ICT testimony to the TRC – Nov 1997

Presentation by Rev Wesley Mabuza (ICT) to the TRC

17 November 1997

I thank you Chairperson for inviting the Institute for Contextual Theology (ICT) to address this gathering. Firstly, the ICT feels privileged to congratulate the TRC in its achievements in the last two years. A number of acts against humanity have been uncovered within a short space of time. A normal course of justice would have been evaded by the perpetrators of the atrocities. Credit is also due in large part to the TRC method of investigation for all that has been uncovered. Families are now beginning to start a new life with the knowledge that those who killed their loved ones have at last admitted it and in most cases showed where they had buried them, painful as this discovery will always be.

Today marks the beginning of a very important chapter in the truth and reconciliation process, when religious bodies which possess the power to influence the hearts and minds of the majority are called upon to account on how they have used or abused that privilege. Religious bodies, Chairperson, hold considerable sway in society, but they themselves are susceptible to all kinds of influences which at times lead them to commit abuses intentionally or unintentionally. This moment, Chairperson, is also significant because for the first time in the history of our country, religious communities are called upon to give accounts of their understanding of their mission in the context of apartheid and how they hope to do mission in the future. Standing behind blanket statements made by the SACC on behalf the churches during apartheid has not helped us to understand the theological positions of some churches which we saw in practice contradicting the mission of the SACC (I think this has already been mentioned). Incidentally, it was this factor, among others, that led to the formation of ICT, and this leads me to the next point: What is the Institute for Contextual Theology? The struggle in this country was for justice that would lead to liberation, restoration and reconciliation. The church, however, did not have an appropriate theology to underwrite that struggle. As a response to this reticence or inability to act appropriately, ICT came into being in 1981. ICT fashioned itself according to the prophetic tradition and unapologetically advocated the theology of liberation, determined by the dynamics of the Southern African context. ICT counts itself among those working towards the establishment of God’s reign on earth. The first general secretary of ICT was the Reverend Dr. Elliat Ngema, who was then followed by the Reverend Dr. Frank Chikane, who is now in the Deputy President’s office. Dr Chikane was succeeded by the Reverend Dr. Mangaliso Mkhatshwa, who is now Deputy Minister of Education. ICT wishes to pay tribute to these leaders, who made highly significant contributions to Contextual Theology and to the liberation of this country.

CHAIRPERSON: Where are you going?

REV. WESLEY MABUZA: To fetch some water, Sir. [PAUSE].

