• What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
Social networking

Community and Xenophobia

The savagery of the last few weeks of xenophobic attacks across the country have reminded me of some the darkest and most painful parts of our national history. I thought back to the violence of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when IFP and ANC supporters butchered one another in KZN and Gauteng. Indeed, these are shameful parts of our national history.

Surely, the events of these past weeks will also be remembered with shame. The attacks on foreign nationals, the withdrawal of hospitality and the destruction of property has shown that South Africa still has some dark and destructive tendencies that need to be engaged and transformed.

In his Business Day Column for today (22 April 2015), Professor Steven Friedman reminded us painfully that in large measure our own response to xenophobia has been the same as those who attack foreigners – we have shifted the blame. We blame others for our falings and in so doing we distance ourselves, we objectify them and exonerate ourselves from any culpability and blame.

Let’s face the truth – we are not good neighbours. I am not talking about ‘them’, I am talking about ‘us’. We have not been welcoming to the strangers in our midst. We have not protected our guests who have sought political or economic refuge within our borders. Sadly, we have to confess that we are not a ‘just’ nation – in face we allow justice to be twisted and manipulated in our presence, and we don’t act. We are a nation that abuses the weak and the powerless. We are that nation. Let’s face it.

I came across this powerful quote from John Howard Yoder that challenges me deeply on this issue:

The political novelty that God brings into the world is a community of those who serve instead of ruling, who suffer instead of inflicting suffering, whose fellowship crosses social lines instead of reinforcing them. The new Christian community in which the walls are broken down not by human idealism or democratic legalism but by the work of Christ is not only a vehicle of the gospel or only a fruit of the gospel; it is the good news. It is not merely the agent of mission or the constituency of a mission agency. This is mission.

- John Howard Yoder, Royal Priesthood, p.91

So I am challenged to repent. This is my nation, both the stranger and the citizen. I am part of this brutal people, and I want it to be different. I want South Africa to be a place of welcome and safety. I want people to feel 'good news' here. And so I say, "not in my name".

I would like to invite you to participate in a conversation on xenophobia in South Africa to be hosted at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University. Friday 8 May 12.30-14.00.


Think different and Christian living

I am teaching on a three day course on ministry renewal at Stellenbosch University.  The quote that we are using to frame our thoughts with the group of 15 or so ministers, pastors and priests (most of whom have been in ministry for around 15-20 years) is this one:

Jesus said in his society there is a new way for [people] to live:

you show wisdom, by trusting people;
you handle leadership, by serving;
you handle money, by sharing;
you handle enemies, by loving;
and you handle violence, by suffering.

In fact you have a new attitude toward everything, toward everybody. Toward nature, toward the state in which you happen to live, toward women [and men], towards slaves, toward all and every single thing. Because this is a Jesus society and you repent, not by feeling bad, but by thinking different.

- Rudy Wiebe, ‘The blue mountains of China’ (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970:215-216)

I find this quote deeply challenging.  Loving discipleship, focussed on the Lord of Grace, in order to live in a different way, perhaps even a better way.


Deep solidarity and justice 

In my devotions this morning I came across this prayer:

Lord, reveal to us all that makes itself an enemy to the life you want for us. Help us hunger so deeply for the freedom of all your people that we risk walking among enemies who pervert justice. Reveal to us when we ourselves act as enemies to your kingdom of justice and peace. Amen.

This prayer reminds me that as a Christian I am called to deep solidarity with all persons. It reminds me that love should overcome fear, prejudice, and power. It reminds me that my humanity is tied to the humanity of all persons and that where I can I should always strive to live with courage and sacrifice for the common good.


Choose a different way (together) - On Rwanda and reconciliation

In my morning devotion today I read about the start of the genocide in Rwanda on 7 April 1994 (just 20 days before South Africa’s first democratic elections on 27 April 1994).
Here is the summary of those events from “Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals”:
‘On April 7, 1994, a civil war broke out in Rwanda as Hutu extremists began brutally killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Over the next one hundred days, nearly a million people were killed in the worst occurrence of genocide since the Holocaust. An estimated 75 percent of the Tutsis living in Rwanda were murdered.’
The following story is told from after the genocide:
‘When Cardinal Roger Etchegary visited Rwanda on behalf of the pope in 1994, he asked the assembled church leaders, “Are you saying that the blood of tribalism is deeper than the waters of baptism?” One leader answered, “Yes, it is.”’
How sad! Two things were clear in Rwanda. First, this genocide was an ethnic crime - the violence was motivated by hatred and distrust among people of different ethnicities and cultures. Second, however, is that 98% of Rwandans (perpetrators and victims) were Christian. How could that be? That followers of the Prince of Peace could hate one another so much? How could it be that those who live by the way of truth could be so easily misled about their sisters and brothers?
We must choose a different way. We must choose a way of peace and reconciliation. We cannot choose against our fellow humans. By choosing for one another we choose for the common good.
Pray for us in South Africa. We too are a largely Christian nation in which people choose against each other. Here is another quote from “Common Prayer”:
'Charles Péguy said, “We must be saved together. We cannot go to God alone; else he would ask, ‘Where are the others?’ ”’


The reality of South Africa's economic crisis, and what you can do about it

The most recent Institute for Futures Research report (Stellenbosch University) shows that South Africa is a nation in deep economic crisis.  Sadly, it is predicted that unless we act decisively and courageously we will continue to face economic challenges and decline.

