October 20, 2016
It is time we start thinking deeply about violence again. Then again, when has there been a time in South Africa that we should not have thought deeply about violence? That which we call South Africa was constituted through extreme violence. Ours is an immensely violent space. But at this moment we seem to have found an address for our call for non-violence. In a society as violent as ours, yet with a deep history of non-violent activism as well, calling for non-violence should not be considered strange. But why do we have such a struggle to do this consistently?
Two things are lying open, coming to my attention, through the great system of sharing which is the contemporary networked society, at about the same time (although being moments about a day apart). On the one hand reports that Shaeera Kalla wareports that Shaeera Kalla was shot in the back with rubber bullets 10 times. Yes, one more moment of the horror that was the past few weeks, but through the random fact that I learned of this moments after sending the Powerpoint for a brief presentation containing an iconic photo of her leading a march about a year ago, a presentation that I’ll have to give in a foreign space tomorrow morning, this horrific moment forces me to stop. On the other hand a call, drawing broadly on Martin Luther King, for students to maintain the moral high ground and wage a non-violent struggle.
I’ve always been drawn to non-violence resistance, and while I acknowledge that it continue to be a slow learning curve for someone formed by a deeply violent culture, and a church open in its support for violence, I continue to be convinced that this is indeed what I am committed to. Why? I guess I could make long and sophisticated arguments, and I don’t deny that they are needed, but the short version is probably that it is a remnant of my WWJD spirituality, and the conviction that indeed, non-violence and deep peace was indeed central to what Jesus was about, even when elaborated in more complex arguments, remain fundamental to my conviction.
But for all of this pious conviction, piety which hopefully overflow far beyond the walls of the sanctuary, I’m left tasking a bit of bile at much of the calls for peace amidst campus protests. The inconsistencies is becoming unbearable.
With all the horror we expressed after Marikana, few who mouth non-violence were campaigning active demilitarization of the police, and even of progressively reducing police carrying and using of weapons. We seem incapable of imagining a society which express absolute horror at every moment of police brutality, yet we have a rich repertoire of language to express our outrage at the kid who picks up a stone. We are convinced that students should not respond to violence with violence, yet lack the capacity to imaging a response to vandalism (I do not deny that there was instances of vandalism and intimidation, and I cannot condone this) which does not involve state-sanctioned violence.
We insist on non-violent strategies, yet we fail to consider our own role in this. Non-violent strategies rely on the ears, the conscience, the heart, of those of us who are touched by these actions. 15000-20000 students marching to the union building in an act of non-violent protest rely on the fact that government, business, civil society, academics, and churches will in this action take note of their concern and give the kind of weight needed to shift the priorities of society. How do we call for non-violent strategies without putting our bodies into positions which allow these actions to be successful? While we might differ on the details of policies every moral fiber in our bodies should acknowledge that it can never be justified that financial means determine access to or success in education. Yet every piece of research will tell you that financial means is directly correlated with access to and success in education, also higher education. We are faced with a deeply moral concern, a fight for the soul not only of universities, but of our society: education, a key foundation of a healthy modern society, has increasingly become a commodity. We talk about education as an investment, about increased salaries as a return on investment, yet when students become the conscience of us all, forcing our attention onto the deep inhumanness of our society, we fail to give the needed weight to insure that this concern is addressed. And then we express our disgust when a different strategy is used. We like quoting King, but we forget that “a riot is the language of the unheard”.
And then we haven’t started talking about the ongoing inconsistencies in how we respond to immediate moments of violent action verses the ongoing systemic violence. We claim it is about violence, but when economic exclusion result in directly shortening the lifespan of a vast portion of the world and the country we call for slow processes of development. When student activities risk destruction to property we call for the immediate response of security forces. My pointing this out should in no way condone the moments of setting light to property, of breaking a window, but how do we call on the moral conscience of students when our own moral conscience has become totally numb to the ongoing brutalities and overly aware of the moments on transgression? Such a distortion, obviously not disconnected from the function of the images that we see flowing through our facebook feed (it is difficult to take a photo of a board of directors buying land which results in an old women needing to walk even further to get access to clean water, taking a few years off her life), should, is nothing short of a crisis of discernment, and for those of us who are religious in general and Christian in particular, it is nothing short of a crisis of faith.