Thank you Chairperson, I was beginning to be too serious, actually. As the present General Secretary of ICT, I feel very humble before my predecessors. Whatever I do, albeit in different circumstances, is in continuity with the trend set by my predecessors. ICT operates outside the status quo of both church and state, although the ultimate aim is to serve the State which is wider than the governing group of people and the church which is much more profound than the institutional church. ICT nevertheless is proud to be an affiliate of the SACC. Liberation theologists’ biblical imperative is to be found in Isaiah Chapter 61, verse 1 – 4, and is quoted in Luke Chapter 4, verse 18-19, particularly the words: “To set at liberty those who are oppressed. For this reason a group of Theologians met together at that critical time of South Africa’s history, and using the process of wide and in-depth consultation, eventually came up with what came to be known as the Kairos Document, issued as a challenge to the churches. In its short lifetime, the institute has suffered much at the hands of the previous government and from rejection by most churches who have misunderstood is vision and mission. Both government and the churches singled out liberation theology as the devil’s theology and thus accused ICT of serving the interest of… have a lot in common between communism, barring atheism and Christianity than the church would care to admit. History nevertheless did vindicate the ICT. Some valuable contributions were made by ICT in spite of all these hostilities. For example training of solid leadership during the lean years of apartheid when there was no overt political leadership; change to the theological paradigm in South Africa; publication of the Kairos Document in 1985, which accelerated the process, promoting a world-wide theological reflection network. For example, the Road to Damascus was a production of that nature, producing parliamentary candidates and church leaders who had close associations with ICT, providing a forum of sharing of experiences and knowledge amongst concerned pastors, theologians and Christians in general. Throughout its existence, ICT has received overseas funding from organisations and church individuals who aligned themselves with the ideals of the institute. A small but significant contribution also comes from its membership, which is world-wide. It is these contributions which have enabled ICT to maintain its independent status. I now come to the essence of ICT as a prophetic movement. ICT operates outside church and government structures in order that it could provide an ongoing independent critique. For this reason, some people now label ICT as the institute of critical theologians, while others label it as the organisation of spoilers. Both labels have become unpopular these days, whereas in the not so distant past, people gained popularity by being critical or by being regarded as spoilers of the system. But had it not been for those critical theologians or spoilers, little progress would have been made. Today the gradual disappearance of those kinds of prophets of old is leaving a vacuum that is difficult to fill. In its critique of the church, ICT stated that some churches in South Africa were engaging in state theology, which meant that churches supported the apartheid regime, based on Romans 13, while conveniently ignoring Revelations 13. May I, with your permission, just debate briefly and coach what you just said, Chairperson, about the fact that it becomes a hidden thing, when you talk about state theology. It is a very closed door, behind closed doors, that happens which is not overtly seen usually as state theology. And other churches resorted to church theology. A very superficial critique of apartheid lacking in in-depth analysis of the prevailing context, whilst stressing the need for reconciliation and peace, at the expense of justice. ICT wanted reconciliation at the time but not at the expense of the poor. The prophetic movement was intended to be in continuity with these persecuted prophets of the past. Those who never took anything for granted. Instead, they raised questions about the policies of both secular and religious leaders that must have kept the nation lively and awake as a prophetic movement does today. But questions are not raised for their own sake. Their aim is to ensure a healthy public policy and just governance for all. Chairperson, ICT is proud to say that throughout its existence in South Africa, it has done just that. For that, it incurred the wrath of the previous government, or was temporarily disowned by the church and regarded as a stepchild because it made both religious and secular leaders uncomfortable. With the knowledge that the resources of this county are enough to feed its people, it equitably distributed, and that this was not the case as the apartheid government preserved them for a few, we aligned ourselves as ICT publicly with the poor and oppressed. We then challenged and approached on theological grounds anything that threatened the well being of the poor and oppressed, while we looked for a way out of our suffering. It is in this light that we published and campaigned against the status quo. Also with the knowledge that apartheid since it was officially endorsed by the then Orange Free State Synod of the DRC in 1935 and was implemented in full swing by Dr Verwoerd in 1958, and that the non-DRC churches had not done much to oppose it, we adopted the critical stands towards these churches.

At the time, we thought that the problem was the wrong abstract theology, which they inherited from Europe, but now we realise that that theology was used as a scape-goat in a situation where the reality was that the churches, especially white members of these churches, had benefited a lot from apartheid. Regrettably, one feels in hindsight, that when we talk of the problem of the churches during apartheid, we are essentially talking about those who controlled them, our white fellow Christians. We would like the commission to note that this aspect has a lot of implications for restitution and reconstruction. If Christians had raised their voice from the beginning and rejected all privileges, things would have been different. Why ICT’s reluctance to support the TRC? Chairperson, I now come to the most delicate part of this presentation. When ICT first received the invitation to participate in this hearing, we wrote back to Dr Piet Meiring, stating ICT’s reluctance to participate in the TRC process. This was not intended as a publicity stunt, nor did it arise out of ignorance of what goes on, nor was it motivated by attempts to encourage anarchy, nor a feeling of self-righteousness. ICT’s reluctance to lend unqualified support to the TRC process stems from a deeper analysis and scepticism. Let me elaborate briefly:

1. The question of perpetrator and victim. We found the summons of both activists and upholders of the system to account for their actions confusing. To us this meant equating the perpetrator and the victim as if they are equally culpable. Although we did not expect the TRC to pass judgement, we at least expected it to distinguish between those who should give accounts of their deeds and those who should feel free to comment on the situation. This, of course, did not only apply to the ICT and the religious communities, but to our former liberation movements as well. We felt that such an approach was trivialising the process. It has become clear, Chairperson, during some searching’s of the TRC, that for some perpetrators, the TRC is a non-event, and therefore of no consequence. ICT’s problem was the message this would convey would be conveying concerning the prophetic movement. We changed our mind out of respect for the constitution upon which we all agree, and the very person sitting on this panel.

