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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • 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.
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Entries in africa (8)

Friday
Sep232016

Why the 'loss of faith' in heroes like Mandela may not be such a bad thing

Why the 'loss of faith' in heroes like Mandela may not be such a bad thing

Dion Forster, Stellenbosch University

The legacy of anti-apartheid activists no longer has currency for many of today’s youth. They believe that they have been failed by the older generation of political leaders, including Nelson Mandela.

A recent Facebook post by the controversial Oxford University student and Mandela Rhodes scholar, Ntokozo Sbo Qwabe reflects this.

Older black people who want to silence us on the basis that they fought against apartheid need to shut the fuck up!!! We are here because you failed us! So please!

Qwabe is expressing a sentiment that is fairly common among contemporary South African student activists associated with the country’s “fallist” movements - including #RhodesMustFall #FeesMustFall .

One could say that they have “lost faith” in the legacy of anti-apartheid heroes of yesteryear and the supposed freedoms they have won.

Some may be unsettled, or even angered, by this loss of confidence in the liberation struggle heroes. But I am of the opinion that this loss of faith may not be such a terrible thing in the end. Losing a naïve and untrue “religious conviction” might actually be a sign of the emergence of a more honest and mature commitment to an ethics of responsibility.

South Africa is not unique in this. North American activist and philosopher, Cornel West, recently made a radical statement at a “Keep Ferguson Alive!” event. He said:

I come from a school of thought that believes that a certain kind of atheism is always healthy… Because what atheism does is that it at least cleans the deck because it claims that all gods are idols… We live in a society in which idolatry is so ubiquitous… So, for a lot of people who have lost faith in god it is probably a healthy thing! Because the god they have lost faith in was probably an idol anyway…

Losing faith in a false god is not such a bad thing. Many South Africans are losing faith in a very subtle and deceptive form of civil religion that held many in thrall during the last 22 years of democracy. As shocking as it may be, perhaps Qwabe and West are not far from the truth.

Civil religion

After the euphoria of the peaceful transition to democratic political rule in South Africa in 1994, this subtle civil religion emerged in popular culture.

Sociologist Robert Bellah suggests that religion in the civil sphere is possible when citizens begin to shape a belief into a transcendent narrative of about their social and political reality. They begin to use religious or theological symbolism to describe social, political or economic systems and processes. The purpose of the “civil religion” is to work towards the project of an alternative social reality.

The birth of the South African post-apartheid civil religion took place 27 April 1994 – the day of first South African democratic elections. This event was lauded across the world, as a “miracle” of peaceful transition in the midst of a hostile and precarious social and political situation.

Many doomsday prophets had predicted the eruption of a civil war in the lead to up the elections. Instead, post-election media reports reflected a widespread sense of euphoria and joy. It was framed in the dense and symbolic theological and religious language of peace, reconciliation and even “God’s blessing”. This is not surprising in a country where [around 84% ]of its population profess religious beliefs of one kind or another. Such language is familiar. It has meaning and currency.

Mandela the ‘messiah’

Of course, every religion requires a saviour, and the Messiah of this civil religion was Nelson Mandela. He embodied in his person a capacity to envision a new future for the divided people of South Africa. He was widely regarded as a leader who displayed great courage, grace and a reconciling nature.

His virtuous character was presented as an example to be followed by all persons who strive to be good citizens. Today many wonder about the negotiated compromises he entered into during his presidency and the transition to democratic rule. Perhaps, he was only human after all. Even if he was a remarkable human, he is not divine.

The high priest of the newly democratic South Africa’s civil religion was Desmond Tutu, who coined the primary discourse of the (civil) religion in the language of the “rainbow nation”. The character of the religion, and its doctrinal centre was an eschatological harmony based on national reconciliation.

This miracle was to be ushered in through a social event – a ritual. The ritual that served as a moral and psychological symbol of the civil religion was the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission). Sadly, the legacy of the TRC is contested. Perpetrators walked free while victims remained uncompensated.

 

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Mike Hutchings/Reuters

 

 

The civil religion’s sacred text was the 1996 South African Constitution (1996) and the Bill of Rights. The hymn for the civil religion was national anthem, Nkosi sikele’iAfrika(God bless Africa]). But some worry that the constitution protects the rights of the privileged and does not go far enough in allowing for restorative justice for the poor.

So, what has become clear in recent years is that there is significant loss of confidence in the discourses of the new South Africa - the rainbow nation, and all of the saints, heroes, and rituals. People are losing faith in this civil religion. This disenchantment is most clearly expressed in the words and actions of the “born free” activists, such as Qwabe.

They believe that we find ourselves in a more deeply divided, more economically unjust and politically corrupt nation because of our beliefs in these persons, in their legacies, and in the institutions they established.

While many may struggle to agree with the methods of the ‘fallist’ youth, perhaps they are pointing us in the right direction? Yes, Mandela did something remarkable. But he is not our saviour. Tutu and the TRC are inspiring and important. But now we need something for this time. Yes, democracy is an opportunity for transformation. But the 1994 elections were not the end of our process. That was only the beginning.

