Lebo Keswa
In a shocking analysis of the role of the Church in our dynamic society, Bishop Ramailane (The Sunday Independent, July 9, 2017) passes political gossip as analysis, making a startling claim that a representative organisation of churches with an impeccable history has a political agenda.

He does not stop there and in his inspired debut input into these pages where thoughts contest, suggests that the SACC must either shut up or form an opposition political party with the likes of Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana as candidates to make a play for power.

This, of course, is after he has reached a bizarre conclusion that the SACC’s role must be dismissed as partisan and in fact factional.

Be forgiven for assuming that the likes of Ramailane did not live through the ’80s and have no clue what the Church had to do to bring down apartheid.

One of the things that the Church could not do then and can’t do now is to remain silent in the face of theft, corruption and moral degradation of political leaders.

To do this, the Church must have an agenda to contradict anything immoral.

Such a task is what the Bishop, even with cursory grasp of liberation theology, should be able to understand.

Such a task is not neat and predetermined but requires the Church to dirty its hand even at the risk of coming across as politically biased.

The nature of truth telling cannot be neatly planned not to offend one faction over another.

Even if the truth coincided with Ramailane’s favourite faction, the Church has a responsibility to tell such a truth.

Ramailane may well be right that the current administration does not particularly like the SACC, but with all the Gupta (email) leaks, that seem to have escaped his analysis. It is clear why this administration would not have been comfortable with the SACC that points out its missteps. Is it therefore expected that the SACC should remain silent in the face of an immoral project that is unfolding in its eyes? The unburdening report that paints a picture of utter theft of the state was a result of the Church playing its prophetic role and creating a safe space even for ANC members who could not trust their own organisation about the capture of the state.

Were they supposed to keep quite with this knowledge because it would offend a faction of the ANC that is at the heart of this looting?

While this argument that the Church needs to be neutral is misplaced, it raises questions about how the role of the Church is often discounted, even by those who should know better.

It is a more sophisticated version of what President Zuma said to churches last year - that they need to “stay out of politics” and pray for the political leaders.

This demonstrates high levels of dishonesty among our politicians and their apologists, about how civil society must engage with elected leaders who ought to be accountable to the people who have elected them.

This argument and that of Bishop Ramailane is no different from the misuse of scripture by dictators, including the apartheid regime, that they are God-ordained and so should not be challenged even as they oppress God’s people - in this case by fleecing resources that should be dedicated to lifting them out of poverty.

What should be our approach to the role of the Church in the context of rebuilding a society ravaged by moral degradation? It may help to remember that In South Africa, the liberation Struggle was sustained by the role the Church played.

The ministers of the gospel in South Africa took a stand against injustice and when the ANC and PAC was banned, it was the Church that brought young people together and they organised themselves and began the Black Consciousness Movement, which brought a revival to the liberation Struggle.

The influence of the BCM was behind the Soweto Uprising of 1976.

The Church was at the forefront of the United Democratic Front, which mobilised civil society in the 1980s to stand against the apartheid regime. It must be at the forefront of defeating corruption, regardless of which political party or faction is dominant in our politics.

The Church provided education, training and healthcare in many parts of the nation. University of Fort Hare was established by missionaries and produced leaders not only for South Africa but an array of southern Africa’s black leaders such as Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Robert Sobukwe and Robert Mugabe.

Thabo Mbeki, Steve Biko were also educated at Lovedale. In the mid-1920s, mission schools in South Africa were educating far more Africans (about 215000 compared with about 7000) than were state schools.The Church cannot sit on the sidelines of development and must be immersed in finding and being a part of solutions to rebuild society.

The Church in South Africa before 1994 played a crucial role in raising leaders, and also proving leadership on social issues.

It cannot be cowed into silence by any kind of apologists of state capture or any other corrupt scheme that is looting the resources of the poor.

Finally, while we are entitled to criticise the Church for being quiet for a while after liberation, we shouldn’t stop now that it has finally woken from their slumber.

We must all admit that for a while we had hoped that somehow things would work themselves out and sanity would return.

We should perhaps try to understand where the SACC is coming from and embrace their contribution as we try to find our way out of the current dilemma.

* Keswa is a businesswoman and writes in her personal capacity. Follow her on Twitter: @lebokeswa

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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