“Churches are needed as mediators!”

Delegation of the EKD Council returns from Southern Africa

A delegation of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) visited South Africa and Namibia from 5 to 15 March. The purpose of the trip was to learn more about the churches in the two countries, and also about the social and political situation. “In South Africa,” reported Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chair of the EKD Council, “We found a country keen to make a new start on overcoming the heavy weight of corruption along with the ongoing poverty and extreme inequality in society. In Namibia people are struggling with the different interpretations of colonial history and its consequences for today. Here too, overcoming poverty and inequality is the central issue.”

Several church-run social projects featured among the delegation’s many memorable encounters in the two countries. For several decades now, these projects have been tackling the issue of poverty and urban and community development. The delegation visited the Outreach Foundation in Hillbrow (Johannesburg), Tshwane Leadership Foundation (Pretoria) and iThembaLabantu (Cape Town), Women on Farms (Stellenbosch) and Hephata (Katutura/Windhoek). There the visitors gained an insight into the pronounced social disparities within the population of South Africa and Namibia, and the related enormous challenges both for the churches and for government organisations and NGOs.

These challenges came out clearly in meetings with the South African Council of Churches (SACC), the United Church Council of the Namibia Evangelical Lutheran Churches (UCC-NELC) and the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN). And they also came up in the conversations with the three partner churches – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (Natal-Transvaal) (ELCSA N-T), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA Cape) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia/German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN/GELC).

Further topics in talks were

  • the challenge of “state capture” in South Africa (the takeover of state institutions and public offices by corrupt officials, business people and private persons);
  • the Genocide of Herero, Damara and Nama (1904-1908) in Namibia;
  • the role of apartheid and
  • the public role of the churches in reconciliation processes in South African and Namibian society.

The delegation also met with Thabo Magkoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, and former Lutheran bishop Zephania Kameeta, now a Namibian government minister; here they discussed the serious threat from the rise of populism in the two countries. “This is also an issue that challenges the churches as mediators and partners in Southern Africa,” Bedford Strohm commented.

At the many ecumenical gatherings the delegation deepened its awareness of the transformative powers within the partner churches and wanted to hear more about how they cope with their missional and diaconal challenges.

Another important question on the agenda was the way in which the EKD can accompany the opening of the partner churches to the local population. It is ultimately a matter of how the church can strengthen its spiritual profile. “We don’t want to be a culture club, we want to be a God club,” was how a member of the German-speaking St. Martin’s Lutheran Church in Cape Town described their approach.

The delegation noted with gratitude the successful efforts of the partner churches in Southern Africa in integrating people with different cultural backgrounds and overcoming prejudices. Their enormous commitment to social policy issues was apparent. The South African Council of Churches has a particularly prominent role in this regard. The delegation was all the more grateful to note the SACC’s openness to new departures.

Heinrich Bedford-Strohm summed up the impressions of the delegation: “The visit made impressively clear what a central role the churches have in grappling with the challenges related to globalisation. Through its congregations, the church is deeply rooted at the local level all over the world. At the same time it lives in the universal dimension of our common faith. Through close contacts among partner churches it can be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”

Hanover, 15 March 2018

EKD Press Office
Kerstin Kipp