Yes, I acknowledge that I struggle to imagine a world without the monopoly on violence that we have given to the nation state. But how many rubber bullets will we justify through the argument that “some students were vandalizing property and intimidating fellow students”? How many bombs dropped from planes will be justify through the reminded that there was someone that strapped a bomb to their body. And in which world to be expect that our moral call for non-violence will be heard while we bracket the state from that call? If I heard Jesus correctly then indeed violence is not part of the agenda. Indeed, Jesus did think that the Kingdom will not come through the use of violence. Jesus also walked close to those who differed from him on this point. And Jesus, it would seem to be, was clear that it was the oppressive violence of occupying forces that was of deeper concern (Dominic Crossan’s The Greatest Prayer is simultaneously historically helpful and spiritually nourishing in this regard).
In this violent society there might be few things we need more than a commitment to non-violence. But in this distorted society there might be few things which disrupt the quest for non-violence and peace more than our inconsistent insistence on non-violence.
April 7, 2016
I wrote this during the week and initially decided not to publish. The response of church leaders yesterday gave me a place where I’m willing to position myself, allowing to more easily share my thoughts for a time like this.
Perhaps I’ve always been slightly skeptical of the things that “everyone beliefs”. Perhaps I just listened to some very good friends pointing out that the initial #Zumamustfall events were more about white people defending their rejection of black majority rule than about movements actually seeking the good of “we the people”. Perhaps I’m just inherently skeptical about party-politicians, or else overly optimistic about constitutional democratic processes. For whichever reason, I find myself in this awkward place where it seems like my entire facebook timeline, who usually cannot agree either on how the Bible should be read or whether capitalism is a good idea, is in agreement that Zuma Must Fall. So I’m driven to writing, perhaps answering the question of a friend on what I would have added to the 6 April declaration by civil society organization, perhaps just giving some substance to my awkward attempts at toning down the slightly extremist language I’ve seen flame up. So this is my attempt at explaining why I’m not overly optimistic about the fall of Zuma, even if I do suspect that this is an inevitable event.
Some disclaimers are in order. I have no party political affiliation. I’m an ordained minister of a church which clearly state that you cannot remain ordained while being in any kind of leadership position in a political party. Together with many others I tend to expand this regulation to imply that you cannot remain ordained while being a card carrying member of any political party. In short: as a ordained minister I consider it part of my duty never to uncritically support a political party. But I am a ferocious supporter of the vote, and think that people should vote and that their vote should be held close to sacred.
So why am I not getting caught up in #ZumaMustFall? I’m not going to even attempt to defend president Jacob Zuma. He’s made some inexcusable mistakes, even while not everything he did was a mistake. Personally I kind of assumed that he’ll be recalled for some reasons like “bad health” around the time of the election of the next ANC president. I’m not really in favour of recalling presidents. I think we risk creating the belief that we can always “fix it later” if we’ve made a democratic mistake. As a rule that shouldn’t happen. We should vote with the assumption that we’ll be stuck with the elected official for 5 years, and make sure we vote for people we’d want to do the job for 5 years. In South Africa the recall of a second president in a row would be particularly problematic. That said, perhaps we are in a particularly problematic situation, warranting exceptional action. But let’s remember, recalling, impeaching or retiring a president should be an extremely exceptional thing.
But since the Constitutional Court case I’ve really struggled to buy into the call for Zuma to retire, be recalled or be impeached. Perhaps it’s the huge grey-ness around what exactly the call is that’s partly to blame for my lack of enthusiasm. I mean, what do civil society want? Should Zuma announce that he is retiring due to health reasons (we’ll all know that it won’t be entirely true, although I think if he doesn’t have health problems given the recent stress he must experience then he would surely be an exceptional man)? Should the ANC get together and recall him? Should parliament vote that they have no confidence in him or should they impeach him? It seems like we really don’t care: as long as the chair of the presidents office isn’t being warmed by him, it looks like my facebook timeline would be happy.
