical sense to 'the righteousness of God'." It also requested that all Churches "share ecumenically their experience in working for the concerns of Justice and Reconciliation within their structures." Prof Brian Johansen, a Presbyterian Minister on the staff of the University of South Africa (UNISA) was requested to be the Chairman of this new Division and later to become its first Director. An "urgent priority" was said to be the "ongoing development of educational materials for the Christian community in South Africa ..."
Meeting the WCC
In the meantime plans for a meeting between WCC representatives and member Church representatives went ahead. The South African Churches issued the invitation and the WCC Central Committee of January 18th 1971, responded with a lengthy document outlining the purpose of the PCR and welcomed "the invitation of South African Churches for consultation on joint strategy and action."
The Prime Minister gave his initial approval for such a meeting so the delegates were chosen and papers prepared. When the Prime Minister later announced restrictions that meant that the meeting could only be held at Jan Smuts Airport and the WCC delegates could travel no further, it was decided to "indefinitely postpone" the gathering.
By now there was much more known about the Programme. The WCC Central Committee made it clear that the PCR came out of a belief "that the Churches must always stand for the liberation of the oppressed and of victims of violent measures which deny basic human rights." And that it notes with appreciation "that the Executive Committee has received assurance from all organisations which appealed up to the present for grants from the special fund that they will not use the grants received for military purposes but for activities in harmony with the purposes of the WCC and its divisions."
But no matter how much was known and how much was explained the controversy continued and still continues. The important aspect for the South African Churches remained the manner in which it made them look carefully at themselves and work on programmes to eradicate any sign of racism within their own structures.
Throughout the next four or five years the issue of WCC membership would be raised by individuals or groups within many of the Churches and debated again in the courts of those Churches. The renewed debates always got back to the same result and the member Churches retained membership of the WCC.
And during these times the Council not only continued with its day to day work but also began to expand into various kinds of activity.
- Inter Church Aid, and the Divisions of Home and Family Life and Mission and Evangelism grew in size and scale of operation. Dependant's Conference which had been part of the Inter Church Aid programme became a Division in its own right as the need for help for the dependants of detained and imprisoned people increased. An Ecumenical Press Agency was started and a company formed, Devcraft (Pty) Ltd, to assist Inter Church Aid in marketing the goods created in home industry projects. A new Division of Ecumenical Youth Projects suggested and started a Bursary Fund which quickly grew into the much needed African Bursary Fund helping to answer in a small way the crying need throughout the years for Bursaries for both High School and University education.
- There were many Conferences. Most were held in co-operation with one or more other organisations or Churches. Marriage Guidance and Family Counselling, Communications Workshop, Social Change, Christian Education, The Generation Gap, Audio Visual Workshop, Capital Punishment, Theology in Africa Today, Broadcasting and Television, Church Music, and Education for Development, were the themes included in a long list of conferences arranged.
- There were many overseas visitors who spoke at special meetings, seminars or conferences. These included persons of the calibre of Dr Hans-Ruedi Weber of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, Switzerland, Professor J Verkuyl of the Free University in Amsterdam, American ecumenist Dr Robert McAfee Brown, Professor Eberhard Bethge a friend and biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Rev Michael Bourdeaux of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism in Britain, and the internationally acclaimed Dr E.F. Schumacher of the "small is beautiful" fame.
- There was, in 1973, the acquisition of a property and establishment of it as "Diakonia House", a centre for Churches, ecumenical organisations and community service groups. The property was to be registered in the name of "Jorissen Street Properties" which was a group made up of SACC, Lutheran Church, and Christian Institute representatives. This slowly but surely entangled the Council in Group Areas problems. The Group Areas Act divided the country into zones which belonged to the different race groups. Braamfontein, Johannesburg was a white area and here was the property group of an organisation that had been declared black seeking to register property. The law allowed for application for exemption. The Executive of March 1974 agreed that the SACC "finds it impossible to fit into the categories defined by the Group Areas Act and therefore is making no application for any exemption from its conditions."
That is where the matter rested until many years later when Diakonia House proved too small for the needs of its tenants and a move was made in 1980 to "Khotso House" (The House of Peace) in another part of Johannesburg. The "Khotso House" building was in De Villiers Street near to the railway station which made it convenient for many visitors, and near to the Anglican Cathedral which delighted the then secretary Bishop Tutu. Although that was also officially a white area there was no recurrence of the original problem. It was this Khotso House that was to be blown apart by a bomb in 1988.
- There was much protesting about the treatment meted out to Church workers. In August 1971 the Executive called for "one or more national public protest meetings on the question of bannings and house arrests without trial, with specific reference to the situation of Fr Cosmos Desmond." Fr Desmond had been vocal in bringing the plight of people forcibly removed from "black spots in white areas" to the attention of the public in South Africa and throughout the world in his work "The Discarded People."
Also at that same meeting, the Anglican Dean of Johannesburg the, Rev Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, requested and obtained support for a protest at the house arrest of Mrs Helen Joseph, stalwart through the years of the struggle against apartheid. Within months the same Executive was protesting the arrest, trial, verdict and eventual deportation of ffrench-Beytagh himself.
A member of the Community of the Resurrection, Dean ffrench-Beytagh served the Dependant's Conference with diligence through all its early years. It was this diligent service that led to his eventual deportation. The Executive of December 1971 asked that a pamphlet be produced "describing in detail the work of Dependant's Conference for dissemination among the Churches." Legal opinion was sought and obtained, and the General Secretary asked to publish information about the activities of Dependant's Conference both at home and overseas. The Conference never suffered from lack of funding following the ffrench-Beytagh incident and the subsequent Church and secular media publicity.
By the time of the March 1973 meeting of the Executive Committee, the situation concerning bannings and withdrawal of passports had reached proportions that compelled the meeting to issue a statement. This was followed by another general statement in October of that same year. It was a low key statement saying that the Executive viewed the actions (of the Government) "in a serious light", asking for a meeting with "the honourable the Prime Minister", and that the Executive "felt it necessary to discover at first hand the premises on which the Government was taking its actions."
During the very next Executive in December 1973 the meeting was interrupted with the news that "the Rev D. Manas Buthelezi had just been served with a 5 year banning order." This time the Executive was more forthright and said, "We strongly condemn this action." and, "it is our prophetic task to warn the State that this continued action on their part is creating in no uncertain terms a situation of hostility, deep resentment and, we believe, a flagrant incitement of the black people in South Africa."
The temperature of protest was obviously rising. At the same time there were numerous delegations to see Ministers of State to question, discuss and make recommendation. None seemed to have brought any consolation to the Church representatives.
Congress on Mission and Evangelism
There was even energy and time for a huge Congress on Mission and Evangelism. The usual image of the Council of Churches in the media was, and remains, that of a socio-politically active group. The criticism that the Council does not give any time to matters such as mission and evangelism is understandable from those who only know the SACC through the mass media.
The Council was, and is, basically concerned with mission. It is this basic concern that takes it into the whole area of socio-political activity to seek and to speak the word of God in that context.
Held in Durban in March 1973, the Congress was attended by 630 delegates and observers from 31 different denominations, 36 Christian service groups, and 13 different African and overseas countries.
The original idea came from Michael Cassidy of Africa Enterprise and John Rees, General Secretary of the SACC. An inter-Church committee was set up to organise the great event. Again, unfortunately, the DRC felt unable to be represented officially, but eleven members of that Church, including a major speaker, the Rev David Bosch, took part in their personal capacities.
The subjects covered a wide area such as Evangelism and the Media, Evangelism and Africa, and Evangelism and the Bible. There were many keynote speakers including Dr Hans-Ruedi Weber, Canon Michael Green, and Dr Billy Graham from overseas and Dr Beyers Naude of the Christian Institute, former SACC secretary Bishop Burnett, Dr John de Gruchy, Dr Manas Buthulezi, Dr Alex Boraine, and Bishop Alpheus Zulu from South Africa. Chief Gatsha Buthelezi of Kwa Zulu was one of those who attended.
There were workshops and discussion groups, sermons and presentations, displays and open time for meeting and getting together. It wrestled with the thorny issue of the South African society with, as John de Gruchy reported in KAIROS, conservative evangelicals speaking of "socio-political issues with a deep felt concern such as I have seldom heard." There was fellowship as the Congress provided an opportunity for white and black to meet on an equal basis and with a common adoption of the Christian faith.
There was challenge, especially for the white Christians present, when Dr Manas Buthelezi said that "the future of the Christian faith in this country will largely depend on how the Gospel proves itself relevant to the problems of the black man" and that "The whites in so far as they have incarnated their spiritual genius in the South African economic and political institutions have sabotaged and eroded the power of Christian love." Dr Buthelezi went on to speak of the new black theology in which the black theologian must "discover a theological framework within which he can understand the will and love of God in Jesus Christ outside the limitations of the white man's institutions."
This was radical new thinking for many at the Congress whose background was the white suburb and the local, usually conservative, Church. It provided for much tension, much discussion, and, in the end, for better understanding and richer fellowship.
John Rees says it was the most memorable event during his time as General Secretary for it "truly brought together all the Churches." At the Congress itself Mr Rees was part of a panel to evaluate the event. During this he said that there were signs of hope for the future "Where Churches are involved at the points of need in the South African Society in such a way that they ... experience suffering, ... demonstrate their unity in Christ, and work for justice and reconciliation." Two other signs of hope he mentioned were "Where the Church .... is thrown back upon the resources of God in humility and repentance" and "Where the Church is prepared to allow God's judgment to begin with itself in order that the country may be saved."
It is difficult in the years that followed to easily discern the Churches as such signs of hope. But, on the other hand, it is possible to see that the hope never died and the sparks were kept alive as the Churches wrestled with a theology that had God talking with a South African accent instead of European or American, and sought to speak and act out the implications without fear or favour.
At the 1974 National Conference, this led inevitably to the resolution on conscientious objection.
| CHAPTER SIX - THE CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION DEBATE
"You will speak all these words to my people, but they will not listen to you; you will call them, but they will not answer." (Jeremiah 7:27)
As the Council began to explore the full meaning of the word of God in the apartheid situation so its statements and resolutions began to reveal that exploration.
Such revelation came to the fore and in fact caused a furore when the National Conference of 1974 passed a resolution on the right of conscientious objection. Call up for national service was compulsory for all white males so the resolution, prepared and presented by white members of the Conference, spoke mainly to the white members of the Churches.
The resolution was long. It pointed to the way in which the "just war" policy was normally accepted by Churches, then to say that South Africa is "fundamentally unjust and discriminatory." It said that the military of South Africa was being prepared to defend the status quo of the nation, and that "it is hypocritical to deplore the violence of terrorists while we ourselves prepare to defend our society with its primary institutionalised violence by means of yet more violence."
The Conference went on to "deplore violence as a means to solve problems" and asked member Churches to "challenge all their members to consider ... whether Christ's call to take up the cross and follow Him ... does not, in our situation, involve becoming conscientious objectors." The resolution went on to ask Churches to examine the manner in which pastoral care was given not only to members of the South African Defence Force but also to those "at present in exile or under arms beyond our borders." The last two paragraphs contained a request for the SACC Task Force on Violence and Non-Violence to study methods of non-violent action, and a closing prayer for "the Government and people of South Africa."
The public media reaction was immediate and mostly critical. As pointed out by the General Secretary in a statement made just a few days after the Conference concluded, however, "the negative reaction has come so far from white media, white newspapers, white politicians and certain white Churchmen."
There were comments that the Council was unpatriotic, to which the Council responded, "We on our part yield to no one in our claim to love our land, but we are called .... to give our highest loyalty not to 'our country right or wrong' but to God and His Kingdom."
The Minister of Defence called Archbishop Hurley of the Catholic Church, who expressed support for the resolution, "a lackey of communism" and also said that "religious conviction should not be permitted to interfere with one's attitude to military service." The Council retorted that denying the sovereignty of God over every area of man's life was blasphemous.
It is strange that a number of the criticisms concluded that the contents proved once again that the SACC supported violent overthrow of the Government. This after a resolution on conscientious objection to violence!
The statement by the General Secretary began with " The Council has, and has always, rejected violence as a means of achieving change." The same statement concluded, "Finally we reiterate the Council's rejection of violence in all its forms." The main body of the statement, while refuting the various accusations made because of the decision, stated the position of the SACC once again on the issue of violence.
- The Council deplores "terrorism in all its forms."
- The Council stands for "justice and reconciliation and all efforts to bring about peaceful non-violent change..."
- The Council has warned that "institutionalised violence inherent in our society should be challenged and eradicated."
These were the principles that the Council operated on during all its years of opposition to the apartheid regime. They were not a false statement or a cover for covert operations, but the natural inference arising from the Word of God in the context of the South African situation. They did not come from opportunistic tacticians attempting to destroy an enemy, they came from deeply concerned Christians seeking to know what God wanted of them and all God's people in that particular moment of history.
In 1975 the National Conference noted the responses to the conscientious objection resolution and noted that all the member Churches had "either refused to dissociate themselves from it or came out in strong support of it."
Ten years later the then General Secretary, Bishop Desmond Tutu, mentioned the conscientious objection issue once again. By now the Government was considering a bill that would allow for religious conscientious objection by members of specific "Peace Churches" where the pacifist creed was written into their basic constitution.
"Why is the Government so worried about conscientious objection?" asked Bishop Tutu, "After all if the cause they espouse is just, then most would surely wish to support them. Are there ...nagging doubts about the rightness of their cause and that there might be many young white South Africans who don't want to die defending the indefensible?"
"We must insist", said Bishop Tutu, "that the Gospel of Jesus Christ demands that each person should obey his conscience and that this imperative implies an inalienable right to be able to do so. It is pernicious in the extreme for the state to force people to violate their consciences, especially for a state that claims to be Christian."
This last sentence points to the crux of the matter for many. The constitution of the country begins, as the Rondebosch Church statement on the message reminded us, "The people of South Africa acknowledge the sovereignty and guidance of God." The statements and judgements of the Council of Churches were not made in opposition to a secular Government that denied the existence of God but in opposition to a regime that purported to believe in and act in the name of God.
Thus it was from the beginning that the Council felt not only able, but also compelled by a divine imperative to speak out against injustices practised in the name of God.
The statement on conscientious objection, as it happens, was addressed to the member Churches of the Council. There were many occasions when the Council in session felt it necessary to speak a prophetic, and sometimes disturbing, word out of its collective conscience to the member Churches.
It is interesting to note that it is these messages to the member Churches, which could be classified in one way as internal messages to itself as a Council of Churches, that aroused the ire of the authorities and the white controlled media more than any others. This happened with the message, with the conscientious objection resolution and, many years later, with the call for "Standing for the Truth."
Statements made by a Council of Churches often have some tension around them as, especially if the statement is a long one with many points, not all Churches may agree with what is said. As early as June 1969 the Council tried to deal with this problem.
Based on the assumption that the Council needs to "make statements, pass resolutions and publish literature on socio-ethical, ecclesiastical and theological matters" a memorandum suggested that statements may be published in the name of the National Conference or Executive, that statements do not bind the member Churches to complete agreement, and that the General Secretary may make statements in the name of the Council where these have "evident support of statements and resolutions of the Council."
In 1972 the Executive was aware that "many Churches and newspapers waited for the Council to speak first before they took any stand on the issues of the day." The Executive could not be called together each time and, after a long discussion, it was agreed that the General secretary should speak and that "the Executive should be prepared to bear the consequences of any statement ... and that they placed their full trust in him in this regard."
The same question arose a number of times through the years, but always the same conclusion was reached that the General Secretary could speak on behalf of the Council based on the theological principles upon which the Council operated as well as the mind of the Council as known through previous declarations.
Bishop Storey remembers the query being raised during the secretaryship of Bishop Tutu. "I remember once more when he had made a stand which was certainly not going to be very popular with some sections of some of the constituent Churches. It was certainly related to sanctions. But at that point we had a debate in the Executive about the degree to which the General Secretary needs to reflect positions already taken and the degree to which God can use him as a prophet to speak into the situation, to what degree was he bound and to what degree he was free. And again, I think, there was a remarkable decision. A decision which said that no matter how uncomfortable, the whole Biblical tradition is that God raises up prophets who speak not necessarily because a majority vote has been taken but because God has spoken to them. Take that freedom away and we actually become a majority vote type of forum instead of a place where God's Word can strike into a situation like a thunderbolt. I think it was those kind of debates where we were beating out, against the anvil of a very difficult situation, a very hostile situation, profoundly theological insights."
The Mass Media
Most people knew about the SACC and what it was saying and what it was doing through the mass media. Most people, therefore, knew the SACC through the edited and biased versions of the media. There is no doubt that this led to much distorted and twisted image of the Council.
In 1971 it was agreed for the first time to allow the media into the National Conference debates and discussions, except for specific times when the Council felt the need to be "in camera." This resolution was reached not only because of the persistence of a number of journalists but to, hopefully, allow journalists to see and understand the context in which the Council reached its decisions. Of such is the naivety of the Church regarding the media!
There were journalists who did try to understand and put the truth before their public. There were newspaper editors who did make a stand against the innumerable laws restricting the free flow of information and the right to print about specific matters.
Those who spoke through the Rand Daily Mail paid dearly for its stand when it was closed. The editors and owners of the English papers were often in court through breaking an obscure law, the cases usually bringing greater publicity to the original sentences or articles than was possible in any other way. The "alternative" press, such as the "New Nation", "Vryeweekblad" and "The Weekly Mail" which were to be established in the 1980's, played a prominent role in exposing much of apartheid's cruelty and corruption.
The general media picture, however, was that the SACC was a leftist-influenced organisation cloaking in Christian terms its devilish intent for South Africa. This began almost as soon as the SACC came into existence and, as the SACC grew in size and importance as a player on the South African scene, it developed into an industry of disinformation. It was at its height during the time the charismatic Bishop Tutu was General Secretary, when character assassination was the order of the day.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation was at the top of the league for distorted reporting and biased comment. It's "Current Affairs" radio programme was often filled with vicious attacks on the Council. When television came into South Africa in 1976 the coverage given to the affairs of the SACC remained very much the same with it being regarded as fair game for misrepresentation.
The visuals used at the time of the Eloff Commission, for example, were distorted images and not true reflections of the proceedings of the Commission. Statements by Government spokespersons and opponents of the SACC received most attention while the presentations by the SACC General Secretary, Bishop Tutu, and its President, the Rev Peter Storey, and other supporters received scant regard. There was little mention made of the eventual outcome.
Television is a personality medium. It can make or break people while finding institutions more difficult to portray in a visual format. It was used to its utmost in its portrayal of Bishop Tutu as a communist inspired power hungry politician calling for the violent destruction of the social structure and economy of the land without regard for black or white lives. Juxtaposition of images and words, short cuts from speeches, and all the tricks of technological deceit were used to put over the distorted image. The one thing that never happened was for time to be given to the Bishop, or any other General Secretary, to speak for themselves.
The SACC was constantly attacked on both radio and television without any opportunity of response. This was to be so apparant even in the early seventies that the SACC decided it was necessary to start a press agency to counter the many distorted views of itself and its activities, as well as present a Christian perspective on events in the nation. The Ecumenical Press Agency, later to become ECUNEWS, served the secular and religious press both in and out of South Africa. As with so many statements and activities of the SACC, the agency was taken much more seriously overseas than in South Africa itself.
The SACC throughout its history has issued statements to call attention to the demands of the Word of God in specific instances. There was a significant change in the tone of the statements as the oppression of the majority of the population became more apparent, as the SACC became more indigenous as reflected in its membership, and the practical implications of the theological position became more obvious.
In 1968 when speaking to the matter of forced removals it was said that the Executive "cannot approve of the uprooting of settled communities." It went on to say, however, "If nevertheless, Government policy requires and legislation authorises the enforced removal of people ... common humanity demands that everything possible should be done to effect the removals with maximum consideration for the ... interests of the people concerned." This is a far cry from the outright condemnation of the practice itself and the decision to stand alongside communities threatened with removal in later years.
In March 1969 the Executive debated the Bantu Laws Amendment Bill which gave the Minister of Bantu Affairs the right to move and remove "a Bantu", as Africans were officially called at that time, at will. The decision made was to present a memorandum about the Bill to members of Parliament and to "seek an interview with the Minister on the subject."
This was a common practice throughout the days of the Christian Council and also in the early days of the SACC. There was considerable correspondence with Ministers of State, and requests for visits to Government officials to discuss issues. In August 1971 the Executive was asked to approve a film company making a film about the Inter Church Aid programme. The money was already promised and the ICA itself was in favour of the production. The Executive said that it supported the project but "approval of the Government would first have to be obtained."
By 1974 that acceptance of the Government's right to order the life and witness of the SACC was fast disappearing. The Council felt stable enough, as well as committed and impelled by the imperative of the Gospel, to speak on matters affecting the lives of the people of South Africa.
Although the practice of requesting and arranging meetings with Government officials never completely ceased, it was often queried in relation to practical value and many thought it ascribed to the Government a validity that was disputed. This debate still continues.
One thing is certain. The SACC has never courted popularity in its statements or its actions. It has sought to speak on the basis of Gospel demands, interpreting these to the particular and often peculiar situations within South Africa.
In 1974 soon after the emotional uproar that followed the conscientious objection resolution, and when the Portuguese withdrew from Angola and Mocambique, Dr Axel-Ivar Berglund pointed to the lives and resources that had been wasted in those countries. He then went on to say "If only someone in Portugal twelve years ago had raised a voice and asked: 'In God's name, what are we fighting for? What are the alternatives to violence?' it just might have given that nation pause for thought and spared it an immensity of sacrifice and humiliation. Such a voice has been raised in South Africa. Will South Africa listen?"
By 1974 the SACC had seventeen member Churches, nine member organisations, and seven observer member Churches. It had worked hard through the years to hammer out a common theological approach to the issues of South Africa and proved itself to be a formidable opponent of the apartheid regime. It had extended its programmes and activities, begun to receive considerable overseas support for those programmes, and established more regional offices in different parts of the country.
The Council was out of its fledgling years. It knew where it stood and what it stood for. This was soon to prove very necessary and to be tested to the hilt when in June 1976 Soweto, the largest residential area in the country, erupted into chaos and confrontation.
| CHAPTER SEVEN - PROTEST AND CONFRONTATION
"My brothers, what good is it for someone to say that he has faith if his actions do not prove it?" (James 2:14)
The date June 16th 1976 is etched deeply into the story of modern South Africa. It has become known as Soweto Day, the day to remember the students of Soweto who were slain as they demonstrated over the enforced use of Afrikaans in education.
The Soweto schoolchildren were in carnival mood at the start of their day of protest. Placards saying "Our teachers can't teach in Afrikaans", "Afrikaans is the oppressor's language", and "Away with Afrikaans" were held high as the huge procession snaked its way toward the Orlando stadium for a mass meeting. On the road they were met by a large contingent of heavily armed police.
What came first, a stone or teargas? Whatever came first, the police were soon firing at random and the students were using stones and then fire as they vented their anger at the death of their colleagues and the heavy arm of the law.
The disturbances in Soweto on that fateful day became a signal to many other areas of the country where similar incidents occurred until the whole country was covered in pockets of student resistance to the apartheid laws.
Television had entered South Africa earlier in the year. It was still young enough for there to be no strict rules of censorship so the images of what was happening in Soweto went straight into the lounges and living rooms of the white population. The shock was enormous and the whole nation was compelled to recognise the racial conflict. It was a time of testing. A test that many failed, including the Government who dealt with it by using a heavy hand and iron fist. Many young people were forced to flee their homes, many their country, and the die was cast for the total confrontation of the black masses with the Government.
By June 23rd the official figures, disputed as only a fraction of the reality by some, was that one hundred and fifty were dead, two thousand injured, and "hundreds" arrested.
The Government blamed "agitators" for the unrest, praised the police for their swift action, and defended the use of live ammunition instead of rubber bullets because South Africa was "different." The late Dr Andries Treurnicht, then Deputy Minister of Bantu Administration and Development, said that as the Afrikaaner paid taxes toward Bantu education they had a right to say which language would be used. In July, however, the Government announced that the use of Afrikaans as a teaching medium was left to the choice of the schools themselves.
There had been signs of the potential for unrest. These had been made known to the authorities in various ways, including an open letter on May 8th to the Prime Minister by Desmond Tutu, who was then the Dean of the Johannesburg Cathedral and already appointed to be the new Bishop of Lesotho. It was a long letter of warning about the increased anger, bitter frustration, and deep hurt of the black experience.
The letter pointed to the comment of the South African representative at the United Nations, Mr "Pik" Botha, that "South Africa was moving away from discrimination based on race" and to the Government's "promotion of detente and dialogue."
It mentioned the fear of the whites and "I say with all the eloquence I can command" that the security of our country does not ultimately depend on military strength and security police draconian power. Dean Tutu called for acceptance of urban blacks as permanent residents of South Africa, the repeal of the pass laws, and a National Convention of "genuine leaders." He then closed with the prayer "Please may God inspire you to hear us before it is too late ... "
Although the letter received considerable publicity, the terse reply from the Prime Minister and his outright rejection of the Dean's request for permission to publish the reply caused him to say that the Prime Minister's response "leaves me with less hope than ever."
His warning, echoed by so many Church leaders and ministers and priests of Soweto and other townships, was ignored and June 16th became the scene of violent confrontation.
On the evening of June 16th a group including the Dean, SACC General Secretary John Rees, and others drafted a statement on the situation for local and international distribution. It was one of many that poured out of Churches, a special meeting of national Church leaders, the Christian Institute, the World Council of Churches and many overseas Churches.
The statements were similar in condemnation of police action and Government intransigence, a request to move away from the forced use of Afrikaans, for the Churches to minister to both black and white bereaved, and for the calling of a National Convention. The Church leaders added a phrase asking that the SABC stop "attempts to interpret the situation." The then President of the SACC, the Rev John Thorne who was the Associate General Secretary of the United Congregational Church, was deeply involved with the General Secretary of the SACC in drafting statements and monitoring the situation in Soweto. He was also in contact with the Prime Minister to appeal for intervention in some of the planned police and local authority actions to quell the disturbances.
There were calls made, on behalf of the Church leaders, by Mr Rees of the SACC and Dr Beyers Naude of the Christian Institute, that police withdraw from the townships as their presence only aggravated the situation. The official response of the Chief Magistrate of Johannesburg was to serve restraining orders upon them both for "interference" in Soweto. At the same time the Prime Minister, Mr John Vorster, on a visit to Germany said that "certain clergymen" were behind the disturbances.
A Divided National Conference
The Council of Churches itself did not escape the testing of the hour. Meeting in Hammanskraal once more, the National Conference for the first, and last, time in its history had to divide into black and white groups to discuss some of the issues before it.
At the 1975 National Conference the President, the Rev John Thorne, spoke of the "dawning of a new day" for South Africa. "the day of the white man is over," he said, "the black man will take command and control of his own destiny."
One year later the words were put to the test in the National Conference of 1976 with demands from some black delegates for a changed programme resulting, after long debate, in a decision to have three caucuses, one black, one white and one mixed to discuss the current situation. In the event the white caucus did not take place. Most black delegates joined the black group but a significant number joined the whites to form one mixed group.
Such was the tension of the time. Such was the need of the moment to make the division to allow for an exclusive black voice that could speak to the turbulent situation out of its own experience. Here again was a natural step forward in the progress toward a genuinely indigenous Council of Churches.
The conscious decision that the Council had to be the conduit of black expression had been taken by the Council on previous occasions, mainly at the National Conferences of 1974 and 1975. The ratio at National Conferences from 1972 onwards had been in the favour of black representatives. But the initiatives in presentations and discussions had to a large extent remained the monopoly of whites. Now that was to change.
In 1975 the late Professor David Bosch, a Church theologian of note and one of that small group of Afrikaans Churchmen to be associated with the SACC through the years, lectured to the National Conference. In his address, "The Church in South Africa Tomorrow" he spoke of two misunderstandings of the Church. The one, he said, is that the "world" and the "Church" can be "neatly distinguished from one another." This he saw as an aggressive form of Church which undertook mission to save people from the "world." On the other hand, there was the view that saw no difference between Church and world. In this case the Church only offers what any other organisation can offer, concerns itself solely with humanitarian needs, and "the assumption that we Christians know exactly what to prescribe to society." Prof Bosch went on to say that the Church must tread the "wary path between" to offer the world faith, hope, and love.