Here are a few of the facts:

We have accepted that we will operate with a deficit budget (our expenses exceed our national income and will stay that way), we have low productivity and high labour costs (a 2% increase in productivity of labour, and an average of 10% increase in wages). We rely on foreign investment to fuel our economy since our internal economic base is too small to keep the economy growing.  However, there are too few people in South Africa to pay the bills, which means that debt is increasing (the household debt to disposable income ratio averages at 80%!) This will become worse as fuel prices increase, electricity prices increase and farming shrinks. At the same time we have become hostile to foreigners and paint a picture of a corrupt, volatile and uncompetitive economy - which means that foreign investors are fewer and fewer. The "upshot is a continuous erosion of the domestic and international competitiveness of South African produced goods and services" (Andre Roux in Strategy Insights Report: Economic, IFR, Vol 23 No 03 Mar 2015). 

It doesn't have to be this way!  

We can stand together and deal with poverty, inequality and corruption.  It takes a choice that is sustained through our collective action.

What we need in South Africa is a commitment to the common good of all, a commitment to active citizenship that holds the citizens to account, and will not allow either government or big business to steal from us.  That is part of the good news - we are a democracy that still has the right to exercise our democratic freedom.  We can, and should, use those rights to hold our political and economic leaders to account.

South Africans deserve it, and so does South Africa.  We are a nation with such great promise in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Let's hold hope high and work for the good of all.

I choose to act.  I will act for the common good.  I will work for reconciliation.  I will work for justice. I will not be silent.


The (im)possibility of forgiveness

As I come closer to completing my second PhD which focuses on concepts (and processes) of forgiveness and reconciliation I have been thinking a great deal about the complexity of true forgiveness.

I often hear people saying "I cannot forgive that him (or her), what they did to me was simply too bad".  Indeed, forgiveness is difficult.  Is it ultimately about gaining my own freedom?  Or is it about giving freedom as a gift to the 'other'?  Or, is it an interplay of both of those?

I found this quote from Jacques Derrida on forgiveness quite challenging in the possibility, and impossibly, of forgiveness - I like to phrase it as the (im)possibility of forgiveness.

Forgiveness only becomes possible from the moment it appears impossible.


If there is something to forgive, it would be what in religious language is called mortal sin, the worst, the unforgivable crime or harm. From which comes the aporia which can be described in its dry and implacable formality, without mercy: forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable. One cannot, or should not, forgive; there is only forgiveness, if there is any, where there is the unforgivable. That is to say that forgiveness must announce itself as impossibility itself. It can only be possible in doing the impossible.

- Jacques Derrida

Have you ever forgiven someone for something that seems unforgivable?  How was it possible?  What helped you to do it?  Did you follow a process?



Cape Town Cycle Tour 2015 Argus

Off to school! My darling Megan and I are heading out for a shorter Argus Cape Town Cycle tour this year. Because of fires that have devastated the Cape peninsula the race has been shortened from 109km to just 47km. So we are planning a fun little spin off to Muizenberg and back. I am riding my Alex Moulton small wheel bike this year. Normally I ride my Brompton, but this year I decided to do something different.

We are looking forward to a fun ride!


A question of meaning in Law and Religion: Problematizing “the objective normative value system” imposed by judges on the South African Constitution.

Tomorrow the summer school on religion and law will begin at the University of the Western Cape.  I have the privilige of co-presenting the opening paper with Advocate Keith Matthee (a fellow Methodist, Senior Council at the Cape Bar and acting Judge in the High Court).

The Summer School is a collaboration between the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, the University of the Western Cape, the University of KwaZulu Natal and Stellenbosch University.  This year we will focus on the topic of law and religion.

The title of our paper will be:  A question of meaning in Law and Religion:  Problematizing “the objective normative value system” imposed by judges on the South African Constitution.

Here is the abstract:

In a 2001 Constitutional Court case Ackerman J and Goldstone J stated:

Our constitution is not merely a formal document regulating public power.  It also embodies, like the German Constitution, an objective normative value system.” [1]

Our paper seeks to highlight and discuss a key problem in this accepted approach to the South African Constitution. Namely that this approach incorrectly presupposes only one meaning for concepts such as dignity, equality and freedom and that such meaning is ascertainable by reference to an objective value system contained in the constitution itself.

The result of such an approach is that the constitution becomes imbued with theological meaning and power and so oversteps its bounds from being a protector of religious freedom and an arbitrator of religious rights, to holding a normative theological position alongside, or even in conflict, with religious groupings in South African society. 

The problem can be illustrated by means of a comparison of the different conclusions reached by the South African and German legal systems about whether an unborn child is “life” as envisaged in the equivalent provisions in the two constitutions.

Our paper will argue that the following could serve as a contribution towards addressing this legal theological problem:

  1. See the bill of rights for what it should be, a legal document regulating public and private power and not a document for imposing a specific worldview (“objective … value system”) on society.
  2. In every legal decision judges must recognize the role of their own worldview, inclusive of those who hold a worldview that they would describe as agnostic or atheist,  as an authoritative point of reference, (or value system) when they seek to give content to concepts such as dignity, freedom and equality.  This is of particular importance if the judge concerned in her own daily life draws upon a normative religious source, such as the Bible, Quran or some other commonly accepted religious/philosophical document or code.
  3. The various religious communities, inclusive of the atheistic and agnostic communities, must be allowed and encouraged to exercise their unique role when it comes to developing, critiquing, or explicating the “normative value system” referred to in the quote above. In this process the role of the state/courts/law should be to regulate these religious communities inter alia with a view to curbing any abuse in the exercise of this unique role.

I will post feedback on the paper, and the paper itself (once it is published). So please do check back here for more information.

