Winter School – Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University

Concluding Remarks

Dr. Sipho Mahokoto – 7 June 2018

Ladies and gentlemen

Good afternoon, goeie middag, sanibonani, molweni

I must say this 2018 Winter School is in a sense unique in terms of its organisation and content. Thanks to all the presenters and all the participants at this Winter School. Once again, you reminded us that we have done very little to make South Africa a reconciled and united country where justice prevails. We as the Church confess once again that we have failed in our Ministry of Reconciliation and Justice to bring not only the church to unity, but the whole country to a state of National Unity.

The theme: “JUSTICE, RECONCILIATION and UNITY is not an easy one to deal with. These devotions in the every morning prepared us to centre our deliberations in “Christ as our light” especially at this moment of darkness and despair. We were reminded from the beginning by Rev. Stephen Pedro that “We must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” This morning once again we listened to a sad story of Stephen’s journey of exclusion, and I kept asking myself, how can we heal these memories? How can we heal this pain that the people continuously suffer?

Well, the setting of this winter school is exactly for us to relate, retell, and share the pain with others. This is what we have done in the past few days. As we listened and deliberated, what are we planning to do from now? As I sat in few sessions, I have heard brokenness, sadness, division, white blacks, black pain, white privilege, exploitation, liberation theology, lack of reconciliation, lack of trust, social justice, Ubuntu – is love, restitution, human dignity, true community through Christ, partnership, education, destruction of environment, respect the land it belongs to God, dialogue, dark spaces, storytelling and safe spaces. I have heard very little about justice towards women and children who are constantly abused in South Africa. These things happen right in our faces, at our door steps.

More than anything else, these deliberations once again revealed that South Africa and the church in general is still deeply divided, and the church is doing very little to address these concerns. As we conclude this winter school, I do understand that some of you feel very encouraged, energised to listen to more stories and confessions, but my question is, what are we going to do in our own communities? What are we going to share with our congregants? There are some who feel sad, discouraged, and demotivated by what they heard in these few days.

Well, somehow, given the theme of this Winter School on “Justice, Reconciliation and Unity: Rediscovering the power of the Gospel. How can we feel encouraged if our own denominations are the pretext for division, injustice, and lack of reconciliation, and that we as church leaders play a major role in keeping the status quo? As churches and as South Africans we need to dialogue, we need safe spaces to talk, we need courageous conversations with regard to social justice issues. The church need to lead by example in South Africa, especially in the face of injustice, lack of reconciliation, moral decay and anger that we are experiencing now. We cannot refer to justice issues as too sensitive issues and therefore we cannot talk about it. We prefer to be comfortable when we speak of the journey together, storytelling, but when are we dealing with the reality of justice?

In conclusion, the late Prof. Russel Botman writes during the TRC, “In calling issues of justice “emotional”, “sensitive”, and “delicate” these words became the “metaphorical locking devices” of apartheid theology and supporters apartheid.

He calls them metaphorical locking devices because they were used to close the debate rather than to open concrete issues to public discussion. Once an issue was pronounced “sensitive and emotional” we all knew it actually meant: let’s not talk about it any further, Botman says.

Botman further says, “Nobody was allowed to address the issues which lay behind the metaphorical locking devices. Pastors and ministers were effectively silenced, issues of justice in their own churches were effectively made invisible, and the decision-making bodies of their churches were made prophetically blind, deaf and mute.” Is this still not the case in our churches? If we speak against any form of injustice, then we fear for our lives, we remain mute because we want to secure our jobs, and we fear exclusions.

This winter school this year is helping us to unlock these metaphorical locking devices, to talk about justice issues that will lead us to reconciliation and true unity.

Given the brokenness of our families, churches, communities, government, the anger and the sliding to a state of moral decay of our country, we are guilty as church leaders for not standing in the gap. I heard people talking about speaking on behalf of the voiceless. I must admit that, for me that sounded very strange, people have a voice, they are heard, but they are deliberately silenced and ignored, hence we witness this anger, protests, cash in transits and many more.

The challenge that we are currently facing is a disconnection between values and reality. It doesn’t help that we acknowledge values and we live differently from them. It doesn’t help that we acknowledge the values enshrined within the Belhar Confession, while in reality we still live in disunity with each other. In reality we currently speak about us versus them.

I believe that this Winter School, especially with its theme, has brought all of us to a theatre for undergoing surgery, given the existing pain we are experiencing of disunity, lack of reconciliation and injustices. The only instrument in the theatre for this kind of surgery is to use the sharp blades and scissors. Although these instruments leave us in severe pain and scars after surgery, their main aim is to heal the existing pain we are experiencing. The Word of God, the Bible that we use, although it opens up our wounds to discover how wounded we are, but it also helps us to heal. For it is only through doing what is right and just that reconciliation and unity can be actualised.

We needed to engage each other to come out of our comfort zones for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of Christ who sends us as His church – not the “Thuma Mina” “Send Me” campaign of President Cyril Ramaphosa. The Lord has sent us as His Church to the world.

May the Lord continue to bless all of us in our ministries and conversations with each other, so that we may all enjoy what Jesus meant when He said: “A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance” (John 10:10).