As South Africa commemorates the passing of activist, Archbishop Tutu, We take a look at the role of the church in apartheid South Africa, and it’s contribution to nation building.
The sacrifice of the Church in Apartheid South Africa.
During the tumultuous times of Apartheid, the Church played a critical role in keeping hopes for a change, offered assistance to the displaced by political crimes committed by the apartheid regime, provided asylum to struggle stalwarts.
Church halls were used for meetings where powerful speeches against the regime were delivered, the late Oliver Thambo was one such leader who found a way to reconcile his Christian faith and his liberation Politics.
The late anti-apartheid Stalwart and former President of the ANC Oliver Thambo was accepted for ordination as a priest, a ceremony that was derailed by his arrest by apartheid police on a charge of treason in the 1950s.
Many of the ANC activists on the front line of the liberation struggle were men of Faith. The founding President John Dube was an ordained priest. ANC President Albert Luthuli was a confirmed Methodist church and became a lay preacher.
1985 the peak of the war against apartheid when the first black Bishop of Johannesburg Desmond Tutu, publicly endorsed an economic boycott of South Africa and civil disobedience as a way to dismantle apartheid.
Many men and women of God were detained and treated shabbily by the erstwhile system. Pastors, Deacons and Church leaders were jailed, accused of being spies. The push back against the oppressive regime grew wider with the church throwing its weight behind anti-apartheid demonstrations.
Church offices became war rooms, where Church leaders and politicians came together to expose the heinous crimes of Apartheid, invited journalists to report on the crimes. As much as it was a dark time in South Africa in the 1980s, it was also a time of light. The church was at the centre stage of progress.
In April 1999 at the Freedom Day Celebration, Nelson Mandela made a reflection “… without the church, without religious institutions I would never have been here today… religion was one of the most motivating factors in everything we did”
The Church is a unifying social force in South.
The role of the church in harnessing a socially cohesive country is often overlooked. Widows, orphans and the homeless found refuge in the church during those times and to this day the church continues to receive migrants, offer its charitable humanitarian assistance to the wounded and has been a bridge between migrants and South Africans in its bid to fight social cohesion issues like Xenophobia.
The Church and Nation building.
In the truth and reconciliation commission established in 1995 to investigate human rights violations by the apartheid government and nation building, the Church led efforts towards integration among races and a society rebuilt on peace.
This consultative process lasted a year and culminated in the legislation, the promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act 34 of 1995 (The Act), that established the TRC.
The Church is a humanitarian in the absence of Human Rights groups.
Indeed the church is the only humanitarian centre that helps the Government deal with issues of social cohesion and provide assistance to the needy and restore hope in a hopeless society. It came as a surprise when the government intimidated the church during Lockdowns in 2020-21, how come when the church has always ensured civilian peace and unity.
The sacrifice of the church during the dark times of South Africa also helped the church to grow into many diverse faith based organisations. All Thanks to the church sacrifice during the Apartheid struggle.