This challenge was not forgotten in 1976 or at any other later stage in the life of the Council of Churches. The speaking to and activity in the socio-political affairs of the nation came out of a deep sense of the Gospel and a spiritual life of prayer. Dean Tutu's letter to the Prime Minister, for instance, was written during a three day prayer retreat, and the 1976 Conference debate followed a prayer service.
On the other hand, there were many times when the involvement in the socio-political needs of the nation led to a sense of reliance upon God as the only source of strength and hope to see you through. There was always this Gospel-inspired sense of need to balance between being IN the world and yet not OF the world.
Many years after 1976, when Parliament was debating the report of the Eloff Commission into the affairs of the SACC, the Rev Alex Boraine, one time President of the Methodist Church and at that time member of Parliament for the Progressive party, was able to say that the report pointed to the problem the Government had with the SACC stemming from the fact that " the Council has tried to resolve the age-old dichotomy between the gospel of personal conversion and the gospel of social responsibility."
This is not to say that there were never moments of doubt or moments of straying from the "wary path between". But for those who worked in, through, or alongside the Council there was always the sense of seeking to know the will of God and facing the implications of that will in action and empathy.
In the 1976 National Conference this led to the President, Congregational Minister the Rev John Thorne, and speakers Anglican Bishop of Lesotho Desmond Tutu and Catholic Archbishop Dennis Hurley calling for greater participation in the struggle for peace and for liberation.
Archbishop Hurley spoke a prophetic word to say that there is a need to mobilise for peace. He said that if violence could be avoided while present internal and external pressures prevailed and intensified, peaceful change could be effected by the year 2000. "But obviously we haven't until then. The assumption we are working on is that if there is no significant change by 1980 violence is inevitable."
He went on to say a word that many in recent years would wish could have been picked up and acted upon with greater zeal and urgency. The task of indicating the kind of change necessary in South Africa to avoid violence, he said, " must be undertaken as part of the Christian endeavour to map out the path to peaceful change. The mapping out would have to be perfectly honest and indicate that within a specified time majority rule is inevitable and that an important consideration is that whites prepare themselves psychologically for it and blacks prepare themselves psychologically and technically."
John Thorne said that in the near future of South Africa "we must not expect good sense to prevail or that people will be rational enough to accept that it is impossible to withhold liberation as it is to thrust the newborn baby back into the womb." He called for perseverance in the cause of liberation.
Bishop Tutu spoke of liberation as crucial for the survival of South Africa itself. Liberation, he said was "absolutely crucial for both oppressor and oppressed, for freedom is indivisible. One section of the community can not be truly free while another is denied a share in that freedom."
He went on to say, "We are involved in the black liberation struggle because we are also deeply concerned for white liberation." And concluded, "The struggle for liberation, a truly Biblical struggle, is crucial for the survival of South Africa. It must succeed."
The deep feeling and sense of frustration of that National Conference is found in the plea to "individual Christians" with which the Conference ended. The statement arose out of the black caucus and was then endorsed by the whole Conference.
"We say to every Christian "Peel the arrogance from your heart, listen and learn, show your brotherhood in the streets, in the shops, on the farms and in your homes.
"Form groups across the barriers of your community to discover with others the needs of our country, the details of righteousness and the purpose of prayer.
"The time for action is come.
"We say as individuals to the angry and the suffering, we are listening to you and we suffer with you.
"We have failed in many ways, but we rededicate ourselves to learn together, work together, share together,suffer together."
There was one other speaker at that Conference, Dr F E O'Brian Geldenhuys, Director of Ecumenical Affairs of the Dutch Reformed Church. He was, according to ECUNEWS, the first official DRC person to attend an SACC Conference for 36 years.
Dr Geldenhuys did not conform to what the rest of the Council was saying. Although he pointed to many commonly shared beliefs about the nature of Church and State relationships, his presentation, especially in the context of that particular Conference, could only highlight the differences of approach.
The State, he said, "should not feel threatened by the Church as the true Church could never engage in betraying or undermining the authority of the state." He agreed that the Church had a role in liberation, "but the whole problem lies in determining the nature and extent of its involvement as well as the methods employed, according to the norms of the Word of God."
There were many words he used which would be accepted as true by most, if not all, the delegates but, without doubt, having a rather different interpretation. Who was he talking about, for instance, when he quoted a DRC statement that "the Church should not merely be concerned with the promotion of popular opinions, nor should it seek to hide behind opinions which cannot be justified according to scripture."
It is interesting that he should be speaking to the divide that was evident between the member Churches of the SACC and the DRC at a National Conference that welcomed a "daughter Church" into membership.
Joining the Council
The late Rev Willie Cilliers remembered very well the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (NGKA), one of the so-called "daughter" Churches of the DRC, becoming a full member of the Council.
"You must realise that the sending Church in the DRC is the white Church," he said. "That is a majority Church among the white Afrikaans-speaking people who think they have no need of ecumenism because it is a majority Church. On the other hand, the black daughter Churches are, in their own communities, minority Churches. The dilemma of those so-called daughter Churches was where to identify. Do we identify with the Church that subsidises our budget or do we identify with the people among whom we live and work?
"The signs of liberation came to quite a few of the younger ministers during the sixties who said our real identity lies with the people. It does not lie in toeing the line of the sending Church any more. This is where the momentum started to move towards a more prominent ecumenical outreach.
"In the black community itself our people were scolded and earmarked as the Church of the Government because of the name Dutch Reformed Church. So the black clergy were ... becoming more and more radical."
The Rev Cilliers went on to talk of membership of the Council. "In 1975 at the Synod of Worcester I was the writer of the report to put before the Synod that we join the SACC. So that Synod decided, yes we do. And in 1976 the representatives of the NGKA at the Hammanskraal National Conference were the senior Reverend Buti and myself. When we entered to take our places in the hall the meeting rose and sang N'Kosi Sikelele Afrika. It was a very deeply moving experience."
The NGKA later provided a President for the Council, the Rev Sam Buti, and the Church has been an active participant in the SACC through the years.
The member Churches were drawing ever closer in fellowship through the SACC. Their committed ownership of the SACC had proved to be strong enough to take them together through the trauma of the 1976 National Conference and would be strong enough to hold them together in the years of testing that lay ahead.
A sign of this determination was to follow the 1976 Conference when, because of obvious increased police harassment and Government declarations about the SACC, General Secretary John Rees called a meeting to suggest breaking the Council up into a number of separate and autonomous Divisions as a means of survival. In this way, a successful move to close one Division on the part of the authorities would not harm the others.
John Rees also points to another reason. "There were some Divisions of the Council where all the Churches felt comfortable and others where they felt discomfort and the idea of trying to make them autonomous was to have as much involvement of the Churches as was possible."
The meeting of Church representatives would have none of it. Bishop Storey recalls the day. "I think I was chairing that meeting and there were all the documents lying around to end the Council as a legal persona. John (Rees) had taken all the legal advice to move in that direction and I remember an outstanding debate in which people said no way. We will stay together and if one Division is attacked we must all go down rather than allow this thing to be picked off piecemeal.
"I can remember the celebration at the end of the day and those who had done so much of the paperwork were as celebratory as anyone else. John, I remember, being amazed at the solidarity which had come through that day."
John Rees comments when looking back at that occasion that he is "glad that it did not happen and with hindsight I think there was a chance that the Churches would have lost control of the separated Divisions."
At that moment it was another symbol of the unity that was present within the family of the Council of Churches. The significance of the day lies, of course, in the Church's ownership of the Council as their body, belonging to them. No one else, especially the enemies of the Council, will make decisions about its shape and format. It was and is a Council of Churches.
There are those who would insist that the Council has little support among the Churches themselves. Such talk is wishful thinking on their part and the story of the SACC is one in which whenever it was necessary the member Churches responded to the call for support and solidarity. This does not mean that every single decision made by the Executive or National Conference was adopted and accepted by its constituent members. That does not happen in any organisation of worth. It does mean, however, that the Council provided a focus for fellowship as well as a challenge and opportunity for involvement in national and inter-Church affairs.
Bishop Peter Storey: "I think Desmond (Tutu) was quite right when he said that it doesn't matter what you do to us you will not destroy the Church. That was a very firm conviction which was the root of our hope. I think one came away from National Conferences, not always in total agreement with everything said or decided but with an awareness of a body that was alive, was vigorous and it really did have right on its side. Therefore, those whom we were up against were the losers, even at that point. They never had the opportunity to feel the peace that comes with doing the right thing."
The peace that comes through doing the right thing was to face further tests during the coming years.
| CHAPTER EIGHT - ASINGENI AND REMOVALS
"If you obey my teaching, you are really my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31f)
One of the responses to the June 1976 crisis was to establish a special fund to assist the victims of the unrest. The immediate purpose was provision of food and clothing for those who suffered because of the disturbances, and funeral expenses for those who had lost loved ones. It then moved into the provision of legal expenses and bail money for those prosecuted by the system. There was some allowance for discretionary use of the fund by the General Secretary.
Called "Asingeni" the fund came in for much criticism from the Government and its allies, including a new English language newspaper called "The Citizen" later to be found to have been funded by the Government. The criticism as voiced by the Minister of Justice, Mr J Kruger, in Parliament in February of 1977 was to suggest that Asingeni was a secret source of funding to "aid trouble-makers."
The comment on Asingeni being a "secret" fund was paradoxical. The November 1976 issue of KAIROS, the SACC magazine, had carried details about sponsors and expenditure of the Asingeni fund. But, before it could be distributed the police raided the SACC offices on November 25th. Among the many papers confiscated were all the available copies of that KAIROS. Further copies were hastily printed, only to be banned completely by the authorities. Any suggestion of secrecy relating to the fund by the Minister of Justice was one that his own Department had created with its refusal to allow the details to be made known!
The months that followed the National Conference of July 1976 were filled with further disturbances as the fierce active opposition to Government legislation continued in the townships.
The major message to the Government from the Churches, contained in statements by the SACC, Churches, and Church organisations was for the Government to contact genuine recognised black leaders.
The Presidium of the SACC called for "Bold, swift and courageous action" from the Prime Minister to call a meeting that "should lay the foundation for an immediate round-table convention, representative of all races, which would have as its aim the removal of apartheid and the implementation of an acceptable system of Government for all."
The wisdom and experience of the Rev Dr Manas Buthelezi, who ministered in Soweto, was heard through a statement by the Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. It said that South Africans must view the disturbances in a serious light and not just as "sporadic unrest caused by unruly children." While the Christian Institute said it was urgent that blacks be given the freedom to elect "truly recognised leaders."
The most significant comments came from two of the "daughter Churches" of the DRC calling upon Mr Vorster, the Prime Minister, to meet with black leaders. "The renewed clashes are the incontrovertible evidence that the existing political, economic and social structures ... are rejected." Both Churches went on to urge the white DRC to speak out and that they had become weary of ambiguous statements made by the "mother Church" on the question of apartheid and the whole social structure of South Africa.
The DRC remained silent and the Government announced, through its Minister of Justice, Mr J Kruger, that law and order would be maintained at all costs. The lists of those killed and those detained surged to new heights as did the lists of young people leaving the country to join the liberation armies. Black and white divisions throughout society, and especially between the DRC and its daughter Churches, became more apparent.
In the midst of all the violent confrontation when the Churches were still calling for a National Convention, the Prime Minister, Mr J B Vorster, publicly said that there was no cause for panic and there was "no crisis" in the country!
Two more members of staff, for some were already in detention, were detained during the November 25th police swoop on the SACC offices. There were also detentions on that same day among the staff of the Christian Institute and the Christian Academy.
The raid gave rise to an SACC Executive statement expressing solidarity with the staff "in carrying out the tasks which have been delegated to them." The statement also protested the "tactics of intimidation being employed against the SACC."
The Anglican Provincial Synod was meeting in Grahamstown at the time of the raid and issued a strong message. Apart from condemning the raid, the message addressed all members of the Church of the Province "to ensure that the non-violent work of all detained and banned Christian workers ... was carried on; to demand that persons in detention should receive the ministry of Word and Sacrament; and to rejoice in the Christian witness of the detained and the opportunity police action gives to Christians to give joyful testimony to the victory and healing power of the love of Christ."
1976 ended with the students calling for a "truce" and appealing for Christmas to be a time of mourning. The year, according to Revelation Ntoula of ECUNEWS would be on record "as the opening of a new chapter in the history of South Africa."
The year also ended with some staff changes in the SACC. Mr John Rees had resigned as General Secretary at the October meeting of the Executive Committee. Mr Rees did, however, stay on to assist while the search for a new Secretary took place. All eyes were on Lesotho and Bishop Desmond Tutu but he felt at that stage that he had not been in Lesotho long enough to return to South Africa.
Mr Rees would leave the Council a much larger organisation than it had been when he started seven years before. The number of staff had quadrupled, there were more Regional Councils and there were as many as sixteen Divisions ranging from Dependant's Conference to a Choir Resource unit.
A deeply committed layman who was greatly respected by Church leaders, he ensured that the theological basis of the Council was never forgotten and that faith and mission were well and truly woven into the fabric of its life and witness.
He had also accomplished much of his first priority - to bring black leadership into the courts of the Council and on to the staff.
And he had co-operated with Dr Beyers Naude of the Christian Institute to bring the SACC into a closer relationship with the African Independent Churches.
Meetings were organised by the Christian Institute and the SACC to bring different groups of Independent Churches together to discuss co-operation. An early result of these discussions was the formation early in 1976 of the South African Theological College for the Independent Churches (SATCIC). This was to be centred on SACC owned property at St Ansgars on the near West Rand. Bishop Isaac Mokoena, leader of the "Reformed Independent Church Association" (RICA), was one of the founder members of the college and was appointed chairman of its Board of Management.
As the meetings progressed it was agreed to form a Federation of Independent Churches which would encourage and assist the associations to work together. Following a December 1976 meeting of representatives of the groups and the offer of the SACC to employ one of their number as a Church Development Officer, Bishop Mokoena was chosen to become a member of the SACC staff.
Another new member of staff was Mr Eugene Roelofse. Well known for his struggles over the years against consumer discrimination, Mr Roelofse was appointed as "Ombudsman." President John Thorne announced that he would "specialise in consumer problems which affect the poorer classes rather than the affluent. Those who think they can exploit the unsophisticated and get away with it are in for a surprise."
And the year 1977 began with a prominent lay Baptist, Mr Dan Vaughan, being appointed Director of Evangelism for the Council. The ironic aspect of this appointment was that the Baptist Union of South Africa had only recently cut itself off completely from the SACC by withdrawing from observer membership. With a wry smile, Dan Vaughan says that he went to the General Secretary of the Baptist Union for counsel before taking the job but that "he only said he didn't think I would do much good in the SACC."
"The whole experience for me, as a so called evangelical," says Dan Vaughan, " was that the SACC pushed me to examine those things which were part of my Church culture and, therefore, quite irrelevant and that which lay at the heart of my belief. The interesting factor, and I have often said this to people in the Baptist Church, is that I have never felt compromised. I just got rid of a lot of unnecessary baggage."
And so the work of the Council went on with continued altercations between it and the Government, continued activity through its many Divisions with special growth in field work among the victims of the unrest, and in the search for a new General Secretary.
The President of the SACC, the Rev John Thorne, was invited to be General Secretary at the National Conference of 1977, a position he held for only three months during which he decided that this was not the place that God intended him to be. Mr Thorne returned to pastoral work in the United Congregational Church.
His service as President and support of the then General Secretary, John Rees, bears mention and commendation. He was always ready to speak a prophetic word to the situation, never afraid of voicing the demands of the black community, helped establish, through many difficult National Conferences, set procedures for debates and discussions, and in many ways complemented the work of the General Secretary throughout all his years as President.
March On John Vorster Square
Mr Thorne was to be prominent in the ecumenical movement again a few years later when on May 24th 1980, when he was minister in the "Coloured" township of Bosmont near Johannesburg, he was arrested by security police. Although no official reason was given for the arrest it was thought to be related to support he had given to children attending local schools in their opposition to the education system.
As it happened, an ecumenical service was to take place the next day, Day of Pentecost, in his own Church. Those present agreed that a service would be held at the Congregational Centre in Johannesburg the next day and this would be followed by a protest march to the John Vorster Square police station to present a memorandum requesting Mr Thorne's release.
Fifty four clergy, dressed in their official robes and gowns, and lay Church men and women took part in the procession. No one really expected the police to take action against the group. This is evident from the way in which many of them had left their cars in bays allowing for only sixty minutes parking time. As it turned out, however, the whole group was arrested by many heavily armed police and spent the night in the same prison cells from which John Thorne was just being released.
The publicity that the arrest received both at home and abroad has to do more with the manner in which the police made the arrest than with the march itself. They stopped the procession in the middle of a busy street where many bystanders could see what was happening and directly across the road from the offices of The Star newspaper. The reporters did not even have to leave their desks!
For those who took part and were placed into cells overnight, many of whom were not known for their outspoken criticism of the Government, it was a time of intense fellowship. Archbishop Tutu remembers it as one of the highlights of his time as General Secretary. "We held a service conducted by (the Rev) Simeon Nkoane and we took a collection to pay a woman's fine whom Leah (Tutu) had identified in their cells. (The Rev) Joe Wing wept because he had worked long and hard for Church unity and that had been the best example of Church unity he had experienced."
The court was to witness two scenes of Church unity before the matter was over. On the day following the arrest when the marchers were brought into the magistrates court, crowds of people were there to show support in singing hymns. There were so many police present that there was room only for few of these visitors to enter the court itself so they gathered in the corridors and outside the building. When told they were not allowed to sing hymns, they simply knelt down in silent prayer. It was yet another of those moments of deep spiritual significance in the battle against the inhuman system of apartheid.
When on July 1st the group appeared to face charges for committing a traffic offence and for contravening the Riotous Assemblies Act, the court had to listen to testimony after testimony on the reasons for being in the march. A time, again, for Christian witness. The Anglicans had earlier called it "joyful testimony to the victory and healing power of the love of Christ", in the midst of the structures of the Government itself.
For there is no doubt that the courts were proving to be places to further Government plans and processes to deal with any opposition. They were used as the structure through which to assert Government policy as the legitimate voice of the society. With some notable exceptions, the courts merely echoed the voice of the Government in applying the apartheid regulations and carrying out the Government's wishes.
Biko and Bannings
The second half of 1977 saw the tragic death of Steve Biko while in police custody, with the infamous "it leaves me cold" statement of the Minister of Justice, J Kruger. It also saw on October 19th the forced closing of many organisations and the banning of many more people.
Included in the 18 organisations were the Black People's Convention, the Black Community Programme and other youth, student, and community organisations through which black people were seeking to assert their human worth. The World newspaper was banned, and its editor, Percy Qoboza, detained. The Eastern Cape Daily Dispatch was hit through the banning of its editor, Donald Woods.
Forty two black leaders were detained. Among them, yet again, Tom Manthata of the SACC Justice and Reconciliation Division, Dr Ntato Motlana, Chairman of the Soweto Committee of Ten, Mrs Ellen Kuzwayo, so often affectionately known as the Mother of Soweto, and the Rev Smangaliso Mkhatshwa of the Catholic Bishops Conference.
It was the banning of the Christian Institute and many of its staff members that had the closest effect upon the SACC. The two organisations had worked side by side on many programmes over the years and there were close ties of friendship between members of staff. Director Dr Beyers Naude, Administrative Director the Rev Brian Brown, and editor of the CI publicationPro Veritate the Rev Cedric Mayson, were all banned in terms of the Internal Security Act. Brian Brown and Cedric Mayson made their way to Britain to continue serving the struggle there, while Beyers Naude sat out the seven years of his banning order working as best he could within the strictures of its regulations.
Some of those who were there during those dreadful days remember security police telling all CI staff to pick up their personal possessions and go. Then, putting the CI offices out of bounds to all other tenants of the building, searching them and taking away mountains of paper, files and furniture. Groups stood on the pavement outside Diakonia House to bid tearful farewell to friends, express solidarity again and again, and watch with obvious distaste as the security police went about their business.
Writing about the bannings in EcuNews, David Thomas said "The fact is that the authorities are faced with a mass movement which will not be contained simply by banning leaders and organisations. Clearly, this is what the Government is aiming at, its action being based on the premise that only a few people are responsible for the woes and unrest which have taken place since June 1976."
He pointed out, as did other writers of the time, that the banning orders would only create further polarisation and cause even greater active resistance. "The Government," he wrote, "is steadily diminishing any chance of dialogue or negotiation with those who present alternatives to its policies. In other words, the main door to peaceful change is being closed."
Dr Beyers Naude had shown his courage in the face of many attacks from his own Church, he had directed a spirited organisation that placed opposition to apartheid right into the area claimed by the Dutch Reformed Church as of great importance - Bible study and theological expression. Now under a banning order he became a world symbol of hope for South Africa and the determination of those who stood against the evil draconian monster of apartheid.
And all of this against the background of a Government that was not only intransigent in declaring its apartheid policy and determined to stop any protest against it, but was ruthlessly pushing forward in its severe and insensitive application.
No More Black South Africans
The Verwoerdian dream of there being "no more black South Africans" was being implemented through the homeland policy creating the "independent states" of Transkei, Ciskei, Bophuthatswana and, later, Venda. None of the states was to be recognised by the international community.
The mass movement of people to resettlement areas from their traditional homes, named as "black spots in white areas", was horrendous. The SACC was to denounce such movements over the years, give aid to the communities involved, and stand by the people in whatever way possible.
The Cape, around the beautiful Table Top mountain, provided the scene for many removals. Cape Town itself had its heart torn out with the declaration in the mid sixties that District six was a "white area." It took fifteen years to destroy the settled community, but by then a once busy neighbourhood of great character looked devastated and derelict. In 1977 action was taken against the giant squatter community at Modderdam, near Belleville. The so called "Coloured" residents were first faced with orders on July 1st to pack their goods and move to another site where they would receive a plot so long as they agreed to pay a monthly rental. Then a few days later the African residents received notices that their homes would be destroyed and each of them "screened" to see if they had section 10 rights (allowing them to work in a white area). If not they would be moved back to their homeland.
August 8th a large front-end loader arrived and remaining residents were given fifteen minutes to collect belongings before it went into action destroying homes. When it, and the tractor sent to help it, got stuck in mud the residents cheered. Small skirmishes broke out between residents and police and a major confrontation was only averted by leaders of the community appealing for peace.
August can be cold and wet in the Cape. All of this took place during a very bleak period of Cape winter weather. Peoples homes were destroyed in the rain, the bitter winds, and cold. Over the next few days the 10 000 person community of Modderdam disappeared with the people scattering to other sites and moving into the black townships of Langa, Nyanga and Guguletu. Few, very few, went back, as the authorities had planned, to the Eastern Cape.
The Rev David Russell, now Bishop, of the Anglican Church lay down in front of the lorries moving the people's possessions. He was promptly arrested and all whites barred from the area. His action and that of one time SACC worker, Margaret Nash who stood in front of police with a white cross held high when the same fate befell another informal settlement not far from Modderdam later in the month, bore witness to the determination of some in the Church to stand with the poor, the oppressed, and the desperate victims of apartheid in all situations.
During the following year when the large Crossroads squatter camp was under fire, the Rev Dr Sam Buti, now President of the SACC, visited the people to take part in an ecumenical service of solidarity. He was able to speak to the Cape crowd about the forced removals in the Transvaal, "Where is Sophiatown?" he asked, "Where is Lady Selborne, Pageview and Alexandra?" He also used scripture over and over again to make his points about the inhumanity of the removals policy.
A minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (NGKA), he had the scriptural knowledge and theological training so often respected by many Afrikaans speaking people. In this case, however, and on many occasions to come, the racial policy of apartheid took precedence and the text of Romans 13:1 was trotted out as God given authority for inhuman laws. "Everyone must obey the state authorities, for no authority exists without God's permission, and the existing authorities have been put there by God." Needless to say it had NOT been a much used text by that same community when, in their own history, they stood against the British colonial power! This is the tragedy, that people who had gone through the experience of struggling for their own rights, which one would expect to create sensitivity to the needs of others, were now the oppressors.
Many years later in 1983 the community of Mogopa, a small village in the Western Transvaal, was threatened with removal. Many buildings were destroyed and community services cut off, but the people tenaciously stayed where they were. As it drew near to threatened action against the people and a date was announced for the forced removal Bishop Tutu, as General Secretary of the Council, called a number of Church leaders to go with him for a night vigil of prayer and preaching with the people of Mogopa. Dr Allan Boesak, the Rev Joseph Wing, Dr Wolfram Kistner, and many others spent that whole night showing solidarity and sharing comfort with the people.
The visit to Mogopa succeeded only in delaying the inevitable and some days later the lorries and the armed men arrived to remove the people of Mogopa to their new "home." A ministry to those people has continued through the years with regular visits and assistance from field workers of the SACC. Through such field workers and local Church workers and clergy a ministry, never to be claimed as enough, has been practised among the more than three million displaced persons.
Little money was made available to the relocated to purchase new homes or provide adequate amenities. Much money was spent, however, in covert communication operations. In 1978 the "information scandal" exploded upon the nation with revelations of money used to buy South Africa a presentable image in the western world. Although many details were obviously hidden from public scrutiny, the revelations pushed the Prime Minister and the Minister of Information into retirement. The new Prime Minister, once Minister of Defence, P.W.Botha brought to that office a new priority of security and military dependency that was to be the hallmark of the Government's policy for a number of years to come.
In that same year the SACC provided him with a formidable foe. Bishop Desmond Tutu returned from Lesotho to take over the reins as General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches.
| CHAPTER NINE - A TIME FOR TESTS AND TRIALS
" ... it may now be necessary for you to be sad ... because of the many kinds of trials you suffer." (1st Peter 1:6)
In February 1978, immediately prior to Bishop Tutu taking up his position as General Secretary of the SACC, he was verbally attacked by a priest of the Anglican Church, Fr Roy Snyman.
"One wonders why the Bishop of Lesotho accepted that See in the first place", Fr Snyman commented, "if he could be tempted to abandon his responsibility so speedily for an office job of a Churchy nature." He went on to write that the Church needs "godly, prayerful, Gospel centred, prophetic, disciplined, seasoned, catholic-minded, sacrificial ministers ... not clever dick, worldly, socio-political manipulators."
Fr Snyman obviously did not know the Bishop of Lesotho he so casually castigated for in his description of the kind of person the Church needs he was describing Bishop Tutu through and through. Many tried the same kind of worldly, communist at heart, political power seeking sort of description through the years. All came to naught for none held an ounce of truth.
When asked about his priorities for the Council when he became General Secretary, the Archbishop, as he now is, says "First I wanted to ensure that the spiritual was absolutely central to our life, so I put emphasis on the daily worship, regular eucharists and occasional retreats."
Daily worship had been a hit and miss feature of SACC life in Diakonia House for some time. David Thomas and Bishop Mokoena, with encouragement and support from General Secretary John Rees, had put much energy and effort into attempts to start regular morning devotions.
Bishop Tutu brought an element of centrality to these events. He ensured that all members of staff took part regularly in leading the devotional period. He also used the occasion each day to make announcements about the Council, comment on national or international events, remember someone's birthday or return to work after a period of leave. They became a sharing, caring, strengthening, motivating power house for the work not only of the SACC but many of the other Church and para-Church organisations of Diakonia and, later, Khotso House. Whenever he returned from a time away the morning devotion buzzed with new life and his return was acclaimed by renewed gusto added to the already lively hymn singing.
There were times when much was said at morning prayers as aspects of the national experience were put under the light of God's word. There were times when the worship would go beyond words into gathered prayer and hymn singing as news of more suffering and death filtered to the building. One such occasion was when news was received during morning prayers of killings in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape. Those present, already standing to finish the morning prayers with the benediction, remained still with tears running down many cheeks, until slowly one voice after another began a hymn of courage and strength in the Lord and finally a prayer was uttered bringing together the needs of the nation, the people of Uitenhage and those who stood with one another in that place at that time.