Let’s intersect the argument by just noting that any call for the fall the fall of the president play into an ongoing party political discourse. Yes we know, certain political parties has for a long time been telling us that the real problem with South Africa is Jacob Zuma, or for those slightly less committed to democracy and more willing to question majority vote, the ANC. One problem with at least the official opposition is that they’ve been raising some serious concerns about whether they really want Zuma to fall. Let me explain it this way: each call for a “vote of no confidence” or “impeachment” by the official opposition insures that it cannot happen in the immediate future. Obviously the majority party in parliament won’t be voting in a favour of a resolution to get rid of their appointed president if brought forth by the opposition. But more than that, it forces a greatly divided majority party to close ranks and defend a deeply problematic president. But perhaps that is what the opposition really wants. It seems like it is entirely in the favour of the opposition if Jacob Zuma remain president, since they then have a perfect election platform. So excuse me for doubting whether the opposition is really trying to work for “we the people” even if that would make their election campaigns far more difficult. In short: I’m not quite convinced that parliament is divided between those who serve party political interests and those who serve the people. It seems like the lines are quite blurry, and that all parliamentarians are to some extend working for the good of their respective parties rather than for “we the people”. The latest impeachment debate is not necessarily an exception. Any civil society response will have to ask questions not only about this or that party, but about parliamentary processes which does not work for the good of people, but rather seek to score cheap party political points.
But obviously these are not the only reasons. My bigger concern is that the call for Zuma to fall seem to repeat the strange idea (strange for modern democracies) that the change of the individual at the “top” would somehow miraculously save a country. It’s either that if we just get the right guy at the top (whether Mmusi Maimane or Julius Malema) or if we can just get rid of the wrong guy at the top (in this case Jacob Zuma, with the default replacement being Cyril Ramaphosa) then somehow things will get right. But how can we belief this of a complex institution like a modern democracy?
Furthermore, this belief allow us to buy into a very easy civil society response. A clear call: “Zuma Must Fall!”, easily understandable (seen in the confusion around how exactly he must fall), easily visualized (ask the cartoonists) and something which seem attainable within the short term – let’s face it, getting civil society committed for the long haul is probably asking too much.
In the process we might risk not working for the really important things.
Focusing the problem on the fall of an individual assume that there really isn’t anything wrong with the presidency as such, with the checks and balances making sure that the presidency doesn’t overstep its function. It’s an argument that Jacob Zuma was really just an exceptionally bad guy, and that if we can get a better president, then all will be well. But perhaps we should ask whether we want a presidency with the power to tumble a country into so much trouble (I’ll get to the question on why we blame this on a single individual later)? Should we not rather mobilize civil society around some suggestions on how the presidency functions? How cabinet ministers are appointed?
But the focus on the fall of an individual has some other risks. Each Sunday Christians from a variety of traditions remind ourselves that the evil in this world, the injustice and oppression, is not only something “out there”, not only something found among a elect group of “purely evil people”, but something which we are all part of in some way or the other. We’ve all sinned, Christians confess. But our current public discourse seem to belief that the “innocent” are now calling for the fall of “prime evil” (even if individuals might not subscribe to this kind of theology – and a theology it is, even if secular). Apart from the excessive political metaphors (comparisons with PW Botha or Adolf Hitler or the likes) it also misses how we are tied into the injustice that lead to this point – and let’s just point out that those making the most noise are not necessarily the least tied to the maintenance of immense social problems in our country. It’s not simply that we’ve all participated in the “petty corruption” of South Africa, but that we’ve participated in building a culture of excessive greed – found in the lengths to which we go in order to acquire the symbols of wealth and power (the suburban home, expensive motor or overseas holidays, or the clothes burned in certain teenage rituals) to our tacit support of extreme inequality – the disingenuousness of calling out Zuma for the fact that South Africa is the most unequal country without explicitly asking questions about the processes through which the top 1%, 5% or 10% (gini-coeffient is usually calculated according to the top 10% if I’m not mistaken) attain and retain this wealth should leave us with immense discomfort.
