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The SACC needs defending, the question is against what?

The SACC needs defending, the question is against what? Between the Pulpit and the Market Place.


The two articles that appeared in the Sunday Independent the past two weeks, one from Bishop Clyde Ramalaine (Ramalaine) on 9 July 2017, and the other, from Ms. Lebo Keswa (Keswa), on 16 July 2017, are background to this article.


I read Ramalaine’s line of argument as: The SACC, vowed to approach MPs to ask them to vote against the President on 8 August 2017 because of Nkandla. He draws an implication from this intention of the SACC when he suggests: if successful, it could lead to the dissolution of Parliament. Ramalaine, furthermore, provides informational background to this intention of the SACC when he suggests that the change in the relationship between the SACC and the State can be taken back to 2009 when Pres. Jacob Zuma indicated his preference to work with the Independent Churches, instead of the SACC, as his institution of reference with regard to the CHURCH and STATE nexus.


This change in the political relationship between the SACC and the State, he continues, had direct negative economic consequences for them. Ramalaine suggests, through his rhetorical question, that this is the source of the ‘personalised fights’ with the President coming from the SACC through Bishops Mpumlwana and Ziva. This, he suggests, is also background to what he calls the ‘Unburdening exercise’. In his view it should not be viewed as ‘neutral’, but as heavily influenced by the abovementioned events.


It is against this background, Ramalaine suggests, that ‘the SACC is acting out of their religious and political scope’ when they position themselves to instruct (‘direct’) the ANC what do and to compete (‘contest’) with the ANC on matters asking for competing number of votes. These two roles, Ramalaine insists, belong to the ANC structures and (by implication) opposition parties respectively.


Against this background Ramalaine concludes that ‘the SACC is seeking to be a political player’, and, therefore, he continues speculatively, ‘maybe the SACC must become (an open) political player’.


I read Keswa’s line of argument as: Starting out by setting the emotional tone for the reader against the article and person of Bishop Ramalaine through a series of emotionally loaded notional hooks (i.e. shocking analysis, political gossip parading as analysis, startling claim, bizarre conclusion startling conclusion, the likes of Ramalaine, etc.), it continues to ‘predispose’ the reader by erroneously mentioning the SACC interchangeably with The Church.


Against this background Keswa’s argument is that ‘the likes of Ramalaine have no clue what the Church had to do to bring down apartheid’. That he ‘may well be right that the current administration may not like the SACC’ and attaches ‘the Gupta emails’ of recent days, as the explanation thereof. Against this background the ‘Unburden Report that paints a picture of utter theft’ is presented as a further reason why the current administration ‘may not like the SACC’. This Report is presented as the result of the long ongoing prophetic role of the Church ‘by giving safe space for ANC members who could not trust its own organization about the capture of the State’.


Furthermore, Keswa suggests that Ramalaine wants the Church to be neutral and is discounting the role of the Church in our social history. This, in her line of argument, is the same misuse of scripture by dictators to claim that they are ordained by God.


Keswa concludes that our response in the 2017 context to the role of the Church should be to ‘remember how (it) sustained the liberation movement, how ministers of religion took a stand against injustice, how (it) brought young people together in the BC movement, how (it) was at the forefront of the UDF, provided education and, therefore, ‘could not be cowed into submission by any kind of apologist of state capture or any other corrupt scheme that is looting the resources of the poor’.


I have decided to leave it to the reader to ‘fact check’ the truth-claims made by the two authors in their respective articles as the information is in the public domain. Instead, I decided to as question: What are they pointing to in the published articles?


Ramalaine’s article points to the question: what is/ought to be the relation between Church and State in 2017? He answers this unexpressed question by implying: through the existing conventions.


Keswa’s article points to the question: What is/ought to be the way to go for the SACC/the Church to find a meaningful place in the Public Discourse of 2017? She answers this by indicating that an answer lies in engaging in the cut and thrust of the present-day practical politics surrounding the President of the
Republic and the majority party in the National Assembly.


As is the case of most debates in the public domain Keswa is not in dialogue with Ramalaine, but uses his article as a pivot on which to introduce thoughts she in any case wanted to announce into the public domain.


In the process she is doing a lot of cutting and thrusting that is best to ignore.
I maintain my view on her article as expressed on my fb page on 17 July at 07h46:
“Just read the article of Ms. Keswa posted on the fb page of Dr. Llewellyn Gamka MacMaster in response to Bishop Clyde Khoi-Khoi Ramalaine. It gives one a view about how the organised church in the SACC is thinking about its past and present. Albeit, in the voice of Ms. Keswa.
About its past: – it is reciting the undisputed known signs of its PAST progressive credentials. However, instead of an expression as character-witness, and, therefore, earned right to speak truth to power in the current economic and political circumstances, it comes across as a feeble puffing up of its diminished bulk to appear to be the same giant it once was, but knows in its heart of hearts it is long no more.
About its present: – it admits to having been silent the past twenty years, therefore, is looking for a way out of its self-imposed irrelevance;
Against this self-expressed historical background it jumps from silence its ‘prophetic voice ‘ – no soul searching, no looking for the complicity to the current state of affairs first, alas, no Mea Culpa.
Instead of through a biblically founded theological rediscovery of its new-found ‘prophetic voice’, it latches onto events in the political terrain for its attempt at meaningful participation in the public discourse;
Instead of entering the very complex socio-economic and socio-political contexts of the present with a searching spirit of, for example, Martin Luther’s theology of the cross, it wades in as self-appointed facilitator, adjudicator and pronouncer of absolution of ‘truth-tellers’.
Unfortunately, all of this ‘prophetic work’ is done in the same language of unsubstantiated accusation, of those very seekers of absolution.
In all this the SACC does not speak on its own behalf by answering to the critique of one if its own. Instead, it appears to be using the ‘innocent opinion’ of Ms. Kwesa, one from the marketplace, to level unsubstantiated accusations at one of its own. One who dared to speak truth to their power; one who has a publicly verifiable record of having stayed engaged in public discourse by speaking truth to political power during the pat 20 years; whilst, by the account of its surrogate witness, the SACC was silent.
The unfortunate state of affairs does not end there. Instead of directly engaging a fellow Bedienaar van die woord, by penning a response himself, Dr. Llewellyn MacMaster shares the above opinion piece of Ms. Keswa – as one whose opinion he shares – without affording the original opinion piece of Bishop Clyde Ramalaine to speak for itself. Clearly, there is a dire need for the believers in the communities of faith to speak truth to power in the organised church of 2017.”
Despite my opinion above, I am in agreement with the intent of Ms. Keswa, to defend the SACC. But the question is: against what?
I am of the view that the SACC needs defending against itself. I am of the view that the SACC needs defending against succumbing to market values; I am of the view that the SACC needs defending against its theological poverty, and consequently, its inability to make sense of the changed Church and State dynamic in the Republic; I am especially of the view that the SACC needs defending against those who want to opportunistically make use of its undisputed legacy to falsely launch themselves as representatives of the People, as if it is their own, against the SACC’s own.
To truly begin to defend itself, the SACC needs to return to Cottesloe!


Vincent van Breda,
Theologian and Academic
Mitchell’s Plain, 19 July 2017

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