The monthly eucharist added a new dimension of sharing to the community. It would be conducted by ministers of different denominations and became a time of deeply moving ecumenical community as the bread and wine was taken and, especially, when the peace was shared by everyone with hugs and kisses as a sign of the strength each gave to the other in the special family of God's people.
The occasional retreats were a very new experience for many staff members. Bishop Tutu's tradition was toward silent retreat broken only for short periods of led devotion or Bible study. It took time for those whose tradition was for talking retreats filled with debates and decision making to move from enduring to enjoying the quiet days.
When the move was made from Diakonia to the first Khotso House (The House of Peace) in November 1980 space was set aside for a Chapel. Close to the entrance of the building it symbolised the basic foundation of not only the SACC but also of many of the other Church offices and organisations that shared the building.
The move to what the Archbishop calls "the more spacious and imposing Khotso House" is also described by him as "incarnating our concern to be the embodiment of reconciliation with justice, and for peace."
That incarnational theology within the context of the South African situation was to lead the SACC even further into direct confrontation with the State.
At the 1979 National Conference, based on the theme: "The Church and the Alternative Society" the idea of civil disobedience received considerable attention. One of the resolutions of the Division of Justice and Reconciliation stated that "This Conference is aware of many restrictions on inter racial contact ... we find these restrictions morally so objectionable that we can not obey them with a clear conscience." The resolution went on to give support to "conscientious affirmation of inter racial fellowship."
In his Presidential Address, the Rev Sam Buti called attention to the need for action for the sake of the young people whom, he said, were "daily experiencing passing through the valley of death."
"Do we tell them just to be patient," he asked, "to pray, to leave the outcome of the struggle for justice and liberation in God's hands because He will eventually, in some mysterious way, provide the solution? .... Then it would be better to say nothing."
But the idea of active disobedience on a much larger scale followed a speech by the Rev Allan Boesak during which he said that as the Church was now the only available organ for the expression of black aspirations it was necessary to consider initiating and supporting programmes of civil disobedience. This led to a resolution: "This Conference believes that the South African Churches are under an obligation to withdraw ... from co-operation with the State in all those areas in the ordering of our society where the law violates the justice of God."
This was a line of thought that was to hold the centre stage of Council policy for a number of years. No longer did the Council simply make moral statements about particular situations and meet with Government representatives to present a Church point of view. Now it confronted the Government, which claimed to be Christian, on the basis of the Gospel itself.
This was another step forward in the inevitable progress of the Council as it sought to be obedient to the word of God. This step took it into an arena of conscious activity in support of its many prophetic statements. No wonder the Government wished it out of the way. The Council was not only a stumbling block to the fulfilment of the apartheid dream at home but also a voice receiving greater and greater recognition overseas. This was evidenced in the presence and the preaching of the Rev Jesse Jackson at that 1979 National Conference, a symbol of international interest and concord.
Yes, the Government would like the SACC to be quietly placed on one side. It was to use the financial organisation of the Council's affairs as a method to plan its destruction.
Bishop Peter Storey: " I do not think organisationally the SACC ever quite caught up with itself. There were pockets of efficiency and areas of inefficiency but one sensed that the agenda was always outrunning the structure and the structure was always trying to catch up."
During the time of Mr John Rees the Council's financial affairs were placed in the hands of an independent agency, The South African Council of Churches Accounting Services (SACCAS). Bishop Tutu changed that working arrangement and brought the finances into the heart of the Council itself and in so doing appointed a finance expert, Mr Tim Potter, to investigate the finances and assist in the change over.
It became obvious that something was amiss. One member of staff was dismissed for taking money that should have been used for postage and, much more seriously, it appeared that the Chief Accountant of SACCAS, Mr Elphas Mbatha, had embezzled some of the funds. Mr Potter put the matter before the police, Mr Mbatha was charged and then acquitted on the grounds of insufficient evidence. The Magistrate used the occasion to join the chorus of the anti-SACC lobby to suggest that "the charges against the accused were laid in order to ... divert attention from the unsatisfactory state of the SACC's affairs."
Then another, even more serious, situation was uncovered. The Ombudsman, Eugene Roelofse, was investigating the organisational and financial aspects of the College established for the African Independent Churches (SATCIC) and discovered forged cheques made out to the advantage of Bishop Mokoena. At first Bishop Mokoena admitted the offence to the Presidium, consisting of the officers of the Council, but later when the Ombudsman insisted on handing the matter to the police he denied any mismanagement. Despite the photographic evidence of forged cheques and the testimony of witnesses, Bishop Mokoena was acquitted in two separate trials. Once again the SACC was accused in the court of not having its own house in order.
Bishop Mokoena went on to become a much publicised spokesperson for the Government, eventually being awarded in 1987, along with the wives of the then State President, P W Botha, and the previous Prime Minister, J B Vorster, the Decoration for Meritorious Service. His claims to speak for the majority of black persons and to lead a more than four million strong Independent Church organisation were often disputed, as was his claim when he so often travelled abroad to tell "the real story" about South Africa.
Referring to the ANC as a "minority Xhosa clique", he launched a political party in 1986, the United Christian Conciliation Party (UCCP), and very soon after the launch tried to sell his "moderate" party to the Conservative Party Conference in Britain. Needless to say, nothing came of the UCCP.
But it was his attacks on the SACC in general and Bishop Tutu in particular that brought him most publicity. When Bishop Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the SABC put Mokoena on television to say how disastrous a choice it was and to vilify Bishop Tutu in his usual style. This time, however, a huge number of Independent Church leaders decided enough was enough and issued a strongly worded statement to disassociate themselves from Mokoena and his views.
Little is now heard, if anything, about this self proclaimed leader and his vitriolic tongue.
Another of those who spent large sums of money attacking the Council and the mainline Churches which gave it support was The Christian League. Founded soon after the PCR was established, this conservative ultra evangelical organisation, produced a newsletter from its Cape Town base that implied there was a Christian basis for apartheid and explicitly denounced the SACC and "its allies" as either dupes or conscious participants of a world wide communist plot to hand the world to the devil. South Africa it seemed was the last bastion of decent God fearing society. Toward the end of 1979 the Government admitted, under pressure following the information scandal, that they funded The Christian League.
No one knew better than the Council that there was need to get its administrative affairs into good order. Moves were made to ensure that this happened. The many Divisions were placed into three clusters, Mr Dan Vaughan was moved from Mission and Evangelism to be Planning Officer, and a new system of accountability was introduced. These together with a new sense of "family" through the worship gave the Council a new buoyancy.
Statements and stands continued to be made on many subjects. The Government could not move but that the Council was there to put that movement under the scrutiny of the word of God. The occupation of Namibia, then still known as South West Africa, was branded as unlawful; a South African Defence Force raid into Mocambique was condemned outright; there were stronger words on the right to conscientious objection; there was support for the recently established Free Mandela Campaign; and there were the first moves toward calling for divestment in the South African economy.
Around the time in 1980 when Bishop Mokoena was being acquitted, the SACC arranged a Conference on Racism. Invitations went to non member Churches as well as members in order that the full spectrum of opinions on racism could be heard and the ten year old Programme to Combat Racism could be evaluated. The three major white Afrikaans Churches refused even to send observers. Dr F C O'Brian Geldenhuys of the DRC, and a one time speaker at a National Conference, said that there was no common ground for talks. His role as Ecumenical Officer of the DRC had recently also been exposed as funded from Government sources. Professor Oberholzer of the Hervormde Church said he could not attend as the SACC was "anti South African and undermining white rule."
Bishop Tutu in typical style said of their refusal, "We ask for their forgiveness in that which has hurt them in our attitudes, and we want to stretch out our hands of fellowship to them, and pray that they will grasp them and strengthen us as we work for the coming of God's Kingdom of justice, peace and love, compassion and reconciliation."
The Racism Conference began to establish a pattern that was to show itself during the decade of the eighties. A decade of action and not merely words of opposition to the apartheid regime. It was especially critical of the way in which racism was still showing itself in Church structures through different salary scales and ethnically based ministries. There were calls to Churches to examine themselves carefully in this regard and to be ready to put the many words that had been spoken during the past years into action in the Church and in the nation.
The Government in its desire to close the SACC through legal means that would not bring international condemnation, used the cases in which Mr Mbatha and Bishop Mokoena had been acquitted and the "findings" of the magistrates courts as a platform from which to establish the Eloff Commission. The Commission was named and its purpose given in November 1981, began its hearings in March the following year, submitted its report at the end of 1983 to the State President, and the matter ended when the report was tabled in Parliament early in 1984.
Shirley du Boulay in her book "Tutu, Voice of the Voiceless" says, "The uniqueness of the confrontation between Church and State in South Africa, climaxing in the Eloff Commission, lay in the fact that it was not a case of an atheistic regime seeking to suppress Christianity, or even of a Christian Government attacking a particular denomination. Here was a State, declared in its constitution to be Christian, taking on an ecumenical Christian body representing 12 million of its own people."
It sounds a huge battle. And it was. But it was difficult during the Commission to view the quiet courtroom with its piles of papers, legally presented arguments, and usually small group of onlookers as a place of battle. It seemed far removed from the fieldwork, demonstrations, strong emotions and hard hitting statements of the SACC itself. Yet here, of course, the possibility of that work being able to continue hung in the balance.
Under the chairmanship of Justice C F Eloff and an all white male panel the Commission put the SACC under the spotlight. The SACC, through its Executive, agreed to co-operate with the Commission and be ready to answer all questions and make their own submissions.
The attempt, as evidenced by the charges levelled against the Council by Government legal representation and the people it brought to the Commission to support the charges, was to find enough evidence to declare the SACC an affected organisation. This would cut off its international financial support and place Government sponsored persons into the finance department of the Council.
But that was not to be. Mr Dan Vaughan, who had to work full time on getting the papers prepared for the Commission, says "The Eloff Commission was in one sense a crisis but it was also a triumph for Desmond (Tutu) and the Churches, especially when the visitors from overseas showed their support."
The Rev Joseph Wing said, "The Eloff Commission provided the Council with an opportunity to make clear what its theological position was. Bishop Tutu and the Rev Peter Storey, (by now President of the Council) both gave a clear and unequivocal statement of the theological position of the Council to the problems we face in the country. The need for the Church to maintain a prophetic stance and at the same time to take up the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
"This same stand was taken by all the Church leaders who were called by the Commission who were not asked to present papers but who all came out in strong support of the stands taken by Bishop Tutu and the Rev Peter Storey, with the result that the Council emerged from the Eloff Commission strengthened in its intention to stand for the truth of the Gospel in a way that touched the life of the people at every level.
"The Commission also gave the Council an opportunity to upgrade its administration in a manner which enabled its financial affairs to be open to the scrutiny of all. In that sense the Eloff Commission did the Council a service because all its accounts came out into the open and the allegations and innuendos regarding the misappropriation of funds was completely squashed. The things they were looking for in the Commission were not actually there."
In his comments Bishop Tutu mentions the Eloff Commission as a highlight of his time as General Secretary when "our partners from overseas came in Holy Week to support us and the Government was hoisted with its own petard. They ended up with considerable egg on their face!"
The support of the international Christian community was indeed an aspect of the Commission that no one had expected. It came about mainly through an anonymous letter that was sent to Churches overseas from "unhappy staff at the SACC." The letter alleged that funds were used wrongly, that staff were unhappy and that the SACC was falling apart under Bishop Tutu. It will be interesting one day to know who actually wrote the letter. All members of staff at that time denied responsibility.
The effect of the letter, far from leaving the SACC high and dry, as it was no doubt hoped, led to many Church leaders of note coming from overseas to testify to the theological stand of the SACC and of their complete support for its witness.
In June 1984, when the results of the Commission were known, the National Conference passed a resolution of appreciation for the General Secretary, and also to the staff of the SACC for the "loyal support" given "especially during the investigation of the Eloff Commission." The resolution went on to say that the Conference "appreciates the positive attempt by the SACC to make the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ relevant to the oppressive situations under which the majority of South Africans live."
There was one very sad effect of the Commission. During the period of investigation the police picked up signs that there was money not accounted for that had been used by the former General Secretary, John Rees through accounts in his own name. At the 1982 National Conference, no doubt to give greatest dramatic effect, he was arrested and eventually in March 1983 charged with fraud. The long trial ended in John Rees being found guilty, but not for personal gain, and sentenced to suspended imprisonment and a fine of R 30 000.
It was a time of sadness and a time of division. One day, again, the truth will be known, any possible hidden reasons for the case revealed, and minds and hearts settled. Staff and member Church representatives were certainly not of one mind.
For the Rev Peter Storey it was a particularly painful time for Mr Rees was a member of his congregation, as well as a leading Methodist. The different viewpoints of the trial and verdict between himself and Bishop Tutu led eventually, when the Eloff Commission was finished, to the Rev Storey resigning as President of the Council.
Bishop Storey says that there was "the sense that somehow that in all of this there were forces at work that I could not put my finger on and which I did not like. A sense of something malevolent that whenever we came to place where there was peace it would seek to tear us apart again."
| CHAPTER TEN - PROGRAMMES AND PROGRESS
"The Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God." (Micah 6:8)
While the Eloff Commission took time and energy from many of the SACC staff, the normal programme work continued. The SACC was not only making its statements and giving verbal expression to its opposition to apartheid. It was also committed to much activity at grassroots level.
In the new arrangements there were three programme clusters, Development and Service, Church and Mission, and Justice and Society. Within these clusters a number of divisions co-ordinated their work to ensure there was as little duplication as possible and that all necessary issues received attention.
Dependant's Conference, of the Justice and Society cluster, provided assistance to the families of those detained, not only financially but through the organisation of support groups, arrangements for visits to prisons, and giving released detainees grants and advice to help them find work or establish small businesses. Legal aid was arranged for those who had to stand trial for their political opposition to apartheid and/or their breaking of one or other of the myriad of petty laws surrounding the system. In Cape Town a building, Cowley House was obtained to use as a rest house for family members visiting prisoners on the infamous Robben Island.
The Inter Church Aid programme, of the Development and Service cluster, was a conduit of funding and advice for the heavy demands of small development projects throughout the length and breadth of the country. Priority was given to projects in the rural areas and especially those places where whole communities had been moved into what were often barren and arid areas with very few, if any, facilities. Many creches, pre-schools, adult learning centres, water projects, gardening schemes, and other projects owe their existence to the assistance of Inter Church Aid.
Other Divisions in the Development and Service cluster included the Women's Desk which dealt with the many issues that were important to women in the turbulent times where the place and the voice of women received scant regard in both Church and nation. Home and Family Life arranged conferences, workshops and counselling to help face the breaking of family life through detention and the migrant worker system.
The Church and Mission cluster included a Youth Division which attempted to create co-ordination among the many youth organisations within the Churches, help face the education crisis, and arrange youth conferences. As well as seeking to bring black and white youth together to face the issues of the nation, it also organised a "Pilgrimage of Hope" during 1981 to Israel, Switzerland and Taize which gave international contact with the world Christian family for the large group of 144 young people involved.
It also included a Choir Resources Unit, a Division of Theological Education, an Ecumenical Education Officer, and, of course, the Mission and Evangelism Division which was busy with conferences and seminars and many personal visitations to Churches and Church groups to encourage ecumenical co-operation in mission.
The African Bursary Fund (ABF) was in the cluster of Justice and Society. It provided High School and University bursaries for deserving candidates. Throughout its life, up to the present, it has had to face the dreadful task of choosing from among the thousands who apply for assistance, those among whom it can share its never completely adequate resources. The ABF did not only grant bursaries but kept in touch with students, arranged meetings of students to examine ways of using their learning for the benefit of society, and offered counselling of students as they dealt with the sometimes traumatic experience of University life. The Division that received most attention in the eyes of the public was Justice and Reconciliation. It was this Division that dealt with the different crises that would face the people. These included a ministry of care for refugees from Mocambique, work amongst migrant workers, alcohol and drug abuse, spiritual and practical concern for those who were relocated, and a task force on resettlement.
It also continued to organise Conferences and Workshops for theological expression on the situation. Theological expression that was often seen as political interference. It provided, along with the Mission and Evangelism Division, the theological framework out of which the SACC made its decisions, formulated its statements, and created its programme priorities. The Churches were often challenged through the excellent and thoughtful papers and presentations that came from Justice and Reconciliation. It was, and is, the power house of the Council's attempts to provide guidelines for an alternate society.
The Division became a focal point for the many Church people who wished to consider with others what the Christian faith meant for South Africans, especially black South Africans, during those years.
The Kairos Document
The SACC did not, however, have a monopoly on theological group study. An independent document was published in 1985, The Kairos Document. Although often referred to as an SACC statement, the Kairos Document was the work of a number of people from different Churches. The 156 persons who signed the document did so in their own personal capacity with mention of their own Church affiliation. No one actually signed on behalf of the SACC.
The Kairos Document was presented as A Theological Comment on the Political Crisis in South Africa. It was an important statement on the challenge of the faith to the system of apartheid. It captured much of the spirit of the Church in the eighties as it stood against the racism of the political structures. It critiqued what it called a "State Theology" and a "Church Theology" before proposing a new Prophetic Theology.
It ended with a "Challenge to Action" that was very much the prevailing mood among many as the opponents of apartheid moved from words to actions. "Christians," it said, "if they are not doing so already, must quite simply participate in the struggle for liberation and for a just society." It called for a transformation of Church activities which would turn from providing "comfort and security" to the individual to serving "the real religious needs of all the people and to further the liberating mission of God and the Church to the world."
It went on to acknowledge the role of the many "people's organisations" that were now springing up throughout the country and suggesting support for such. But it was its comment that the Church "will have to be at times involved in civil disobedience" which received the greatest attention especially from its critics.
The Kairos Document was followed months later in December 1985 with the Harare Declaration which took the essence of the Kairos Document, amplified it, and issued it from a much wider international, especially Southern African, number of people and agencies.
It is interesting to reflect how far the South African Christian community had moved from the original timid comments and lack of action to the daring and outspoken words and calls to action of the eighties. And all of this despite the many verbal attacks on the Churches, especially the SACC, which also suffered the harassment of police raids on the premises, the seizure of some staff members' passports and the detention of others.
In November 1980 the Council, along with a number of Churches and Church and community organisations, moved to the larger premises of Khotso House in De Villiers Street, Johannesburg. This was a time of celebration, a time when the work and witness of the Council was acknowledged by member Churches, community organisations, and international partners.
The House was officially opened immediately following the 1981 National Conference. The service was a joyful occasion complete with a masterly description of the Council and its vision from its new President, the Rev P Storey, and comments from a number of overseas guests.
One of the German visitors, Dr Runge, said, "May this House of Peace be a place where the suffering people of South Africa will find comfort and encouragement for, and participation in, the necessary change of the political and economic structures. May it be a place where God's love of his own creatures will become effective. Khotso House should be the prototype of the life in a new South Africa, where all men and women should work together in the shaping of the country's future under God's promise of a new heaven and a new earth."
The fulfilment of much of that hope for Khotso House was centred in the programme divisions. The Eloff Commission and the many attacks upon its work and witness were unable to stop the continuing activity of the Khotso House community, especially the SACC, in generating peaceful change.
For the Programmes to operate efficiently there was greater need for Regional Councils which could keep in touch with local needs and minister to local crisis situations. The Dependant's Conference relied heavily upon the work of Regional Council based field workers in their care of dependant families. There was, therefore, because of the increase in the use of the detention laws in the early and mid eighties, a mushrooming of the number of regions from eight to twenty.
The Regional Councils provided the place where the local Churches could meet together and plan their service of the community in the name of God. Some of the Regions had the full support, encouragement, and participation of the local Churches. Others were more heavily dependant upon the central SACC office for both direction and support.
There were problems of accountability and a lack of organisational ability in some Regions. Did a Regional Council report to its local constituency or to the SACC central office? Was its agenda of activity set by the SACC National Conference or the local Churches? If the local Churches created a programme that implied finance, who supplied the funding? These were questions that were asked for many years in the middle of a situation of such activity in the struggle against apartheid, which was often a struggle to survive for Regional staff, that they could never be resolved without another crisis situation arising to create new questions.
It is only in recent years that the Regional Councils have organisationally become branches of the SACC, but with great emphasis still on the participation of local Churches in the day to day affairs and choosing of priorities. A delicate balance of accountability and programmes.
Reform and Repression
And so the work and the witness continued through the difficult days of the early eighties. There are those who say that the reform plans of the Government began in those years and that the pursuance of programmes such as the call for sanctions and the Standing for the Truth Campaign were not necessary. These comments underline the different experiences of the black and white populations of South Africa through those years. The experience for most black people was of increased oppression and tighter measures of control on all areas of life, leading eventually to the declarations of a State of Emergency in 1985 and again in 1986.
True there was the removal of the infamous Pass Laws and then the Mixed Marriages Act. But these were surrounded by many other rules and regulations that meant that life was much the same for the majority of the population and it was the white population at home and the conservative population overseas that were impressed. The Pass Laws were removed and then followed by so many regulations to ensure "orderly urbanisation" that the Black Sash advice offices, which had expected to be released from so much work when the Pass Laws were scrapped, became even busier.
The removal of the Mixed Marriages Act, which removal by the way was opposed by Bishop Mokoena, created further confusion because laws affecting living areas, schooling, voting rights, and public amenities were not changed.
That the scrapping of these acts was not actually intended to change the overall strategy of apartheid was evident in the explanation of the then Minister of Internal Affairs, F W de Klerk, that such scrapping would not affect the good order and system of separate communities in educational, social and political spheres.
True there was much talk about the end of apartheid and a new process of detente and dialogue. The detente and dialogue seemed, however, to be directed to international rather than national audiences. For many years after Foreign Affairs minister, "Pik" Botha, told foreign media in June 1982 that, "Long ago it was said that by 1978 the flow of black labour from the homelands to the cities would be reversed. We do not believe this any more. We must admit we made a mistake." people were still shunted around like cattle and the relocation policy rigidly enforced.
One area that did make a difference related to the Trade Unions. Grudging recognition was given and, although they were surrounded by many rules and regulations that attempted to make them a simple talking shop for workers to meet with management to discuss local disputes, they became a force to be reckoned with. There seemed to be no realisation of the deeply politicised nature of the working place in general and the effect this would have on the Trade Union movement. The statements that any opposition to Government was the work of a few radicals among what would normally be a passive work force were shown to hold no truth at all as the workers flexed their muscles and began to create collectives of power.
The power that the Church was to demonstrate in its opposition, alongside the Unions and others, to the apartheid Government was discussed, probed and expressed at the Council's 'National Conferences.
Power to the People of God
In 1979, the Rt Rev Bruce Evans, Bishop of Port Elizabeth, addressed the National Conference on the subject of "The Church and Power." In it he talked about the balance between the social and personal Gospels that was necessary for the power of God to act through God's people. He quoted Stanley Jones', "The personal Gospel without the social is spirit without body, a ghost; the social gospel without the personal is a body without spirit, a corpse."
"Evangelism is not the answer to this country's needs," he said, "unless it is an incarnational evangelism that ... speaks out of a fellowship of community that lives out the implications of the Gospel." Bishop Evans ended by pointing to the task of the Church to "loose the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free, share food with the hungry, provide the poor with shelter, clothe the naked, and receive every other human being as being one's own flesh and blood." (Isaiah 58) and to the way such activity is accomplished when we "repent of our sins, expose ourselves to the cost of following Christ, and open our lives daily to the Spirit of love and power."
Two years later at the 1981 National Conference, Dr John de Gruchy was to point to the need for the supporters of the liberation movement in the Church to ensure that they relied on God's word and sought God's Spirit or face the danger of "becoming indistinguishable from any other political movement."
It was this kind of constant reminder that helped the Council maintain that necessary balance, the "wary path between", in personal and social Gospel. A balance that none would claim to have been complete throughout all its work and witness, but a balance that has provided the vision for what the Council should be about and the blueprint in its planning. Those who would claim that the Council has only worked out of a social gospel without any sign of the personal, need simply to look at Bishop Evans' quote from Stanley Jones. The SACC was, and is, certainly no corpse!
Bishop Tutu in an address to that same National Conference of 1981 pointed to the Bible as the inspiration of the struggle against racism. In a speech filled with that special charisma that belongs to his person, Bishop Tutu held aloft the Bible and said, "It is from this we get our mandate." He spoke of the Bible as the most subversive, radical and revolutionary book which "if you wanted to keep us in bondage you should not have given to us."
It was a speech of great power which in terms of his ministry through the SACC was equal to the "I have a dream" speech of Martin Luther King. It had about it the spontaneous spirituality that was, and remains, the hallmark of much of his ministry.
Another notable presentation at the 1981 Conference was given by Mr Popo Molefe. In an address entitled "The Church and the Worker", Mr Molefe pleaded for the Church to stand by the workers and the plight of "blacks in situations of rising rents and the rocketing cost of living which are not commensurate with wages, resulting in evictions and abject poverty."
Another important aspect of this particular address was that Mr Molefe expressed the need for a united democratic movement to bring together the different groups that were in opposition to the Government. Despite claims by the Government in the "Delmas Trial" that the concept of the, later to be organised, United Democratic Front emanated from the ANC in exile during 1982, the records of the National Conference of 1981 show that it was very much in the minds of people in South Africa itself at that stage.
It was also at this 1981 National Conference that the mention of the two words "apartheid" and "heresy" were put close together. Speaking about the homeland policy and the relocation of many people from their traditional homes, the Conference agreed, "that this policy is contrary to Christ's teaching."
No wonder the Sunday Express newspaper said after that particular National Conference that it was time for the Government and white people to "listen, for the voices are getting louder."
The National Conferences of the following years continued along the same lines, enlarging the number of activities, strengthening each other in words and worship, and in challenging both Government and Church.
1982 was a time for President, Rev Peter Storey, to proclaim that the "false god (of apartheid and minority rule) is failing." That Conference also had to begin to deal with the Eloff Commission, and, in its very final hours, with the arrest of Mr John Rees.
Of much greater significance for the DRC in 1982 was the Ottowa Conference of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) where there was no doubt that apartheid was a heresy, where Ds Allan Boesak was elected President, and where two of the South African family of Dutch Reformed Churches were suspended from membership. The irony of a black President of the international organisation of the Church of the oppressive Government was not lost on many.
The 1983 Conference was forced to spend much energy on the Eloff Commission and what it could mean for the Council and the Churches. It spoke out against the proposed tri-cameral constitution which would allow for three Houses of Parliament but completely exclude Africans from any say in the nations affairs, it elected Dr Manas Buthulezi as President, and it passed resolutions in support of "domestic disinvestment" and "Christian withdrawal."
The "post-Eloff" 1984 National Conference was filled with concern for the relocation situation that still affected the lives of so many. The plight of the three and a half million dispossessed people provided much pain and concern for the delegates and the General Secretary. Archbishop Tutu says that it became a priority to concentrate on the forced removals and all that these implied, especially "making blacks into aliens in the land of their birth as apartheid's final solution." That Conference also turned its attention to militarism and the requirements for conscientious objection.
The Nobel Prize
It was the final months of 1984 that provided celebratory drama around the Council.
On October 16th, during a period of leave from the SACC and of study and lecturing at the New York based General Theological Seminary, Bishop Tutu received a visit from the Norwegian Ambassador to inform him that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Bishop Tutu hurried home to share the moment with family, friends, colleagues and staff. During a short time of only four days he was received at the airport by huge crowds of singing and ululating people, spoke at a Khotso House day long celebration, celebrated with the people of Soweto at a special service in his own parish of St Augustines, and spent some time with family and friends before jetting back to finish his time in the USA.
The prize, Bishop Tutu insisted, did not belong to him but to the suffering and oppressed people of South Africa. Looking back at the award he says that it was an "endorsement by the world community of the justice and rightness of our cause."
It was a triumphant conclusion to his service as General Secretary of the Council for within days he was resigning from that post to take up an appointment as Bishop of Johannesburg. A special service of farewell was arranged during which he received the blessing of the whole Khotso House community and was taken by a hymn singing crowd along the street to the St Mary's Anglican Cathedral.