But there is a flip side to the problem of a belief in our own innocence: we tend to create the perception of a part of a society which is ultimately “evil”. We’ve seen this over the past few days in the discourse associated not only with the president but with the ANC as a whole. When a well-known public figure describe the ANC (implying the entire movement) as a “spineless bunch of self-serving sycophants” then we should indeed react with some discomfort. Once we’re convinced that there is a single evil which should fall “at all costs” we risk allowing the inconceivable – such as soldiers questioning the presidency (look around you and see what happens when soldiers decide that perhaps it would be better if the president was removed!). While there has been moments in history where the language of excessive evil might have been appropriate, this is not it. This is a fairly well functioning democracy, and if we had any doubts about it, the past 5 months revealed this brilliantly, both in the reappointment of Pravin Gordhan as well as in the Constitutional Court judgement.
So beyond the question of the power of the presidency I would hope that civil society will start focusing on a number of other things.
We all love the Public Protector right now, and with good reason. But a new Public Protector will have to be appointed soon, and the brilliant ruling by the Constitutional Court through Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng made sure that the role of the Public Protector will be even more important in future. Civil Society should start mobilising to insure that the next Public Protector will have adequate funding and that whoever is appointed will be someone with integrity above reproach.
The presidency of Jacob Zuma has been shrouded by questions about the excessive power of the “security cluster”, harking back to some of the darkest days in the history of our country, as well as the undue influence of big capital. Marikana, Guptas, or the recent murder of Bazooka Rhadebe might all be examples of the intersection of these two forces. Civil society need to have some serious conversations about how we insure that our democracy is not run by either the powers of guns or capital.
We have to insist that the solution cannot simply be in the replacement of one president with another nor with one political party with another, but that we are committed to working for a well functioning democracy where we not only resolve the current problems (and problems we have) but where we insure that the chances that any such problems occur again are significantly reduced. Anything less is simply not good enough.
So, in order to not allow this crisis to go to waste, let’s insist that the anger of South Africans is not reduced to changing faces, but to building our democracy into something even more resilient – but if that is the goal, then I have to say, I don’t think we’re starting out from such a bad place. We seem to have a democracy which functions quite well.
But let’s also remain clear on one thing: Jacob Zuma should not be removed “at all cost”. There is indeed a cost which is too high. In the call for the removal of a president we can indeed legitimize things which will cause far more harm in the long run. Let’s always count the cost.
This was my 5 minute introduction to a dialogue on Re-imagining Afrikaner Identity, organized by the WITS Institute for Critical Diversity Studies on 10 March 2016.
I often struggle to know which hat to put on for which conversation. But today, as is visible, I consciously participate from within the church. More particularly, I am an ordained minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. I do not speak on behalf of the Dutch Reformed Church, but I do want to open up a conversation by speaking from within, or at least from the border of, this space. I’ll stick to my five minutes and just lay down some of my assumptions and the questions that I think is important if we want to start talking about re-imagining Afrikaner Christianity.
I take as for granted, since this was given through the topic, that people who identify as Afrikaner will, at least in the immediate future, continue to participate in this country as Afrikaners, that this identity either cannot, or perhaps should not, be destroyed in order to find a more human existence together, but that it should rather be transformed and re-imagined. While the transformation of Afrikaner identity should not be limited to its history of racism, I suspect that this is the most prominent aspect on the table today: Afrikaner culture and identity has been and continue to be, as was starkly illustrated on university campuses recently, drawn upon to fuel a white racist imagination.
That the church in general, and the Dutch Reformed Church in particular, played a deeply problematic role in the history of apartheid need not be expanded on when our time is so limited. On the other hand, that people who explicitly drew from their Christian faith and represented other parts of the institutional church played an important role in bringing apartheid to an end probably require little defending either. Christian faith can both liberate and oppress.
Let me perhaps add another point which might require much more critical scrutiny, but which I’ll also just accept for the sake of the conversation: Afrikaners are often deeply religious people. While such a statement should immediately be complemented with the point that South Africans in general are often deeply religious people, for the sake of our conversation the question really is how the religion of those who describe themselves as Afrikaners interact with how we imagine Afrikaner identity. Now this is not true of all Afrikaners, and even among the religious Afrikaners not all will describe themselves as Christian. But given that a significant part of the country in general and Afrikaners in particular describe themselves as Christian, and added to this that Christianity has been closely intertwined with the development of apartheid and modern racism, the ongoing Christian identity of Afrikaners is indeed something which require specific attention.