Here is a list of the papers that will be presented:

Tuesday 24 February



Arrival and registration


Bernard Martin (Dean of Law, UWC)

Opening and welcome


Dion Forster (SU, Systematic Theology) and Keith Matthee (SU)

A question of meaning in Law and Religion:  Problematizing the objective normative value system contained in the South African constitution.





Wilhelm Gräb (HU, Theology):


Religious Implications of a Constitutional Democratic State: Why the Secular Differentiation is not True and What the Religions can Contribute to Law and Justice in a Constitutional Democratic State


Jacques de Ville (UWC, Law)

The khōric Constitution





Rosa Schinagl (HU)

Love – a law or an inner drive?


Asharaf Booley (UWC, Law)

Women and Islam: An Overview of the Marital Contract and Practices found in Muslim Countries


Phillip Öhlmann (HU)

“Faithful men don’t beat their wives?” Measuring religiosity as a determinant of individual actions and social capital


Agustín Fuentes (Notre Dame)

Dean’s Distinguished  Lecture (UWC Library Auditorium):

Deep roots for justice, law and religion? The significance of cooperation, compassion and imagination in human evolution


Wednesday 25 February


Simanga Kumalo (UKZN, Practical Theology):

Religious Organizations and African Immigrants in post-apartheid South Africa: The Case Study of Central Methodist Mission and Bishop Paul Verreyn


Miranda Pillay (Religion and Theology, UWC)

Abortion, Law and Religion





Ian A Nell (SU, Practical Theology)


Towards a deeper understanding of “Just Leadership”: Engaging Beyers Naudé


Johan Cilliers (SU, Practical Theology)

Poverty and Privilege: Re-hearing sermons of Beyers Naudé on religion and justice





Mbhekeni Nkosi (UWC, Ethics)

Conceptual clarification of the German restitution model:  South Africa as a case study


Grischa Schwiegk (HU) 

Secular distinctions and the problems of ground and motivation in “secular” law – theoretical considerations





Manitza Kotzé (UWC, Religion and Theology)

Biotechnology, bills and belief: Justification, self-realisation or domination?


William Storrar (CTI)

Cilliers Breytenbach (Faculty of Theology, HU)

Michael Weeder (St Georges)

Panel discussion (St George’s Cathedral): International perspectives on Religion, Law and Justice



Thursday 26 February



Demaine Solomons (UWC, Religion and Theology)

Justice and Reconciliation: Antagonists or soulmates? The Kairos Document Revisited



Muneer Abduroaf (UWC, Law)

The impact of South African case law on the status of Muslim women: An analysis of court decisions versus the current (2010) Muslim Marriages Bill provisions





Lana Sirri (HU)

The tensions between ancient and modern interpretations of Islamic law, based on the work of Kecia Ali Sexual ethics and Islam-

feminist reflections on Qur’an, Hadith and jurisprudence


Hendrik Bosman (SU, Theology)

“The dialectic of religion and law according to the memories of Moses in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament”





Andreas Feldtkeller (HU)

“Justice in Islam between Tradition and Modernity. Some Thought in Dialogue with the “Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi”






Open discussion of conference theme


Conference Dinner

Life sciences building


It looks like an exciting program with a lot to think and talk about!


[1] Please see the quote in, Ackermann, L. 2012. Human Dignity: Lodestar for Equality in South Africa. Juta and Company Ltd. p.28.


Nelson Mandela and the Methodists Italian TV documentary

Below is a copy of the documentary on Nelson Mandela and his Church, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa that was produced and shot by my friend Paolo Emilio Landi.  

You will see our Presiding Bishop (Zipho Siwa), my Bishop (Michel Hansrod), my close friends Revds Kevin Needham, Andre Butner, as well as my mentor and friend, Bishop Peter Storey and my friend Alan Storey (among others) in the documentary.  I also get to say a few words - this documentary follows the connection between Nelson Mandela and the Methodist Church of South Africa.  In part it is based on the research that I conducted in 2014 on Nelson Mandela's faith biography.

My little piece was filmed in our University Library at Stellenbosch late last year. It is so great to see this story told.  I am so grateful to Paulo and his team for putting it together.

You can read 'Mandela and the Methodists' which I wrote last year and was published in the journal of South African Church History here:




John de Gruchy devotion on Authentic, Hopeful, Action (AHA) in South Africa

Please find a devotion delivered by Professor John de Gruchy (extraordinary Professory of Systematic Theology at the University of Stellenbosch) on Thursday 12 February 2015.

To find out more about the AHA movement please follow this link.


James 2:14-18

"Faith without works is dead!"

Pessimists say that the cup is half empty; and optimists, that it is half full.  Some people are pessimists by nature.  For them the world, the Hermanus town council, and the church are hopelessly falling apart, South Africa is going to the dogs (don't ask me what dogs have to do with it!), the government is totally corrupt,  people always let you down, young people have no discipline, tomorrow is going to be worse than today -- even when they hear good news they automatically add a negative comment, "yes, but!".  Optimists also seem to be optimists by nature.  South Africa is getting better, the dogs don't bite and snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them, people are always so nice, young people are a pleasure, and what a great day it is today despite the heat and south-easter, it could be worse.  It is easy to understand why people are pessimists, especially in circumstances such as we see every day on TV.   "It is," Bonhoeffer wrote shortly before his arrest, "more sensible to be pessimistic, disappointments are left behind, and one can face people unembarrassed.  Hence, the clever frown upon optimism."  But then he goes on to praise optimism because it is:

a power of life, a power of hope when others resign, a power to hold our heads high when all seems to come to naught, a power to tolerate setbacks, a power that never abandons the future to the opponent but lays claim to it, 

Pessimists may keep our feet on the ground but optimists keep hope alive.  But perhaps it would be best if we were all realists who accepted the way things are, for good or ill, and then got off our butts to make things better, neither bemoaning nor turning a blind eye to what is wrong or bad.  In the end, does it really matter if the glass is half empty or half full ?  What matters is whether we are going to do what needs to be done to fill the cup to the brim.  If we are not working to make the world a better place, things will get worse whether we are pessimists or optimists.