Permission? No one cared to ask for permission. The world was on our side and no laws about processions or large public gatherings were going to stop the celebrating. The sweet scent of victory was in the air.
| CHAPTER ELEVEN - DIVISION AND UNITY
"Any country that divides itself into groups which fight each other will not last very long." (Matthew 12:25)
The sweet scent of victory may have been in the air, but there was also the acrid smell of hurt, of pain, of violent death, and of new deals by the Government to try and cling to the privilege of power while finding acceptance from the international community.
The tri-cameral system of Parliament had arrived, as had the office of an executive style State President, rather than Prime Minister, with exceptional powers. Speaking about the proposed three House system in October 1981 P W Botha said "The day will come when the world will have to admit that a constitutional masterpiece to be proud of has taken place in this country." It may have been a masterpiece of constitutional arithmetic, but it was anathema to the majority who saw and treated the blacks who opted for the new system as traitors to their own people.
A white referendum agreed to the policy of sharing restricted powers with Coloured and Indian Houses that would create three "Own Affairs" Departments while leaving "General Affairs" of the nation very much in the hands of the white Parliamentary majority and completely exclude any African participation.
Even this was too much for some Nationalist Party members. A rebel group of Members of Parliament would not vote as required, were expelled from the party, and went on to form a new right wing Conservative Party. The Volk were split.
The Coloured and Indian communities were divided in their approval or opposition to the three way system and, in the event, only a small percentage of those eligible to vote actually did so. Feelings ran high and violence raged at political meetings and rallies aimed at drumming up support for this "new deal" in democracy.
Those who were opposed to the tri-cameral system pointed to the fact that it denied any place for the vast majority of the population. It held no place for the African people who were deemed not to be citizens of South Africa but of the various "homelands" and "independent territories." It also further entrenched an ethnic basis to the system of governing the country. The SACC and most Churches, with yet again the exception of the DRC, condemned the new constitutional system as totally unacceptable.
As the governing authorities divided, much of the apartheid opposition came closer together. Many of the internal forces against apartheid rallied together to form the United Democratic Front (UDF), an alignment of community and cultural organisations with a smattering of Church involvement through particular individuals. The launch in August 1983 was a resounding success in both the huge crowd that attended and the spirit of determination and exhilaration throughout. Loud cheers greeted Dr Allan Boesak when he spelt out the mood of the meeting, "We want ALL our rights, we want them HERE and we want them NOW."
At the same time there was also the formation of a National Forum based on the advancement of black consciousness. A smaller organisation than the UDF, it issued a "Manifesto of the Azanian People" calling for non collaboration with the oppressor.
These new affiliations gave added impetus to the struggle. There were demands for the Government sponsored Councillors in black townships to resign, rent boycotts began, Civic Associations were formed to take over control of black urban areas "on behalf of the people", and there often repeated calls to make the country ungovernable.
And there was violence. Violence that was likely to break out in any spot at any time. Violence that emanated from all quarters and cost the nation many lives and much sadness as well as the crippling of communities and individuals. It is a violence that has haunted the country since the formation of the tri-cameral system and has not abated till this day.
There was also suppression of the free flow of information, banning and detention of those who spoke out for justice and a new social order, and police harassment of anti-apartheid groups, including the SACC, at every turn.
But there was a new spirit of determination as the people stood together and faced the enforced rule of the unjust laws in the knowledge that their cause was just and their objective right. Despite court orders for searches of buildings and despite harassment, including detention of staff members, organisations continued in their development, educational, or information dissemination tasks. Despite banning orders, sometimes having to go into hiding, detention and even torture, people continued in their persistent battle against the Government.
The Church did not escape the frenzy of security police activities as raids and searches were carried out on their premises. Khotso House, which now housed the national office of the United Democratic Front, had so many raids that the reception desk was fitted with a button that sounded a siren throughout the building to say "here they are again!" There were continuing calls, given prominence in the Government controlled media, for action to be taken against the Council of Churches for its "furtherance of the aims of communism."
A New Secretary
A new General Secretary was called upon to lead the SACC in these volatile and violent times. The choice fell upon Dr Beyers Naude, who was by now a member of the black DRC in Africa, and who had only recently had his banning order lifted.
"Nobody was more surprised than me," he says "when I was elected. I was unbanned on the 24th September 1984. Mid October I received a call from the Western Province Council of Churches to ask whether it would be in order to put me forward as General Secretary as Desmond (Tutu) had just been elected Bishop of Johannesburg. I said I did not think it wise to select a white person at this time but if this is the wish of the SACC, then I will seriously consider it for the sake of the situation in which we find ourselves."
It was the wish of the SACC and in January 1985 Dr Naude was appointed General Secretary. He speaks of his apprehension in fulfilling the demands of the position. "First of all I realised our country would be entering a period of increased conflict, even bloodshed, and I also felt that any white person, no matter how committed, could never properly fathom and understand what would be happening in the black community.
"Then I was fearful of the effects this could have on the Council. Would it be able to handle this? Would we be able to do what was needed?
"When I accepted I made it clear to the Executive that I accept with gratitude, but also with concern that this post at this time should be filled by a black Christian leader. My service should be no longer than two or three years."
The staff of the SACC was to wait until May 10th, Beyers Naude's 70th birthday, before an official welcome. By then he knew that most of his fears were unfounded. He says that one of the highlights of his time as General Secretary was the "way in which the black Christian community accepted me."
" I was astounded by the warmth and the openness and the trust that I discovered in the black community," he continues. " Many times I said to myself when I had been with them, how much is the white Christian community in South Africa missing in not realising the joy of being trusted and accepted in that way. Please God, will the day come when the eyes of these whites will be opened. It was a tremendous source of encouragement to me and I say this time and time again. I was sorry I could not do much more."
Dr Naude not only received support and encouragement from the black Christian community, but also from the Church leaders who were "so supportive and at all times open. I could phone I could visit at any time. They always gave the time and they came forward with helpful advice."
He also found the former General Secretary, Bishop Tutu, of immense help. He recalls, "Desmond Tutu responded to my need. I could go to him as my predecessor and say to him 'I need your guidance'. He not only gave me advice but also shared in prayer, and expressed his deep concern as a Christian brother. I will never forget it."
It is this rich fellowship enjoyed by Ds Naude that makes one of his stated priorities all the more poignant.
"Because of my background in the DRC, I wanted to stretch out the hand of friendship to the white DRC and say to them, I am willing to do everything to bring you back into the fold, but only on the basis of your total commitment to the rejection of apartheid.
"There were no signs in the DRC as a Church of any new thinking, but there were signs within individuals. Privately they would say to me, 'you know we agree with you, on the basis of the Gospel, that the SACC is taking the right line but we can not say this in public.' That is what made it so painful, so very sad.
"I challenged them, 'If you do not form some kind of an organisation, call it the Concerned People of the DRC Church, and if you don't stand together you will not be able to help the DRC get out of this terrible imprisonment, theological and social and political imprisonment, in which it finds itself.' But nothing of that kind started.
" I think back and say to myself, if only the leadership of the DRC at that point in time had seen and understood this it would have had an enormous effect."
Dr Naude speaks touchingly of the way in which that wonderful fellowship he enjoyed so much himself was denied many of his DRC brothers through their unwillingness to stand and state publicly that apartheid had to be rejected.
His primary energy was placed into finding ways to help the Council and its member Churches stand by the people in their commitment for liberation "on a peaceful basis." The peaceful was important as the violence raged on and "the policy of apartheid was ruthlessly being implemented by the Government."
More Brutal, Inhuman
"I realised," Beyers Naude says, "that the attitude of the Government would become more brutal, more inhuman, and the pressures upon us, especially as Christians, would increase. Wherever there was any form of suffering, or of marginalisation, or of oppression, we had to let the presence and the voice of the SACC be there."
And "there" it was as the Council continued its activities despite the increasing pressures.
The activities included: extensive work among the many thousands who continued to be removed and relocated; the continuation of its programmes through the different Divisions; service among refugees; a new programme of concern for the many marginalised youth whose hope of formal education had collapsed in the crisis facing schools and universities; condemnation of an SADF raid into Botswana as an "unwarranted act of violence and terrorism" with representatives of the Council attending the funeral of those killed; and a call for Regional Councils to arrange ecumenical memorial services on June 16th to pray "for the end of unjust rule."
The Asingeni Fund provided much help for groups and individuals in emergency need. It also provided a problem. "It was almost impossible to handle it effectively," says Beyers Naude, "and it was unjust to expect any staff member to do it. There was a small group that handled it initially but it eventually came to the point when I had to make the final decisions. I did not have the answer and we must have made a number of mistakes there in trying to help people in desperate need. The situation was so tense and so difficult that sometimes the truth was difficult to find. Many of these individuals, their lives were threatened, their lives were at stake. You had to have an inner sense of whether that person was telling the truth or not. I found that to be a very problematic matter."
The financial support was not a problem. "I never had concerns about the finances of the SACC," continues Dr Naude, "because at that stage the ears and the hearts of the whole Christian community were open to us."
The encouragement and the prayerful solidarity of the world Christian community was a great help both in spirit and in kind. But this all important link with the global partners that now stood so solidly with the Council in its activities had to be kept alive through personal visits and briefings in many parts of the world.
The General Secretary had the constant task of choosing priorities from both the local and international demands upon his time. Beyers Naude remembers that "there were so many invitations from members Churches for gatherings, meetings, courses, conferences, synods, which it was impossible for one person as the General Secretary to attend to. It was the same with so many invitations from overseas Churches and donor agencies. It was just not possible to handle all that.
"And please, it was a very difficult time for my wife. She committed herself fully to what I was doing, she understood it, but at times she was very lonely when I was away from home so much, especially as this followed the banning when I had to be at home every day and night. There was the contrast between this previously banned and now unbanned person, I think. She once jokingly made the remark, 'you know, Bey, at times I think it would be nicer if you were to be banned then you would have to be at home!' I found it very difficult. I thank God that she was willing to allow me to do all that I did."
Perhaps a moment to remember the wives of General Secretaries who were called upon to support their husbands in their onerous, and sometimes dangerous, duties. Sheila Burnett, who was always present at meetings to help with chores, provide refreshments, and act as that extra member of staff for the SACC. Dulcie Rees who had to take more than what would generally be called a fair share in caring for the home and bringing up their two daughters. Violet Thorne who stood by her husband, John, in the pressures of the Presidency and then walked with him through his agonizing about the secretaryship. Leah Tutu, dependable, buoyant, making her own mark in creating a Domestic Worker organisation as well as a constant support and companion for Desmond through all those years. And now, Kagiso Chikane, always there in the background, suffering with her husband in the days of detention, death threats and attempts, and hiding from the police, as well as having to carry the burden of raising the family and caring for the home. They are as much a part of the story of the Council as any others.
It was during Beyers Naude's Secretaryship that some of the major debates on the manner of facing the apartheid structures emerged. The mid eighties saw the SACC progressing further in the challenge to the Government through the examination of ways and means to bring about the end of the apartheid society. This was to lead eventually in the last two years of the eighties to the "Standing for the Truth Campaign" alongside the Mass Democratic Movement, the Defiance Campaign and Civil Disobedience.
The call for prayers to end unjust rule caused some discussion among the Churches. The differences ranged primarily about the actual wording used. It was heightened through a document produced by the Western Province Council of Churches intending to present a theological rationale to the call. The document suggested that, "We have prayed for the Government to change its policies. Now we pray for a change of Government" and that the prayers call on God to "remove the present rulers in our country."
This move from praying for an end to unjust rule and "the abolition of all apartheid structures," as suggested in 1984, to praying for the actual removal of the unjust rulers, as now suggested through this 1986 document, caused problems for some. Both Bishop Tutu and the Rev Peter Storey, then President of the Methodist Church, were among those who could not go along with the change in emphasis. But, in a joint statement both agreed that on June 16th the people should pray "for an end to oppression and violence in our land and for the establishment of justice and true peace. This is the plea we will offer to God, and this is the goal that must challenge us all."
The second debate was centred around the call for sanctions. Would these be helpful in bringing about peaceful change or harmful in causing loss of jobs for black people? The Council felt constrained to turn to economic sanctions as the only peaceful alternative left for those in opposition to apartheid.
Patterns of Power
The 1985 National Conference laboured long on the subject and produced a lengthy resolution that looked deep at the reasons why sanctions may be necessary. These included that "foreign investments and loans have been used to support prevailing patterns of power and privilege", that evidence suggested "foreign investment does not necessarily create new jobs", and that "the problem of structural unemployment in black communities" had not been a matter of concern to Government or business "until recent months when economic sanctions have become a legislative possibility in the United States."
The Conference confessed that there had been no proper debate on the subject because "we have allowed ourselves to be restrained by the severity of laws designed to prevent open discussion." It then went on to suggest that "disinvestment and similar economic pressures" were needed " as a peaceful and effective means of putting pressure on the South African Government to bring about those fundamental changes the country needs." It asked that the matter be debated in the member Churches, appointed a task force to examine the "whole question of economic justice" and called on member Churches and individual Christians "to withdraw from participation in an economic system that oppresses the poor, by re-investing money and energy in alternative economic systems in existence in our region."
In January 1988 a Symposium on Economic Pressure produced yet another paper which concluded that there was need to demand "comprehensive and mandatory sanctions." It recognised sanctions as only one strategy that must go "hand in hand with internal pressures", still appealed for "flexibility" in its application, and called again on Churches to discuss the issue.
Another issue of these times was related to the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the Government. If apartheid is a heresy then the Government that espouses the system must be illegitimate. It may be legal and exist in accordance with a constitution of its own making, but that does not make it legitimate. The debate was not intense. It seemed to most that it was a natural corollary to the statement that apartheid was a heresy. A Government based on an immoral and heretical system could only be illegitimate.
The issue of violence was one that was constantly debated. The statements over and over again during the whole 25 years of the SACC's existence have pointed to the need for non-violence and peaceful progress in the name of the Prince of Peace. The actions have been strictly non-violent.
The issue was highlighted, however, and controversy raged because of the "Lusaka Statement" of May 1987 when a group of Church representatives of SACC member Churches met with representatives of the WCC, other Churches, and of the African National Congress.
The Lusaka Statement went some steps further than the previous Kairos Document in that it acknowledged the right of the Liberation Movements to the armed struggle against apartheid. It was a decision that has been taken by some to mean that the SACC and its member Churches supported and even encouraged the use of violence to overcome the apartheid regime and thus helped establish a culture of violence that persists in South Africa in these days.
This is far from the truth as even those who opposed the adoption of the Lusaka statement in the Church debates will agree. The debate at the 1987 National Conference at which the Lusaka statement was discussed, and eventually adopted and sent to the member Churches for study, was an emotional matter where most blacks, but not all, and most whites, but not all, stood on different sides of the issue.
This debate highlighted the different experiences which are at the centre of the South African story. They are crucial to the debate and remain at its' centre. To deny that is to deny the reality of apartheid in similar fashion to those who deny the holocaust.
There are many Churches draped with flags and banners, memorials and plaques, that give honour to wars, and those who died in wars, against tyrants, dictators, oppressors and even those who just happened to be enemies of the country in which the Church happens to be placed. One can not but help using the word hypocritical of people from such Churches who condemn the SACC and its member Churches in the same way as our Lord used it of Pharisees who practised one form of behaviour for themselves and demanded another of those who did not belong to their particular group.
The debate will rage for a long time. There will be those vociferous, usually because they have the money and the media, voices that will attack the Churches of South Africa and their Council for the stance taken during these past years.
Perhaps the real clue to all these debates lies in the white General Secretary of the SACC through those years who managed to hear the voices of the black constituency and, more than that, knew them to be coming from within the black experience and had the grace to realise that such experience made a difference. It may be significant that some of the most contentious issues arising from the Churches' opposition to apartheid arose during the time of a white Afrikaner General Secretary.
| CHAPTER TWELVE - STANDING FAST FOR THE TRUTH
"We boast about the way you continue to endure and believe through all the persecutions and sufferings you are experiencing." (2 Thessalonians 1:4)
Throughout the whole time that the debates raged in the SACC and its member Churches and the struggle in the country intensified, the Council searched for a new General Secretary to take over from Dr Beyers Naude when his "two or three years" was completed.
In July 1987, the Rev Frank Chikane was appointed.
At 36, Frank Chikane was the youngest ever General Secretary. Previous to joining the SACC he was Secretary to the Institute of Contextual Theology and had been Vice-President of the United Democratic Front (UDF) Transvaal Region. It was for his latter role that he was arrested with other leaders of the UDF in 1985 and charged with treason. This was not his first taste of jail, having been detained, and tortured, on a number of occasions previously. One of which in 1980 was to simply ensure that he and his colleagues did not interrupt the granting of the freedom of the western Transvaal town of Krugersdorp to State President P W Botha!
The 1985 detention ended when the charge of treason was hastily withdrawn when the defence attorney exposed the lack of legal evidence to provide any reason for a trial. From the middle of 1986, when the charges had been dropped, until shortly before he became General Secretary of the SACC he lived, as did many anti-apartheid activists, in hiding, moving from one place to another, addressing meetings, speaking to groups, without any prior announcement of his attendance.
A minister of the pentecostal Apostolic Faith Mission Church (AFM), well known for its conservative political stance and keeping a long distance between itself and the SACC, he expressed his concern about the political plight of the black people and was rewarded with suspension from the ordained ministry by the white dominated Executive Committee of the AFM in 1981. It was a suspension that created a rare moment of protest from his Kagiso township congregation. They said it was "unbiblical", and was intended to "suppress the voice of the voiceless and perpetuate white dominance in the Church and the country."
It was to be nine years before, in 1990, the AFM offered "its formal apology for the inconvenience that the prolonged suspension caused" Rev Chikane. His response was to say that he was "overjoyed" by the reinstatement. "I love my Church and I am pleased to be given an opportunity again to carry out my ministry as part of the AFM ordained ministers." There is an ironic touch to the story of the suspension in that during this year, 1993, the Rev Chikane was elected the first President of the united portion of the AFM Church comprising all the black former separated mission Churches of the AFM. He will be the one to lead that united group as they face the white Church in a call for one fully united AFM Church.
The Rev Chikane started at the SACC on July 4th 1987. On July 7th there was another police raid on the SACC. It was not unexpected. He who was used to police harassment was now to occupy the "hot seat" at the centre of the Churches struggle against apartheid.
In speaking about the raid to the National Executive later, Rev Chikane said "It was a strange coincidence indeed which left many staff members wondering whether they had not come to 'welcome' me to my new job!"
Khotso House had suffered official and unofficial surveillance and raids throughout the years. It had to find a balance between security and being an open building in which the many who flocked to its doors would feel welcome. Members of staff when detained or charged would find photographs, obviously taken from premises opposite the main entrance, used as evidence along with complete transcripts of conversations that had taken place in offices or corridors of the building. The incursions into Khotso House were not always official. Dan Vaughan remembers being called at four in the morning by the caretaker because someone had broken into the building and put paraffin on the chairs in the hall. "Somehow," says Mr Vaughan, "they didn't burn it down." Later, in April 1988, a man managed to enter the building and hold a member of staff, Beverly Fasser, hostage for some time. On this occasion it was a policeman who assisted the Council in talking the man out of the situation.
There had been a number of raids on Khotso House previous to the appointment of the Rev Chikane. Most of the security police raids were made by small groups, but on some occasions it was by large groups and heavily armed defence force personnel support. "The siege of Khotso House" was the title given by ECUNEWS to the first event of this nature when a police cordon was thrown around the building during a May Day Rally of trade unionists.
This was followed only two months later by an early morning defence force cordon which stopped staff members of all Khotso House organisations from entering the building until identified and "invited to enter" by the security police in charge. Dr Beyers Naude remembers the day well. "I was so angry," he says, "that I had to sit there in my office and pray to God not to lose my composure and my inner spiritual discipline in talking to these people. How can God expect me to forgive them for what they are doing to our people and to the Church? And you know, then it came through to me when Christ died on the cross he said, 'Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.' I have always found that a very difficult word to understand. I knew then that in the deepest sense these people did not know what they were doing, not only to the Church but to themselves. And that was the moment I could go out and I could speak to them."
Dr Naude goes on to mention the prayers of that day with the security police around. It was a never to be forgotten moment in the life of that community. The police would not allow anyone into the building itself so they stood, one large group of approximately two hundred people, in the road, sang a hymn and prayed. There in the middle of the city with heavily armed police and defence force looking on, many nervously not knowing whether to join in or not, the strains of the Lords Prayer in Xhosa was lifted up to the heavens. And then as people were called one by one to enter the building the soft cries of "peace", "power", "strength" would surround them.
It was discovered later in the day that a State of Emergency had been declared that morning. It was to hold for seven and a half months and was then followed in June 1986 by another that continued until mid 1990. They did not deter the movements against apartheid. Despite the enormous number of detentions going into the thousands, despite the number of children taken into custody, despite the harsh measures of the police and the high priority given by the Government to State security, campaigns grew in number and protests and meetings took place as if there were no laws against them. The "Free the Children" and " Free Mandela" campaigns drew local and international support culminating for the latter in a huge international music concert in London where world stars, as well as a huge audience of millions through television, expressed support for the release of the man who was by then the most renowned prisoner in the world.
These States of Emergency, the police raids, many detentions, and then the banning in February 1988 of 17 organisations, severe restrictions on the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and bannings of 18 community leaders, took place during what the SABC termed as a time when "only the wilfully blind would deny that peaceful reform is taking place at an unprecedented rate."
The bannings of February 1988 was move number one in what was to be a very busy year for the Council and one that proved to be another step forward in being the people of God.
A Church leaders emergency meeting was held on February 25th. The question for this meeting was not whether or not the Churches should act to end apartheid. The question was, what type of action?
A statement was issued including comments that the authorities were "deliberately obstructing peace in our country and encouraging violence among our people." It was a long statement addressed to three different communities within South Africa. Firstly to the oppressed people of South Africa it said that this was not a time to lose hope but to "intensify the struggle for justice and peace in accordance with the Gospel." Then to the white voters it urged them to see that any support for the separated "white politics" was "becoming untenable." Finally, to the international community, the statement called for the isolation of the apartheid Government and pressure "to force it off the awful path it has chosen."
A resolution had been prepared for the meeting to suggest a delegation to meet the State President or the Minister of Law and Order. Experience of previous meetings that had caused only greater frustration led the Church leaders to turn that idea down and opt for a public display of witness.
Calls were made from the meeting for all the Churches to arrange special services of witness and protest, and a major decision reached to march on Parliament in Cape Town to present a petition along the same lines as the statement, as well as to witness and to pray at the place where so many decisions affecting the lives of all South Africans were taken.
Writing about the event later the Rev Frank Chikane said, "It is now history that at least 25 Church Leaders, accompanied by more than a hundred clergy, congregated at St George's Anglican Cathedral in Cape Town on Monday 29th February 1988. They held a short moving service, read the contents of the petition to the congregation, gave instructions about the principles of non-violent action and highlighted the possible consequences of the action. When all had full understanding of the actions ... they prayed and started the march to Parliament.
"They only marched along the wall of St George's Cathedral and before they reached the end of the wall the police intervened, (When confronted by the police the leaders and clerics knelt and prayed) arrested them and forcefully removed them to the police station."
After using a water canon on the rest of the crowd, the police began arresting any who still remained in the street, including journalists and television crews. The Church leaders were released after being identified and warned that there would be charges made against them. They returned to the Cathedral, prayed together, evaluated the day, held a press conference, and committed themselves once more to "effective non-violent action in solidarity with our people to share in their pain and suffering." The pending charges were later withdrawn.
The march resulted in a tremendous show of support by phone, post and telex, from the world Church. It also resulted in the Minister of Law and Order, Mr Adriaan Vlok, saying in Parliament that the clerics chose "violence and communism above Christianity." There was also some correspondence between the State President and the recently installed Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, and also between the State President and the Rev Frank Chikane of the SACC. The State President's written comments, such as that the Church leaders love and praise "landmines, bombs and necklaces", were given prominence through the SABC but little mention made of the letters from the two Church leaders, which repeated over and over again the choice by the Churches of non-violent action on behalf of the oppressed.
When the State President asked, in a publicised letter to the General Secretary of the SACC, for any "single instance from the Word of God in which it appears that Christ advocated violence against the State; led a demonstration against the State; or broke a law of the State", Churches throughout the country heard sermons about throwing the money collectors out of the Temple, the entry into Jerusalem, and the accusation, that led to the crucifixion, that Jesus "is starting a riot among the people with his teaching all through Judea." (Luke 23:5)
The usual cries about the separation of "spiritual" and "secular" and the need for the Churches to keep out of politics were mentioned in Parliament and in the media. They were not mentioned later, however, when a Christian Forum, claiming as usual to have many millions of followers, was formed to oppose sanctions and Church leaders like Archbishop Tutu.
In his address to the National Conference of 1988, General Secretary Frank Chikane was to suggest that the events of February had moved the Council and its member Churches " from merely lamenting about apartheid and the crisis in this country to active prophetic witness against this sin and death." He went on to say that the "Churches are committed to effective non-violent action" and that "we need to restate that our obedience is to God, and to God alone."
February 1988 held another kind of event for the Council with the retirement of Dr Wolfram Kistner who had headed the Division of Justice and Reconciliation for many years. He provided a deeply theological and intellectual motivation to the Council through his often acclaimed writings and presentations to Conferences and Committees. He had continued the tradition of constantly placing the Council's activities under the scrutiny of theological research in a thorough and precise manner.
In May 1988 there was a "Convocation of Churches in South Africa" to help develop "non-violent actions in the face of the deepening crisis in the country." There were representatives of the World Church, other South African religions, and eight non member Churches of the SACC as well as the usual regional representatives and those from member and observer member Churches.
The major result of this gathering was the decision to start a campaign called "Standing for the Truth." Although Standing for the Truth did not muster the great local parish and Church involvement that was originally hoped for, it did bring together many Christians and people of other religions in acts of public witness to the truth of righteousness as against the lie of apartheid. Along with the Mass Democratic Movement and the Defiance Campaign that were emerging at the same time, it became one of the last straws to break the back of the intransigent authorities.
The intensity of the total defiance campaign was felt throughout the land. The Government could not rule, because the people would not be ruled. Nothing could stop the stand made by thousands in marches, demonstrations, and protests through 1988 and 1989. This defiant stand against the Government, forcing it to retreat from many previously held positions that had been said to be non negotiable, played a prominent part in eventually bringing the Government to the negotiating table in 1990. Group areas crumbled as black people moved into city centres and suburbs; hospitals became open to all races through demonstrations and demands for treatment; and marches were given official approval in the latter part of 1989, possibly because it was known they would take place anyway.
The Council was well on track as one of the leaders in the organisation of this last assault against the illegitimate, as it was by now declared, apartheid Government. As if in recognition by its enemies of the place it held in that struggle, Khotso House was bombed on the last day of August 1988.
The bomb went off in the basement garage of Khotso House not long after midnight on the morning of August 31st. It ripped through the building using the lift shafts as a conduit of destruction on every floor and going as far as blowing off part of the roof of the top, 6th floor, offices. Windows of surrounding buildings were shattered as well as nearly every window of Khotso House itself. Rubble and broken office furniture, scattered files and broken equipment lay everywhere.
Perhaps one day the truth will be known about the planting and timing of the bomb. The "Wit Wolve" (White Wolves) were said to have claimed responsibility, a claim that had the Rev Peter Storey saying later that he knew it must have been the "act of animals." The police suggested, but did not provide proof to support the claim, that it could have been an explosive device hidden in the building that had gone off accidentally. It was much more likely to have been carefully planted. It made the most of the structure of the building to ensure the greatest destruction. Khotso House had previously been the headquarters of the South African Automobile Association. At the time of building, six floors were erected with a staircase going up to a non existent floor in the hope that another six floors could one day be added. The foundations, therefore, were laid for a twelve storey office block. If this strong foundation had not been in place the bomb would have completely destroyed the building instead of causing much destruction but still leaving a shell from which much furniture and most papers were still able to be salvaged.