All these quite obvious points bring me to what I want us to explore in relation to re-imagining Afrikaner identity: Re-imagining Afrikaner identity will require re-imagining Afrikaner Christianity as well. And, the hope would be, that in re-imagining Afrikaner Christianity we might find ways of re-imagining Afrikaner identity.
But at this point a great deal of hesitancy is in order. Christianity has had an ambiguous role in South African history. For the sake of our conversation the problem that I would want to think about together with you is in particular found in the instances where Christians in general, but let’s keep to Afrikaner Christians in particular, have opted for ways of being and acting which through a Christian imagination is portrayed as benevolent while contributing to the formation of an inherently unequal society. What I believe we need to speak about in this context is particularly the ways in which Afrikaners are already re-imagining Afrikaner identity by re-imagining their Christian identity, but then constantly ask whether the re-imagined Christianities (plural) actually disrupt the ways in which Afrikaner identity is tied to white supremacy and paternalism, or whether it risks dressing up whiteness in language which is more acceptable while still solidifying its position of power in society as far as possible.
So I hope to invite a conversation on the ways in which Afrikaners are currently re-imagining their Christianity, and that we can use this space to critically reflect on the actual impact of these re-imagined Christianities. I might point out some of the re-imagining I see, and hope to hear of other attempts that you see and might be part of, and to start to critically think how each of these actually contribute to a re-imagined Afrikaner identity.
February 24, 2016
A number of disclaimers are in order.
I’m not in any way formally connected to the University of Pretoria, although I spent a good decade of my life in that space. I have many colleagues whom I trust wholly lecturing at UP, and I fully accept their eyewitness account and voice of reason on what happened on Monday 22 February.
I’m also not actively involved with the student community at this stage, and what I know is merely what I’ve been observing from a distance.
As with many who are familiar with the critical discourse on race and racism I had a negative kneejerk reaction to the #colourblind discourse when it popped up. However, I have a very positive feeling about the prayer movement. So without taking too much time, I hope to start thinking out loud about what it would mean to be a Christian yet not #colourblind.
First some notes on my positive response to the student prayer movement. So you needn’t know me that well to know that this would not be the default spiritual space to which I would navigate, but I do think that the church (although not the church exclusively) has the capacity and the language to draw people into an inclusive space. The sense I got by Monday evening was that this was needed. Really needed. And Christian students (possibly with a slightly more charismatic bend) did what came naturally to them: they gathered for public prayer and rituals (yes, the holding of hands, touching, sharing spaces, reciting words, those are rituals as well, and while not highly liturgical I get the sense that indeed they are deeply religious) which emphasized a common humanity and a common faith.
Now this would not be the first time in the history of South African racism that these particular rituals are drawn upon in public. There is a long history of these exact attempts at organizing reconciling events. As a white Christian I’ll attest to the value of these. These were spaces where I was allowed to explore a humanity which is broader and deeper than my white Afrikaner community of origin – a community which, for all its deep values which I can appreciate, remains deeply scarred by its own history of racism and patriarchy. Let us never underestimate how much of our humanity we need to give up on in order to maintain a racist system.
But because it is not the first time that these spaces are set up in response to racism in South Africa, we also need to be reminded of the problems which these spaces have left unresolved or even perpetuated in the past. This explains my kneejerk reaction, as well as the kneejerk reaction of others (which is probably what got me to write again).
Spaces focusing on setting up a symbolically reconciled Christian community often had to do this at the cost of explicit analysis of ongoing racial inequality, the racism that continue to structure society (not only in our economics, but in our assumptions about who is to provide the moral and intellectual leadership for various movements, to name but one example), and in particular that there has to be silence about the soft racism within these groups itself. The immense difficulty of having honest conversations about racism unfortunately work against the ideals of Christian unity – at least in the short term. Honest conversations about racism is not comfortable, and present a particular challenge to those symbolically illustrating the ideals of Christian love and community in public (yes, we can at a later stage ask whether true unity is not exactly what happen when we insist on the impossibility of not being in relationship in spite of the discomfort which our difficult conversation create).
