Monday 3 June 2024

An Archbishop's Reflections from Six Eastern Cape Dioceses

I've been in and out of the Eastern Cape in recent weeks – soon after returning from the meeting of the world's Anglican Primates in Rome, then the SACC's National Day of Prayer for the elections, held in Johannesburg, I was in Gqeberha at the Nelson Mandela University for a public lecture we sponsor, then in Makhanda for the celebrations of DSG's 150th anniversary.

After returning to Cape Town for office commitments – and another lecture at the University of the Western Cape – it was back to my old stomping ground in Komani (which used to be Queenstown, and where I was based as suffragan in the Diocese of Grahamstown) for the election of a new Bishop of Khahlamba. In one of a series of successful elections in dioceses recently, the assembly elected the Very Revd Siyabonga Sibeko as their next bishop, in the sixth ballot on the first day.

Back to Cape Town, then last Friday it was off to the Dioceses of Mzimvubu, Mthatha and Mbhashe for the weekend, and today I return home after briefly calling on Canon Ntshingwa, who is not well at all, in the Diocese of Grahamstown.

I have enjoyed the countryside, where we've travelled on both good and bad roads, passing through both decaying and thriving rural communities and towns.

In Kokstad on Saturday, the bishops consecrated the new Bishop of Mzimvubu, the Right Revd Phumzile Cetywayo, in the incomplete cathedral structure. The original “eco-cathedral” was burned down but there is still a bare altar and evidence of the fire. It was cold, and the tent-covered structure within the cathedral was far less glamorous than our vestments and altar elements! But the service and the music was godly and brought all of us “nearer” to God. The meal afterwards was particularly special, although of as a pescatarian, I could eat only the veggies and samp.

At 14:30 we took the N2 and detoured to Tabankulu, a town I have been yearning to visit. When in the 1990s I was counselling mine workers suffering from crushed spines in rockfalls, many were from Mozambique and Lesotho but a lot of the injured came from here, giving me a deep spiritual need to see the area. We drove towards its mountainous background until we reached the town and stopped at the local Anglican Church.

We then had the option of returning to the N2, or going via Flagstaff, another special place where my mother-in-law was born. But on the advice of the lady petrol attendant, we went back to the N2. As we arrived in Mthatha, it was drizzling. We slept there and the rain poured gently through the night.

On Sunday, the final results of the country's national and provincial elections were coming through, with the country again becoming abuzz with noise and energy. Our governing party for the last 30 years has the most votes, but not enough to give them a majority in the national parliament. The same day, Orlando Pirates, my favourite soccer team, won 2-1 over Sundowns to clinch the Nedbank Cup! But nobody won these elections with that kind of margin. Three colleagues and friends wrote to remind me that a while ago I called for a government of national unity. With no party having a majority, something like that seems necessary. What might it look like?

In Mthatha, I presided over a Canon 14:4 consultation with various diocesan officials, an open and democratic process before we extend, or not, the tenure of their incumbent bishop. It is not an election but it involves listening, engagement and looking at the needs of a diocese and its people. At 14:00, St Bede’s Hall at the Diocesan Centre was packed. It turned out to be a great worship occasion and after the consultations I retired to my room and enjoyed the gentle rain outside. I wondered whether there was anything from the consecration on Saturday, the Canon 14:4 process, and the handing over of toilet facilities to a school in Mbashe Diocese that was to come, that could inform political parties as they consult on the formation of a new government.

This morning, we were due in Mbhashe Diocese, at a school in Centane to donate toilet facilities. The donation is possible from a collaboration of the Makgoba Trust, the Sibanye-Stillwater mining company's foundation and the Diocese's of social responsibility outreach. This will conclude my three-week long journeys to the six dioceses in the Eastern Cape.

This afternoon, before I board the plane back to Cape Town, I will meet via Zoom the praesidium of the SACC (in my capacity as president of the council). I made my call for a government of national unity at a time when it looked as though President Ramaphosa might lose support over the scandal around money stored at his Phala Phala game farm. Now, what can we add as the ecumenical family to the discussion of how the country should be governed? Just a few weeks ago, on eNCA, I said former President Zuma must retire, but now his party is a key element in the political arena. I also asked whether Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's warning that the country might turn against the ANC would come true. Is this where we are?

We must pray that in the coming days, all will make their decisions on the basis of what will promote stability, peace, development, equality, security and the common good.

God bless.

††Thabo Cape Town