Staff were not allowed in by the police for a period of one week. Then few at a time and according to floors, groups went a tortuous route through a first storey window and a back fire escape to the different offices where they began the task of sorting through the rubble to retrieve as much as possible and move it to temporary offices scattered throughout the city. In the meantime new graffiti had appeared on the walls. One claimed that God was a "white man" who would see that the "white man ruled for ever." Another added to a "Free the Children" poster the words, "only after we have cured the b....."
It took weeks to move all articles away from the building. Under the well organised planning of the Rev Francois Bill, Administrative Secretary of the SACC, slowly but surely more and more items were taken away, the building surrounded by solid scaffolding, and builders brought in to make everything as safe as possible.
Filled with Sadness
The Central Methodist Church, of which Bishop Peter Storey was then minister, opened its doors to Khotso House staff for meeting and praying each day before going off to the now separated offices. The prayers were of immense importance. Filled with sadness, for offices as many discovered were not simply a place where "things" were stored and work done but symbols of the life and the aspirations of their occupants, the prayers were also a time of condolence, consolidation and confirmation of one another in the Khotso House community.
When later Mrs Helen Joseph, stalwart of the struggle against apartheid, heard that the majority of the tenants wanted eventually to move together to new premises, she was heard to say, "you must be mad to want to die together again!" The relevance of the "together" can not be over exaggerated. In blowing the building apart, the perpetrators had cemented the fellowship and solidarity of the community they intended to destroy. Prayers were lifted high for one another, for the country, and for an end to apartheid and its dreadful consequences for all. The prayers culminated in a "Service of Thanksgiving" at the Central Methodist Church where one Church or community leader after another spoke to the Council and other Khotso House tenants of their support for the continued witness that could not be destroyed by any bomb, enforced restrictions, or designs of the enemies of the people of God.
That service was well into October. On September 9th, soon after the scaffolding was erected and entry to the building allowed for a few at a time, former General Secretary Archbishop Tutu visited the scene. As he went around the devastated offices with Administrative Secretary, Francois Bill, and General Secretary, Frank Chikane, he commented over and over again on "this terrible and obviously well planned deed." He then went out onto the street where hundreds of staff members and the general public gathered to hear him pray for "those who perpetrated this dastardly deed" and join them all in singing N'kosi Sikelele.
One moment of pure humour came when during the tour of the building he went into the General Secretary's office, looked at the broken walls, ruined furniture and scattered files, turned to Frank Chikane and said, "What have you been doing, this place was fine when I left it!" Humour was never far from the scene of apartheid's opponents. You would find it in the places of detention, in the camps of those in exile, in the formal and informal meetings that followed police raids, even in the groups where death had occurred not long before. " Faith, hope, and humour" were the words used recently at the funeral of one of apartheid's opponents, summing up so much of what was at the core of the struggle.
The final word about the bomb was spoken by Archbishop Tutu in a press conference following the tour and street service. The huge tapestry of peace in the entrance hall with a central figure of Christ had withstood the blast and hung above the devastation of a collapsed floor, broken furniture and pitted walls. Archbishop Tutu pointed to that scene as a symbol not only of the presence of Christ but of his essential and inevitable victory.
The bomb was not the last major attack on the Council. An even more sinister event took place in April and May 1989 when the General Secretary suffered strange attacks of sickness. It first appeared during a visit to Namibia. The Rev Chikane was flown back to Johannesburg, spent four days in a clinic and was discharged with no idea of what had caused the nausea. After a period of almost three weeks during which he felt well again, he left on a trip to USA where he would be joining other Church leaders at a special service in Washington DC followed by meetings with President Bush and members of the Congress. He went first to visit his wife Kagiso, who was studying in Madison, Wisconsin, and once again became ill. This time he spent a week in hospital before being discharged with no apparent reasons for the sickness. Within thirty six hours he was back again, the cycle was repeated and then repeated again. Within six weeks Frank Chikane was admitted to hospital four times.
Close to Death
The symptoms of the sickness varied in degree each time but all contained a basic feeling of nausea and weakness with respiratory problems that, according to a USA doctor, brought Frank Chikane "close to death." And there were two more common elements. One was that within days of being hospitalised recovery was rapid. The second was that on each occasion he was using clothing taken from his luggage. Every time he wore clothes taken from the luggage he became sick. Diagnosis and further research showed that the luggage was contaminated with poison, such as that used in pest control or chemical warfare.
Recovering from the effects of the poisoning, and now dressed in new American style clothes and with a different set of cases, the Rev Frank Chikane said at a press conference, "You begin to understand the magnitude of the evil we are dealing with. And it puts you back into the world in terms of calling and mission." Once again an attack had created even greater determination, under God, to withstand the attempts to curtail the witness of the South African Church. Again the emphasis was removed from the frailty of the vulnerable servants of God to "the essential and inevitable victory" that belongs to Christ.
Meanwhile much was changing on the South African and international political fronts. The communist empire surrounding the Soviet Republic collapsed, the Berlin Wall came down, and the principal world agenda of East versus West disappeared almost overnight. In South Africa small change after small change was forced upon the Government as a population determined to be free challenged it at every turn. The state of emergency remained (up until June 1990) but it had little effect upon the demonstrations, civil disobedience, and mass actions of the people.
State President P W Botha suffered a mild stroke in January 1989. His attempts after that to cling to power were defeated by a delegation of cabinet ministers who eventually forced him to resign after a stormy day of confrontation in August of that same year. They placed Mr F W de Klerk, former leader of the National party in the Transvaal and by then national leader of the National party, in his place.
Towards the end of 1989 a service was held in the Johannesburg Cathedral followed by a protest march through the city. During the service the Rev Frank Chikane made a slip in referring to the State President as P W de Klerk. The huge crowd laughed, for to them one State President was like another. The system was in its dying throws and early in 1990, February 2nd, at the opening of the Parliamentary Session, State President F W de Klerk announced the unbanning of the ANC and the immenent release of Nelson Mandela.
Young people danced in the street. "Viva Comrade Mandela!" they cried and "Viva Comrade de Klerk!" After years of oppression the authorities had capitulated and we were ready to enter the promised land.
| CHAPTER THIRTEEN - INTO THE WILDERNESS
"Faithful to your promise, you led the people you had rescued; by your strength you guided them to your sacred land. The nations have heard, and they tremble with fear ... " (Exodus 15:13f)
The period since 1990 is difficult to record. Not only because it is so near that it is hard to put into perspective, but because it is a period of transition and change which is still in progress. It has been a very busy period. Each day brings another event that twists the ever changing kaleidoscope of the emerging society and gives a new design to the picture.
On February 2nd 1990 the young people celebrated outside the new Khotso House. They danced in the street, the news spread like wildfire, and millions watched on television as Mr de Klerk announced the impossible vision of democracy. The struggle was over, the dream had come true, the dawn of the new age where all would participate and the hated divisions of apartheid would disappear was actually here. Nine days later on February 11th it was all confirmed as many watched Nelson Mandela walk freely out of prison and heard him speak to the crowds in Cape Town.
It was not surprising that he spent his first night of freedom at the home of Archbishop Tutu in Bishopscourt, Cape Town. It was not surprising that the General Secretary of the SACC, the Rev Frank Chikane, was invited to be one of a small group who shared the mission of bringing Mr Mandela out of prison, to the people, and eventually home to Johannesburg. This was a natural recognition of the part the Church had played in reaching that day.
Nor was it surprising later when the Archbishop voiced the feeling of most Churchmen and women to say that the platform now belonged to the politicians to work on the details of the new society and the Church would get on with its task of being the Church for the faithful. The Church would look to those things of faith and order, Church growth and renewal, that had held value all the time but had suffered some neglect through the emphasis on the primary task of being the voice of the voiceless and the champion of the oppressed.
The Church leaders had, during 1989, when examining the role the Church would play in the future South Africa, resolved to help create the climate for negotiations but not to be participants in the negotiations themselves. It was felt to be important that the Church did not follow what was termed the "Muzorewa option" (after the Bishop who went into politics in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe), but rather maintain a stand outside of the political parties to be able to speak to all in the name of God when any situation warranted it. This 1989 resolution was to prove to be so necessary in the years that followed.
It had been forgotten that the road from Egypt to the promised land led through a dreadful wilderness. Like Moses who had sung about the Lord who had "guided them to your sacred land" before experiencing the excruciating time of being neither here nor there in the wilderness, many in South Africa sang too soon about the democratic participative society that seems further rather than nearer in June 1993 than in February 1990.
At the 1989 National Conference the Rev Frank Chikane had reminded the members that "dictators never allow for freedoms that threaten their dictatorship; and that totalitarian states do not spontaneously self-destruct. It takes enormous pressures to force an oppressive system to surrender its powers of oppression and thereby to allow a free and democratic process to take its course.
"I would like to submit to you, Mr President, that racist South Africa is no exception. Contrary to the opinion of some, even the present crisis of white power and domination, the crisis which compelled the regime to negotiate a settlement in Angola, to allow Resolution 435 to be implemented in Namibia, and the crisis which has sent Mr de Klerk trotting the globe talking about ending apartheid and negotiations, all this, is a direct result of the accumulated pressures that have been brought to bear on the regime over the years."
It was necessary in the euphoric days of celebration that followed February 1990 to remember such words and tread carefully into the new territory of transition. General Secretary, Frank Chikane, said to the National Executive Committee in late February of 1990, "Whilst we accept that dramatic things are happening in South Africa ... we should never allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the euphoria that accompanies these dramatic events. This is the time when we need to be more vigilant, always reading the signs of the times, in order to make the right judgements and the right interventions at the right time. This is a difficult type of Kairos we are called upon to deal with."
Eighteen months after the celebration of the anticipated new order in February 1990, the Council was holding its National Conference of 1991 under the title, "From Egypt to the Wilderness: The ecstasy and the agony - Challenge to the Churches in a time of transition." It was realised very much by then that the celebration about the giving had come before the gift had been received. South Africa was far from the new society envisaged in February 1990.
It is with this "wilderness" scenario in mind that the Council has approached its activities during this period of transition.
It has, obviously, had to examine and re-examine what role it must take and how best to fulfil that role.
A significant debate running through all the discussions and deliberations has been that of prophetic ministry as against mediatory ministry. Should the SACC be the prophetic voice proclaiming the word of God upon the events of the period, or should it act as a mediator between the different factions to help bring them together? In fact it has found itself taking the precariously balanced middle road between. Not to be neither but to be both.
So it was when violence ran rampant in 1991 and there was a breakdown in May of that year of the "talks about talks." Church Leaders co-operated in a number of visits to the State President, to the ANC, and to Inkgatha. These visits were eventually to lead to a peace conference and the establishment of the Peace Accord with national, regional and local structures for peace monitoring and intervention. The prophetic word was not forgotten, but spoken loudly. The mediatory role was not discarded but taken seriously.
So when in July 1992 the country was in yet another crisis with labour and business in confrontation, with the ANC and the Government at loggerheads, and with the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) in a state of collapse, the Church Leaders took it upon themselves again to visit all, speak a prophetic word of challenge in the name of the Gospel and, at the same time, mediate between each and attempt to find common ground for a return to negotiations.
The primary issue was, and sadly remains, violence. The senseless destruction of lives and property has plagued the land since the mid eighties and has always been in the foreground or background of the South African scene. Places such as Sebokeng, Uitenhage, Boipatong, Port Shepstone, and Bisho are etched into the tragic history. The names of the dead are legion with women and children of all ages among them. Political assassinations have taken their toll culminating earlier this year in the killing of national Communist Party leader Chris Hani.
In March 1990 a Church Leaders Meeting said that to deal with the widespread violence there was need that "the period of transition in South Africa from the present order ... to the new order must be made as short as possible." That same message, of the urgent need to hold an election and establish a government of transition, has been at the centre of SACC statements ever since. The Council and the Church Leaders have called repeatedly for the announcement of a date for an election, the establishment of an interim government and a constitution making body, and for the defence forces to be placed under joint control.
A Task Force was established to study the violence to better understand its roots. Patterns of violence emerge, where even the sporadic outbreaks of violence that seem to rise here and there with little reason behind them, take their place in the overall pattern of a macabre plan. Whenever the negotiated settlement takes a step forward there is an outbreak of violence, and whenever there are signs of peaceful change some vicious act erupts. All the signs, once again, point to the need for an election as soon as possible.
The Council has continually offered practical help to the hurt and to the bereaved. Regional Councils have helped arrange such assistance, giving comfort to the families and the displaced, and often been called on to mediate in the midst of violent confrontations. Archbishop Tutu, General Secretary Frank Chikane, Methodist Presiding Bishop Stanley Mogoba, SACC President Khoza Mgojo, and other Church Leaders have had personal experience of the blood, the stones, the bullets, the spears and pangas, and the anger, hurt and hate, that together form so much of the all too common scenes of violent clashes.
The Council has not only had much to say about the violence, but also about the other issues that have been raised in the time of transition. Revelations about defence force participation in the violence, that not only destroys lives but threatens to destabilise the negotiation process, have been strongly condemned with increased calls for joint control of the security forces.
Disclosures about homeland maladministration, and of corruption in Government and in business have also been condemned. Coupled with this has been a call to repentance, restitution and forgiveness that can help clean the soul of the nation putting a foundation of trust and acceptance into future relationships.
In March 1993 the Church Leaders said "The politicians may establish a negotiated settlement and erect a new system of electing Government, even a new system of accountability. Without a change of heart throughout the land, however, this may provide a skeleton upon which there is no flesh because the people have no confidence in the practice of politics and business.
"Who will be first to stand and ask forgiveness? We have heard the excuses, we have heard the disclaiming of responsibility, and we have heard enough! .... We call the nation to repentance .."
And the comments have not all been aimed, as some would want to suggest, at one or two parties only. In 1990 the Church Leaders said "It is sometimes easier to prove courageous in the time of powerlessness than it is to demonstrate moral stature through honest use of power. We call for vigilance to ensure in those who lead us an example in fairness, justice and accountability that will strengthen our trust in the future." The Churches have stated quite clearly what that means in particular situations in talks with the ANC, Inkatha, PAC and AZAPO.
General Secretary, Frank Chikane, has said on more than one occasion that the struggle for the Churches is not for one particular political system but for justice and peace. He adds that he would be willing to go to prison again if this is demanded by injustice against any section of the society in any future dispensation.
The Council does not claim to be impartial as far as the question of justice and peace is concerned. Its impartiality in national affairs is in regard to party political interests but not on issues of justice. It stands now, as it has attempted to stand through the years, on the side of the oppressed, the hungry, the poor, and the suffering. Yet it is impartial
A Different Council
The changed situation in South Africa challenged the SACC not only to a re-appraisal of its role and function in national affairs but also in regard to its programmes and activities.
Some of its functions have become unnecessary, others have been taken over or shared with Non Governmental Organisations. This led to a sad and painful period of reduction of staff on the one hand, and to a complete restructure of the national office and regions on the other.
Taking into account that the number of staff members is less than before, the number of Regions has decreased slightly, and the structure has had to be rationalised, the tally of activities is incredible. Many Programmes, such as the African Bursary Fund, the Women's Desk, and work among youth and children have remained. Rationalisation has put Inter Church Aid, Victims of Apartheid, and other development support programmes together into one ministry. And the new demands of the period have brought some new programmes within the SACC including one on Aids Awareness and another on Drought Relief, as well as issues tackled by the Justice and Social Ministries such as the problems arising from Value added Tax, repression in the Bophuthatswana homeland, and an international examination of Economic Justice for a future South Africa.
Many new programmes for the time have been established in partnership with other groups. These have included:
- The National Co-ordinating Committee for the Repatriation of South African Exiles.
- The Ecumenical Monitoring Programme for South Africa.
- The Independent Forum for Electoral Education.
- The Joint Enrichment Project.
These symbols of a new co-operation in facing the needs of the time are also reflected in broadening the base of ecumenical co-operation.
At the end of December 1989, before the February 1990 speech and release of Mr Nelson Mandela, the State President issued an invitation to the Churches to come together with him to create a climate for negotiations and reconciliation. It was not felt possible by the member Churches of the SACC to accept the invitation to dialogue with the State President but rather to find some way in which the Churches might discuss and debate together. There were three groups of Churches that were identified. These were the member Churches of the SACC, including observer member the Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Dutch Reformed Churches, and the Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches.
In November 1990 a historic event took place when these three groups represented by 250 delegates met together in Rustenburg, Transvaal for a five day Conference. It became a "confessing conference" in which many of the white delegates confessed to the sin of participation in the apartheid process and asked for forgiveness. Both the confessing and the forgiving were to be challenged later. A DRC delegate, for instance, confessed on behalf of the DRC Church but was later said by his own Church not to be speaking on their behalf. The DRC position was to accept apartheid as a "mistake" rather than a sin. On the other hand many of the black delegates and Churches found they were unable to support the forgiveness unless and until it contained practical restitution and reparation.
There are some Churches that are wrestling with relationships between the separated sections of the same denomination. The DRC, the Baptist Union and the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) created separate mission Churches along the apartheid divisions. In all cases the black sections have united or plan to unite, and are challenging the "parent" white Church to accept the inevitability of the future South Africa and join in one united denomination.
The black Baptist Convention has been an observer member of the SACC and is now moving toward full membership. The united portion of the AFM is not in membership of the Council but its recent appointment of the Rev Frank Chikane as its first President indicates where its policy viewpoint lies. The DRC did apply for observer membership but, after all the years of attempts to bring it back into membership since it left the Christian Council in 1940, the request was turned down until such time as there is agreement between the different members of the DRC family on a future denominational structure.
Such are the issues still to be faced by the Churches of South Africa facing the legacy of apartheid within their own ranks. The period of transition confronts the Churches as much as the nation at large.
The changes in perception of the SACC means that it has to consider more applications for membership than ever before.
There are a number of Churches that had previously kept the Council at more than arms length that have become or applied for observer membership. Will the Council provide the meeting ground for the different theological perspectives within the total Christian family?
And so the Council faces the changing times, the changing challenges, and the turbulent "death pangs", as the Rev Frank Chikane described the situation in the country, of a period of transition. In 1990 Dr Khoza Mgojo, a Methodist minister of note and then President of the Federal Theological Seminary, was elected President of the SACC. He spoke at the 1991 National Conference of interpreting the signs of the times. Using a quotation from Charles Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities" he said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times .... the period was so far like the present period, that some of the noisiest authorities insisted it's being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
"Indeed," he went on, "it was the period of the Ecstasy and the Agony." This was followed by a picture of the ecstasy following the announcement of the end of apartheid and the release of Mr Mandela, and of the time of agony when "endemic violence blew through the country like a whirlwind. Thousands of people have been killed.... People's hopes have slowly been turned into an unimaginable nightmare."
His address, using further quotations from literature and scripture, took its listeners through a series of different scenes to help interpret the sign of the times and then turned to look at the need, in all interpretation of the signs of the times, for hope. "This word hope", he said, "has for some past months been very popular in our people's thought in South Africa. Since February 2nd 1990 we have cherished a great hope that apartheid was about to be dealt a death blow, and that all will taste the fruits of freedom.
"This then becomes a challenge to the Churches as we cross the Red Sea from Egypt to the wilderness. Even in the wilderness most of the people are still in Egypt because they are still carrying Egypt in their hearts. ... The Church has to be a sign of hope and has to give this hope." Dr Mgojo quoted Archbishop Hurley saying that "hope is the well spring of all human creation" and finally moved on to a challenge to a new sense of living, a new sense of mission, and a new sense of purpose to bring this hope into focus and into reality.
To do this, Dr Mgojo reminded Conference of the "Message to the People of South Africa" issued by the SACC when it began in 1968.
"We are under obligation to confess anew our commitment to the universal faith of Christians, the eternal Gospel of salvation and security in Christ alone.
"This Gospel of Jesus Christ offers hope and security for the whole life of man, not just in man's spiritual and ecclesiastical relationships, but for human existence in its entirety.
"Consequently, we are called to witness to the meaning of the Gospel in particular circumstances of time and place in which we find ourselves."
25 years later than when those words were written and presented as a "Message to the People of South Africa" we return to them because they speak of the beginning and they speak of the continued future aim of the witness and service of the people of God through the South African Council of Churches.
The Gospel remains the Gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ, but the way that Gospel is expressed does change according to times and situations. The story of the South African Council of Churches is of united witness and service to express the never changing Gospel through the changing scene of South Africa through a quarter of a century of enforced apartheid and promised reform.
To God be the glory! Come celebrate!
| BOOK II: CHAPTER ONE - THE TUNES THE SACC PLAYED
Reviewed by Cedric Mayson
Twenty five years of what? Frank Chikane has said that "the task of theology ... is to discern a lesson within the experiences of life, so that we can cope and rise above them."(1) What has God been saying in this quarter century? If Christ has been proclaiming God's ruling power amongst us, what emerged in the struggle against apartheid to guide us in the struggle to establish a new South Africa?
The SACC is not a divine dogma producing organisatlon with an open line to heaven, but a council of churches which includes people who do theology from many different backgrounds. Our people take the insights of scripture and the past and seek to apply them to the present-future, linking the Word of the Gospel to the Word of the ghetto, but they do not do it tidily. The songs we sing erupt across the whole repertoire of human belief, here the sound of whiteness and then of black, sometimes poor and sometimes affluent, a strong denominational chorus followed by a solo voice, fumbling or fortissimo, but out of them all certain themes have emerged to provide the tunes to which the SACC has danced. Can the sounds of the past assist us to score the future?
The switch from a counci! of Christians to a council of Churches in 1968 was one sign of a major shift taking place throughout Christian South Africa. The theological focus was a document called the MESSAGE TO THE PEOPLE OF SOUTH AFRICA. (2)
In those days most clergymen (there were hardly any clergywomen) had their necks confined in high clerical collars and their heads confined to high doctrinal theology which assumed God had had little fresh to say for centurles. Theology came from above and the past: no one had heard of liberation theology, black theology, African theology, feminist theology or contextual theology.
During 1967, under pressure from Bishop Burnett and Beyers Naude, the Christian Council set up a Theological Commission to examine South Africa which in turn appointed a drafting committee of the Revs Calvin Cook, Ben Englebrecht, and John Davies. Early in 1968 a Conference on Pseudo-Gospels was held in which it was clear that the Gospel was being misrepresented and obstructed by the assumptions underlying the culture of apartheid: "Pseudo-gospels tell us that we must share our commitment between Christ and a whole range of Church traditions, political viewpoints and ancestral groupings".
Official Christianity was still a mainly white business, and Bishop Stanley Mogoba recalls that many thought the Message was really a message for white Christians. Bishop Davies agrees:
"It started off as a group of eleven white men nearly all academic theologians based in universities. There was a proper sense in which the task was a task for white people; the institutions and the theological stances which needed to be addressed were themselves white; apartheid was a white community's creation and needed to be exposed from within the white community as theologically unsustainable and heretical" (3)
In June 1968 the Message was published In full in the Sunday Times, issued as a booklet, and read from many pulpits. There was a deluge of demands for its scriptural authority which John Davies prepared and the Christian Institute published within four days.
"The English complained it was too long, the Afrikaners complained it was too short and the blacks complained it was too theoretical." (4) Many in the church today have never heard of it.
The Message was a unique attempt by the SACC to make a theological input to the South African situation, the only time it has done so in such a fundamental and united manner. It was the seed bed of many later propositions. In stating the Christian vision of the world and declaring that apartheid was a barrier to it, it committed the church to the struggle against apartheid which has taken another quarter of a century. Only now are we free to tackle the positive Gospel which the Message enshrines.
The Message to the People of South Afmica begins with the assertion that "In the name of Jesus Christ, we are under an obligation to confess anew our commitment to the universal faith of Christians, the eternal gospel of salvation, and security in Christ alone." It is divided into five sections:
1. What the Gospel says. This is a series of positive declarations about the Gospel of the God of this world whose purpose alone shapes history and to whom - and not to any subsection of humanity - we owe our primary obedience and commitment.
2. Our Concern. The Gospel offers hope and security for the whole life of humanity, not just in spiritual and eclesiastical relationships but for human existence in its entirety. Consequently we are called to witness to the meaning of the Gospel in the particular circumstances of time and place in which we find oursleves. The doctrine of racial separation is being promoted as the will of God, and as such is hostile to Christianity and keeps people away from the true knowledge of Christ. Separate developmert is presented as a way in which people can save themselves and this is a false novel gospel.
3. The Gospel's claim. Salvation is found through Christ, and the early Jews and Gentiles found that Christ was creating a new community in which differences of race, nation, culture, language and tradition no longer had power to separate people. We must assert and live by this claim. The insistence on the priority of racial identity denies the central statements of the Gospel about man and community. Pentecost heals the disunity of Babel.
God's gospel is for the whole human race. A life of separation is a denial of the Gospel. The Gospel says we find our identity in association with one another, but the apartheid view of life insists we find our identity in distinction from one another, which is denial of the Gospel. Apartheid reinforces divisions we are called to overcome. It calls good evil.
4. Our Task. The Church ought to show this unity and the completeness of Christ in its own life, here and now, not in a distant "heaven", and our task is to live by it.
5. We must obey God rather than Man. We cannot give our highest loyalty to one group instead of to the God of all. He is the judge of the Church also, and we cannot allow an idol of the "South African way of life" to take the place of Christ. The demand for our faithfulness to be judged by our loyalty to a group, tradition, or political doctrine, is a direct threat to the salvation of many people. God judges us by our willingness to be made new in the community of Christ. We must ask what features of our social order must pass away if the lordship of Christ is to be acknowledged and the peace of God be revealed.
We believe that God's kingdom has power to cast out all that opposes his purposes and keeps men in darkness, and that it will move with power whether men hear or refuse to hear. So to whom do we give our loyalty? A sub-section of humanity, an ethnic group, a human tradition, a political idea: or to Christ?
The Influences Behind The Message
The Message called the People of South Africa to a Christian crusade to remove apartheid because that doctrine was preventing us from following God's Way for our land in 1968. In 1993 apartheid is being demolished and it is necess-ary for us to reclaim the fundamental truths which the Message articulated, and the theological influences which lay behind it.
Christianity had arrived in Africa as part of the colonial package which provided churches to organise religious activities for the colonists. The main denominations in Europe established outposts and sent out ministers as required. In the growing conflict of Boer and Briton, the churches usually provided the political priorities of their people with theological justification. James Cochrane writes that "missionary enterprise, remaining always beyond radical self-criticism, could normally do no other than transmit the values and structures embodied in the British imperial colonial expansion."(5)
The English, like Livingstone, believed it was their godly duty to "spread Christianity and commerce" to Africa as part of the imperial empires. Afrikaners, oppressed on every side, developed a deep sense of their dependence on a godly patriarch who would save their people from the corruption of the British and the barbarities of the "kaffirs" and lead them to prosperity in the land of Canaan.
"Missionary work" in the 19th century was not considered the responsibility of the churches but a separate voluntary task for the few who felt such a call.
Many pioneer evangelists were themselves products of the evangelistic thrust and the anti-slavery campaign in Britain, and they moved the small English speaking churches into mission work. Revival movements in the Dutch Reformed Churches inspired other missionary activities.
The main growth appeared when African people responded to the Gospel and themselves became agents of evangelism in the mainline churches or through indigenous development. Christianity spread swiftly. Churches became deeply involved in social change, building churches, schools and hospitals wherever they went.
"It brought about a real upheaval in African norms and customs, a disintegration of families and tribes and the cancerous money economy," (6)but despite the missionaries' insistence that they accept western cultural appendages from shoes to monarchs which were nothing to do with the gospel, the indigenous African people carried into Christianity hidden resources which are still crucial, but which many missionaries never even saw.
Firstly, most Africans had a concept of the universality of one Supreme Being which never sat easily with the imposition by Christians of a religion which divided people into different denominations. Indigenous "religion lacked institutional symbols that marked it off from daily life. There was no separate community of religious people, because everyone who participated in the life of the community also participated in its religion." (7) Christians brought a focus for universality in Christ, but their methods broke African society into divisions they did not know before.
Secondly, the experience of human awareness and solidarity verbalised in the phrase ubuntu expressed a fundamental unity embracing both sacred and secular, and friends and enemies, which the gospel confirmed and transformed. Thirdly, Africans had an acute sense of the commitment of God to Iiberation.