Another reason why a kneejerk reaction does happen is due to the fear that Christian discourse (“there is neither Jew nor Greek”) can easily be co-opted for an assimilationist politic. Basically this mean that in the name of a Christian identity which should bind us together across our various ethnic and racial divides we create a monocultural space which ask that we leave that which does not conform to the hegemony of this space at the door. Now I’ll agree, there are times where this beats the alternative (if the alternative is a drive into essentialised oppositional identities), but it risks meaning that black people should just act more white and then all would be well and we can sing kumbaja (with all due respect to the hymn).
The claim to #colourblind-ness has a long history in the United States, and even there it has its problems. The borrowing across the Atlantic should already warn us that this might not speak to our particular questions of race and racism (which really is quite different form the US), but the repeated attempts at a discourse that claim that we “do not see race” which turn out to be false should also make us wary. Let’s not forget that it is the so-called “born frees” that are suddenly involved in something which (perhaps in slight exaggeration) is described as a “race war”.
The truth is that we do see race. There might be moments where our deep relational connection with other people cause us to momentarily forget or get confused about where we fit into this racialised society, but those are usually few and far between. But apart from the almost common-sense point that we are not #colourblind, we should go beyond this and find a way of saying that for Christians (probably true to humanity in general, but I do want to make sense of this within a particularly Christian frame) it is neither desirably not good to try and make ourselves #colourblind.
There is both a “soft” diversity reason for making this claim, but also a more “hard” social justice reason. Let’s start with what is more easily palatable.
Both our belief in the incarnation of Christ as well as the work of the Spirit should cause us to value the particularity of people’s identities. God became human not in the form of the so-called “universal man”, but as a Jewish Mediterranean peasant. The religious, ethnic and social-economic identity of the God-man Jesus matters. The way in which the gospel takes root within our diverse communities should similarly be held as important. The Spirit that blows where it wishes work through our whole being to renew and transform us, and in the body of Christ is enriched by the community between those from vastly different cultural and linguistic backgrounds who in community deepen our understanding of the one God. That’s all just very Christianese for saying that diversity if a gift to the church, and should be noted. We do not leave our identities at the church door, and nor should we.
But there is a more difficult aspect as well. Our calling into becoming followers, disciples, does not involve a universal set of laws, but rather ask that we are transformed in very particular ways. We could turn to the letters to the 7 congregations in Asia-minor or simply study the vastly different responses that people got from Jesus in the gospels. Who we are matter when we want to figure out what it means to be a disciple. What does it mean to follow Jesus as a male in a patriarchal society? How does my Christian identity transform the way I relate to questions of gender oppression? How does the complicity of Christian theology in maintaining this patriarchy impact on what I am called to do? What is the particular call of the gospel towards those who are white in a time after apartheid? What does the gospel call those who are black in a world where black people were made to belief in their own inferiority for centuries? What does it mean to be an Afrikaner Christian when in the name of Afrikaners people are being insulted and assaulted? The call and cost of discipleship cannot be the same regardless of who I am. My identity is closely intertwined with the search for what being a followed of Jesus should mean in my own life.
Now I get that given the violence of the past days we need spaces where we can just consolidate again. Spaces where we can just celebrate our shared humanity, spaces where we can just remind ourselves that we are not about to kill each other. But what we really need is not merely spaces where we can articulate a universal Christian identity but where we can accompany each other in trying to figure out what the particular challenge of the gospel is for me. Obviously we will still share many of the costs of discipleship. It is after all one gospel which we are trying to interpret. But the particular call of the gospel in particular situations is probably the witness which we need most.
So let us work on what it would mean to not leave my identity at the church door, but to more consciously allow the light of the gospel to through the community of faith illuminate who I truly am and what the specific challenge of the gospel is for who I am. So perhaps what we need are spaces where we can say: “I am white, and I am Christian, and I believe that the call of gospel on my life involve…”.