There were plenty of prophets of doom in the Old Testament.  The difference between a true prophet and false one was that whereas the true prophet told the political and religious leaders how bad things were and they had better change their ways, the false prophets always said things were just fine, "peace, peace, when there was no peace."  But the true prophets were actually being realists.  They were not just saying how bad things were, they were calling on people to change, to change their attitudes, change their hearts and minds, and start doing things differently.  The same was true of Jesus,  Jesus laid it on the line when speaking truth to power, when castigating the religious hypocrites of his day, and the corrupt rulers in the Temple and the Palaces of Jerusalem and Tiberias.  He did not have much faith in their willingness to change.  But he saw possibilities for healing and change in seemingly hopeless situation.  He saw the good in people rejected as irreligious, isolated because they had contagious diseases, shunned because they were tax-collectors and prostitutes, or simply ignored because they were poor.  He did not give up on them.  He exuded the power of life, and  hope.

The apostle James was clearly a realist.  He knew about the great gulf between wealth and poverty in his day but decided to do something about it.  To those who said they believed in God but did nothing to help the poor he retorted "faith without works is dead" and went on to say "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith."  Sparklekid Theo likewise tells us "Just get on with it!"  Yes, politicians are corrupt, the power outages are unacceptable, the conditions in the township are bad, but let's get on and do something to make life better for everyone.  That attitude releases the power of life and hope.  And there are many such good news stories being told today around South Africa that demonstrate this in big or small ways.  Listen to one from the kindergarten across the road from Volmoed:

January 2015 kicked off with great excitement and a school filled with 38 little children, some more happy than others to join our school.  Our classes bursting at their seams with small little faces eager to embark on this new exciting path of their lives.  From our 38 students 4 are from Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a number from farms in the area and then a host of children from Zwelihle.  Two of our 3 teachers will continue their education this year via Klein Karoo and I am so excited to see how quickly they are developing, not only in their teaching abilities but also in their confidence.

Immediately after the conference held in Stellenbosch last September to celebrate my 75th birthday, a group of participants got together and decided to do something about poverty in South Africa.  They called the project AHA! which stands for "Authentic, Hopeful Action."  They were realists who  did not simply want to talk about change but to act in ways that made a real difference to the lives of the poor.  I was not at that meeting, but I was made the Patron of AHA.  This means that even though  my "shelf-life" is coming to an end I can cajole people into doing things that might make a difference in the lives of poor people.   

The AHA website has many practical suggestions that could make a difference, some of them we could all do without too much effort.  For example if you don't already, you can give R 5 to the garage attendant whenever your car is filled.  This won't fundamentally alter the material conditions in poor communities, but if each garage attendant at Engen down the road got R5 from  five people a day, he or she would earn at least a R100 extra per week.  Multiply that by 10 garage attendants and that would mean a R 1000 would find its way into the life of the township!  And then multiply it across the country at every filing station! 

The list of possibilities whereby we can help make a difference to the lives of other people through authentic, hopeful action is endless if only we put our minds to it and get on with it.   At the very least we could go onto the AHA webpage, or talk to Theo over coffee,  to find out what even those of us whose shelf-life is short can do.  This is surely better than talking ourselves into a state of despair about the state of the nation!  Whether congenitally pessimists or optimists, let us be realists.  Poverty is a crime against humanity, especially in a country where there is so much wealth. We don't need a AHA moment or movement to tell us.  But we do need to act authentically and hopefully, and maybe.  some help to know what we can do, to show by our works what our faith means.  Instead of saying AMEN or ALLELUIA today, let  us all shout  "AHA!" 

John de Gruchy

Volmoed 12 February 2015


Theology and Public Life - Confronting poverty, unemployment and inequality

Please find a copy of the speech given by Dr Mamphela Ramphele at the Stellenbosch University Faculty of Theology open day on the 2nd of February 2015.


We are privileged to be able to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of South Africa’s finest sons, Beyers Naude, born on 10th May 1915. It is fitting that his alma mater has honoured him by amongst others, namingthe Centre for Theology after him and organizing this Annual Lecture to reflecton Theology and Public life.  

Beyers lived his life as a spiritualsearcher for “the truth“.  The search for“the truth” during the dark days of apartheid brought him face to face with thechoice between obedience in faith to God or subjection to the authority of thechurch’s doctrines.  The Dutch ReformedChurch’s doctrines of the time were heavily tainted by chauvinist and racistideology that supported and promoted the socio-economic exclusion of blackcitizens.  This doctrine undermined the pillarson which humanity stands – the fundamental truth that all humans are created asequals in the image of God. Beyers Naude chose obedience to God and paid theprice of social disapproval and exclusion by the Afrikaner establishment. 

Today is an opportune moment for us toreflect on our own journeys as people of faith. We need to examine the extent to which we have made the kind of choicesthat affirm our faith in the equality of humans and commitment to building asociety characterized by Ubuntu – thehuman connectedness that binds us together as equal members of the human race.  Ubunturequires us to confront the legacy of socio-economic and political exclusion ofblack people by a white power structure.   The persistence of Poverty, Unemployment andInequality is a result of our failure to establish the human connectedness thatis essential to making Ubuntu a way oflife.   We are yet to see ourselves inthe faces our fellow human beings made in the image of the God we worship.

