Thursday, December 05, 2013

On Religion and Apartheid-- As World Mourns Nelson Mandela

In South Africa, former president Nelson Mandela died today.  The New York Times chronicles his life in an article titled Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95.  His death is an appropriate time to look back on the historical role of religion and religious groups in South Africa during the Apartheid era. The following are particularly rich sources for exploring the issue:

In 1998, the University of Cape Town's Research Institute on Christianity In South Africa prepared a report for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission titled Faith Communities and Apartheid:
Chapter 1: Why faith community hearings?
Chapter 2: Faith Communities
Chapter 3: An account of the submissions
Chapter 4: The Road to Reconciliation
Chapter 5: Reflections on the process and recommendations for the future
Chapter 6: Conclusion

TRC Faith Community Hearings: Submissions Received

The post-apartheid government's Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its Report which it presented to President Nelson Mandela in October 1998:

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission made the following findings in Volume 5 of its report, at pp. 251-52:
Faith communities
The Commission finds that Christianity, as the dominant religion in South Africa, promoted the ideology of Apartheid in a range of different ways that included Biblical and theological teaching in support of Apartheid; ecclesiastical Apartheid by appointing ministers to congregations based on race, and the payment of unequal stipends; a failure to support dissident clergy who found themselves in confrontation with the state; and a failure to provide economic support to those most severely affected by Apartheid. 
The failure of religious communities to give adequate expression to the ethical teaching of their respective traditions, all of which stand in direct contradiction to Apartheid, contributed to a climate within which Apartheid was able to survive. The failure of the churches in this regard contributed to the perpetuation of the myth, prevalent in certain circles, that Apartheid was both a moral and Christian initiative in a hostile and ungodly world.
Chaplains provided by the churches to serve the military, the police and other uniformed services, wore the uniforms of these services, enjoyed the rank of armed personnel, and some carried sidearms.  They were part of the illegal cross-border activities carried out by the military, and they accompanied troops into the townships and other internal situations of conflict on occasion.  The were seen to be supportive of the offensive structures of the former state.  Churches must therefore accept moral accountability for providing religious sanction and theological legitimisation for many actions of the armed forces.
It is the finding of the Commission that religious proselytising and religious-based nationalism have not only sown the seeds of inter-religious suspicion, distrust and strife, but they have also contributed directly to religiously inspired conflict.  Religious communities must take responsibility for the actions of their followers in this regard.