The truths which received attention in the Message had been present in "the vitality of the religious and cultural heritage of the Africans" (8) for over a century. More than fifty years before the Message, whilst white-on-white violence dominated South Africa, Africans from many backgrounds had come together to turn their backs on division and unite in the search for national unity. All the leaders of the African National Congress in 1912 had been educated in mission schools: four were clergymen.
Although African Christians had not articulated the theology of the Message in western terms, they had long taken the substance of it in their stride. It was a reflection of that period in the New Testament when Jews could not believe that Gentiles had really been converted, and Gentiles could not accept that in order to become Christians they must accept the culture of Judaism. (9)
Dr Kistner of the SACC has summarised the position: "Today there is a strong awareness among African Christians in South Africa of a God of all nations, a God Creator who is close and present in our midst. This awareness of the closeness of the God of all nations appears to be one of the characteristics of African Christianity in today's South Africa: it can be experienced very vividly if one participates in worship services of black people. Perhaps one can say that in a way the opposite development took place among the white people who penetrated into the interior.
There they formed small-scale com-munities and moved from one area to the other in small clans. To them God was the God of their group, a God who was with them, a tribal God ... Throughout the history of the Dutch Reformed churches there have been tensions between a tribalistic and a universal concept of God, and these tensions still exist." (10)
Although racial discrimination had been established under British Rule, its intensification by apartheid legislation after the Nationalist Government came to power in 1948 aroused major religious concern. The growing oppression of blacks, the suppression of non-violent opposition, the silencing of black leadership after the Treason Trial and Rivonia, the books with religious themes by Paton and Huddleston, Sharpeville, Cottesloe, and the emergence of the Christian Institute all forced the Dutch Reformed Church to produce theological arguments in support of their position and accuse their opponents of being merely liberal humanists.
English speaking churches had a marked reluctance to involve themselves in political questions derived from their earlier secure position within imperial protection, but had been forced to make pragmatic decisions about their own racial practices. Some formed separate churches for blacks and whites. The Anglicans had had a major confrontation with Bishop Colenso in the previous century, but a succession of liberal British Archbishops had incurred the wrath of many Afrikaners. In 1958, Methodists had defeated a major attempt by whites to divide the church on racial grounds. Catholics were not members of the Council, but they too had been forced to distance themselves from apartheid. "Pro Veritate", the journal of the Christian Institute (CI), was steeped in scriptural and theological arguments, but the English-speaking Churches themselves had never spelt out a theological rationale for their position.
This was the background to the Message. It closed the gap between Church and Mission by accepting that the purpose of the Church is to be involved in God's Mission. The pragmatic church was being forced to become a theological church, and thus forge a new pragmatism.
The Message was an overture which introduced many themes to be developed at greater length in subsequent years: the heretical nature of apartheid; the challenge to racial, ethnic, denominational and religious divisions; the obligation for Christians to struggle against an oppressive regime; the change in attitude to the Liberation Movements; conscientious objection; the role of an illegitimate regime and investment to maintain it in power; violence; the relation of church to secular authority including obedience; confrontation and reconciliation; the liberation of theology from an understanding of God by affluent people, to a God understood by impoverished and rejected people; the replacement of historical colonial religion by a theology from the context in which people actually lived; and the clash of an ecumenical movement focused on the Church and an ecumenism seeking to respond to God's mission in society.
This development was latent in 1968, but hidden. It was concealed because God was revealed through the poor and oppressed but those who wrote the Message were neither. The wordy theological phrases, ingrained with the caution of church liberalism, needed incarnating in the social reality of politics and economics; academic churchmen were struggling to express what God was working in students and workers and displaced persons; they were pleading for people to hear God speak in sermons, unaware that the Word would come through crucifixions in Soweto and John Vorster Square; presuming that persuasion would bring change, when in fact it would come through struggle.
Yet already in the Message we sense the truth that Beyers Naude was to articulate nearly twenty years later:
"Something new is groaning to emerge which will challenge the whole Church in South Africa to the depths of its being." (11)
A little theological cameo was also painted at Fort Hare University in 1968. Police poured in with dogs and guns and tear gas to break up a protest, and one of the students was impressed when their young chaplain, despite being shaken by his first experience of police savagery, elbowed his way though the cordon to support and encourage the students. The student was called Pityana and the chaplain Tutu. (12)
The immediate result of the Message was SPROCAS. The "Study Project on Christianity in Apartheid Society" was a joint endeavour by the SACC and the CI to turn the theology of the Message into practical politics. The reports of the six commissions were entitled: Education beyond apartheid; Towards Social Change; Power, Privilege and Poverty; Apartheid and the Church; Law, Justice and Society; and South Africa's Political Alternatives. Other titles followed. About 150 people from different walks of life contributed to the debates, mostly white men, though more women and blacks took part than in previous Church activities. Not all of the authors were Christian, and some of these displayed more courage than many Christians in tackling economics and politics from a theological base, like Dr Rick Turner in "The Eye of the Needle." (13) Some, like him, became victims of the system.
A significant feature of SPROCAS was that so many people - including its financial backers from Churches in Europe - believed that this type of enquiry was a direct result of the theological quest for truth.
The Director, Peter Randall, has written: 'The intention behind the setting up of SPROCAS was clear enough: to examine the economic, educational, legal, political and social implications, and the implications for the church itself, of the Message to the People of South Africa a theological critique of apartheid."(14)
The Spirit of the Lord meant anointing people to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, and to proclaim the Lord's year of favour. (15) An incarnate God required an incarnate theology, a theology given credence and life in the personal and social experience of the people.
"It was ... a venture of faith on the part of a small group of Christians who were convinced that such a project was both desirable and necessary in order to help the church move from mere denunciation of apartheid ... to a more meaningful and concrete involvement in the hard issues facing those church members who opposed the policy." (16)
But for all its value - and after apartheid is truly defeated there is much unfinished business for us to review in the SPROCAS documents - it was essentially a liberal approach which hoped to persuade the apartheid regime to bring about some reforms.
When SPROCAS began few people realised that by the time it ended a new gentle revolutionary phenomena would have turned South Africa upside down, and would have its own theology as well The Word was made flesh - black flesh. Black people became conscious of claiming their own humanity and in the process discovered black theology. This originated outside the SACC, but had greater influence on the theology of the SACC and its member churches than anything else.
In 1967 two young clergymen, Methodist Basil Moore and Catholic Colin Collins, had reacted against the conservative attitudes of churches in the midst of the swinging sixties, and formed the University Christian Movement (UCM). Almost immediately this became a focus for radical Christians of all races and churches or none, whose liturgies, theology and acivities many in the churches found outrageously unconventional, whilst others, like John Davies, discovered "the deep privilege of being able to experience the inclusive fellowship of the Holy Spirit in gatherings of bodies like the UCM."(17)
A year later, in the same epoch making 1968 when the SACC coined its name, Steve Biko was instrumental in the formation of the South African Student Organisation (SASO), the black student organisation which soon spread widely, using the slogan devised by Nyameko Barney Pityana: "Black man you are on your own!" (18) They withdrew from white society in order to discover themselves, much as Jesus, at one stage, withdrew his disciples from the hurly burly of his mission in order to find their own feet.
SASO and UCM flashed round the country and within months those hidden resources of African Christians noted before had found their outlet. With every scriptural warrant, poor and oppressed people began to display the liberating power of God and bring to South Africa a renewed understanding of Gospel. The Christ who had always been a fried of outcasts and sinners had found groups of disciples who heard what God was saying and had the courage to think it, proclaim it, and act on it. They were young; they loved parties; they sang the freedom songs of the sixties: "There but for fortune"; "Blowing in the wind"; "A long and a dusty road"; "The times they are a changing"; "Rambling Boy"; "This land Is your land"; "Lord of the Dance;" "Friday morning." They were inspirited people.
UCM sent a group of three to the USA to meet James Cone and other black theologians there: but one proved to be planted by the Special Branch, Manana Kgware was tragically killed in a car accident and Basil Moore was left to report on the insights of oppressed Christians in the US. The political writings of Steve Bike and others in SASO were soon accompanied by the UCM book of Essays on Black Theology (19) compiled by Basil Moore, edited by Stan Sabelo Ntwasa and written by Mokgethi Motholabi, Manas Buthelezi, Adam Small, Steve Biko, James Cone, Nyameko Barney Pityana, Bonganjalo Goba, Mangameli Mabona, Lawrence Zulu, Ananias Mpunzi, and DEH Nxumalo. The book and some of its writers were banned but nothing could restrict the theology.
Frank Chikane met SASO as a student at Turfloop University of the North and with it the great theological debate about the legitimate relation of blacks to God.
He says: "Black Theology as far as I was concerned, provided the answer to all my questions and I still regard the black theology debate as the most important theological debate ever to have taken place in South Africa." (20)
Allan Boesak wrote: "The situation of blackness, of being oppressed, was never taken seriously by western theologians. The tendency to spiritualise the biblical message is still dominant ... which not only compartmentalises life but is a distortion of the Gospel message which then serves to sanction unjust and oppressive structures and relations. It forces Jesus and his message into a Western white mould, degrades him to a servant of mere self-interest, identifies him with oppression." (21) "History as such is being re- evaluated by black people ... Theologically speaking, blacks must take this responsibility and formulate in their own words their belief in God. They can no longer hide behind theological formulas created by someone else." (22)
Speaking at a Missiology Conference, Desmond Tutu responded to doubts that liberation theology was either biblical or Christian.
"I count Black Theology In the category of liberation theologies ... it is an evangelical task that is laid on me to ensure that the Black consciousness movement should succeed and I will not be deterred by governmental disapproval or action. Because, for me, it is a crucial matter that Black consciousness succeed as a theological and evangelical factor because I believe fervently that no reconciliation is possible in South Africa, except reconciliation between real persons. Black consciousness merely seeks to awaken the Black person to a realisation of his worth as a child of God, with the privileges and responsibilities that are the concomitants of that exalted position." (23)
Bishop Stanley Mogoba believes that Black Theology saved Christian South Africa, for it came at a time when many young people were "furiously angry with the church for being in cahoots with the system and wished to reject Christianity altogether." Black theology prevented that by its rediscovery of the strong liberatory message in the Bible and the Church. He believes it was also a major factor in preventing black consciousness from becoming an apartheid type structure. (24) Black theologians had strong personal links with whites who stood on the same ground, like Albert Nolan: "What matters is not the name we give to our theology but that it remains a genuine reflection upon what God is doing in our country today." (25)
Slowly, stumbling and rising again, a new theology arose as "the people appropriated the theological territory," (26) and "produced a confession of faith which expresses an interpretation of the Gospel by the people of Africa."(27) The black rediscovery of God in South Africa was as fundamental as the revelations given to Augustine, Luther, Calvin, or Wesley, but this time it did not form a new denomination. It affected them all.
Black theology did not originate in the official structures of the SACC. Perhaps it was still too western to espouse black initiative, too sincere in its reformist liberalism to heed a revolutionary God, too committed to its traditions and structures to permit them to be threatened by fundamental change. Some blacks were too dumb, and some whites too deaf, to the Word.
But once the new spirit had been proclaimed, it swept through the SACC and the churches with the power of Pentecost and everyone, whatever their inherited ecclesiastical language, heard the message of black theology in their own religious vernacular. Whites who had "given their whole lives for the African people" were shaken to be pushed aside whilst they learnt to repent and believe all over again. Those who did, discovered there was nothing racist in black theology: this was the living God speaking, for as Metz has said: "The God of the Christian gospel is, after all, not a God of conquerors but a God of slaves." (28)
Blacks who had been frustrated and submissive discovered why, and proclaimed the good news from the house-tops. Exodus and Liberation became constant themes for sermons. Intense black groups in every church changed the agenda, and what John De Gruchy wrote of the Christian Institute was true for the member churches and the SACC itself which was "rapidly moving away from an organisation aimed primarily at changing white attitudes and the white church, to one which understood its role as that of support for the black struggle for justice and liberation." (29)
The emergence of black theology amongst its members changed the theological approach of the SACC. Reflection from the black experience, voting from a black awareness, agendas set by black perceptions, all enabled the divine mission embodied in the poor and oppressed to become dominant.
The Congress on Mission and Evangelism (30)
This Congress held in Durban in 1973 was a significant watershed in the theological life of the SACC. It was a joint initiative by the SACC and the evangelical group African Enterprise, under the Chairmanship of John Rees, and Bishop Peter Storey believes it was one of the few times when the SACC pulled all the churches together.
"Never in the history of this country has a comparable quantity and range of South African Christian leadership gathered in one place for such an endeavour" said Dr Calvin Ccok. (31)
A major contingent of world evangelists faced the question of the Mission of the Church, and despite their historical grounding in individual evangelism, nearly all were beginning to put personal salvation in the context of God's mission in society.
Citing John's Gospel as an example, Hans-Ruedi Weber said that "the theologian must be able to restate the Gospel for a new time and environment." (32)
Michael Cassidy believed that "in this country we desperately need to discover a truly Biblical balance between the personal and social gospel ... unless we do this the Christian Church in South Africa will lack all credibility."(33)
Dr Alex Boraine pleaded with the congress "not to relax the tensions between the freedom and the costliness of the gospel, between the personal and the social, between the general and the particular, and the eternal and the contemporary. If we really believe God is alive now, we will not be surprised by change but welcome and expect it. We can only be faithful in the now."(34)
This was the last full scale "evangelistic mission" in the old sense upon which the SACC embarked.
Other concerns were undertaken by the Mission and Evangelism Department from time to time, (35) but it was already clear that like theology itself, evangelism was contextual, and the context was changing.
Releasing the Alternative Church
The theological concerns of the SACC were now explorations of the conviction that the Mission of God was focused in the liberation struggle of the oppressed. That theology immediately affected ecclesiastical politics. Some blacks (like Methodist Seth Mokitimi and Anglican Alpheus Zulu) had been appointed to leadership positions in the churches in the early sixties and the dead weight of white conservatism and black temerity had broken their hearts. But the seventies saw blacks appointed to leadership with the weight of solid support behind them, and this leadership by people who had personal experience of being oppressed was of crucial importance in the emergence of a church with the courage to confront authority in the belief that even death could not defeat it.
Charles Villa-Vicenclo has written of the presence of "an alternative church, a church in resistance which has throughout history existed adjacent to the dominant church - suppressed but neither silenced nor defeated. It is this church that offers life to both the dominant church and society itself. Fired by the memory of a community of people gathered around the poor man of Nazareth who was crucified on the cross of an occupying power, it occupies the margins of the institutional churches." (36)
In the conditions of South Africa those marginalised groups and individuals became centred on the SACC, and churches frequently passed the consequences of this contentious theology to the SACC for attention, asserting that it was better to deal with such matters together. Frank Chikane reflected:
"It is interesting to see how the resolutions changed between 1971 and 1976 as the shade of the committee changed with more Black leaders being appointed. It is a shattering realisation; what the Church formerly said was from the Word of God, now did not come from the Word of God. As the committee's faces changed, the SACC became more critical about apartheid. Also, the World Council of Churches' theology has changed over the years since 1910. We are reading the same Bible. It has not changed, but the theology has changed because of the different contexts." (37)
Thus the SACC became a major focus for Christian thought and action, but the struggle was full of pain. Even as black leaders emerged to take over the leadership positions of the churches, it became apparent that many institutional structures were still constrained by the legacy of white colonialism, and there was a comfort about it that some blacks began to enjoy. The problem was power: the seduction of control could so easily lead to sin. Black consciousness meant the rediscovery of humanness but could be twisted into black racism. Liberation meant freedom but could lead people to enjoy elitism. Whatever their pigment, people needed saving, and often the only hope of personal or social victory was through a Cross.
WCC and PCR
Theologically, there is only one church of Christ, and the influence of world Christianity has been of critical importance to the spread of the Gospel in South Africa. The WCC was deeply involved in the Cottesloe Conference of December 1960 which had examined the Churches' role in response to the Sharpeville massacre, and this continued throughout the years. Many doubt if the church in South Africa would have moved as far as it did without the constant experience, support and challenge of the world church.
For a decade after Sharpeville the Churchs had been putting racism under the spotlight and could find no theological rationale for this world wide evil. In l97O the WCC decided to establish a Special Fund under the Programme to Combat Racism from which financial support would be given to struggles against racism in the world, including the South African Liberation Movements. The SACC knew nothing of it beforehand, but Prime Minister BJ Vorster thought them responsible and immediately told the churches to 'cut it out.' It was a crucial event in church history forcing churches to consider their attitude towards the State, and towards evil institutions. The WCC was adamant that its contribution to liberation organisations was for humanitarian purposes within its constitutional aims and policies on the basis of the Gospel. But, whether it was spent on bombs or bandages, these organisations were fighting to overthrow their governments and this was the crux of the matter.
It forced churches to hear oppressed people say that the system could not be changed by reforming itself, and challenged them to become involved in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. Speaking of the God who liberated the Israelite slaves from Egypt, Tutu said:
"This God did not just talk - he acted. He showed himself to be a doing God. Perhaps we might add another point about God - He takes sides. He is not a neutral God. He took the side of the slaves, the oppressed, the victims. He is still the ssame even today, he sides with the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the victims of injustice." (38)
People were appreciating that If God really spoke through the oppressed, the Church had often not been on God's wavelength. SACC General Secretary John Rees commented: "If the only positive result of the WCC decision has been to make us acutely aware of the discrlminatory society in which we live and to challenge the church as to where it stands, it has achieved a great deal." (39)
A New Era
The structural result for the SACC was the establishment of a Division of Justice and Reconciliation, under the guidance of Dr Brian Johanson, to be followed later in a full time capacity by Dr W Kistner which introduced a new era of profound theological reflection. (40)
- The struggle: violence and its alternatives. When SACC representatives attended the All African Conference of Churches in Lusaka in 1974, they also met exiled leaders of the liberation movements, the "terrorist communist organisations" of South African terminology. None of them appeared to be terrorists, and many were Christians whose struggle against Pretoria arose from their faith. These discussions deeply affected the SACC, particularly on the question of conscientious objection by white youths to service in the SA Defence Force.
Two traditional theological attitudes to war had been cited. The first was that of the holy war used by the Crusaders and many since, which obliged Christians to fight because the war was being fought against evil in order to further the cause of God. This attitude prompted government to call Christians to fight the "communist terrorists" who were seeking to "destroy Chdstian civilisation" in Southern Africa. The second position was the just wartheory which originated in the Reformation, and stated that when all else had failed a defensive war against evil was justified provided it stood a strong chance of success. Government proclaimed the struggle to defend South Affica against "terrorism" was just and thus all young men should share it.
Now the SACC stood that argument on its head. (41) It asked Chrlstians to examine whether in good conscience they could believe that a war to defend the oppressive structures of South African apartheid society could ever be called holy or just. The space for whites and a few privileged blacks to debate about violence was in fact secured by the violence of the regime
"There comes a point where serious moral debate about violence and non-violence is simply not possible for the oppressed masses ... where townships are turned into war zones … selfdefence and counter attack is sometimes the only realistic option available to people. You either run or fight back. There is no time or space for moral debate when you are confronted with a rifle or a panga," said Frank Chikane. (42)
Informed by this view from the victims, the SACC asked its members to consider conscientious objection to military support for the regime. This placed the onus of action against the State on young men, many of whom accepted the challenge, but a far larger matter was involved and by 1979 that issue emerged in another SACC resolution.
"Recognising the great suffering resuIting from the policy of separate development and confessing that this suffering has been greatly increased by the Churches failure to act in the past, this Conference believes that the South African Churches are under an obligation to withdraw as far as that is possible from cooperation with the State in all those areas in the ordering of our society where the law violates the justice of God." (43)
The conviction was stronger; the theology was working its way out; but "positive non-cooperation' was vague on action. If resistance to an evil regime was justified on a personal level, was it not obligatory for Christians and the Church?
- The struggle: the response to violence. The inherent church abhorrence of violence brought three emphases within the SACC. One was the recognition of State violence when the regime, in order to effect its policies, imposed them by force on a population which had no possible way of expressing its opinion. The constant increase in the use of violence to impose the policies of the State (excused by false claims of resisting a total onslaught from Russia and its allies) built up an awareness in the SACC that stoppIng State violence was an inescapable Christian duty. The second was a pastoral problem "as more and more victims of this system resorted to the use of force as the only option left to stop this racist, inhuman, brutal and violent system." (44)
The third attitude was set out clearly by Malusi Mpumlwana:
"The church must take the lead and demonstrate the power of non-violence in South Africa. The oppressed must be left with no doubt as to where the church stands. Such witness may occasion the violent death of the church as we have come to know it." (45)
If the Church could not support the armed struggle for either theological or pragmatic military reasons, it was duty bound to devise and pursue alternative non-violent methods of resistance.
The SACC accordingly moved at its 1988 Conference: "To express our belief that disinvestment and similar economic pressures are now called for as a peaceful and effective means of putting pressure on the South African government to bring about those fundamental changes this county needs."(46)
This meant sanctions.
There was surprIsingly little debate about the morality of usIng economic pressure to enforce change. The SACC had accepted that it was right to join the struggle against the regime, and that sanctions was the major non-killing method of exerting pressure. If the force of moral persuasion was not enough to overcome evil, financial persuasion seemed permissible. Some doubted whether sanctions could be made effective, a reflection of the "reasonable chance of success" argument used in the Just War theory, but the usual objection was that economic actIon against the regime would hurt blacks first, more, and in vain. The argument was false because the whites with their large monthly expenses felt sanctions first and most, and sanctions were ultimately a crucial factor in forcing the Nationalist government to depose Botha and deny apartheid.
Almost without exception black church leaders and representatives supported sanctions even though with reluctance. "There is no guarantee that sanctions will topple apartheid, but it is the last non-violent option left", said Bishop Tutu. (47) Black opinion agreed, overwhelmingly. So did the SACC. But several churches either refused to commit themselves or opposed sanctions. They liked to claim their churches were non-racial, they sought to identify with the oppressed, but when they reached the crucial economic chasm they could not cross that bridge. They thought they knew better than the God-who- spoke-to-them-through-the-poor.
- The struggle: confrontation wIth the State. During the late seventies and early eighties the conflict with the State reached a crucial stage. In 1977 the ChrIstian Institute and its staff had been banned, together with many Black Consciousness organisatlons and the "World" newspaper. A government which claimed to be Christian and reformist could not ban churches so it attempted to undermine the legitimacy of the SACC, ultimately appointing the Eloff Commission of Enquiry in 198l-4. (48) It failed.
The response of the SACC, notably by Dr W Kistner and Bishop D Tutu, Includes a profound theological justification of the SACC position on every point which the State brought into contention. Dr Kistner set the central SACC position clearly in his response to the memorandum submitted by the SAP.
"It regards the policy of the present government and more particularly the political and socio-economic exploitation and oppression of people in this country on the grounds of their colour or for any other ideological or indiscrIminate reason as contrary to the declared purpose of God. As such, it has made known that it will use all constitutIonal means available to it in working for constructive and meanIngful change in this country. Above all, it has shown on the basis of theological analysis why this government is not furthering thIs declared purpose of God. As such it must be accepted that the allegation made in the police memorandum that the SACC is purposefully in opposition to the South African government's political ideology is correct. It needs to be stated further that the member churches have expressed support at least at the level of principle with this general position of the SACC in relation to the government" (49)
Dr Alex Boraine, former President of the Methodist Church and a member of Parliament argued that if the main charge of the commission against the Council were its involvement in the socio- political and economic issues of the day "then I must agree that the SACC must plead guilty as charged. It is in fact my judgment that if they are not guilty of this charge, they would be found guilty in a higher court. In other words the essence of the Sacc's defence is that they must obey God rather than man. In this instance they are faithfully reflecting the central message of both the Old and New Testaments." (50)
The Police and Commission maintained that the Church should focus its concern on personal salvation and conversion and leave political matters alone. To this Dr David Bosch replied:
"The church and its spokesmen cannot provide detailed blueprints about how to solve these problems, but it may - indeed should - in fulfilling its prophetic role ceaselessly identify those anomalies in the body politic and help prepare a climate in which solutions become possible." (51)
Bishop Tutu, now General Secretary of the SACC, set a similar line: "If we are to say that religion cannot be concerned with politics, then we are really saying that there is a substantial part of human life in which God's reach does not run." (52)
There was nothing new about the SACC arguments; holiness and justice were inseparable; everything had been said before in pulpits but now it was stated in a public court that the SACC stood by its theological positions and the official commission could not fault them. The opposition to the apartheid regime was sound Christian teaching. The weight of the Church had been thrown behind the struggle of the oppressed people and was authenticated. Tutu commented:
"If they are taking on the SACC then they must know that they are taking on the Church of God and other tyrants before them have tried to destroy the Church - Nero, Amin, Hitler, Bokassa -where are they today? They have bitten the dust ignominiously." (53)
- The struggle: heresy. (54) Whilst the Eloff Commission was still in session, the World Alliance of Re-formed Churches and many other churches throughout the world and within the membership of the SACC declared that apartheid was sinful and its theological and moral justification was a heresy. The WARC therefore refused further recognition to the Dutch Reformed Churches until they distanced themselves from apartheid. For the SACC this was spelling out in blunt terms and ecclesIastical action the statement in the Message, years before, that apartheid was a false gospel, and the SACC endorsed the heresy pronouncement at its meeting in 1982. (55)
Churches were often reluctant to comment on issues which also concerned political parties, citing historical positions which asserted the wisdom of this position. But the initial Christian proclamation is of the ruling power of God, and failure to present the theological insights of this faith in social, political and economic terms meant that the Church neglected its duty. Throughout scripture and history the people of God have been called to love mercy, to do justly, and to walk humbly with their God, whatever the prevailing attitudes of rulers or ruled. When an established society embraces political or economic injustice, or permits an ungodly ideology to take root within it, or pursues an unmerciful culture (as happened in the time of slavery) the Church must denounce this without fear or favour, and if it fails to do so becomes an accessory to evil.
Apartheid was accepted within the structures and practices of South African society, the society of which the Church was a part, and thus the tentacles of apartheid ideology had taken root in the Church. To give this moral and theological justification, to assert that such ungodly activity was godly, was heretical and misrepresented the Gospel. It was this which prompted the Church to take such a stand.
Both State and Church now faced dilemmas. If the State pursued its policy of the violent imposition of apartheid as a Christian duty, it would have to do so in defiance of the will of the people and the judgment of the church throughout the world. Government reacted by declaring itself committed to a reform process to establish the Tricameral Parliament, but this opened the door for the establishment of the United Democratic Front (UDF). By advocating the reform of apartheid but not the removal of apartheid, the State was committed to a course that could only be enforced by unprecedented repression. Those without moral or political power resort to violent power.
If the Church believed that its stand before Eloff was justified and that apartheid was heretical it must decide what action to take. Was it to follow its history and rely on the gentle theology of nudging towards reform, or was it to align itself behind a theology of fundamental change, which some called revolution?
The Churches and the SACC dithered, and once more God - exhibiting little respect for ecclesiastical protocol -produced a theological explosion from outside the main structures of the church
The Christian Challenge: The Call to Prayer
Early in 1985, as countrywide disturbances developed and States of Emergency were declared, an ecumenical group whose members came from different Christian communities throughout the country produced a 'Theological Ra-tionale and a Call to Prayer for the end to unjust rule'(56)which was produced for use on 16 June, the anniversary of the Soweto massacre. Unlike the Message of seventeen years before, the Call to Prayer did not originate in the SACC, but it was issued with the authority of the SACC and in a sense carried the Message to its natural conclusion.
"It is right that we as Christians reassess our response to a system which all right-thinking people identify as unjust. We have prayed for our rulers, as is demanded of us in the Scriptures. We have entered into consultation with them as is required by our faith. We have taken the reluctant and drastic step of declaring apartheid to be contrary to the declared will of God, and some churches have declared its theological justification to be a heresy.
"We now pray that God will replace the present structures of oppression with ones that are just, and remove from power those who persist in defying his laws, installing in their place leaders who will govern with justice and mercy."(57)
The statement then set out the "firm theological tradition" which showed that if civil law is not the source of justice it is tyranny, and that such authority has no right to exist. This it asserted with reference to Christian teaching throughout history, and the church today.