2. A concern about the society beyond the TRC process. While a lot of hidden activities have been uncovered by the TRC investigating units, ICT is concerned that virtually all perpetrators of such gross violations are getting off with impunity. To the extent that we are not calling for executions or life imprisonment. We cannot be accused of expecting Nuremberg type of trials. Lack of a mechanism that makes the perpetrators take responsibility for their actions is causing some resentment to say the least. ICT’s concern, Chairperson, is about what happens beyond the TRC process. Are we all going to look back in the next five years with sadness at the waste of money, human resources and valuable time? If so, we wondered whether all these resources could not have been channelled to other uses which could better build communities which had suffered for so long from degradation and deprivation. It is clear that people on the ground do not understand what the National Reconciliation Act is all about, since racism and exploitation still abound. The bitterness caused by our gory past has not yet subsided. All this cannot be ignored if our future is to be built on a sound foundation. To date, Chairperson and members of the commission, we still have not found an answer to our question. Our AGM this year, however, has mandated ICT’s steering committee to set up a task force, whose task would be to work out guidelines for a society beyond the TRC process.

3. TRC for the churches. We had also thought that churches needed their own TRC, instead of being called to account at this process. Our problem is that the present process arose out of a political settlement. As such, it is limited by the terms of agreement in what it can do. Even the interpretation of the terms so familiar to Christian theology, for example reconciliation, justice, truth, reflect these limitations. Christians know very well what the meaning of reconciliation is and what its implications are. They also know the biblical understanding of justices and what their implications are. The present process has not mentioned terms such as restitution or penance or God’s role, which relates to the terms it uses. It would not be proper for us, however, to expect this of the present process. Rather, we though that Christians would talk amount themselves and work out what they could do. The same could be expected of other religious communities.

4. Lack of economic dimension: We also felt that the present process was silent about the economic dimension of reconciliation. We understand that there are other processes taking place, as well as structures that deal with other issues, but when we talk of national reconciliation, we expect a body with the stature of the TRC to go beyond listening to killings and torture, to include the category of those who benefited directly or indirectly economically. Chairperson, we are thinking here of both black and white South Africans. We did not know at the time that the category of business people would be added. Our focus was not only on business people, but on everyone who had been enriched by apartheid while others were dying in the bush and the townships, and police offices. We felt that these were the people who should be compelled to plough back their wealth towards reconstruction and reparation. In this regard, Chairperson, we align ourselves with the recent view expressed by the Stellenbosch academic, who made a submission to this commission that those who possess more than R2 million in cash and assets should be taxed for reconstruction. But we wish to go further and reduce the R2 million to every R1 million, to increase the slice of the cake. We also want to make a call to others who benefited in the same way to make an extra contribution. These are the people who should be raising the R3 billion needed for reparation. Chairperson, we do not think that this is unrealistic. A number of people are still homeless, poor and crammed in townships which were originally intended to be transit camps to fulfil the white by night dream, promised to its voters by the apartheid rulers of the past. There is no hope that these open jails could ever be dismantled for the next half a century. This is not what the struggle was about. It would be different if we were all starting from scratch. For the majority, unfortunately, things remain as they were. To conclude, Chairperson, at the fifth point.

5. Lack of clarity about categories: Finally the criteria for creating categories was not clear. Who should really be called to the TRC? Is it the foot soldier or the commander? We thought that all those impositions of responsibility needed to do the accounting. If ministers or leaders of religious communities were asked to make an appearance, why were teachers or university lecturers not asked to make an appearance? There are many ways of killing a nation. One of the most cruel ways of doing this is by attacking the nation’s psyche and by so doing, destroy its mind. Putting it to sleep, driving it to drunkenness and violence. Destroying children of future leaders and future builders of the economy of that particular nation. Chairperson, we want to submit that the architects of most of this were academics in the employ of the apartheid system. Certain universities are known to have been factories of all the commodities apartheid needed in order for it to succeed. Besides those who studied at the so-called bush colleges, know what it means to be taught by academics who were actually soldiers or reserve soldiers. These people, chairperson, were not under any duress. They were willingly upholding the geology of apartheid. Yet these have been forgotten or not forced to account to this commission.

Having clarified the points of our reservations, the present process however, is a reality and we cannot wish it away. Therefore, a way forward, very briefly, is a need to devise a mechanism of reconciliation beyond the TRC process, to work out a way of restitution that will not tax the tax payer further, to call on the religious community to have their own TRC, to work towards the establishment of a national bank by the churches. We believe, as ICT, that our submission will receive the attention it deserves, so that while we work towards reconciliation, the essential channels of justice will not be ignored. Thank you chairperson and members of the commission.


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