Our Theme: Confronting Poverty,Unemployment and Inequality gives us an opportunity from a Theology andPublic Life perspective to reflect on the texts of great thinkers about this brokennessin the human connectedness in our society. It is also an opportunity for us to recommit to healing ourselves asindividuals, our communities and our society as a whole.  In this lecture I would like to reflect onthree points:

1)   Thatthe process of Confronting Poverty, Unemployment and Inequality is inextricablylinked to the restoration of the moral health of individuals and the health ofour political community.

2)   Thetough choices that Spiritual Leadership faces in responding to the call topromote the structural transformation that is fundamental to uprooting Poverty,Unemployment and Inequality.  

3)   Theneed to nurture the Green Shoots of a new Struggle for True Liberty



Our society is struggling to come to termswith the essential structural transformation that is required to build thecountry we committed to establish to make freedom a reality in the daily livesof all citizens.  The growing poverty, persistentunemployment and yawning chasm of inequality are symptoms of a society withdeep wounds and excruciating social pain for those on the wrong side of thedivide.  The euphoria of 1994 blinded usto the reality of the extent of transformation and healing needed to build thenon-racial, non-sexist and just democratic society envisaged in ourconstitution.

We need to confront and dismantle thesocial structures, that enabled a minority to exploit a majority of ourpopulation, that remain intact to date. For example our cities remainsegregated. Dormitory townships are supporting the prosperity and comfort ofthe well to do areas with their labour, consumer spending and taxes.  Take the case of staple food items such asbread.  A recent analysis shows that atownship such as Soweto with approximately 2million poor and unemployed people spendabout R10m per day on sugar-laced bread amounting to R3.65bn per year.  All that money leaves Soweto and billionsmore from other townships. Ultimately leaves South Africa as repatriatedprofits of multinational bread companies. This economic model can only generatepoverty for the majority and super wealth for the minority that owns most ofthe capital in our economy. 

Our education and training systems stillchurn out poor quality outcomes for the majority of children and young people.This leaves them ill-prepared to seize the labour market and self-employment opportunitiesin our economy.  The productivity of oureconomy suffers from the poor quality human capital.  The humiliation of life in poverty in themidst of conspicuous consumption is a source of re-traumatization, a disabling senseof worthlessness, anger and frustration. The social instability, brutality of violence and extent ofself-sabotage in those dormitory townships are a direct result of thestructural violence the society visits upon them daily.  This violence and social instability willincreasingly spill into well to do areas of our towns and cities.

The celebrated Indian Economist, C.T.Kurien, laments the pursuit of wealth at the expense of those excluded andexploited.  He urges the global communityto confront the traditional economic model. He is concerned about the reduction of humanachievement to monetary achievement. In virtually every field from technologyto spirituality success is increasingly measured in terms of a monetary number.The relentless pursuit of these numbers has taken its toll on social processeseven as it has led to the over exploitation of natural resources without even apassing thought to the needs of future generations.  He defines poverty as “the carcassthat remained from wealth acquisition.”  SampieTerreblanche brings this concern closer to our own situation: “In South Africa we can regard (black)poverty as the carcass left over from (white) acquisition.”[1]

Inequality generated by this economicmodel and the disrespect that goes with it, adds salt to the wounds of thosewho have to endure its burdens.  Thesocial fractures occasioned by the triple burden of poverty, unemployment andinequality undermine our connectedness as a human community.    

What are we to do to contribute to theprocess of structural transformation that is essential to healing the socialpain and wounds of our society as people of faith and citizens and peopleobedient to God in Faith? I am encouraged in this exploration by the congruencebetween the views of St. Augustine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dag Hammarskjold andRabbi Jonathan Sacks on the freedom we have as human beings to choose how tolive as creatures designed for connectedness with other humans.   Allthese thinkers link human freedom to action in the service of others.

Augustinians place a strong focus on sinas “attempts to flee from other humans,and also from God, (as) the really fundamental characteristic of what sin is. It(sin) is an attempt to treat others as objects so that we do not have toconfront what it would be like to treat them as humans and be exposed to theirclaims upon us as humans.”[2]  

Both Bonhoeffer and Hammarskjold (who werecontemporaries born in different parts of Europe) define sin asself-centeredness – to be curved in upononeself.  Freedom in their view isinseparable from unreserved service. Freedom “is a freedom in the midstof action, and the action required is the action to serve others.”[3] For both of them the life of aChristian is that of one who lives and acts in the midst of the needs of theworld.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his wisereflections on Freewill had this to say: "Whenlife becomes cheap and people are seen as a means to an end, when the worstexcesses are excused in the name of tradition and rulers have absolute power,then conscience is eroded and freedom lost because culture has createdinsulated space in which the cry of the oppressed can no longer be heard."[4]

 The exclusionarysocial structures of the apartheid exploitative system designed to create “insulated space in which the cry of theoppressed could not be heard”, sadly remain intact to date.  Many of us living in the leafy suburbs ofmajor towns and cities can not, and do not, and will not hear the cry of thosestill living with unspeakable pain of poverty, unemployment and inequality.  We flee – physically and symbolically fromthe places where we would have to confront the claims that our fellow humansmake on us as a connected human race.   

Not unlike “the pre-conversion” BeyersNaude, we have found it difficult to challenge the establishment, because weare of it.  Those in government authorityand in leadership positions in the private sector are part of us.  We are a part of networks of support andpatronage that operate amongst those seen to be loyal to the political andeconomic establishment.  

