Monday 21 November 2011

Visit to Diocese of Natal - Interview in The Witness

The following interview appeared in The Witness on 21 November 2011, and can also be found at

THABO Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA), has challenged the government on issues of service delivery and corruption, and is a “proud” member of the Press Freedom Commission. In the province recently, he spoke to The Witness about a range of hot topics in the church and society. It was clear that Makgoba (51) is cast from the same mould as some of his illustrious predecessors like “the scourge of apartheid”, Joost de Blank and Geoffrey Clayton (who refused to obey the Native Laws Amendment Act), and Desmond Tutu.

Julius Malema

“I agree with Julius Malema when he raises questions about the need for economic emancipation. I agree with him when he raises questions about the number of unemployed youth who voted the ANC into power but whose votes have manifestly not translated into creating jobs, better education, or access to health care. I agree with him, but I don’t agree with him on how he thinks this should be achieved. I disagree with the suggestion of nationalisation without putting the specifics on the table. Will nationalisation increase access to health care, improve the national education standards, address the housing backlog and sanitation and improve the living standards of unemployed youth? Without specifics, I cannot agree with him.”

The Church and politics

“The understanding persists that the church should not be involved in politics. I have a different understanding of religion and what God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit calls us to do and be. We cannot privatise faith — there is a eucharistic imperative that sends us into the world to love and serve. This entails asking why some people are more privileged than others, why some have too much food while others go hungry? And asking why and which structures and systems support that? Poverty and hunger are not because some people are more blessed or work harder than others. There are lazy rich people and poor people.

“As soon as you ask questions people call it ‘politics’. But in the Bible Jesus Christ learnt and cited the Torah and studied with the synagogue leaders — that is education. We need to raise these things, we cannot leave them to the party political heads.”

Apartheid reparations

“This is one of the things that Julius Malema is articulating, but in a clumsy way. The TRC, Desmond Tutu and other commissioners (who were mostly people of faith), could have done better in terms of reparations. They produced a document but then left it to politicians to put into action, which either did not happen or happened too slowly. Now it is coming back to bite us. The TRC did not address the economic and apartheid structures and systems that sustain and maintain poverty and economic inequality, so now we need to find a vehicle to do that.

“Desmond Tutu’s idea of a wealth tax is a way of recognising that politicians have not done what should have been done.

“The church could have done far better in addressing this issue, seeing that it was the church — specifically, the Dutch Reformed Church — that gave the moral, spiritual and theological basis to apartheid.”

The Press Freedom Commission and corruption

“I am proud to be part of the Press Freedom Commission under the chairmanship of Justice Pius Langa, to review best practice and regulation within the print media. An effective free press, and the ability of all to speak truth to power, is indispensable to successful constitutional democracy. The Secrecy Bill and Media Tribunal have the potential to undermine press freedom. If the citizenry does not engage with these they could undermine the core of our democratic ability to make constitutional values a reality.

“[The commission] will contribute to making this country’s democracy work, encouraging people to speak out and makes those we have elected serve the citizens and transform corruption. There is too much corruption and we want to make South Africans intolerant of it.

“To a large extent we are still a moral and Christian country. We must use that, not to proselytise, but to make this country shine.”

Transformation in the church

“We have talked the talk but not walked the walk in this area. The legacy of apartheid needs to be transformed, for example, priests live in houses of very different standards. Even Bishopscourt in Cape Town where the archbishop lives is a legacy of colonial times that predates apartheid. What was — and what is — the relationship between the church and the structures of power? How does it benefit some and not others? Those are the kinds of questions we need to ask if we are to be transformed.

“It can also mean changing those areas of church life that were socially engineered by apartheid, like barring people from worshipping across colour lines. It means looking at the Biblical apartheid of having only men as bishops. The Anglican Church in southern Africa has been going since about 1860 but we have only been ordaining women for about 20 years. There are 30 bishops in this province and not one is a woman. We need to start to walk our talk.”


“The issue of transformation in the church touches on this issue too. There are those who feel called by God to be in a same-sex union, and those who believe it is against the Bible and God’s principles to be in that state. We need to allow God through the Holy Spirit to continue working in us and we need to keep talking until God prevails, and not us. There are no easy solutions. We must remember that it took many years before the book of Revelations was included in the canon of scripture. Look at the Nicene Creed (325): people argued and talked and died for many years before that was settled.

“I have always held that homosexuality should not be a church-dividing issue, but we need to take seriously people who take an either-or position. We need to wrestle together to understand scripture and our vocation to the world.”

Climate change and the environment

“These are also issues of social and economic justice and human rights, and we need to raise them. If you look at the mine dumps in Gauteng and the West Rand, you see a pattern that mirrors racial and political divides in geography. If you look at economic development you see big business and politicians in cahoots to get their hands on opportunities to benefit only themselves, like oil rights and access to energy. You see the developed world as the worst producers of carbon emissions at the expense of the developing world.

“There is a lot of greenwashing going on ahead of Cop17 in Durban. The government preaches the right message but does not practise it. We are far behind in developing renewable energy sources. Eskom pays huge subsidies to big industry at the expense of the poor, which is scandalous, and the government is planning another coal-burning power station.

“I hope Cop17 will be a chance to highlight these issues and I encourage everyone to make their voice heard. Sign the pledge to care for the environment in the We have Faith — act now for climate justice campaign and attend the interfaith rally at the start of the conference on November 27.”

Who is Thabo Makgoba?

CONSECRATED in 2008 at the age of 48, Makgoba was the youngest archbishop to head ACSA. He grew up in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, and went to school at Orlando High, Soweto, during the politically turbulent eighties. He is a qualified psychologist, holds a PhD in spirituality from the University of Cape Town and is a committed father to Nyakallo (17) and Paballo (12) and husband to Lungi, a former development consultant.

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