INTER-FAITH PEACE SUMMIT IN AFRICA
KOPANONG HOTEL, JOHANNESBURG : OCTOBER 14, 2002
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome the many delegates who have come from all countries of our continent to participate in this Inter-Faith Peace Summit in South Africa, on behalf of the Government of South Africa. I particularly hopeful that this Summit can make a difference to bring peace to Africa. In itself it is an historic event. For the first time in our history, we have the privilege of witnessing religious leaders from countries throughout our continent representing all major religions convening in one place with the one purpose of promoting peace and reconciliation. I trust that this Summit will succeed in its noble purpose because, by virtue of its very composition, it has brought about the beginning of peace and reconciliation. Our coming together in this fashion highlights how religious leaders have the capacity to highlight their shared values over their differences, which is exactly that on which any peace and prosperity among mankind can be based.
I am particularly pleased that this meeting is taking place in South Africa, which is a venue in which representatives of all African countries can equally feel at home. A special word of thanks goes to the Lutheran World Federation for having made this important Summit possible. The intense programme of discussions which lies ahead for the next few days of this Summit shows both the importance and the complexity of the issue of peace on the African continent. Yet, unless the African continent succeeds in overcoming these complexities and difficulties and secures stable, sustainable and generalised peace, any of its hopes and other endeavours will be in great jeopardy.
All faiths and churches in Africa have been intimately involved in a process of historic transformation which has shaped many of our countries and their present realities. Especially during the struggles which many of our African countries engaged to bring about their liberation from colonialism and racial oppression, churches and religious leaders have been on the front line of active commitment. Since the time of their liberation, many African countries have suffered because of internal social conflicts which at times have escalated into civil wars, violence and widespread intimidation. This Summit proves that churches and religious leaders continue to embrace within Africa a philosophy of commitment and direct participation in the events which can shape our future. I think that this is an essential point of departure.
Our faith demands that we bring about social and economic change which can ensure peace and prosperity amongst the peoples of our continent. I am always mindful that someone said that for evil to succeed it is merely necessary for people of goodwill to do nothing. Our continent is the place in which our faith must be made manifest in positive actions of goodwill. In the past, churches and religious leaders had to confrontthe evils of colonialism and racial oppression. We had to understand the dynamics of this phenomenon and had to learn the features and characteristics of the enemy confronting us, and the problems arising out of that conflict. Today, we have a similar challenge and we need to avoid repeating problems and difficulties experienced in the past.
Africa is suffering from many self-inflicted wounds, many of which arise out of its unwillingness to promote and embrace genuine multiparty democracy, and forms of government in which power is distributed, and genuine pluralism is practiced. The concentration of power in one-party states, autocracies and oligarchies has given rise to internal conflicts for power, freedom or self-determination. I am often mindful that, with a few exceptions, one of which was undoubtedly the Anglo-Boer War, the statement can be made that there have been no conflicts recorded in history between two democracies.
We need to open a new chapter in our continent. We need to embrace and promote peace without exceptions, excuses or compromises. Often I feel that the mistake is made of allowing some degree of indulgence in respect of what are styled as the first mistakes of emerging democracies. Unfortunately, experience teaches us that the first mistakes at times tend to become the final mistakes, as they undermine for a long time the conditions necessary for genuine democracy to flourish. In many of our African countries the degree of democracy has either remained stagnant or has in fact diminished over the years. Yet democracy is a phenomenon which should grow with the growth of society, and liberate people as it promotes development, social upliftment and human growth. A lack of democratic development has been accompanied by a lack of economic development, social upliftment and human growth.
We need to open a new chapter on the African continent. We need to promote peace, stability and economic growth at all costs and with no space for reservations, excuses, apologies and justifications. The time has come to abandon the apologetic attitude which tends to condone what is utterly wrong merely because we feel that in our continent it may be appropriate to apply a lower standard on which to benchmark our expectations. As religious leaders, people of goodwill and church representatives, we all share the collegial responsibility to provide the required spiritual leadership to make this change possible.
I am mindful of the shortcomings which, in my opinion, were experienced when dealing with similar challenges in the past. Thinking of my own country’s experience, I remember how many religious leaders across the world followed the leadership of the World Council of Churches which endorsed the theory of a just war, justifying armed conflict, military insurrection and generalised rebellion as the tool through which the oppressed people of Southern Africa could promote and achieve their liberation. I was vociferously opposed to that theology, embodied in the so-called Kairos Document, as it departed from the fundamental principles of non-violence which are expressed by our religions, especially that of the participants in the World Council of Churches.
The legacy of violence, widespread intimidation and rebellion employed during the struggle for liberation is now haunting the success of our newborn democracies and often continues to be part of our political life. In South Africa, the notion that an armed struggle based on violence and intimidation should not only be allowed but even promoted, led to the perverted effect that such armed struggle was turned against other components of the liberation movement. Not only was it not mainly employed against the ruling White minority, but in effect it became a tool of political action to gain control within the various components of the liberation movement and to prepare the basis for future political hegemony. In this black-on-black conflict, over 20 000 people were killed and more lost their property and had their lives disrupted. Both life and limb were lost, and people were displaced after their homes were burnt down.