Many of us as people of faith have foundourselves caught in the horns of a dilemma. How to be supportive of a newgovernment led by struggle heroes, whilst being obedient to God in faith and beingon the side of those crying under the burden of persistent injustices in theirdaily lives?  How do we remain true to ourobedience to God in faith in a society that seems to have come to tolerate continuedpoverty, unemployment and growing inequality? How do we challenge impunity in public life by the very people alongside whom we fought against the impunity of the apartheid system?  How long is long enough to begin to demandaccountability in public life as non-negotiable?

Beyers Naude, as a member of the AfrikanerBroederbond, faced the same dilemma when it became obvious to him that theAfrikaner establishment was committing atrocities such as the Sharpeville Massacre,and the systematic denial of the human dignity of his fellow citizens simplybecause they were black.  He too was toldto be patient by his friends, the likes of Rev Bertie Brink, who said: “Brother Beyers, I just want to advise youthat it is going to take years and years before our church realizes thatapartheid cannot be spiritually justified. Therefore, we must be patient.”[5]   

In our midst today are also peoplecounseling patience.  There are thosesuggesting that 20 years is too soon to expect transformation to have the desiredimpact on the lives of people living in poverty, unemployment and suffering thepain and indignity of inequality.   Many others are saying that 20 years is toolong for those children who still do not get the high quality early childhooddevelopment they need to lay the foundations for success in life.  More and more are saying that 20 years is toolong for those cohorts of young people – black and poor - 50% and more of whomdrop out of our school system due to poor quality teaching and learning intheir foundation years.  

Young people are saying that 20 years istoo long for those who against all odds, make it into the minority who qualifyfrom high school, yet end up without opportunities for higher education andskills training to prepare them for successful careers in the 21stcentury.  A growing chorus says that 20years is too long for the thousands of women and children who die unnecessarilyin childbirth due to poor quality health services despite the science andresources we have to stop the carnage.   

Like Beyers Naude, we face the choicebetween obeying God’s call to us to respond to the demands of our fellow humanbeings to make true liberty visible in our society or continuing with thestatus quo.  We are challenged to admitthat true liberty is not divisible – we cannot be free when the majority of ourfellow human beings remain un-free.  Wehave to tackle both the structural and psychological impediments to connectingthe moral health of individuals and the health of our political community withthe goal of true liberty for all.   Wehave to accept that a corrupted polity will effectively corrupt its citizens,and corrupted citizens will effectively corrupt their polity.     

We have made the big mistake ofjettisoning the psychological dimension of the struggle for true liberty in1994.  People who have been deeplywounded by decades of humiliation by political and socio-economic exclusion,cannot simply stand up and dust themselves up and move on.  The superiority and inferiority complexes ofracism and sexism, as well as the assault on the culture and self-image ofblack people, have left a multiplicity of deep wounds to heal on theirown.  A healing process is needed toacknowledge the wounds, apply the balm of truth speaking between perpetratorsand victims, and dismantle the structures that continue to wound millions ofblack people.  

Reconciliation can only come from puttingright that which has gone wrong (structural transformation).  As citizens and as Faith Based Leaders wewere too hasty to declare victory, especially after the Truth and ReconciliationCommission (TRC) process in the late 1990s. We left too many wounded people, who are the majority population, totheir own devices by excluding socio-economic violations of human rights fromthe TRC process. We have also not followed through with the minimalist reparationsproposed in the TRC Report.

What is needed is a new business model forour economy.  We need to rethink andtransform the socio-economic structures of our cities to stop the haemorragingof cash from the poorest to the wealthiest parts of our urban landscapes.  We need to address the cost of poverty in transportcosts, time away from families and lack of leisure and other facilitiesessential to enhancing the quality of life for poor people. We need to advocatefor, and champion larger investments in quality public services to enhance theoutcomes of education and health for all citizens.  

We also need to be open to innovations inpower generation technologies that focus on renewables and new human settlementmodels that integrate residential and industrial/commercial productiveactivities.  Our economy can only growfaster and in a more sustainable way by adopting models that promote the utilizationof the talents and energies of all able bodied people willing to participate inbuilding ours into a great society. 

We need to dismantle our “insulatedspaces” and be present in the lives of those wrestling with the triple burdenin our midst.  We need to listen to thecry of those black people plunged into self-hatred because of the dailyhumiliation and denigration they continue to endure.  We need to understand that destructivebehavior including self-sabotage, in personal, community and public life of ournation, is a direct result of the psychological liberation work yet to be done.  

Too many white people remain burdened by asuperiority complex that distances them from their fellow human beings.  There are too many white people who stilljustify the legacy of privilege they continue to enjoy as an entitlementresulting from their superior education, skills and harder work.  There are still too many men who believe thatthey are entitled to lead rather than recognize the complementary strengthswomen bring to leadership.

Beyers Naude, as founder and head of theChristian Institute, was one of the first white people in the 1970s torecognize the importance of psychological liberation through raising the consciousnessof both black and white people about the impact of racism and socio-economicexclusion on human relationships.  Beyershad benefitted from Afrikaners consciousness raising and solidarity action toheal the psychological wounds of humiliation Afrikaners suffered at the handsof the British.  He supported the BlackCommunity Programs (BPC was the development arm of the BCM) to model practicalmanifestations of self-reliance to drive black led sustainable developmentprojects.   

The gap left by the neglect of psychologicalliberation has been filled by, amongst others, the new churches.   Theyoffer salvation for those suffering the pain of being in the margins of society.   Some of these new churches, despite theirlimited human and material resources, are answering the call to hear the cry ofpain by being present in the daily struggles of poor people. 