People were used to calls for the apartheid regime to change its policies, but a call to pray for a change of government was a new development.
Its assumption that God was involved in political and social events in a directly effective way reflected the conviction of the prophets of Israel, and Jesus' assertion to Pilate that "you would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above." (58)
It was a replay of the threat to Ephesus that "if you will not repent I shall come and take your lampstand from its place" (59)
It was a call to Christians to stop talk of reforming an evil govemment and align themselves with those seeking the replacement of the govemment.
It was being seen with more clarity that obedience to the State depended upon the legitimacy of the State, and that a tyranny imposed against the will of the people was not legitimate. Such a tyranny could not be "instituted of God," (60) nor claim the allegiance of Christian people.
The Christian Challenge: The Kairos Document
The Call to Prayer had hardly been assimilated when, in September 1985, another document appeared which had no authority from the SACC or its member churches at all. It was called "Challenge to the Church", subtitled the "Kairos Document",(61) and can be summarised as follows:
The moment of truth had come for apartheid and for the Church. Christians were killing one another, and the church had to make up its mind on the theological stance it would take in the struggle for liberation in South Africa.
Was it to look to State Theology which justified the status quo? Or to Church Theology, which uses traditional notions of reconciliation, justice and non-violence to avoid an adequate social analysis, and promotes a type of individualistic faith and spirituality which leaves many Christians and Church Leaders in a state of near paralysis?
Or can it move towards a Prophetic Theology which speaks to the particular circumstances of the crisis in South Africa and clearly takes a stand?
Prophetic theology analyses the conflict in society clearly, examines oppression and tyranny in the Christian tradition, and contains a message of hope.
It states unequivocally that God sides with the oppressed and calls for participation in the struggle for liberation and a just society, which means transforming church activities, may mean civil disobedience, and calls the leaders and members of church to renewal and action. The present Kairos was a divine visitation, a challenge to the Church.
The Christian Challenge : The Evangelical Witness
On it's heels, another document appeared. In "Evangelical Witness in South Africa" (62) evangelicals critiqued their own theology and practice, recognising that their theology was influenced by American and European missionaries with political, social and class interests which were contrary or hostile to both the spiritual and social needs of our people in this country.
"To these groups and Churches what is called western ChrIstian civilisation or the western capitalistic culture is seen as identical with the christian faith or the demands of the Gospel. Any other system (especially economic) which is not necessarily capitalist is taken as being atheistic and therefore anti-Christian." (63)
"The problem Is that Jesus was a radical and we are moderates. He was committed to radical change and we are committed to moderation, to reformist liberal tendencies which leave the system intact. Jesus talked about losing life to gain life and giving one's life for others like he did for us, whilst we are concerned about our interests and the preservation of our lives." (64)
Like the Kairos Document, the Evangelical Document concluded with a very long list of names of those who subscribed to its views but these came from a broad range of Christians who belonged to charismatic and pentecostal churches and groups.
Perhaps, like Black Theology, these documents could not have first appeared within the SACC because ecclesiastical organisations, with their traditions and structures, are not geared for such innovations. There is nothing reprehensible about this: it is simply a statement of religious reality whIch has been clear since the Acts of the Apostles. The Spirit of Cod can achieve some things within the competence of smaller groups, and some in larger. Different views have a different emphasis in different contexts, whether being discussed in Antioch or in the CouncIl of Jerusalem in Acts 15.
The SACC and its member churches, many of whose members were involved in the production of these three documents, quickly brought them into their understanding and approach. Reactions amongst the SACC churches varied between those who endorsed the insights and those who felt they went too far. The fact that the churches had to change their own attitudes as part of the struggle to change the country was widely accepted but there were very real problems. If the Churches were to accept the necessity of praying for a change of government, some of them would need to alter their liturgies. The documents were not approved and recommended, but accepted as study documents and referred to the Churches for consideration.
The crux of the matter was that whilst some supported, others fudged the issue. They recognIsed its validity but failed to make an unequivocal response to the challenge of the Gospel from the reality of the rejected people. That difference in attitude to the Gospel and society has continued, and was spelt out clearly by Louise Kretzschmar at the Awareness Campaign of the Baptist Convention:
"The basic divisions … in South Africa are no longer racial, but theological: between those who remain tied to a quietistic or even right-wing view of Christianity and those who seek to relate the Gospel not only to the souls of individuals, but also to the total needs of persons." (65)
Some Christians were still committed to the type of western society which apartheid sought to preserve. The affluent and elite in the leadership of the churches saw apartheid as a disgusting and ungodly threat to the preservation of western society which was fundamentally reformable. The poor and oppressed saw apartheId as the epitome of western society which revealed its true oppressive nature, and thus the basis of society had to be totally changed. Both sections wanted apartheid removed but for opposite reasons. "The liberal critics of the Kairos Document perceive the present order differently from its authors who wrote from the heat of the struggle in Soweto." (66)
Within the SACC family the essential divide between the vision of the poor and oppressed who perceived the good news of a kingdom which totally changed human society, was still contrasted with the vision of the liberals who accepted the legitimacy of the present order of political, economic and social life, but wanted it apartheid free. It was a difference of theological perception of which Jesus had warned, that "the affluent cannot see the ruling power of God".(67)
A Valid Role
As a result of this fundamental divide, some people pulled out. Some conservatives withdrew, aided by the government's propaganda and agencies like the government funded "Christian League". Some radicals withdrew, feeling that the Church no longer had a valid role in the struggle. Within that struggle the theological insights of the SACC were constantly challenged and strengthened, and both sides were far clearer that apatheid was evil, apartheid had to go, and the church had to join the struggle again it They did not know that the struggle was soon to be intensified and once more their theological perceptions would be at the heart of it.
WCC and the Liberation Movements
During May1987 the WCC convened a conference in Lusaka on "The Churches search for Justice and Peace in South Africa." It was attended by Churches from southern Africa and overseas, and also by the Liberation Movements, and the personal relationships forged or renewed made a profound impression on all present including the delegates from the SACC. The central paragraph of the Lusaka Statement concerned the liberation struggle and read as follows:
"We affirm the unquestionable right of the people of Namibia and South Africa to secure justice and peace through the liberation movements. While remaining committed to peaceful change we recognise that the nature of the South African regime which wages war on its own inhabitants and neighbours compels the movements to the use of force along with other means to end oppression. We call upon the churches and the international community to seek ways to give this affirmation practical effect in the struggle for liberation in the region and to strengthen their contacts with the liberation movements."(68)
Nothing could be more explicitly opposed to the machinations of PW Botha than this endorsement of the liberation movements and the call on the churches to strengthen their contact wIth them. Neither the SACC nor its member churches endorsed the armed struggle – they were explicitly committed to peaceful methods - but in the continuing debate between the advocates of "reform" and "fundamental change" at the SACC National Conference the Lusaka Statement waa accepted, a counter resolution that it be merely received and referred to the churches for study being defeated.
This commitment by the SACC to maintain contact with the liberation movements was followed in January 1988 by a call from the SACBC for open unconditional negotiations between Pretoria and the liberation movements. Both these decisions arose from theological convictions that the struggle was godly in principle, that it was a commitment to the kingdom, and must be continued until negotiations could facilitate a peacful solution.
When Botha struck again in 1988, banning 17 more organisations committed to non-violent and peaceful change including the United Democratic Front (UDF), itwas the last straw. Churches now had no difficulty in interpreting this as an attempt by the regime to destroy all non-violent peaceful actions for change. Older members recalled similar actions against the ANC and PAC which were totally committed to peaceful change when they were banned in 1960. and the BC organisations and Cl banned in 1977.
Armed by the theological debates of the previous decade which rejected the legitimacy of a militrty option for the regime, Church Leaders first produced a remarkable statement. (69) After placing the blame for violence squarely on the shoulder. of government who had chosen that course, they stated that since the majority of people in the banned organisations belonged to churches the bannings affected the Churches directly; and since the activities of the organisations were "central to the proclamation of the Gospel" the Churches would endeavour to take over and continue the work of thee organisations, in so far as they were mandated by the Gospel. Their mandate came from God, no man or government would stop them. If the State wished to act against the Church for proclaiming the Gospel, then so be it.
"We urge the oppressed to intensify the struggle for justice and peace in accordance with the Gospel and we encourage them not to lose hope for victory against evil in this world is guaranteed by our Lord. For our part, we commit ourselves to exploring every possible avenue for continuing to carry out the activities which have been banned in so far as we believe they are mandated by the Gospel." (70)
This was taking theology into the struggle beyond any doubt and it was capped by the decision not to talk to the Government behind closed doors - an exercise which had already proved fruitless - but to march on Parliament in the full glare of publicity to protest against the brutal action taken against peaceful opposition and present a petition to the State President making clear their demands "to witness effectively and clearly to the value of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." (71)
They were arrested, imprisoned, released, and castigated by the government who called theIr peaceful march "a violent act". The photograph of these Christian leaders, together with Muslims and Jews, kneeling in the street in prayer went round the world, and with it the theological explication by Frank Chikane, now General Secretary of the SACC:
"What is threatening the struggle on behalf of Christianity, the Christian faith, and freedom of faith and worship against the forces of godlessness is in fact the present apartheid government which oppresses and brutalises the black majority in this country inthe name of God. It is the Nationalist government which treats black people in this country as Iess than human, and thus makes blacks to doubt whether or not they were created in the same image of God, making them doubt whether this God is a God of oppressors or a God of justice. The attack on those who witness against the evils of the apartheid system is what threatens the freedom of faith and worship in this country. The urgent and primary concern at present therefore is not atheistic marxism, but it is the heretical system of apartheid that is threatening our faith and creating a crisis of faith and mission in our country." (72)
Chikane saw a deeper truth here about the nature of the Church in South Africa.
"Christians need to restate that they are called to carry out their mission as a church in the world and to people affected by this world. They are called to witness against sin in society as a whole, including the sphere of economics and polltics, all of which affects faith and the spiritualIty of people. Christians are called to witness against evil and injustice in this world, and in our particular case the heretical apartheid system." (73)
Blistering letters of accusation passed between the SACC, its member churches and the SACBC on one hand, and Government and the DRC on the other hand. but little new was added to the debate.
The SACC and its members were now solidily committed to the theological position, not only that apartheid was against the will of God, but that it must be totally removed through the pressure of international sanctions, and the pressure of the oppressed people.
The Convocation of Churches(74)
During 1988 the SACC called a Convocation to enable churches in South Africa to develop effective non-violent actions in the face of the deepening crisis in the country. "The aim of developing effective non- violent actions was to bring an end to the apartheid system by putting pressure on the South African regime to abandon apartheid and participate in a negotiated settlement to establish a just, non-racial and democratic society where all will be treated equally before the law." (75)
It had become clear to all churches that whilst the liberation movements were open to discussIon about a negotiated settlement, the apartheid regime would entertain nothing that could tamper with white domination and privilege. Month after month there was evidence of the regime's support for violent acts designed to detabilise the liberation struggle. This was the context of the Convocations decision to set up the Standing for the Truth Campaign.
"Called to proclaim and witness to truth in living, and even by dying, we now commit ourselves with solemn resolve in prayer and action to end unjust rule in our country and to see the advent of the democratic society of peace and justice ... The awakening of social conscience and a knowledge of truth are central to evangelisation, and essential element for preaching, liturgy, chatechetics, and Christian formation – indeed, for church work and witness as a whole. This implies a pastoral task of the first order."(76)
Nevertheless, there were problems. Some church leaders felt they were being pushed too far too quickly, and some activists felt the churches were not sufficiently concerned and left the church, which Chikane sees as tragic: "Politically concerned people must remain within the structures of the church and force these structures to face up to the practical implications of the gospel."(77)
The years had given a deeper meaning to the Message of 1968:
"We believe that we are under an obligation to state that our country and Church are under God's judgement and that Christ is inevitably a threat to much that is called "the South African way of Iife." We must ask ourselves what features of our social order will have to pass away if the lordship of Christ is to be fully acknowledged and if the peace of God is to be revealed as the destroyer of our fear." (78)
And then: Botha was out and De Klerk was in; the prisoners were out and the Liberation Movements were in; apartheid was out ... but what new order was coming in?
1. F Chikane, Interview with C Villa Vicencio, April 1993. [back]
2. Message to the People of South Africa, SACC June 1968. Reprinted as an appendix to this volume. [back]
3. J Davies, Letter to the author, 4 March 1993. [back]
4. Ibid. J Davies, Pseudo-Gospels in the Church, SA Institute of Race Relations, May 1968. [back]
5. J Cochrane, Servants of Power, p26. [back]
6. N B Pityana, Essays on Black Theology, University Christian Movement 1972, p38. [back]
7. M Buthelezi, Church Action in the South African Crisis, SACC 1988 p15. [back]
8. F Meli, South Africa belongs to us, Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1988 p14. [back]
9. Acts 15: 5ff. [back]
10. W Kistner, Outside the Camp, SACC 1988, p21. [back]
11. CFB Naude, Hope in Crisis, SACC 1986 p123. [back]
12. Shirley Du Boulay, Tutu, 1988 p79. [back]
13. R Turner, The Eye of the Needle, SPROCAS 2, 1972. See Ravan Press Edition 1980. [back]
14. P Randall, Resistance and Hope, David Philip/Eerdmans, 1985 p165. [back]
15. Luke 4: 18. [back]
16. Randall, Ibid p 166. [back]
17. Davies, Letter, Ibid. [back]
18. NB Pityana, see Gail M Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa, University of California 1978 p274.[back]
19. Essays on Black Theology. See also Basil Moore, The Challenge of Black Theology in South Africa, John Knox Press 1973. [back]
20. F Chikane, Interview. Ibid. [back]
21. A A Boesak, Farewell to Innocence, Kampen University 1976, p23. [back]
22. Ibid, p24. [back]
23. D Tutu in Missionalia, August 1977, p115. [back]
24. S Mogoba, Interview with author, March 1993. [back]
25. A Nolan, God in South Africa, David Philip 1988, p4. [back]
26. M Buthelezi, Church Action in the South African Crisis, ibid, p15. [back]
27. A W Habelgaarn, Kairos, August 1972, SACC. [back]
28. J Metz, Faith in History and Society, Burnes and Oates 1980, p71. [back]
29. J de Gruchy, Resistance and Hope, p22. [back]
30. M Cassidy, I will heal their land. SA Congress on Mission and Evangelism 1973, SACC/Africa Enterprise, 1974. [back]
31. C Cook, ibid, p31. [back]
32. H R Weber, ibid, p32. [back]
33. M Cassidy quoting J Burns, ibid, p33. [back]
34. A Boraine, ibid, p344/5. [back]
35. Mission in Unity Together, SACC Faith and Mission Unit, 1993. [back]
36. C Villa Vicencio, Trapped in Apartheid, Orbis 1988, p5. [back]
37. F Chikane in The Barkly West National Awareness Workshop, Baptist Convention of SA, 1990, p36. [back]
38. Tutu, Ibid, p86. [back]
39. At a meeting in Durban 1971, quoted in paper by W. Kistner: Response of SACC to WCC PCR, Feb 1980, p6. [back]
40. Several of Dr W Kistner's papers are included in Outside the Camp, SACC 1988. Other J&R papers are in the SACC library and annual reports. [back]
41. See Resolution on Conscientious Objection in this volume. [back]
42. F Chikane interview, ibid. [back]
43. SACC Conference 1979. [back]
44. F Chikane address to Convocation of Churches, Church Action in SA Crisis, 1988 p163.[back]
45. M Mpumplwana in C Villa Vicencio Theology and Violence, Skotaville Publishers, 1987 p99. [back]
46. Church Action in SA Crisis, ibid, p213/4. [back]
47. In Trapped in Apartheid, ibid, p118. [back]
48. For W Kistner on Eloff Commission see Outside the Camp, ibid p89ff. For D Tutu see On Trial, John Paul the Preachers Press, 1982. [back]
49. Kistner, ibid. [back]
50. Resistance and Hope, ibid, p115/6. [back]
51. Ibid 119. [back]
52. Ibid 123. [back]
53. Tutu, ibid p179. [back]
54. Apartheid is a Heresy, Ed J de Gruchy and C Villa-Vicencio, David Philip 1983. [back]
55. SACC Conference 1982. [back]
56. See appendix to this volume. [back]
57. Ibid. [back]
58. John 19:11. [back]
59. Revelations 2:5. [back]
60. Romans 13:1. [back]
61. Challenge to the Church: The Kairos Document, Institute of Contextual Theology, 1986. [back]
62. Evangelical Witness in South Africa, Concerned Evangelicals, 1986. [back]
63. Ibid, p2. [back]
64. Ibid, p8. [back]
65. Barkly West National Awareness Workshop, ibid, p31. [back]
66. C Villa-Vicencio, Trapped in Apartheid, ibid, p167. [back]
67. Mark 10:23. [back]
68. Lusaka Statement. [back]
69. F Chikane, The Church's Prophetic Witness against the Apartheid System in South Africa, Feb-April 1988, SACC, 1988 p33. [back]
70. ibid, p35. [back]
71. ibid, p40. [back]
72. ibid, p17/18. [back]
73. ibid, p19. [back]
74. Church Action in the South African Crisis, ibid, p157. [back]
75. Ibid. [back]
76. Ibid. [back]
77. F Chikane interview, ibid. [back]
78. A Message, ibid. [back]
| BOOK II: CHAPTER TWO - GREATEST CHALLENGE IS NOW
The Good News that Empowers Us
Transition is a trying experience. We have endured a three year gestation period since the February 1990 announcement of a new birth for South Africa, and some are asking if the annunciation was real. The labour pains have been almost unendurable.
Long after Pharoah was forced to Iet them go, the burden of the transition to a new society caused some Israelites to hanker for the past “Why did we not die at Yahweh’s hand in the land of Egypt when we were able to sit down to pans of meat and could eat bread to our hearts content? As it is, you have brought us to this wilderness to starve this whole company to death!” (1) In the time of the Prophets, after returning from exile, and when Jesus' followers were establishing the Christian Way, transition was found to be a time of tension, a mixture of joy and dismay, of achievement and impatience. It is a feature of great social change: writing Magna Cartas, Declarations of Independence or Freedom Charters is much easier than transformIng
The danger of being misled, the temptation of using the Gospel to support a subsidiary interest of race, class, nation, gender or denomination is very real and the Church can lose its way. We are back to the threat of pseudo-gospels with whIch we began twenty five years ago, and because pseudo-gospels are promoted by people who believe in the Gospel and defended by reference to the Gospel, they easily become corruptions of the Gospel as happened with apartheid. The uncertainties of transition can tempt us to make idols of any concerns to which we cling, from politics to religion.
“If the Church is not clearly a community of people who are liberated to accept each other truly, and to exploit a freedom which is elsewhere denied, the Church itself will have betrayed one of its basic characteristics: It will have broken a primary bond which links it to the Kingdom of God: it will have become the servant of a pseudo-gospel.” (2)
We carry into this period much experience and unfinished busIness from the Message and SPROCAS and Black Theology, and the years of repression, gaol and death. Many of the tunes we sang in those days still ring in our ears and the themes whIch emerged must be brought to conclusion in a liberated society. Many of our political and economic questions are at root theological questions, “grounded as they are ini biblical propheticc presuppositions, spiritual forms in secular garb which the church can no longer afford to ignore.” (3)
What theological contribution can lead our march towards the new South Africa, which will send the pseudo-gospels packing, and enable us to hear the Good News that empowers us in building the new society?
1. A theology that empowers TOGETHERNESS.
During the struggle a vision emerged of people who had discovered a new community. We experienced the type of unity that ordinary Christians discovered in the days of Paul: Christ drew them out of their old segments into a life in which “there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female,” (4) a community which defeated divisive evils.
Bishop Manas Buthelezi expounded this as it affected the church during the 1988 SACC Conference: "While ecumenical theologians of Faith and Order and others are still seeking convergence in understanding certain key matters of doctrine and practice, people in the pews have gone beyond seeking. They have sought and apparently found what professlonal theologians are still seeking. That is on the level of peoples ecumenism. The tents pitched for funeral night vigils are the new cathedrals and sanctuaries of popular ecumenism. There you find Catholics, Lutherans, Zionists, Methodists etc all doing their holy thing peacefully together, not worried by any theological scruples ... Are these the makings of a “people's church” that transcends denominational affiliations? It may very well be so.” (5) Bishop Tutu testified to the Eloff Commission that "this divine movement in which the SACC and its member churches are caught up ... is for bringing together, for uniting, for reconciling, for atoning. The only separation the Bible knows is between believers on the one hand and unbelievers on the other. Any other kind of separation, division, disunity is of the devil. It is evil and from sin.” (6)
The togetherness we discovered in the struggle was not limited to people of Christian faith. Maulana Farid Essack who knelt in the street to pray with Church leaders in CapeTown before they were all arrested in 1988 said: “They did not ask us if we were Muslim or Christian when they declared Claremont and Constantia white. They did not ask if we were Hindus or Muslims when they teargassed us; nor do they enquire about our religion when they kill our children on the streets. Side by side Apartheid has sought to dehumnanise us and side by side we shall work to destroy It and create a new South Africa.” (7)
Many efforts are now being made to undo that unity and take us back to separateness, not to re-legalise apartheid, but to reinforce divisions between tribe and party, township and suburb, urban and rural, affluent and impoverished, elite versus the ordinary people and church versus church.It is done with the guile and fervour of a pseudo-gospel.
The House of God
In this case, as in many others, “judgment begins at the house of God.” (8)Are the churches singing songs of liberation with the people, or singing songs to themselves inside the excluding walls of eccleiastical separate development? Do we enact the united community to which we are called at the level of leadership, the people in the congregations, and the people in the street? Are we emphasising the universality of God and the unity of the people of God, or is this lip service hiding a greater commitment to our local bethels and prestige in our own denominations?
Theologically, the Church is one. Beyond the traditions of our separate groups and the comfortable clinging to power within them, beyond black and white and the use of tribalism for gain, beyond the quest for affluence, beyond acquiescence to western control, beyond the guns and violence and fear, beyond the subtleties of pseudo-gospels, the church is challenged to proclaim the good news that empowers a new community in South Africa.
2. A theology that empowers Religion
Religion played a major part in the struggle. God was with us. Even though we had no power at all and it seemed the darkness and suffering would go on for ever, we never doubted that the God of liberation was with us and would save us. The thing that kept us going all those years was not money, guns, education, jobs, votes, or political idealism but faith.
This was true of the Israelites in the long wanderings in the desert with Moses after their escape from oppression in Egypt, and in later periods too when they had no centralised authority to lean on, or their leaders were exiled, or their country overrun by tyrannical empires. They were powerless, but their faith inspired and led them, and they were delivered.
During this stage of transition many people have moved from reliance on faith to reliance on power. The problem is not the legitimacy of possessing votes, houses, food, clothes, and the material things of life which are part of the Good News promised by the prophets and Jesus(9) , but in putting the love of such perquisites of power before our God, our community and ourselves. Bishop Manas Buthelezi saw the danger in the past:
“In the course of its struggle for existence within the political dynamics of the time, the church got trapped in the political establishment and became the servant of the power of the state instead of that of the Gospel.... In hindsight we can now blame the church for having taken twenty centuries before exercising any effective vigilance to halt the development.” (10)
The danger in these days of transition is that people will attempt to re-colonise religion, to take us back to the period when religion was not the focus of a God who liberated all the people, but a tribal idol who cared for the people of Blood River, the English, the capitalists, the denominations, the blacks, the whites, or the Christians.
Theology in the context of transition can empower us to build on the vast religious roots of our people, and let faith be free and flourish in the liberated territory.
3. The theology of a gospel that empowers justice.
Like all the prophets, the peasant Micah was concerned that the society of Israel had become so corrupt that it would be destroyed, and he spells out the behaviour that God requires to stem the rot: “to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.” (11) The good news of Jesus that the power of God is present in the human community to empower precisely this underlies our pursuit of justice.
Essentially the struggle was for justice: human rights, land, education, health, ecology, opportunity are at the heart of it, and need the spotlight of theological reflection to fall on them all.
One of the strongest themes that emerged in past decades was a theology that empowered the poor not because the affluent were kind, but because the poor were human. In the struggle we had "the courage to outgrow the charity mentality and see that at the bottom of all relations between rich and poor there is a problem of justice,” to use the words of Dom Helder Camara.
Speaking of the necessity of “a courageous theology” at the Black Renaissance Convention Dr Mans Buthelezi said that the black man was “waiting for a theology that wrestles with the question of the restoration and distribution of power ... The Bible teaches that man was given the right to share in the fruits of the garden of Eden. God continually produces his gifts of life and places them at the disposal of man whom he created. Man was not created for poverty. Poverty is a creation of the greed of man who gobbles not only what bclongs to hlm but also what belongs to others ... There is a cry for a theology that wrestles with these questions and tries to find answers.” (12)
It was during our struggle that the whole world began to see that Christianity was not about preserving the wealth and weight of the West, but about transforming the oppressed. “The recovery, in our time, of the bias of the gospel to the materially poor is a momentous theological and pastoral event, a profound challenge … To be poor is to suffer not just lack, but an injustice that has a structural basis in the society within which one lives,” wrote Dr J Cochrane. (13)
We also saw that this injustice was often supported by affluent Christians who had to face a rebirth of insight and values like Nichodemus. “The study of social and economic injustice has now, beyond doubt, revealed that there are Christians who support and benefit from such unjust social structures as the current global economic order, transnational corporations, and Apartheid. Is the church's commitment to removing the root cause of social and economlc injustice strong enough to lead to a common Christian struggle for dismantling such structures of injustice?” asked Dr Sibusiso Bengu. (14)
People are poor because economic systems make them poor and direct riches to the affluent. Economies are designed to benefit the “haves” in direct defiance of the Gospel which brings good news to the “have nots.” We are assured in scripture, and our own prophets have endorsed it, that societies cannot survive if they ignore the gospel call to provide first for the needs of the poor. All the prophets say that the society that is unjust will be destroyed – temple, nation and city.
What did we learn from Sanctions? The first thing, said Frank Chikane to the Convocation in 1988, was that the priority in the country and the West was not to get rid of black suffering, but “how businesses can continue to keep up their privileges and benefit from the system.” (15) Yet we discovered that powerful political and economic systems are vulnerable, that affluent Christians (including those in the West) do listen and respond, and that the agenda of the poor can be heeded. It does not matter how strong the economic system seems to be, nor how many guns defend it: if such systems ignore the scriptural imperative to put the poor first those systems are unsustainable. God has a sanction against them: the theology was right and it worked.
In the Black Consciousness period, Barney Pityana quoted James NgugI with enthusiasm: “I believe the Church could return to (or learn lessons from) the primitive communism of the early Christian church of Peter and Paul, and the communalism of the traditional African society …”(16)
The theme is that although our country seems set on a course of economic disaster, if we set out to respond to the Gospel priorities we shall discover the methodology to empower the hungry, the thlrsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick, the lonely, and the oppressed. (17) No one suggests it will be easy: it is clearly a godly task: but that way alone leads to enpowerment and progress.
The Good News of the empowerment of the oppressed also requires a theology of democracy. “The vote” has been a major focus all through the struggle and has not yet been achieved, although no serious theologian denies it. What has failed to take our attention has been the form and quality of dcmocracy, the theological understanding of God-in-the-people. The word was coined after scriptural times, but the principle of government, the voice and responsibility of the community, the indwelling of the Spirit of God amongst humans to guide and empower them, the proclamation of God's ruling power on Earth: these are all there, but we have neglected our task here. Are we to go to the polls with no theological guidance on principles (not policies) or power (not persons)? What is the word of the God who exerts power through powerlessness? What does it mean that Christ is known in community? (18)
Much of the input we need in this period of transition we must expect to receive through the empowerment of women. Women were not the only ones who suffered the injustice of their exclusion: the whole human community was impoverished. “Feminism is about a different consciousness, a radically transformed perspective which questions our social, cultural, political and religious traditions and calls for structural change in these spheres .. A femInist liberation view also believes there is no valid dichotomy between the private and public areas of life. In fact, their maintenance as separate spheres assists in perpetuating domination and control because of ex-cessive preoccupation with personal morality at the expense of a social conscience, leading to the failure of a sufficient theoretical foundation for social and gender justice,” writes Dr Denise Ackermann. (19) “For the church to become a liberation community a process of democratisation will have to take place which allows all to minister according to their gifts, coupled with a gospel understanding of authority as a service which is vested in the comniunlty as a whoIe.” (20)
4. A theology to empower Evangelism in our context
One of the clear conclusions many appear to have reached during the 25 years of the SACC involvement in the struggle, was that although personal evangelism continued to be a crucial element of the Gospel, our inherited methods of offering Christ to the people needed examination in the context of South Africa today.