And so, I am of the mind that we should lose our false civil religion and exchange it for an ethics of responsibility. The poet June Jordan said it most aptly, reflecting on the women’s march to the Union Buildings in 1956:

And who will join this standing up … We are the ones we have been waiting for.

The Conversation

Dion Forster, Head of Department, Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology, Senior Lecturer in Ethics and Public Theology, Director of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology, Stellenbosch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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You may find these two videos (related to Nelson Mandela, and the end of Civil Religion) interesting.

'Losing my religion (in Basel)'

Nelson Mandela and the Methodists - faith, fact and fallacy

Thursday
Aug182016

John Mbiti and the de-colonization of African / Western knowledge systems - Stellenbosch University

Dr Henry Mbaya opening the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University (@theologystudents_maties on Instagram and @theologystel on Twitter) conference on De-colonising African/Western Knowledge systems conference by reflecting upon, and celebrating, the person and work of Prof John Mbiti.

Prof Mbiti spoke later in the day. Here is a video of him speaking about Africa, Christianity and the Bible.

Other contributors are Prof Rothney Tshaka (UNISA), Dr Ntozake Cezula (Stellenbosch), Dr Humphrey Waweru (Kenyatta), Prof Fidelis Nkomazana (Botswana), Dr Paddy Musana (Makerere), and student panels from North West University, the University of Pretoria, the University of the Free State, and Stellenbosch University.

These are important discussions in the current South African and broader African context. If you are interesting in reading a helpful perspective in the importance and complexity of this discourse please see this paper from Achile Mbembe:

 

Mbembe, A. 2015. Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive. Transcription of talk series.

 

 

Monday
Oct052015

A prayer for Africa

'God bless Africa
Educate our children
Give us better leaders
And grant us justice
For Jesus Christ's sake
Amen.'

- from Kairos Southern Africa

Friday
Jun052015

World Economic Forum 2015 - day 3

Today was the third and final day of the World Economic Forum that was held in Cape Town from 3-5 June 2015.

Once again I rode my trusty steed (a 2001 model BMW 650GS motorcycle) into the city for the meetings. It was surprisingly cold, although with clear blue skies as I drove into the beautiful Cape Town city bowl. I never grow tired of the beautiful view as one crests De Waal drive into the city.

Having parked just across the road from the CTICC (Cape Town Internation Convention Center) I made my way through security, now quite experienced at what beeps and what doesn't, and made my way upstairs for the first of my sessions.

I started the day with a session on agriculture, development and food security.  There were a few startling revelations in that session, notably that by 2050 the population of Africa will double, but our capacity to produce food will not.  In large measure this is because of too few commercial farmers, poor policy in agriculture and political instability and war threatens food security.  Water, of course, remains an additional challenge.  It was shocking to learn that there are 85 million malnourished persons in Africa, and that a large number of those are subsistence farmers and their families.  Again, the issue of gender inequality featured in this talk.  Women produce +- 80% of the food in Africa but only own 2% of the land.  Men tend to keep the best pockets of land for themselves and often don't utilize it fully.  What was also interesting to be reminded of is that Africa is the world's most resource laden continent - in other words, we are the richest continent on the planet when it comes to natural resources, but because of extractive injustice (where our minieral resources are extracted and sold elsewhere in the world) we are so poor that we have to import food to support our populations. Lastly, we discovered that rural women tend to be better managers of farms, food and finance (better than urban women, and better than all men).  So, what's the lesson?  Well, I think that if we had targeted projects to support and uplift rural women we could achieve a great deal for the common good in Africa.  Naturally we need to develop commercial farmers and technologies to drive efficient and healthy food production that is not destructive of the earth's resources and that can feed growing numbers of people.

Next, I attended a workshop that sought to find solutions to drive development and growth in Africa in the next 10 years.  I was fortunate to be seated at the table of Minister Naledi Pandor - what a remarkable woman!  I was bowled over by her gentleness, her amazing grasp of policy, investment, technology and the complex set of social, political and economic aspects that are necessary for development and growth.  How I wish she could be our President in South Africa!  The process of this workshop was superb using new technology where we wrote on the tables and it showed up on screens in the front of the room.  There were about 6 such tables participating around issues such as education, investment, technology, policy and governance etc.

My second to last session of the day was another remarkable one - I participated in a workshop on security in Africa.  The point of this grouping was to work out what some of the threats and opportunities were that Africa faced in terms of security in the next 10 years.  I was in a group with Minister Mohamed Beni Yonis of Somaliland - a great peace keeper on the continent and a truly remarkable and wise man! His insights into social, economic and technology opportunities and challenges were astounding.  He also appreciates the central role that religion plays in shaping societies in Africa (both negatively and positively).  The meeting agreed that we shall need to spend a great deal more time and energy working with faith based organisations and the religious groupings in our various countries to address social cohesion, service delivery, poverty alleviation and also to work against violence and extremism.  Then, the man whose name is signed on most of my South African money, Mr Tito Mboweni, was also in our group! He is such a kind (even fun!) person.  He spoke about the dangers of ambition (he reached the pinnacle of his career as governor of the Reserve Bank before he was 50 years old).  However, the group agreed that African society will need to acknowledge the place and importance of young leaders - one participant jokingly said that in Africa, presidency is something one 'retires into' at 65 after a working career!  I am attaching an image of the drawing that contains all of our discussions and thoughts on security in Africa.