But many of these new churches aremega-businesses with global links to centers in the USA and SouthernAmerica.   They offer a prosperity ministrybased on transactional relationships involving significant financialcontributions and unquestioning obedience to the authority of church leaders.   The level of desperation and loss ofself-esteem of the congregants involved is reflected by the extent to whichthey engage in further humiliating acts such as eating grass, drinking petrolor slavish submission to abusive church leaders.   How do we stop the sin of fleeing from theclaims these desperate fellow humans are making on us as humans? 


Dag Hammaskjold’s life of public serviceas Secretary General of the United Nations in the Cold War era of the 1960s, isan inspiration we might draw on in this exploration of our own healing journeysas we confront the challenges and opportunities of structural transformation ofour society.  Hammarskjold’s life of publicservice was anchored on the search for life’s meaning.   This search led Dag to conclude that the wayby which one finds life meaningful is the way of experience; one seeks meaningby “daring to take the leap intounconditional obedience you will find that ‘in the pattern’ you are liberatedfrom the need to live ‘with the herd’. You will find that thus subordinated, your life will receive from Lifeall its meaning, irrespective of the conditions given you for its realization”.[6]

The liberation from ‘the need to live with the herd’ and enjoyment of the benefits ofbeing a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond, is what enabled Beyers Naude toleap into “unconditional obedience”to God.  The question for us today is howwe are to liberate ourselves from ‘the needto live in the herd’ and commit ourselves to tackling the structural andpsychological obstacles to true freedom for all South Africans?  The church at various stages in its life,including during the struggle for freedom from apartheid, anchored its missionon the connection between the moral health of individuals and the health of ourpolitical community.  

Imagine if people of all faiths were tomake 2015 the year of breaking down the edifice of socio-economic structuresthat perpetuate poverty, unemployment and inequality in the contexts we livein!  People of Faith across the religiousspectrum have historically been involved in advocacy for social justice and as actorsin socio-economic development projects, especially education and health care.  What stops the church today from respondingto the desperate needs for quality education, health care and promoting humandignity in our homes and communities?

There are inspirational stories emergingfrom across our country of citizens doing extraordinary things with limitedresources.  Take the example of civicengagement of retired people in Hermanus, in the Western Cape, who havecommitted themselves to transforming the local schools in the poor township ofZwelihle into high quality places of teaching and learning.   Enhancing education quality is transformingthe mindsets of those involved on both sides of the divide.  It sets the stage for dismantling the dividesin Hermanus between masters and servants, opening the gate towards rebuilding asociety of equal citizens.

Other citizens in Gauteng and Mpumalanga aresimilarly helping to make excellence affordable to poor communities through lowcost private schools.  Forgingpartnerships between poor public schools and better-resourced schools, is alsoworking wonders in enhancing performance across the board.  These are not, and should not be acts ofcharity. These are citizen responses to building a society we can all be proudto live in. 

Imagine if citizens of Stellenbosch wereto step outside their comfort zones to support the push for quality educationfor every child in settlements on your doorstep such Khayamandi!  The knock-on effects would includecollaboration between the very high net-worth residents and the poor people ofKhayamandi. Together they would build a re-connected healing community ofStellenbosch, where human dignity is celebrated at home, at work and in thewider community.  The same amazing thingscould happen if Cape Town leafy suburban citizens would dare to reconnect withtheir fellow humans on the Cape Flats.

The over-60s in our society are anunder-utilized resource. Theis resource could be harnessed to tackle structuralconstraints to sustainable socio-economic development.  Many citizens in this age group have a wealthof experience, scarce skills and independent financial means.  Imagine connecting our huge youth base – thelargest proportion of our population (59%) under 35 years – with the almost 10%of our population who are retired and still energetic!   The enthusiasm and energy of youth inspiredand nurtured by mutually supportive relationships with older generations couldbecome a winning proposition for our society. 

The linking of hands to innovate andexperiment with new business models to accelerate economic growth, educationand training as well as job creation, could see us turning round our moribundeconomy into a thriving one.  We could turnthe challenges of the triple burden into an opportunity to build bridgesconnecting us as fellow human beings.  Becomingmore attentive to the needs of our fellow human beings and learning from oneanother, are the ingredients needed to build a more prosperous, inclusive and stablegreat country together. 


There are encouraging signs across ourcountry that people of faith are waking up to their responsibilities andrecommitting to obedience to God in faith. First, many individuals are openly searching again for appropriateresponses to the growing social justice challenges in our midst.  The courage to engage in a new struggle onthe side of poor people is being championed by a growing number of faith-basedleaders.   

The South African Council of Churches(SACC), that played a seminal role in proclaiming liberation theology andsupport for the struggle for freedom, is being revived after years ofneglect.  Leaders such as Rev FrankChikane, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, Ms. Hlope Bam, have stepped up to the role ofgiving the SACC revival a boost.  Here inthe Western Cape The Religious Leaders Forum led by Rev Xola Skosana is gearingup for a stronger prophetic voice and greater responsiveness to the cry ofthose living on the margins of our society.

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa has also taken a bold step by putting a stop to its priests acting as Chaplainsto the ANC.   The Chaplaincy of the ANChad become controversial in its support of the ANC’s claim to “being of God”and therefore deserving support from God-fearing citizens. 

The Archbishop of Cape Town, ThaboMakgoba, has also come out in support of actively standing with thosemarginalized by poverty and indignity.  Hehas called for 2015 to be a year of “renaissanceof the spirit and the reconnection with the values of our constitution and ourspiritually guided families …… You have the chance to shape our country’sdestiny.  Destiny is not a matter ofchance, but a matter of choice.”[7]

There are other encouraging initiativesafoot as well.  The Authentic HopefulAction (AHA) had a soft launch in December 2014 to mobilize action against thetriple burden of poverty, unemployment and inequality.  It draws its strengths from the Second KairosInitiative that presented an open letter to the ANC leadership in 2012,challenging the persistent social injustice and growing corruption ingovernment.  The success of AHA willdepend on its ability to ignite the imagination and energy of citizens and thefaithful to mobilize a sustainable social movement for a new struggle forsocial justice.

