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Amahoro Gathering

5 June 2009

For a long time I have heard whispers of an Amahoro Gathering. People in the know have said that it’s going to be interesting and important and you must go to it, but any concrete information was hard to come by. People referred me to a web site, but what it said was vague and difficult to read, and the text kept getting covered up by pictures. There were forms to fill in for more information, but filling them in just produced error messages. So I forgot about it, and thought that if anything interesting happened I would hear about it afterwards, perhaps.

Now, however, Roger Saner has spilt the beans and has posted the programme on his blog

The Amahoro conference is happening next week – and I can’t wait! To get some fantastic minds into the same space to dialogue around post-colonial church is a wonderful, creative opportunity. It’s not just the upfront speakers either, but the chance to work out the theory and theology with on-the-ground pastors for whom this must make a difference, or it’s all talk. Plus there are some people who have a big influence on the wider scene in South Africa.

The list of speakers (or, at least, the people who at some stage will have the mic) is (in order of appearance): Rene August, Marius Brand, Trevor Ntlola, Claude Nikondeha, Edward Simiyu, Kenzo Mabiala, Moss Nthla, Adriaan Vlok, Brian McLaren, Paul Verryn, Samuel Kareithi, Spiwo Xapile, John & Di Hewitson.

What remains to be said is that it runs from 8-12 June 2009, and is being held at the YfC Camp and Conference centre in the Hekpoort valley west of Pretoria (north-west of Johannesburg), and that it costs R1500 for the whole thing, or R200.00 for a day visit, and that if you’re interested in attending all or any of it, the guy to talk to is Marius Brand (marius@amahoro-africa.org).

So, having at last established the What and When and Where, one can start to talk of the Why and How and Who.

And once again thanks to Roger Saner, who gives a good introduction to that on his blog too.

Roger Saner's pictureThis conference is going to be interesting, especially from the South African side, since I think many/most of the participants are white. Perhaps the concept of “post-colonial church” is a little too “out there” for most South Africans, where “post-Apartheid” is closer to home, but it’s still a case where from the white side the idea is, “Apartheid is over and racism is no more – just get over it already.” And from the black side it’s, “White people haven’t a clue what it was like, and what it continues to be like.” And then there’s everyone else (Coloured, Indian, Asian, etc) who aren’t in the white-black polemic, and can easily be excluded from this debate (and this is an over-simplification, of course)…

Against this landscape the church carries on. Christians from my own background (white, English-speaking South African) largely, from a theological perspective, haven’t a clue what to do with the (quite correct) critique of what Apartheid brings against how the Bible was read and applied; the white Afrikaans churches are in the most pain because they’re on the forefront of this, while the English-speaking churches sit more in the “We didn’t really know what was happening and it didn’t really happen to us so we’ll just go on and worship God, because that’s what really important anyway”.

Roger generally gives a good summary of the situation we find ourselves in, though I disagree with some of the details, especially on the “English-speaking churches”. What follows is my take on it, a somewhat expanded version of a comment I made on his blog.

While those “English-speaking churches” use English at their synods and other such formal gatherings, most of their members are not English-speaking, and for most of them English is a second language.

But nevertheless Roger has a point.

For some years I was sent by my bishop to represent him at meetings of a group of Johannesburg church leaders (which has now folded), and I found them useful because I could to some extent keep in touch with developments on the broader Christian scene. It was attended sporadically by various leaders – Anglican and Methodist bishops (including Paul Verryn, the Methodist bishjop of central Johannesburg, who has a better idea of what is going on than most), people like Nelus Niemand from the Dutch Reformed Church, and occasionally people from the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and a leader of a federation of Zionist Churches, and sometimes representatives of the Coptic Bishop, who as Egyptians were pretty out of touch with the South African scene (and we Chalcedonian Orthodox have similar problems with Greeks, Serbs, Russians etc).

Where I think colonialism is relevant is in the attitudes of groups such as the Democratic Alliance. Even though they took a huge step forward by getting rid of Tony “fight back” Leon, they are still wedded to neo-colonialism, wanting South Africa to align itself with furmer colonial powers and become part of the American empire. I’m not sure that the ANC government is much better, though, in aligning itself with China (witness the refusal of a visa to the Dalai Lama).

