Bishop Malinga hands over reins

Published Oct 26, 2008


By Nelson Dlamini

For Methodist Bishop Purity Malinga, it will soon be time to say goodbye.

As the only woman bishop in South Africa, she is known for her no-nonsense approach to church matters, and is not afraid to speak up on matters of state.

She will leave the KwaZulu-Natal Coastal region after nine years in the driving seat, at a special function at the Central City Methodist Mission on November 1.

This week the Tribune spoke to her about her calling. She admitted with a wry smile that it hasn't been the smoothest of rides.

"Challenges, discrimination and prejudice are always evident in the church community even though they may be subtle," she says.

"The issue of a woman bishop, let alone a black one, is still a touchy subject."

Interviewed at her home in a quiet, leafy road in Glenmore this week, Malinga recalled how there was "some scepticism" about her appointment all those years ago.

"I've had to work extra hard to dispel any doubts about my capability."

Although soft-spoken and unassuming, she is nevertheless one of the most outspoken critics of what she describes as "moral degeneration and bad politics".

"All we need are good leaders who will serve the people with commitment and without selfishness," she says.

"It seems that most of our leaders pay more attention to their own interests rather than the people's needs. Look at the turmoil in Zimbabwe. It is unnecessary. They need quality leadership."

Often a controversial figure in the Methodist fold, Malinga has served in a ministerial capacity since 1981 and was inducted as bishop in 1999.

Malinga is a Methodist by birth and was born and raised in rural Ixopo where she did her early schooling and, like the boys in her family, took her turn with everything from planting and growing to milking cows.

A teacher by profession, she taught for five years at Siyakhona Primary school in Ixopo before joining the ministry in 1981.

"It is something I decided to do for the love of God and to help guide His people," says Malinga.

So, too, are her 15 year-old adopted twin daughters who she says taught her many things.

"One of them is not to come across too tough or hard-hitting."

Perhaps this is why she speaks in a gentle and down-to-earth manner.

Malinga is also recognised as an astute biblical scholar she obtained a theology degree, Masters of Divinity, from Harvard University in 1992.

She has served as the Deputy President of the South African Council of Churches, chaired the KwaZulu-Natal Council of Churches and is a council member of the Diakonia Council of Churches.

On challenges facing a changing South Africa, Malinga felt blacks in particular had lost their old African values, which were the "core qualities of building ubuntu".

"The xenophobic attacks that we witnessed were uncalled for and clearly motivated by naivety and a baseless hatred."

Malinga also reiterated her disappointment at the self-centeredness demonstrated by politicians, saying it was the root of many problems on the continent.

The bishop was in the limelight recently, leading a protest prayer at Vetch's Beach in Durban to oppose the government's decision to allow Chinese-manufactured arms to be transported through South Africa to Zimbabwe.

"The aim was to tell the authorities that we don't need guns because they perpetuate violence, whether here or Zimbabwe.

"That country is in crisis and people are dying. It does not matter whether the arms were for the opposition or the ruling party. Zimbabwe does not need arms. And they don't need us to transport them."

Malinga has also led a campaign to encourage church ministers to know their HIV status, which she strengthened by undergoing a public HIV test in May this year.

"The fight against HIV/Aids, poverty, moral regeneration and for proper healthcare is the main challenge facing South Africa and should take priority in government structures."

The bishop will move to Pretoria soon to serve that district in a ministerial capacity. Rev Mike Vorster, her successor, will be inducted in Umlazi on November 9.

And what will she do with her spare time?

Malinga, who has never married, says she needs "to take things a little easy" and spend more time with her teenage daughters.

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