The successful sprouting and blossoming ofthese green shoots depends on the extent to which they inspire citizens acrossthe spectrum to rise to the challenge and opportunity of building a movementfocused on uprooting poverty, tackling unemployment and inequality.   The question for you and I here today is howwe respond to the call to obedience as we go back to our bases?  Are we ready to ”take the leap of obedience” and start the process of dismantlingthe socio-economic barriers we have built in our own lives or those weperpetuate to insulate ourselves from our fellow human beings?  Are we ready for the journey to reconnectwith our fellow human beings?  


Let me conclude by bringing in the voicesof young men from Khayelitsha whom we seldom have the opportunity to listen to.   They are part of a group supported by aninitiative by two traditional ballet dancers that enabled them to escape theclutches of gangs to rebuild their lives They are exceptional in theirperformance as dancers moving gracefully in a celebration of ballet and Africandancing motifs.   The untapped talentamongst these young people is immeasurable. Let me share with you the lyrics of a song they composed during oneevening during a weekend away organized by their mentors:



Ndiyabuza kaloku, yini

na sibulalana sodwa

Bayaphi ubuntu


Sesisele sisodwa

simunamunana nak’ilahle

baphi na abadala

ndiyabuza kaloku.

Sifuna wena Mama nawetata

Uyabanda umzi ongena



Kwanele ma-Africa

Kwanele bantwana




I’m afraid

I’m asking why are we

killing each other, where

is our humanity


We have been left alone

Trying to find answers

Where are the elders

I’m asking

We want our mother

and father

A house with no woman

is cold


It’s enough my fellow


It’s enough sons and

daughters of the soil

Let’s unite

How are we to respond to these voices?  We have the power, theresources, the experience and models of success, to root out poverty,unemployment and inequality.  The keyquestion is whether we are willing to make the choice to respond and expressour obedience to God through service to these young people and others in ourmidst so we can restore our human connectedness.   

Mamphela Ramphele

Active Citizen



[1] C.T. Kurien, Wealthand  Illfare — An Expedition into RealLife Economics, Books forChange, 139, Richmond Road, Bangalore-560025. Rs. 390. Terreblanche, S. AHistory of Inequality in SA: 1652-2002, University of Natal Press, 2002p413.  


[2] A Conversations With CharlesMathewes, Ass Professor of Theology at the University of Virginia andauthor of A Theology of Public Life, Cambridge, USA, 2007, Boisi Centrefor Religion and American Public Life, Boston College, USA.

[3] Dag Hammarskjold’s White Book – An Analysis of Markings,p129, Gustaf Aulen, 1969, Fortress Press.

[4] Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,Covenant and Conversations 5775 one Ethics, Freewill

[5]  Beyers Naude, My Land vanHoop, Human and Rousseau, 1995:43

[6] Dag Hammaskjold, Markings, p114, as quoted in An Analysisof Markings , Gustaf Aulen, p35, Fortress Press 1969.

[7] Time for a New Struggle,Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, Sunday Independent, 11/1/2015


Invitation Stellenbosch Theology Day - Dr Mamphela Ramphele on poverty, inequality and joblessness in South Africa

Dear friends,

I would like to invite you to attend the Stellenbosch University Faculty of Theology Open Day on 2 February 2015.  There is no cost and it promises to be an interesting and topical day of input and reflection on some of the current issues we face in South Africa.

You are also more than welcome to attend the opening service of the Faculty of Theology at the Stellenbosch United Church on 1 February 2015 at 19:00.

Please see the details below.

Best regards,


The annual Theological Day, which is the start of the academic year of the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University (SU), will take place on Monday 2 February 2015 from 09:00 – 13:00 in the Attie van Wijk Auditorium at the Faculty of Theology, 171 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch. The theme for the day is: Theology and Public Life: Facing the Challenges of Poverty, Unemployment and Inequality.

Prof Nico Koopman, dean of the Faculty of Theology will introduce the theme, followed by Dr Mamphela Ramphele who will deliver the keynote address. Rev Malcolm Damon, executive director of the Network for Economic Justice, Prof Ronelle Burger from the department of Economics, SU and Prof Piet Naudé, director of the SU Business School, will make further inputs during the panel discussion.

In 2015 we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Beyers Naudé’s birth, and the topic for the Theological Day is well in line with his concern for a theological and prophetic response to public life, including socio-political and economical aspects. In 2015 we also participate in the 30th anniversary of the Kairos Document which is known for its prophetic message. Last year at the Theological Day former minister Trevor Manuel spoke on the National Development Plan, followed by responses by theologians and church leaders. This year we want to continue this conversation: How should Christians, churches and the ecumenical movement respond to the giant challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality? Hopefully this can contribute to a process of further mobilization and theoretical and theological depth. 

Attendance is free and all are welcome! Limited parking is available at the faculty and guests are advised to park in The Avenue or on the banks of the Eerste River (opposite Paul Roos Gymnasium). Please allow ample time for traffic.

The welcoming church service of the faculty will take place on Sunday 1 February 2015 at 19:00 at Stellenbosch United Chrurch, 8 Van Riebeeck Street, Stellenbosch. Dr Dion Forster will deliver the sermon and Dr David Hunter will be the liturgist.

Enquiries: Helette, e-mail, tel 021 808 3255.