The final session was about economics, investment and trade on the continent.  South Africa's finance Minister, Mr Nene, commented that "unless we deal with corruption all of our development plans will fail".  The rest of the panelists discussed the challenges of competition and distrust between neighbouring and regionally close countries in Africa, the expensive cost of travel, and the need to see much greater trade cooperation and support among African countries.

The highlight of the day, for me, was when Archbishop Tutu was invited onto the stage to close the WEF Africa meeting in prayer.  He was overwhelmingly warmly received.  He began his prayer, as I have heard him praying before, by saying that God is weeping at the way in which we treat one another and the earth.  Yet, he went on in his jovial and loving way to say how happy God was to see the participants of the WEF and all those they represented who were people of good-will whose desire it was to make this world a better place for all by working for the common good.  You can listen to his prayer (which I recorded on my phone) here.

Attending this form was a remarkable privilige.  I have learnt so many things at the WEF this week.  In particular I understand that we face a number of wicked problems that require partnership, cooperation, and even sacrifice to solve.  Water and the environment, poverty and inequality, gender imbalances, massive growth in our population and dwindling resources are huge challenges.  Yet, I am hopeful.  It was amazing to meet creative, intelligent, passionate and committed people from all sectors of society who were working for good! The investment of time, energy, resources and self into these problems is sure to make a difference, and in many cases solve the problems we discussed.

I realise that South Africa is fast falling behind.  Our political landscape and our own social context of poverty and inequality is vexing growth and cooperation.  We shall need to do a great deal more to foster trust and a willingness to give up some things (like white power and wealth) and take up some things (like hard work, good education, and uncompromising moral standards).  As I drove home I kept thinking that as Christians we must always ensure that our speech is peppered with hope, our hands are strengthened by justice and our hearts are filled with love as we work for a better future.  We do need a much higher calibre of leadership from both government and the private sector.  But what we need more than that is active citizens who are willing to be deeply involved in shaping a better world.

Sunday
May102015

Wow! So I will be attending the World Economic Forum on Africa next month!

I am not quite sure what 'qualified' me to be invited to participate in the World Economic Forum on Africa that is to be held in Cape Town next month (3-5 June 2015)? However, I am grateful and a little nervous to attend!

I was sent an invitation once before (about a year ago), but was not able to take up the invitation at that time. I felt then, as I do now, that there were others who could serve better in that realm and so I suggested that they invite some other South African academics and business leaders that I have worked with. Sadly the invitation is not transferable. So I thought that was it!

But recently I received another invitation to next months meetings. After checking with my HOD and our Dean if I could be released to go (which they enthusiastically agreed upon!) I completed my registration and received a confirmation of attendance on the same day!

I am not entirely sure what the 3 day meeting will entail. However, I am excited to participate and look forward to learning and bringing a perspective on economics that is shaped by the common good, informed from the ethics of my Christian faith. I have done some work in recent years on economics and justice, written a book and a number of articles on issues such as poverty, inequality, corruption and suffering, but also on faith and work and the responsible purpose of wealth.

I would appreciate your prayers.

You can read about the meetings here:

http://www.weforum.org/events/world-economic-forum-africa-2015

I will post information and details here as I receive them.

Monday
Sep022013

Giraffe chases Mountainbike cyclist in South Africa

I know that mountain biking is a dangerous sport! I currently have a friend with two broken elbows and another with broken ribs from falling.

However, this is a different kind of crazy! A friend of mine, Jimmy Ramage, was cycling with some friends in Groenkloof nature reserve when a giraffe chased down this cyclist. An animal of that size could do some serious damage!

This was a close shave! Certainly a story to tell your grand children.

Monday
Jun042012

Bigger stories - Are you creating bigger stories that transform communities?

This is a beautiful video by The Work of the People - it asks a few critical theological and missional questions.

What did Jesus come to do? If we know what Jesus came to do, and we are called to be the 'body of Christ, then what is the work of the Church?

I'll be using this, and a few other videos, as part of my lectures to a group of Master of Theology students in Missional Leadership next week.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this video, and particularly what you think about the mission of the Church.

Wednesday
Oct132010

A map of the world IN Africa - the real size of Africa

Boing boing posted this wonderful visual representation of the true size of Africa in relation to other geographical regions on earth. It is fascinating to see how North America compares to West Africa, or how England relates to Madagascar.

Once again this confirms that our perceptions of the size of countries is so often shaped by social, cultural and historical bias, rather than by geographic land mass!


I previously posted about this in a post entitled "What the world really looks like".

Bias can be a powerful thing! Also see my post on bias and ethics which shows why it is easier to steal time or pencils from your employer than money.

The following quote rings true for me:

@DanDeWitt: Those who refuse to acknowledge their bias are destined to be blinded by it.

How can we counteract our own biases on reality? Is it necessary to do so?

You can read the original boing boing article here.