Christians in the ANC must speak up

By OPINION - Sandile Memela Time of article published Apr 16, 2017

Share this article:

We are at that point where South Africans, especially those who consider themselves Christians, have a right to ask: Where is the evidence of faith in what we see happening in the country? 

Ordinary citizens outside and inside the ANC must demand an answer: What is the role and responsibility of this spiritual army of Christ in a corrupt, morally bankrupt and decadent society?

It is 84 years since a young Congregationalist, Albert Luthuli, joined the staff at Adams College (on the KZN South Coast) to begin his journey to use Christianity to change the character of the ANC.

It is 33 years since the ANC adopted the Kairos Document and pursued the vision of the Pastoral Plan for Transformation.

And it is long overdue that all citizens take full responsibility for what is happening in our society – the crisis of leadership, the rising corruption and rampant crime.

No doubt what has happened since the death of Nelson Mandela and the ensuing leadership void has been enough to stir the soul and spirit of the people. Many people lie awake at night seeking answers. 

The words of Luthuli echo down the decades to remind us what is expected of Christians and what should be done: “I am taking my Christianity with me and praying that it may be used to influence for the good the character of resistance.

“I am in the ANC precisely because I am a Christian,” he said.

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that our beautiful country is in deep crisis because there are far too few Christians willing to stand up to speak the truth to the leaders in the ANC. 

Over the last decade or so, we have seen comrades who are not Christians rise to take charge in the ANC. This is a serious indictment on those who call themselves Christians, but have not heeded the call to leadership. Christian moralists in the ANC and society need to be seen and heard now. 

The development indicators say more than 70% of people belong to religious organisations, while less than 12% belong to political organisations. 

How did we end up in a society that is led by comrades who are not Christian or have no religious inclination? We seem to have a leadership that neither knows God, nor fears him. 

We need to remind ourselves that it is what we do – or don’t do – in our homes, schools, churches, offices and communities that make this country what it is. 

Over the last few years we have observed church leaders in the South African Council of Churches, for instance, take a long time to reflect on the Christian past and role and how this affects our society today. 

Late as it is, it is a significant achievement that, in this busy world, Christians feel challenged to make time to think and reflect on their role in society. Not that men like Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu have not raised their voices.

Many advances were made as a result of the actions, behaviour, conduct and attitude of Christians like Tutu.

For decades, there was no distinction between the objectives and goals of the ANC as a liberation movement, and the role played by religious visionaries whose leadership skills and talents were honed at church. 

Numerous men and women of calibre in the ranks of the church were proud soldiers of Christ. These included the Reverend John Langalibalele Dube, the first president of the ANC and minister of the United Congregational Church (UCCSA); Mapogo Makgatho, the second president of the ANC, who was also a Methodist leader and lay preacher; the Reverend Zaccheus Richard Mahabane, the third president of the ANC and minister of the AME church, and president of the Interdenominational African Ministers’ Federation (today known as Idamasa); Luthuli, ninth president of the ANC and a lay preacher of the UCCSA; the Rev Walter Rubusana, one the four original vice-presidents of the ANC and vice-chairman of the Congregational Union of South Africa; Charlotte Maxeke, who attended the founding conference of the ANC, also a lay preacher at the AME Church; and Oliver Reginald Tambo, who led the ANC for over 30 years during its exile years, a staunch Christian.

We must admit that the church played a pivotal role in what gave birth to the liberation movement. The church’s influence is more powerful than the governing party. 

There is an increasing demand for church leaders to claim back their power and position to influence developments and trends in society.

Everyone is aware that you cannot reverse the legacy of almost 350 years of colonialism in 23 years. Also, the resolutions that the ANC has passed over the past 20 years cannot be achieved overnight. Change takes time. 

But we have to ask ourselves: What have we achieved in the almost three centuries of the Christian religion being introduced to Africans?

When we look at our society and the ANC today, we see that the church has its work cut out for it in these times of crisis and uncertainty.

Also, we must admit that reversing the almost 350 years of colonialism requires a revolutionary Christian mindset and attitude. To be Christian is to be radical, fearless and honest, irrespective of the consequences. 

The turning of the spotlight on the church and the role of Christians in the ANC, especially, could not be more apt. It comes at a time when the country will be celebrating 23 years of freedom and should use this milestone to take stock of how far we’ve come.

There is no doubt that this is the right time for us not only to reignite the Moral Regeneration Programme, but to begin to provide answers to what is being done to move us closer to the dream of an inclusive church.

Where do we go from here?

We have to constantly remind ourselves that we have come a long way as a country. 

Sometimes we need to praise the progress we have made without taking our eyes off the prize. Our main task is to build a just, equal and, above all, caring society.

The success and failure of the dreams and agenda of the founding fathers of both the church and ANC will be determined by the people who consider themselves soldiers of Christ.

Perhaps Dube’s declaration – “I am in the congress precisely because I am a Christian” – should be on everyone’s lips as the ANC moves closer to its elective conference in December in an attempt to save itself from itself. 

There are a few things we need to keep in mind. Firstly, there may be an urgent need to not only engage, but identify, Christians in the ANC. 

They have to play a leading role in reclaiming and restoring its soul. They must be seen to be doing something. 

Secondly, citizens must continue to hold critical conversations at all levels of society. The launch of the active citizens’ movement is a positive and welcome development. Our society is renowned for resolving its challenges through prayer and dialogue. There will be no social cohesion or transformation without the participation of the people. 

Thirdly, we need to expand and heighten awareness about the role of the church in delivering democracy and freedom to this society. People must be taught to choose truth and not just think about their stomachs. 

Fourthly, we must begin to prepare to use the elective conference as a yardstick to measure our own goals and contribution as individuals, communities and an organisation.

We have to be agents of the change we want to see. Participation in the ANC cannot be confined to card-carrying membership. The organisation remains a people’s movement. 

Finally, we must do our best to live according to the ideals, values and principles espoused by Jesus Christ.

Almighty God will judge people not by what they said, but what they did when South Africa was crying out for leadership.

• Memela is an author, cultural critic and public servant. He writes in his personal capacity. 

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


Share this article: