Thursday, March 12, 2009

Launch of Electoral Code of Conduct Observer Mission

"Play the ball and not the man!" Using this football analogy Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town urged political leaders on Wednesday to uphold a high level of moral and ethical behaviour during the run-up to the elections, and to engage with one another on politics and not personalities.

Speaking at a briefing to political party leaders at Bishopscourt, in the presence of the Premier, Archbishop Makgoba introduced members of the Electoral Code of Conduct Observer Commission (ECCOC) and its coordinator, Mr Tommy Lewin. This body, composed of representatives from the religious, legal, NGO media and youth sectors has been formed under the Electoral Act to monitor the behaviour of political parties in accordance with the Electoral Code of Conduct.

"We will, like football referees, try to ensure a free and fair game,"said the Archbishop, ‘where each side can play to the very best of its abilities. And when someone plays the player, instead of playing the ball, the referee will blow his whistle!"

The Archbishop described ECCOC’s concerns about the nature of political debate. "We are distressed when we hear personal attacks and negative caricatures and when sweeping and vicious condemnations are made of political opponents," he said.

Quoting his predecessor Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, he said "If you want to win a debate, don’t raise your voice, raise the quality of your argument!"

Political leaders were also introduced to the leaders of the Electoral Monitoring Network (EMN). This is a civil society national initiative aimed at diffusing potential violence surrounding the elections.

EMN’s national Coordinator Mr Derrick Marco said: "EMN will train and deploy peace monitors in at least five provinces in order to resolve conflict where politically motivated violence occurs or is threatened." EMN will also help gather information and intelligence for the IEC, ECCOC and the security services.

Leaders from all parties present responded enthusiastically, they pledged themselves to adhere to the Code of Conduct and to respect the moral authority of the Commission.

Friday, March 6, 2009

To the People of God - To the Laos - March 2009

Dear People of God

In my last letter, I promised to share reflections on the February meeting of the Anglican Primates (the leaders of our 38 churches around the world).

It was remarkable coming together in Alexandria, a cradle of African Christianity enjoying a tremendously rich Christian heritage though today it lies in a Muslim country. While there we participated in the dedication of St Mark's, the Anglican Pro-Cathedral. In his sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded us of the need to see Christ in one another, recognising that Christ alone is the foundation of our building and our work, the one who prays in and through us.

By the grace of God, and encouraged by this message, we found we were able to be very frank together about our continuing disagreements over human sexuality, and about the way we handle those disagreements. We prayed, worshipped God, and studied Scripture together, seeking to be faithful to the call of God in Christ, and to discern the Holy Spirit's leading. We felt that at heart we shared a common concern for the Anglican Communion and a strong desire to see it flourish and remain united. I offered our experiences of holding on to one another in continuing fellowship through all the pains of Southern Africa's past, as an example of hope and encouragement in our current traumatic divisions.

(The Synod of Bishops reaffirmed this message later in February. I hope you have seen the Pastoral Letter which we issued to record our meeting. If not, it is online at www.anglicanchurchsa.org. Please pray for Dean David Bannerman as he prepares to be consecrated Bishop of the Highveld.)

At the Primates meeting, we found a fresh spirit of open, respectful dialogue, engaging at a new and deeper level, and we unanimously agreed that our Communiqué should be entitled 'Deeper Communion: Gracious Restraint'. We approved various measures for going forward, including professionally mediated conversations to try to heal our most painful divisions. We also affirmed the continuing development of an Anglican Covenant through which we can better express our mutual commitment to the 'bonds of affection' between us. To sum up - our differences remain, and are serious, but we are determined to tackle them together as far as we can.

We also discussed many other issues that concern the life of Anglicans within our world, among them the situations in Sudan and Gaza, coordination of Anglican relief and development bodies, and the importance of good theological education that helps us live faithfully to the gospel in our many different cultures and circumstances. But at the top of the agenda was Zimbabwe. We issued a strong statement in support of the people and churches there, and urged President Robert Mugabe to respect the outcome of the elections of 2008 and to step down. We called for the implementation of the rule of law and the restoration of democratic processes. We decided a special Representative should travel to Zimbabwe to exercise a ministry of presence and show solidarity. We also proposed various ways of engaging politically with SADC and the African Union.