When violence, murder and intimidation become part of a system of life and the dynamics of politics it becomes difficult to root them out. Our political life still experiences them and in my own Province assassinations remain a tool of political action. Just to mention one example, I can make reference to the political assassination of a Councillor in KwaZulu Natal, Mr Phoswa, who was then replaced through by-elections by a new Councillor, Mrs Ngcobo, who was then also killed. This happened just a fortnight ago. Within just last week two Councillors were assassinated. And I have no doubt that these were political assassinations and not just a result of rampant criminality.
During this year’s presidential debates in Parliament, I felt compelled to speak openly against the failure of our criminal justice system to deal with the continuing political assassinations which still characterise our life and which really have never been stopped by any plan of government intervention. My own Party lost a number of its candidates in the last local government elections in the year 2000. We have similar fears for the forthcoming elections in 2004, especially because of the very tense conditions under which they are likely to take place because of the recent developments in South Africa. As you may know, Parliament passed very controversial electoral legislation, allowing political representatives to cross the floor taking with them their seat and substantially changing the electoral mandate. This is likely to reshape the political landscape, not through elections, but through the wooing of political representatives, especially in the province of KwaZulu Natal which is presently the only major political institution not fully controlled by the ruling Party. One cannot say that in a democratic country that people have no right to change their minds. The trouble is that people are being pressurised through bribes and patronage to jump ship and join other parties. The whole activity that has been triggered off by this crossing of the floor legislation stinks to high heaven! And we have mortal decay in our country with the Deputy President leading a campaign of moral regeneration. One wonders how we can ever dream of such moral regeneration when there is such a culture of immorality within the parties which govern the country.
The legislation was declared unconstitutional but now the Government is in the process of proposing to Parliament an amendment to the Constitution which will have retroactive effect, allowing those who tried to cross the floor and were disqualified in the process to do so. Effectively this will be a constitutional bill of tender of a type which contravenes any known notion of morality in law and politics. I mention these events to show that even in South Africa true democracy has not yet taken deep root and the conditions for stable and sustainable peace have not yet been finally established. We are a fledgling democracy and democracy in South Africa is far from stable or consolidated. About this you should have no illusions.
Our President has created a forum where he has regular meetings with representatives of all religious leaders in South Africa. At the last such meeting, I voiced these concerns to religious leaders of South Africa, and asked for prayers. Africa needs prayers. South Africa needs a lot of prayers. We have this new partnership for the Development of Africa as the star on which we have hooked our wagon as the continent of Africa. I am only too aware of how many of our African countries have put their trust in our country in the hope that things are going well and that we have one of the best constitutions in the world.
Confronted with these challenges, I have always believed that we must resort to our faith and ensure that our faith becomes a source of strength and our motivation for action. Action is essential to bear testimony to goodwill and to make a statement of faith which has a bearing on the context within which we operate. In our context, I feel the faith which does not become concretised into actual actions which make a difference, may fall short of what our spirituality requires. As a Christian, I have promoted ecumenism all my life. I have embraced a notion of ecumenism which goes beyond the unity in action of the many denominations of the Christian faith. I have advocated the unity in action of all the people of God, irrespective of their specific faith and denomination. Our faiths may be different, but our actions and our sense of spirituality as expressed in the reverence and acknowledgment of God are one and the same. Our actions of goodwill must express the underlying work of God who operates through us, irrespective of our different denominations.
I think our generation is confronted with the greatest challenge of them all, which we can begin realising on African soil. This is the challenge of bringing closer together the great religions of the world, especially those which are based on a monotheistic principle. All these religions are represented and widely practiced on our African soil. South Africa particularly is a crucible of many religions and, for this reason, one must acknowledge and praise the efforts made by our President, His Excellency Mr Thabo Mbeki, to facilitate the interaction of Christian, Islamic, Hindu and Jewish denominations to bring about positive actions in support of our government’s struggle for economic development and social upliftment, as I have already mentioned earlier.
We are not seeking a fusion of beliefs, but the concomitant coming together of actions of goodwill which emanate from our shared spirituality. Together in this place we share the awareness that we are all instruments of God and that through our goodwill we can bring about the realisation of the divine within us and within our society. By our becoming instruments of the work of God on earth, we can bring about His Kingdom and bring about this great design by realising the full measure of the God-given human potentials of our people and our society. I firmly believe that progress, human growth and the construction of socially just, peaceful, caring and gentle societies will enhance the relationship between man and God and will create great advancement in realising God’s will on earth. It is quite obvious to me that Africa is still a long way from establishing good relationships between man and man, which should precede the good relationship that man should have with God. And South Africa is no exception.
I pray for this Summit to succeed and for it to sow the seeds of a revolution of goodwill within all our societies which can bring about real peace through genuine democracy and pluralism, as preconditions for economic development, social upliftment and human growth. Even NEPAD will not take off without these as prerequisites. May God inspire and guide your deliberations and peace be with you so that, from this place, it may spread throughout the continent bringing long sought-after relief to the millions of people who are now suffering because of untold miseries. May your deliberations give hope to those who are suffering and motivate our respective governments to be more responsive to their needs, more caring and more resolved to eradicate the roots of poverty, conflict and social upheaval.
Religious leaders of different denominations are coming to this Summit to work together, motivated by a shared goodwill, setting aside their differences and highlighting their commonality in spirituality and the service of God. Political leaders across Africa and within each of its countries should do the same and follow the example given by this Summit, setting aside their differences and becoming genuinely concerned about the future of their people and the conditions under which economic prosperity and social stability can finally be brought to bless the African land. May God be with you throughout the deliberations of this Summit to which I wish success. I thank you.