September 18, 2014
The conference for John de Gruchy’s 75th birthday was an amazing experience. It seemed like no cost or trouble was spared to gather a selection of amazing speakers, and these speakers presented possible the most engaging set of lectures that I’ve ever heard in such a short time. Alan Boesak was to deliver the last main lecture, and many expected it to be an explosion. Boesak is without a doubt one of the most gifted speakers that South Africa has ever had, and his overview of the struggle against apartheid, of the problems in the transition to a democratic South Africa, and in all honesty, his sermon on the challenges facing the church and the world, was met with a standing ovation.
But his insistence that we have not yet dealt with white supremacy, said in the most pastoral of ways, even more particularly his softly spoken critique against an overemphasis of Afrikaner experiences of trauma in explaining racism, create that movement of white bodies, the shifting in the chairs, the darting eyes to note what black colleagues might be thinking, and while a conversation didn’t happen, if this were a round table rather than a lecture hall, and if all participated, my guess is that the struggle to adequately respond to whiteness and racism would also be audible in the words spoken by white participants.
But it was a young black women, a theological student presumably, most probably undergraduate, that may have caused a deeper explosion that Alan Boesak could. Whether those of us sitting there were aware of it at the moment I doubt, I doubt that she was aware of it. It started as a critique on Boesak, but this just hid the critique on the generation of Black Theologians that came after Boesak, and the even more fierce critique of the guild of academic theologians in general, of which many, if not most, in her experience would have been white.
“Dr Boesak”, she started out, “thank you for your work, but it has become a matter of entertainment.” Entertainment? I cringed. But entertainment was meant as theological work reduced to the public and political sphere. Yes, the irony should not be overlooked, how can it be that a theologian is “reduced” to the public sphere, that politicians quote a theologian but theologians don’t. She then continued with a plea that she and her generation want to do Black Theology, but that there are not space for this in the university. There are no space because “when we tell our lecturers that we want to do Black Theology, they tell us that there isn’t sufficient literature available”.
The response she got was that all of Alan’s books are in the library and on the shelves of lecturers (or more specifically, not on the shelves of lecturers because it was borrowed to students). But I suspect the response missed the mark. Yes, the books are in the library. But her experience that she is being told that she cannot work on Black Theology because there isn’t literature available does not refer to availability in the library, it hints at a response which said that it isn’t available. There isn’t anything academic that you can use to do Black Theology.
Now, I quote from memory, I don’t know who she was (and if anyone do know, I would love to contact her). I interpret generously to make a point. But what are we to say of this? Somehow I had the experience that a young black women, possibly an undergraduate student, disrupted the guild of South African academic theology with one question. And she did this by merely pointing out that academic theology has silenced the one attempt at making race a central question of critical theology, silenced it to the point where young Black theologians who know that race is a key theological question experience that the theological academy it not the place where this is to be asked.
The silence of particularly white theologians on matters of race has been pointed out repeatedly over the past 15 years or so. While much is done in theology on class and gender, race as a particularly theological problem and theological challenge is seldom directly engaged by theologians, specifically white theologians. For the moment let me just say that this silence seem to beg for a response, both in continuing the work of the tradition of Black Theology, but also by white theologians taking up this task.
November 3, 2010
After establishing that I need more money, and that I’m not about to get the money, which I discussed in the previous post. My Amway evangelist continued by giving me my first lesson in economics. At least, he assumed this was going to be my first lesson.
I haven’t read Robert Kiyosaki before. But on Wednesday evening (that was two days before my Amway meeting) a group of friends was visiting. We do this most Wednesday evenings: get together, and discuss life in South Africa. We have a passion to for the good of South Africa, and spend these evenings talking about our own place in this country. This specific Wednesday, we talked about Zizek’s argument concerning charity, as summarized in First as Tragedy, then as Farce, Jessica Jackley on microfinancing (which we ended up being somewhat critical of), and during the evening a lot of statistics from Hans Rosling and Gapminder was brought into the conversation. We also discussed the complication concerning HIV/AIDS (which we were privileged to have my father in the house for, since he’s an expert), and continued to critically look into our own racialization. And at one point Kiyosaki entered the conversation.