The world-wide Anglican Communion joined our Province in observing Ash Wednesday as a special day of prayer for Zimbabwe. Thank you for sharing in this. The Archbishop of Canterbury has also launched a worldwide appeal to facilitate aid for Zimbabwe. As I said in Alexandria at the time, 'If we don't intervene we will be failing God in terms of "when I was hungry you fed me and when I was poor you cared for my needs".' (See Mt 25:31-46.)

These verses from Matthew's gospel were also in my heart when I visited the scenes of fatal flooding in Soweto, and met some of those whose lives had been turned upside down. Flooding has also caused deaths in KwaZulu Natal - and who knows what other disasters may occur before this reaches you. As I said in my messages of support to the Bishops of the affected areas, those who can give practical assistance must do so in response to Jesus' command; and all of us must pray. We must also take responsibility - as democracy invites us to do - to hold our governments to account in pursuing policies that are environmentally sensitive, and which do not exacerbate the effects of bad weather (for example, through the draining of wetlands, or allowing inadequate urban development); as well as on wider issues of preventing global warming. God gives us the gift of free will in choosing how we treat our world. We must do so wisely, and hold it in trust for the generations that will come after us.

Here in South Africa, we pray for 'gracious restraint' as we approach April's General Election. Across the country, encouraged by civil society groups in which the churches play a leading role, political parties are signing codes of conduct: a promise of respectful behaviour towards one another, in word and action. I hope that Anglicans in South Africa will do what you can to help promote political tolerance and a better understanding of democracy. And may the whole Province join in praying that these elections will be free, fair and peaceful; and that we will elect true and honest individuals, who will dedicate their lives in the service of everyone who lives in this land. We pray also for Mozambique, which is preparing for elections later this year.

'Deeper Communion: Gracious Restraint' would also be a good slogan for our Lent and Easter observances! Through 'restraint' - stepping back from distractions and complications into a simpler way of being - we can make more space for God in our lives. Penitence and fasting (from anything from food to television!) can help us recognise with greater honesty, and with greater discontentment, how bad it is for us to live without God. For then we have a greater appreciation of, and desire for, how good it is to live with God! And in this way we can be drawn into deeper Communion with him. So may I encourage you to 'press on' towards Easter, 'with eager faith and love'. I pray that you may all be caught up more fully into God's love for us, shown in Christ's self-giving on the cross for the sin of the world, as we look forward to celebrating the joy of his resurrection and triumph over evil and death.

Yours in the service of Christ,

+Thabo Cape Town

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Statement on the storms and flooding in Soweto and in KwaZulu Natal

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has visited scenes of flooding and death in Soweto, and sent messages of support to areas of KwaZulu Natal where storms have also caused fatalities and destruction. The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, who grew up near the Jukskei River in Alexandra, was shocked at the scale of the damage, and assured those he met of his prayers, and of the support of the Anglican Church, including financial support through its relief and social development organisation, Hope Africa.

The Archbishop spoke of the need for greater sensitivity to the environment, at every level from national government to local community planning, pointing out that many factors from the disappearance of wetlands to the concentrations of urban developments can contribute to greatly increased risks of flooding, even from normal volumes of rainfall. He added that human responsibility – a God-given gift, which we must choose to use wisely – was relevant here too, and not only in the wider problem of global warming and climate change.

In messages to the Bishop of Johannesburg, Brian Germond, and the Bishop of Natal, Rubin Philip, Archbishop Makgoba said: 'On behalf of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, I offer our condolences to those who have lost loved ones. They, and all who have been injured, and who have lost homes and livelihoods through these storms and flooding, are in our hearts, and in our prayers. In the days ahead, may they find comfort and strength in the promise of Jesus that he is with us always, and that nothing, not in life nor in death, can separate us from the love of God.’

The Archbishop added, 'I encourage our churches and parishioners to offer what help they can – remembering the words of Jesus, that we shall all be called to give account of whether we have fed the hungry and cared for the needy.’

He also called on governments and local authorities concerned to take the necessary steps in providing both immediate help and longer term resources for reconstruction, while bearing in mind issues of environmental sensitivity and sustainability. He went on to say ‘The whole world must urgently recognise that this is God’s creation. We have no other. It is for all of us to treat it with respect, and hold it in trust for the generations that come after us.’