The English-speaking church leaders at the Johannesburg church leaders gatherings (with the exception of Paul Verryn) seemed to generally take the DA line and adopt a neo-colonialist mindset. They had, to some extent, fought apartheid, but once apartheid ended, they lost their way. They had no vision for the society that should follow apartheid.

The ANC tried to develop such a vision, outlined in the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which they abandoned within a year of coming to power, and sold out to Thatcherism and really fostered the ambition of becoming obscenely rich. That is what the Black Elite Enrichment (BEE) programme is really about.

The RDP vision was something that could have involved government and civil society (including, therefore, the Christian churches) in building a new South Africa.

When the government dropped the RDP ball the churches, if they had been on the ball, could have picked it up and run with it, but they didn’t. They were too busy sitting around sipping their celebratory champagne and saying “Isn’t it nice that we got rid of apartheid.”

More than 40 years ago a British friend, living in South Africa, predicted that once South Africa had solved the problem of the black and the white, only then would the real problem emerge — the problem of the haves and the have nots.

It’s too late to revive the RDP, at least in the form in which in which it was originally conceived. At the very least the name would have to change, as it is now firmly connected in people’s minds with inferior housing. But there are some good ideas in the original RDP document, and perhaps some of those could be deverloped.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 June 2009 12:22 pm

    Thanks for the reference, Steve – you’ve unmasked a conspiracy of silence! I too have found the official website clunky, unhelpful and frustratingly vague, so I’m glad to have some concrete details.

    While I’ve responded to your comments on my blog, allow me to say this here: in talking about Apartheid, I feel like I’m giving marriage counseling to my parents. Like I’m some kind of knowledgeable outsider who knows the solutions, and is offering advice and critique on what is very personal. And so part of me hesitates to do this.

    Another part says, “Why has my little corner of Christianity in South Africa not dealt with this?” And so I’m caught between speaking/not speaking.

    Or perhaps I just want to be seen to be as clever as Pete Rollins, who knows!

    Or maybe we’re at the point as individuals and as a country that we can more honestly grapple with the questions Apartheid poses to us, not for the sake of dredging up the past, but so that we can move into the future. That’s my hope, at least.

    • 5 June 2009 1:22 pm

      Roger,

      Your recent posts on Amahoro are the most interesting thing I’ve seen on SA Christian blogs this year, and made me want to go to Amahoro, or at least part of it.

      Concerning apartheid, if we say “Never again” then we need to know what happened to get us into the mess, so that we can avoid the same traps in future. Who was it who said that those who don’t want to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it?

      So it’s good to talk about it and remember it, and not try to cover it with some collective amnesia.

  2. Joyful Penny permalink
    6 June 2009 7:27 pm

    I’ve found your exchanges with Roger Saner interesting. I too wish I could go to the Amahoro Gathering but am way over in Canada and the cost is prohibitive for me at this time. A Kenyan friend will attend and so I hope to hear at least about the events and discussions. God bless you Steve and I hope you can make it for a good part of the gathering.

  3. 7 June 2009 6:37 pm

    Collective amnesia…there’s a thought…wait, what were we talking about?! Lol!

    Thanks for the compliment, Steve – I wasn’t even sure if anyone would be interested in blogging about Amahoro and the questions it raises for me, so I’m thrilled to know that at least someone is finding it interesting🙂 My wife Danya is doing a Masters in Diversity Studies at UCT, and since it was the last week of the semester, I decided to stay up late with her as a support. One of her courses is African Studies, which is all about the solutions which Africans are proposing for Africa, as well as the African (and elsewhere) rejection of the colonial narrative.

    And so it was from 10pm – 2am one night last week that I was diving into Biko, and Fenon, and formulated a good few months of thinking into a few posts, some of which are still to be published.

    It’s so interesting how much overlap there is between these African thinkers and the issues which post-colonial church raises. This is my deep interest right now – for if we don’t address these issues in our generation, Christianity loses substantial ground in the next.

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  1. Amahoro Africa conference: The African Reformation « nextchurch

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