He was introduced by 20-year old conversation partner which read his work, and pointed out how his ideas assume that the majority remain poor. Something which is an absolute #megafail in the eyes of this group. If you assume that the poor should remain poor, then your’s is not a solution, it’s oppression!
“Creating Wealth”, the tract I mentioned yesterday, start with Kiyosaki, the world expert on economics and financial management. Since this is not an analysis of Amway, I’ll skip the technicalities, and rather focus on the story. The tract point out that 90% of people earn 10% of money, and 10% of people 90% of money (which is quite close to the actual figures). The obvious question I would ask, and the group of friends I spend time with on Wednesday evenings help in this, would be: how the hell do we get more of that 90% of money back to the 90% of people. This seem like the obvious question! Not for my Amway evangelist, for him the obvious question was: how the hell do I become part of the 10% of people earning the 90% of money.
What I consider to be the backbone of society, those actually doing the work, he points out as the group which I should part with, so that I can become part of the small elite of “rich people”. To explain this a small parable is used about the water carrier and the pipe builder. Nice story, but quite flawed I think. In the story, two people did a job, one was an entrepreneur, and his skill resulted in neither of the two needing to do the job. In the cash flow quadrant, 10% can be business owners and investors, but you’ll always need the 90% who have to do the job! More investors doesn’t equal less people working, rather, the more investors, the more people you need who isn’t investing, but who are doing the jobs into which money is being invested.
So, basically, if I understood my evangelist correctly, the morel of their story is that most people will be slaves to the economy their whole lives through, just make sure your not one of them.
Apart from the fact that I am part of a religious tradition which actually try to think about the community, from some of the reading I’ve done since Friday, it would seem like Amway might actually not be a very profitable way of achieving what they claim. Question is, if Amway was so successful, why was the poor guy stuck on Friday arguing about ethics and economics? If his money were working for him after all this years, wouldn’t he have been sitting on a beach somewhere, rather than stuck with a young arrogant theologian telling him that his business cannot work on the long run, and is deeply unethical. Seems to me like his in Kiyosaki’s “self-employed” category, doing a job which I wouldn’t have done even if it payed well (and rumour has it that most people are losing rather than making money from Amway).
At this point in the conversation, however, Amway and Network21 hasn’t been mentioned once, and I was still at a loss what this guy was trying to sell me. But at least I knew that he was selling eternal riches without working…
February 25, 2010
In 2000 I attended an Evangelism Explosion training course at Rhema Bible church in Jo’burg. Yes, I really was a fire-preaching evangelist at one stage, proud of it, certain of it, and I could sum up all you needed to know in 15 minutes. 5 minutes if in a hurry, and 25 if I really told the stories in detail and mentioned a lot of Bible verses. The life-transforming experiences I had in this time will probably always make me wary of totally demonizing this group of people. I remember where I come from.
It was a typical thing. Bunch of American evangelists coming in with their winning recipe to teach us South Africans how to evangelize the world. Rhema did the altar call the Sunday, and we were doing the follow-up during the week.
Rhema was an interracial church, and most of the people we visited that week was black, as far as I can remember, On the afternoon of the last full day of the course, I got a call to say that my grandfather had died. This was the grandfather I have been named after. I was really, really sad. My father offered to come and pick me up, but I preferred staying and finishing the course. That night we visited Tsidi, who had made a commitment with the altar call the Sunday. We spent some time chatting and asked about the commitment she made. She said it was just being swept up by emotion, and that actually she was a Christian for a long time already. But I offered to share the gospel anyhow (use every chance you get, right?), and did the little presentation. Swept up in all my own emotions of the day, I experienced an extreme emotional high at that stage. I felt extremely close to these people. And even though I can explain this in all sorts of ways, spiritual, psychological, or whatever, the reality is that on that evening I saw a black girl, same age as I was, as a total equal. As a friend. We exchanged email addresses, and were writing to each other for a long time.
I remember knowing distincly that I cannot go back to school in the same way, that I will have to change the relations I had with my black peers. And it did happen. I remember Shimon, Amir, Mavela and others. Friends I made in the last few years of high school.