At the 1988 Convocation Frank Chikane had said that “the awakening of the social conscience and a knowledge of truth are central to evangelisation, and essential elements for preachlng, liturgy, catechetics, and Christian formation - indeed, for church work and witness as a whole.” (21)
During the transition some seem anxious to revive a 19th century theology as the remedy for 20th century people, which has all the trappings of a pseudo-gospel and calls for earnest consideration by all Christians.
There is crying need for the message of Jesus Christ.
In the aftermath of apartheid many people are lost and need the good news of a saviour who offers them a personal rebirth. Some have been reared on notions which they now know were heretical; some hid from God in individualistic religion or traditionalist cul-de-sacs; others rejcted a false pseudo-gospel but never heard the new one. Many respectable people In our society are riddled with corruption, avarice, immoraIity, pride and fear. Violent actions betray our brutal spirits. We are sinners who need to be born again.
In the aftermath of apartheid we are a nation of wounded people who need healing. We need a way to expiate the horrors we have inflicted upon one another. So much blood has flowed that fear and resentment is high; the rich and the poor, the elites and the masses, the workers and the jobless still vie with each other.
The church has beeen damaged and divided by the struggle, people are shattered and confused, and society comes into the transition limping and stained from the depravations of apartheid. We need the good news of a healthy life of reconciliation and tolerance.
In the aftermath of apartheid we know that the racist laws are gone but the desire to exploit remains. Hunger, poverty, ignorance and disease are more widespread, the rich are richer and the poor are poorer than they were 25 years ago. The struggle continues to restore to our society what was lost in the years of oppression and exploitation, to experience a new era of God's ruling power in all our affairs, and discover a new social, political and economic dispensation.
This is the Mission of God which fires our vision, to which we witness, and the Christ who does these things is the empowerment of evangelism. The Gospel empowers because Christ lives in our context.
5. Prophets of Hope in the continuing struggle
No survey of the theological insights we gained during the years of peril can be complete without recording that God kept our hope alive through prophets. Poets, politicians, and preachers appeared who helped disarm our fears and keep our eye on victory. Some became famous household names, some had great local Influence, others are long since buried, but between them they passed on a torch that gave life and light during the nightmare. Viva!
Our theology of Hope is linked to the men and women of vision who the people of God have always needed and always been given: what we need to survive this transition today is prophets.
Dr Beyers Naude, then General Secretary of the SACC, once said that the churches should be much more aware of “the need to obtain for themselves a vision of a future South Africa, of a political, economic and social system which would be more in accordance with the demands of justice and love of the gospel ... The lack of clarity In this regard within the churches, the disunity within our own ranks of what we understand the demands of the gospel to be, and the lack of preparation in study, research and guidance of the thoughts of our membership regarding the future of our country is something we should .. seek to rectify as soon as possible.” (22)
Charles Vllla-Vicencio lists the demands the church should make for the new South Africa, but admits it is “little more than romantic rhetoric, if not grounded in a progressive cultural renaissance which sustains the nation in its quest for renewal. The goals can only be considered options to the extent that society is inspired by ideals, and can only be attained through a culture that allows this process to happen.” (23)
The 1988 Convocation, working with the smell of tear gas in the air, said a similar thing: “The task of mobilising the church at the grassroots level lies ahead of us, and without this mobilisation, education and organisation, the gains made at the Convocation will be completely lost.” (24)
Whilst it is true that there are kairos times when the moment seems ripe for society to make a great step forward, our experience in the struggle of God, not only now but for thousands of years, is that God sends prophets. These are the catalysts who give us the ideals, the vision, the courage,to turn the dreams and rhetoric and culture into reality. Very seldom do prophets appear on the scene as leaders of religlous or political movements, though they may become them. More usually, they are ordinary people who have a trust in the power of God amongst us to transcend our problems, a vision of the future that sees the dawn beyond the darkest night, and the willingness to stick their necks out.
Speaking at the Baptist Convention the Rev Caesar Molebatsi spoke of the delights of being on the mountain top to see the glory of the Lord:
“From the top you see the beauty of the valleys,
the marvellous vineyards of God.
But there is no fruit on the mountain top.
It is time to go back down into the valley where the fruit grows.” (25)
1. Exodus 16:3 [back]
2. J Davies, ibid, p12 [back]
3. Arend van Leeuwen Christianity in World History [back]
4. Galatians 3:27 [back]
5. Church Action in the South African Crisis ibid p 16 [back]
6. D Tutu, On Trial, ibid [back]
7. At a meeting in Cape Town 1986 [back]
8. 1 Peter 4:17 [back]
9. Luke 4 [back]
10. Church Action in the South African Crisis, ibid p13 [back]
11. Micah 6:8 [back]
12. Black Renaissance Convention, Ravan press, 1975 p23 [back]
13. J Cochrane, In Word and Deed, Cluster Publications 1991, p61 [back]
14. S Bengu, Mirror or Model? Lutheran World Ministries 1984, p78 [back]
15. Church Action in the South African Crisis, ibid p168 [back]
16. Black Theology, ibid p42 [back]
17. Matthew 25.31ff [back]
18. But see The Road to Democracy, ICT 1993 [back]
19. In Word and Deed, ibid p107 [back]
20. Ibid [back]
21. See note 14 [back]
22. In Word and Deed, ibid p123 [back]
23. Charles Villa-Vicencio, A Theology of Reconstruction, David Philip 1992 p251 [back]
24. Church Action in the South African Crisis, ibid p162 [back]
25. Barkly West national Awareness Workshop, ibid p68 [back]
| A MESSAGE TO THE PEOPLE OF SOUTH AFRICA
1 .WHAT THE CHRISTIAN GOSPEL SAYS
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
is the good news that in Christ God has broken down the walls of division between God and man, and therefore also between man and man.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
declares that Christ is the truth who sets men free from all false hopes of grasping freedom for themselves, and that Christ liberates them from a pursuit of false securities.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
declares that, in the crucifixion of Jesus, sin has been forgiven, and that God has met and mastered the forces that threaten to isolate man and destroy him.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
declares that, in the resurrection of Jesus. God showed himself as the conquerer and destroyer of the most potent of all forms of separation, namely death, and he proved the power of his love to overthrow the evil powers of fear, envy and pride which cause hostility between men.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
declares that, by this work of Christ, men are being reconciled to God and to each other, and that excluding barriers of ancestry, race, nationality, language and culture have no rightful place in the inclusive brotherhood of Christian disciples.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
declares that God is the master of this world, that his is the mind and purpose that shapes history, and that it is to him alone, and not to any subsection of humanity, that we owe our primary obedience and commitment.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
declares that we live in the expectation of a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells; that the Kingdom of God is present already in Christ and through the Holy Spirit; and that it therefore now demands our obedience to his commandments and our faith in his promises.
This, in summary, is the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It offers hope and security for the whole life of man; it is to be understood not only in a mystical and ethical sense for the salvation of the individual person, and not only in a sacramental and ecclesiastical sense within the framework of the Church; the Gospel of Christ is to be understood in a cultural, social (and therefore political), cosmic and universal sense, as the salvation of the world and of human existence in its entirety. Further, the Gospel of Christ is not only the object of our hopes; it should be experienced as a reality in the present.
For this reason, Christians are called to witness to the significance of the Gospel in the particular circumstances of time and place in which they find themselves. We, in this countiy, and at this time, are in a situation where a policy of racial separation is being deliberately effected with increasing rigidity.
The effects of this are to be seen in a widening range of aspects of life - in political, economic, social, educational and religious life; indeed, there are few areas even of the private life of the individual which are untouched by the effects of the doctrine of racial separation. In consequence, this doctrine is being seen by many not merely as a temporary political policy but as a necessary and permanent expression of the will of God, and as the genuine form of Christian obedience for this countiy. But this doctrine, together with the hardships which are deriving from its implementation, forms a programme which is truly hostile to Christianity and can serve only to keep people away from the real knowledge of Christ.
There are alarming signs that this doctrine of separation has become, for many, a false faith, a novel gospel which offers happiness and peace for the community and for the individual. It holds out to men a security built not on Christ but on the theory of separation and the preservation of their racial identity. It presents separate development of our racegroups as a way for the people of South Africa to save themselves. Such a claim inevitably conflicts with the Christian Gospel, which offers salvation, both social and individual, through faith in Christ alone.
This false offer of salvation is being made in this country in the name of Christianity. Therefore, we believe that the Church must enable all our people to distinguish between this false, novel gospel and the true eternal gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe that it is the Church's duty to enable our people to discriminate more carefully between what may be demanded of them as subjects or citizens of the State of South Africa and what is demanded of them as disciples of Jesus Christ.
3. THE GOSPEL'S CLAIM
The Christian Gospel declares that there is no other name than that of Christ whereby men must be saved. Thus salvation in Christ exposes the falsity of hope of salvation through any other means. The first Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, discovered that God was creating a new community in which differences of race, nation, culture, language and tradition no longer had power to separate man from man. We are under an obligation to assert that the most significant features of a man are not the details of his genetic inheritance, nor the facts of his ancestry.
The most significant features of a man are the characteristics which enable him to be a disciple of Christ - his ability to respond to love, to make choices, to work as a servant of his fellowmen; these are the gifts of the grace of God at work in the individual person; and to insist that racial characteristics are more important than these is to reject our own humanity as well as the humanity of the other man.
But, in South Africa, everyone is expected to believe that a man's racial identity is the most important thing about him. Until a man's racial identity is established, virtually no decisions can be taken; but, once it is established, it can be stated where he can live, whom he can marry, what work he can do, what education he can get, whose hospitality he can accept, where he can get medical treatment, where he can be buried - and the answer to multitudes of other questions can be supplied once this vital fact is established. Thus, we are being taught that our racial identity is the final and all important determining factor in the lives of men. As a result of this faith in racial identity, a tragic insecurity and helplessness afflicts those whose racial classification is in doubt.
Without racial identity it appears, we can do nothing: he who has racial identity has life; he who has not racial identity has not life. This amounts to a denial of the central statements of the Gospel. It is opposed to the Christian understanding of the nature of man and community. It, in practice, severely restricts the ability of Christian brothers to serve and know each other, and even to give each other simple hospitality. It arbitrarily limits the ability of a person to obey the Gospel's command to love his neighbour as himself.
Attempts have been made to support racial separation from Scripture. For instance, it is said to have the authority of an order of creation, which was divinely confirmed by the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel and emphasized again at Pentecost. The fact is, however, that the event of Pentecost asserts and demonstrates the power of the Holy Spirit to draw men into one community of disciples in spite of differences of languages and culture and it is thus the way by which the disunity of Babel is healed.
The Bible's teaching about creation has nothing to say about the distinctions between races and nations. God made man - the whole human race - in his image. God gave to man - the whole human race - dominion over the rest of creation. Where differences between people are used as badges or signs of opposing groups, this is due to human sin. Any scheme which is proposed for the rectifying of our disorders must take account of this essentially sinful element in the divisions between men and between groups of men. Any scheme which is claimed to be Christian must also take account of the reconciliation already made for us in Christ. The policy of separate development does not take proper account of these truths.
The Power of the Gospel
It promises peace and harmony between the peoples of our country not by a faithful and obedient pursuit of the reconciliation wrought by Christ, but through separation, which, being pre-cisely the opposite course, is a demonstration of unbelief and distrust in the power of the Gospel. Any demonstration of the reality of reconciliation would endanger this policy; therefore the advocates of this policy inevitably find themselves opposed to the Church if it seeks to live according to the Gospel and if it shows that God's grace has overcome our hostilities. A thorough policy of racial separation must ultimately require that the Church should cease to be the Church.
Everywhere, sin corrupts God's creation, particularly, it exploits differences to generate hostility The policy of separate development is based on the domination of one group over all others; it depends on the maintenance of white supremacy; thus it is rooted in and dependent on a policy of sin. The Christian Gospel declares that God has acted to overthrow the policy of sin. God is bringing us from a living death to a new life; and one of the signs that this has happened is that we love the brethren. But according to the Christian Gospel, our "brethren" are not people with whom we may choose to associate. Our brother is the person whom God gives to us. To dissociate from our brother on the grounds of natural distinction is to despise God's gift and to reject Christ.
The Gospel of Jesus ChrIst declares that God is love This Is not an easy doctrine. It is not "sentimental humanism." It is far easier to believe in a god who is less than love and who doe not require a discipleship of love. But if God is love, separation is the ultimately opposite force to God. The will to separate is the most complete refusal of the truth. The life of separation is the most plain denial of life.
The Christian Gospel
The Christian Gospel declares that separation is the supreme threat and danger, but that in Christ has been overcome. According to the Christian Gospel, we find our identity in association with Christ and with each other. Apartheid is a view of life and a view of man which insists that we find our identity in dissociation and in distinction from each other. A policy of separate development whIch is based on this concept therefore involves a rejection of the central beliefs of the Christian Gospel. It calls good evil. It rejects as undesirable the good reconcilation and fellowship which Cod is giving to us by his son. It seeks to limit the limitlessness of God's grace by whIch all men may be accepted in Jesus Christ. It seeks to confine the operation of God's grace within the borders of human dIstinctions. It reinforces divisions which the Holy Spirit is calling the People of God to overcome. This policy is, therfore, a form of resistance to the Holy Spirit.
People should be able to see the Gospel of Christ expressed in the life of the Church. They should be able to see in the Church an inclusive fellowship and a freedom of association in the Christian brotherhood. They should be able to see the power of God at work in the Church, changing hostility into love of the brethren. We are indeed thankful for these signs of God's grace where they are to be seen in the life of the Church. But, even in the life of the Church there is conformity to the practices of racial separation; and the measure of this conformity is the measure of the Church's deviation from the purpose of Christ.
Our task is to work for the expression of God's reconciliation here and now. We are not required to wait for a dlstant "heaven" where all problems will have been solved. What Christ has done, he has done already. We can accept his work or reject it; we can hide from it or seek to live by it. But we cannot postpone it, for it is already achieved. And we cannot destroy it, for it is the work of the eternal God.
5.WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN
The Gospel of Jesus Christ declares that Christ Is our master, and that to him all authority is given. Christians betray their calling if they give their highest loyalty, which is due to Christ, to one group or tradition, especIally where that group is demanding self-expression at the expense of other groups. Christ is the master and critic of all of us and of all our groups. He Is the judge of the Church also. If the Church fails to witness for the true Gospel of Jesus Christ it will find itself witnessing for a false gospel. If we seek to reconcile Christianity with the so-called "South African way of life" (or any other way of life) we shall find that we have allowed an idol to take the place of Christ.
Where the Church thus abandons its obedience to Christ, it ceases to be the Church; it breaks the links between itself and the Kingdom of God. We confess, therefore, that we are under an obligation to live in accordance with the Christian understanding of man and of community, even if this be contrary to some of the customs and laws of this country.
Many of our people believe that their primary loyalty must be to their group or tradition or political doctrine, and that this is how their faithfulness will be judged. But this is not how God judges us. In fact this kind of belief is a direct threat to the true salvation of many people, for it comes as an attractive substitute for the claims of Jesus. It encourages a loyalty expressed in self-assertion: it offers a way of salvation with no cross. But God judges us, not by our faithfulness to a sectional group but by our willingness to be made new in the community of Christ.
We believe that we are under an obligation to state that our country and Church are under God's judgement, and that Christ is, inevitably, a threat to much that is called "the South African way of life." We must ask ourselves what features of our social order will have to pass away if the lordship of Christ is to be fully acknowledged and if the peace of God is to be revealed as the destroyer of our fear.
But we believe that Christ is Lord, and that South Africa is part of his world. We believe that his kingdom and its righteousness have power to cast out all that oppose his purposes and keeps men in darkness. We believe that the word of God is not bound, and that it will move with power in these days, whether men hear or whether they refuse to hear. And so we wish to put on every Christian person in this country the question which we ourselves are bound to face each day; to whom, or to what are you truly giving your first loyalty, your primary commitment? Is it to a subsection of mankind, an ethnic group, a human tradition, a political idea; or to Christ?
May God enable us to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to be committed to Christ alone!
Published by the South Afrian Council of Churches. June 1968.
| THE 1974 RESOLUTION ON CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION
The National Conference of the SACC acknowledges as the one and only God him who mightily delivered the people of Israel from their bondage in Egypt and who in Jesus Christ still proclaims that He will 'set at liberty those who are oppressed' (Luke 4:18). He alone is supreme Lord and Saviour and to him alone we owe ultimate obedience. Therefore 'we must obey God rather than men' in those areas where the Government fails to fulfil its calling to be 'God's servant for good' rather than for evil and for oppression (Acts 5:29;Romans 13:4).
In the light of this the Conference:
- Maintains that Christians are called to strive for justice and the true peace which can be founded only on justice;
- does not accept that it is automatically the duty of those who follow Christ, the Prince of Peace, to engage in violence and war, or to prepare to engage in violence or war, whenever the state demands it;
- reminds its member Churches that both Catholic and Reformation theology has regarded the taking up of arms as justifiable, if at all, only in order to fight a 'just war';
- points out that the theological definition of a 'just war' excludes war in defence of a basically unjust and discriminatory society;
- points out that the Republic of South Africa is at present a fundamentally unjust and discriminatory society and that this injustice and discrimination constitutes the primary, institutionalised violence which has provoked the counter-violence of the terrorists or freedom fighters;
- points out that the military forces of our country are being prepared to defend this unjust and discriminatory society and that the threat of military force is in fact already used to defend the status quo against moves for radical change from outside the white electorate;
- maintains that it is hypocritical to deplore the violence of terrorists or freedom fighters while we ourselves prepare to defend our society with its primary, institutionalised violence by means of yet more violence;
- points out further that the injustice and oppression under which the black peoples of South Africa labour is far worse than that against which Afrikaners waged their First and Second Wars of Independence and that if we have justified the Afrikaners' resort to violence (or the violence of the imperialism of the English) or claimed that God was on their side, it is hypocritical to deny that the same applies to the black people in their struggle today;
- questions the basis upon which chaplains are seconded to the military forces lest their presence indicate moral support for the defence of our unjust and discriminatory society.
The Conference therefore;
- deplores violence as a means to solve problems;
- calls on its member Churches to challenge all their members to consider in view of the above whether Christ's call to take up the cross and follow him in identifying with the oppressed does not, in our situation, involve becoming conscientious objectors;
- calls on those of its member Churches who have chaplains in the military forces to reconsider the basis on which they are appointed and to investigate the state of pastoral care available to the communicants at present in exile under arms beyond our borders and to seek ways and means of ensuring that such pastoral care may be properly exercised;
- commends the courage and witness of those who have been willing to go to jail in protest against unjust laws and policies in our land, and who challenge us by their example;
- requests the SACC's Task Force on Violence and Non-Violence to study methods of non-violent action for change which can be recommended to its member Churches;
- prays for the Government and people of our land and urgently calls on them to make rapid strides towards radical and peaceful change in our society so that the violence and war to which our social, economic and political policies are leadinag us may be avoided.
Adopted by the 1974 National Conference of the SACC
| A THEOLOGICAL RATIONALE AND A CALL TO PRAYER FOR THE END TO UNJUST RULE
The following theological rationale was prepared by the Western Province Council of Churches. The 1985 National Conference referred it to member churches for their consideration and comment.
Soweto, 16 June 1976, is South Africa's most potent symbol of black resistance. Approximately 700 people were killed and hundreds more wounded in unrest which soon extended beyond that day and place to encompass the entire country. These events come to constitute a fundamental crisis in South African society which the authorities are apparently incapable of resolving.
They represent a phase of resistance which began on 21 March1960 when the police killed 69 people and wounded a further 180 people in the notorious Sharpeville shootings. In the short term black unrest was quelled and white dominance firmly re-affirmed. It is, however, clear that Sharpeville was a turning point in the history of African self-determination.
Protest hardened into resistance, and blacks were forced to think more sharply and clearly of the need for fundamental change. The reality of the Sharpeville atrocity was recognized throughout the world, in the wake of which South African and world church leaders met at Cottesloe in December 1960 to reject the apartheid system as unChristian.
The Soweto unrest again compelled the Christian Church to address itself to the crisis within the country – a crisis that continues to this day, as is evidenced in the killing of people at Uitenhage. In response to this reality those churches who enjoy fraternity through the SACC and other ecumenical forms of contact, have constantly condemned the structures of racial and economic oppression in this land as being contrary to the declared will of God, made known in the Scriptures and the traditions of the Church.
Now, on 16 June, and twenty-five years after the dawning of this phase of resistance it is right to remember those whose blood has been shed in resistance and protest against an unjust system. It is also right that we as Christians reassess our response to a system that all right-thinking people identify as unjust.
We have prayed for our rulers, as is demanded of us in the Scriptures. We have entered into consultation with them, as is required by our faith. We have taken the reluctant and drastic step of declaring apartheid to be contrary to the declared will of God, and some churches have declared its theological justification to be heresy.
We now pray that God will replace the present structures of oppression with ones that are just, and remove from power those who persist in defying his laws, installing in their place leaders who will govern with justice and mercy.
A Firm Theological Tradition
We do this conscious of a broad and compelling tradition of faith that unites us in a common loyalty to the sole lordship of Jesus Christ. The Scriptural record is clear. Civil authority is instituted of God, in order to rule with justice, goodness and love (Romans 13). This same record is equally clear that civil authority can be a source of blasphemy against God (Revelation 13). In this awareness Christians have through the ages prayed that they may be godly and quietly governed.
With Tertullian, in the spirit of the early church we cognize that if civil law is not the source of social justice it is tyranny, and that such authority has no right to exist. (1) In the same spirit Augustine defined the objective of “government” to be human peace, and “the republic” as the welfare of the people. (2) St Thomas taught that ‘human law has the true nature of law only in so far as it corresponds to right reason, and therefore is derived from the eternal law. In so far as it falls short of right reason, a law is said tobe a wicked law; and so lacking the true nature of law, it is rather a kind of vtolence.” (3)
In this tradition the Reformers addressed themselves to the nature of legitimate government. Luther counselled people themselves to be willing to accept injustices, but warned of the obligation to oppose injustice shown towards one's neighbours. He also warned the tyrant that people would not accept their presumption indefinitely, and allowed that it was not their duty to obey such authority which contradicted the rule of God. In calling the people to turn in prayers to God in their need, he believed that God would not tolerate such rule for long. (4)
Calvin recognized the obligation to citizens to be subject even to the wicked ruler, while at the same time rejecting unjust laws as no laws at all. He stressed that obedience to civil authority should never be allowed to contradict obedience to God, who is the Lord of all, the King of Kings. (5) He understood the hunger for justice to be implanted inthe human soul by God himself. “And this feeling, is it not implanted in us by the Lord?” he asked. “It is then the same as though God hears himself, when he hears the cries and groaning of those who cannot bear injustice.” (6)
In more recent times Karl Barth spoke of the obligation of the Church to pray for the state, never as an object of worship, but on its behalf, that it might be legitimate, governing according to the rule of God. In so doing he recognized that such prayer cannot be offered without a correspondirig commitment to work for good and Iegitimate government. (7) He left us with no doubt in this regard that the Church is obliged to be unconditionally and passionately for the lowly and against the exalted. (8)
The Dutch Calvinist, Abraham Kuyper, has also spoken of the obligation of government: “In order that it may be able to rule people, the government must respect this deepest ethical power of our human existence. A nation consisting of citizens whose consciences are bruised, is itself broken in its national strength.” For this reason, he continued, “we must ever watch against the danger which lurks, for our personal liberty, in the power of the state.” Indeed, “the struggle for liberty is not only declared permissible, but is made a duty for each individual in his own sphere.” (9)
It is this affirmation that stands central to the contemporary emphasis of the Roman Catholic Church, which proclaims a preferential option for the poor. It is this option which requires the theologian to analyze the process of authority from the perspective of the poor, the marginalizsed and the oppressed - an option reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II in this recent commentary on Latin American theology. (10)
Pope John XXIII, has stated that “if civil authorities legislate for or allow anything that is contrary to that order and therefore contrary to the will of God, neither the laws nor the authorizations granted can be binding on the consciences of the citizens, since God has more right to be obeyed than men.” (11)
Paul VI, in turn, recogresing that government can become tyrannical, declared: “here are certainly situations whose injustice cries to heaven ... whole populations destitute of necessities live in a state of dependence barring them from initiative and responsibility, and all opportunities to advance culturally and share in social and political life.” “We want to be clearly understood,” he concluded, “the situation must be faced with courage and the injustices linked with it must be fought against and overcome.” (12)
It is this affirmation which forms the basis of Vatican II theology which states: “Where citizens are oppressed by a public authority which exceeds its competence, they should not on that account refuse what is objectively requlred of them for the common good, but it must be allowable for them, within the limits of the law of nature and the Gospel, to defend their rights and those of their fellow citizens against this abuse of authority.” (13)
The Church in South Africa
The considered judgement of every synod, assembly and conference of the Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant Churches (with the exception of the Afrikaans Reformed Churches), has been that the present regime, together with its structures of domination, stands in contradiction to the Christian Gospel to which the churches of the land seek to remain faithful. (14)
We have continually prayed for the authorities, that they may govern wisely and justly. Now, in solidarity with those who suffer most, in this hour of crisis we pray that God in His grace may remove from His people the tyrannical structures of oppression and the present rulers in our country who persistently refuse to heed the cry for justice, as reflected in the Word of God as proclaimed through His Church both within this land and beyond.
In constant and solemn awareness of the responsibility we take on ourselves in this regard, we pray that God's rule may be established in this land.
We pledge ourselves to work for that day, know that this rule is good news to the poor, because the captives will be released, the blind healed, the oppressed set at liberty, and the acceptable year of the Lord proclaimed (Luke 4: 18-19).
A Call To Prayer
We invite Christians, and all people of goodwill, to join consistently in prayer for a new and just order in this land. In so doing we share in a community of those who believe throughout this world, who will pray on June 16, in commemoration of those who died at Soweto and other places such as Sharpville, Crossroads and Ultenhage, in commitment to a new South Africa for all its people.
1. St Tertullian, Apology, Ante Nicene Fathers, Volume III (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), p.21. [back]
2. St Augustine, The City of God, Book XIX, chapter 21 (New York: Doubleday, 1958), p.470. [back]
3. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Il/I, question 93, article 3, (London: Paternoster, 1915), p.32. [back]
4. Martin Luther, “On Secular Authority”, Works of Martin Luther, Volume III (Philadelphia: Holman and Castle, 1930) pp.374 & 397. [back]
5. John Calvin, Institute of the Christian Religion, Volume IV ed. by J.T. Mc Neill (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1%0), Book IV, pp. 1503 and 1520. [back]
6. John Calvin, “Commentary on Habakkuk”, Minor Prophets, Volume IV (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950) pp.93-94. [back]
7. Karl Barth, "Church and State", in Community, State and Church, ed. by Will Herberg (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1960), pp.135 and 145. [back]
8. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Volume Il/I (Edinburgh: T and T Clarke, 1%4), p.386. [back]
9. Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931), pp. 107, 108,81,98-99. [back]
10. Pope John II. "Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation”, Pastoral Action, Number 38, South African Catholic Bishops' Conference, Pretoria, nn. 5 and 10. [back]
11. Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 1963. [back]
12. Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progression, 1967. [back]
13. Vatican II Ecumenical Council, Gaudium et Spes, 1965. [back]
14. See documentation in Apartheid is a Heresy, edited by J. de Gruchy and C. Villa-Vicencio (Cape Town: David Philip, 1983), pp. 144-84. [back]