Monday, July 06, 2009

postcolonial church (2)


I found a speech by Tinyiko Maluleke, entitled, a Postcolonial (South) African church: Problems and Promises, which he apparantly presented a year ago (2008), at the annual Desmond Tutu lecture. This was an unedited version, yet it may take us deeper in Maluleke's thinking on postcoloniality and the church. Whilst he is not fulltime, involved in academic work anymore, his recent (26 June 2009) invitation to present a keynote address at the Joint theological conference, of all the theological societies in the region, celebrating Stellenbosch University's 150 years of theology, suggests that he is still, one of the foremost African thinkers, in South Africa and African theology (possibly the world?).

In the Tutu lecture, on the postcolonial (South African) church, Maluleke starts by sharing his experience, possibly last year, on a radio show where listener after listener tormented him with their scathing critique of the Christian church. The essence of their critique was that the church remains 'in bed with government', like the previous white, missionary, colonial churches; also that the church was the repressentation of a 'foreign and culpable religion' and that this role was perpetuated, even in the 'new South Africa'. Here, he surmised, that some callers confronted him, with the challenge that decolonization should go hand in hand with dechristianization and that African's full liberation means, a return to the religion of their forefathers and mothers. Lastly, the charge of the callers were, that black theologians suffered from a 'massive religious false consciousness', in that they fool themselves to think that they can 'dismantle' the master's house, with the 'master's tools'. How can middle class, patriarchal institutions ever deal with the power-imbalances, these callers seem to ask.

Ironically, Maluleke surmises that his callers, were actually calling for the church to take their proper place, yet as vulnerable, human, open to critique, giving hope prophetically. He recalls an incident with Prof Kader Asmal, last year (2008) who simply dismissed the possibility that religion could still play any role in protecting human rights (given our track record). His response is noteworthy.
I restrained myself because it is my view that we churches need a different set of strategies than the ones we have been using. To begin with we need to listen deeply to the criticisms – even the cruelest of these. We need to hear the message and the message behind the message. As churches, we need to take responsibility not merely for this particular phase in the history of the church; not only for the history of our church denominations; but for both our good and our bad legacies.


After delving into the reasons behind the current absence of the church, Maluleke then goes into his understanding of the 'postcolonial thing'. He suggest three understandings.
1) the entire world today is postcolonial..'both the great grand children of former colonialists and those of the colonised have to make sense of a world, which is deeply marked, albeit differently, by colonialism';
2)some put the emphasis on 'post', as if colonialism is something of the past;
3) others understand the 'post' as something 'since', which acknowledge of the 'continuing impact of colonialism after the fact'.

In alligning himself with the later, he then states, working (again) with the analysis of Achille Mbembe of Cameroon,
The tyranny of the postcolony is intimate – it binds the powerful and the powerless together in one destiny until they are convinced that the choice they have is one of either staying together, going up together or doing down together. I want to suggest that the church in a postcolony is one of the first victims, purveyors and theatres of the (violent) power of the state.


How does the church escape this collusion? Maluleke suggests the following:
1) listen the critique from ordinary people and the call for moral leadership,
2) the church need to
'get off the 'Apartheid is dead bandwagon, because, no, Apartheid is not dead. We need to see it in its latest guises and its latest mutations. When 60% of our population still lives in poverty then Apartheid is not dead.....When millions in our country still die needlessly and prematurely of preventable, curable and manageable diseases then we know that Apartheid is not dead. The church must wake up to the fact that Apartheid is not dead, it is here among us; here and there it may have replaced blacks with Zimbabweans and whites with BEE blacks, here and there, but the evil system is alive in our midst.'

3) Face up to the fact that 'one of the distinct features of the new South Africa is the manner in which, as the media tells us again and again, African policemen are authorized or encouraged to arrest fellow African for looking too African, for being dressed too African and for sounding too African and too black.'
4) The church will have to confess that the notion of 'critical solidarity' with government was a 'monstrous error' which has caused much death and mayhem...'
Let us confess the sin of critical solidarity. Let us confess this post-Apartheid heresy. The government need no solidarity, critical or non critical, from nobody.

5) the church need to get down from the elite position and walk with the people again,
6) the church need to be faithful,not hegemony, not what she cannot be...
7) the church need to deal with the crisis and models of leadership and power, and 8)the church need to offer South African and the world, faith, imagination, that things can change.

As I read Maluleke's speech, there seems evidently, given the context in the second part of last year, a deeper awareness of the vulnerabilities of the church's responses. It seems as if he is conscious of the fact that the church, even the prophetic black church, have colluded with the elitetransition, which we all called 'rainbow' nation. A church with such a consciousness, or even vulnerability may be better placed to exlore self-transformation, prompted by the Spirit.
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