Title page for ETD etd-07292010-235111

Document Type Doctoral Thesis
Author Mabuza, Wesley Madonda
Email wesley.mabuza@gmail.com
URN etd-07292010-235111
Document Title Kairos revisited : investigating the relevance of the Kairos document for church-state relations within a democratic South Africa
Degree PhD
Department Science of Religion and Missiology
Advisor Name Title
Prof P G J Meiring Supervisor
  • Cottesloe Consultation in 1960
  • Belhar Confession
  • Kairos document
Date 2010-04-22
Availability unrestricted
The writing of this thesis was inspired by a chance remark I had with a friend from the Dutch Reformed Church. I had made the point that having been through such a difficult time of apartheid in South Africa we shall not cross the same river twice. His response to me was that it may be true but cautioned that we needed to be careful not to cross a different river the same wrong way.

It was then that I decided on a hypothesis that the Kairos Document could still be a guide to the present day events in a new democratic dispensation. I then embarked on a study to revisit the Kairos Document to research whether it could assist the Church once more as it grappled with the question of how to relate to this new government that has been elected by the majority of the people of South Africa. The rationale behind all this was twofold: one, fighting apartheid was a hard struggle but clear-cut, it was the apartheid enemy as represented by an easily identifiable National Party and a compliant church, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC); two, the temptation to repeat what the DRC did during apartheid was highly likely. The Church today needs to learn from past mistakes so as not to repeat them. The DRC had an opportunity to positively shape events in South Africa but chose to take the wrong path of leading the State into the disastrous policy of apartheid.

The thesis traces a brief history of the Dutch Reformed Church and how it had failed the entire Church and the country by promoting State Theology, as described by the Kairos Document. Profuse source documents on the history of the DRC have already been written and from which I got my information. Among the writers on the history of the DRC were Cecil Ngcokovane and Colleen Ryan who wrote Demons of Apartheid and Beyers Naude: Pilgrimage of Faith respectively, and who gave excellently researched material on the history of the DRC in respect of the rise and fall of apartheid. My research led me to another insight, namely, that there were also other Afrikaner prophets apart from Beyers Naude who suffered greatly within the DRC, and that they have gone mainly unnoticed.

What followed was the history of the Church with its fight against apartheid. The leading light in the fight was the leadership of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) with its programmes. There were other strong organisations such as the Black Sash whose work was invaluable, but these did not fall within my scope of research. In addition to my own knowledge of and experience within the SACC, as Director of Faith and Mission, and before this having been Organising Secretary of the Western Province Council of Churches (WPCC), my observer-participant status had been greatly enhanced. For further information I used the South African History Archives (SAHA) at the Cullinan Library, Witwatersand University, for my primary sources, and other relevant books and documents written by SACC stalwart and theologian, Wolfram Kistner, by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and by Bernard Spong who was for years in the Communications department of the SACC.

I traced briefly the history of the struggle for liberation in South Africa from the general perspective, especially from 1912 when the African National Congress was started through to the Pan African Congress’ 1960 march which led to the Sharpeville shootings, to the efforts of the Black Consciousness Movement from 1968 to the 1976 Students Uprising until the advent of the new South Africa. The oppressed people of South Africa did a lot to revive pride among themselves as a downtrodden people with many efforts from a number of initiatives. The Trade Unions, COSATU in particular, also shook the foundations of apartheid in an effective targeting of the economic situation and big business.

The thesis shows how South Africans attacked apartheid from different angles. The production of the Kairos Document seemed to overshadow a number of other efforts that had been undertaken by the Church and yet the KD was a comment on the lackluster contribution of the Church with a view to making it true to its calling. There had been a series of initiatives, including many other publications, which tried to challenge the apartheid government to change its ways. The government then always responded with more repressive laws.

Among the series of attempts at destroying apartheid was the establishment of the Wilgespruiit Fellowship Centre to promote friendship and training against a government policy that thrived on racial separation. After the Sharpeville massacre there was the Cottesloe Consultation in 1960 which was sponsored by the World Council of Churches, another church body that was very active in its support for the victims of apartheid. There was also the Christian Institute which became so reputable that it got banned by the government. The Message to the People of South Africa in 1968 made some inroads in terms of raising the level of the debate among white people especially. Many white people at that time enjoyed the insulation against the sufferings of the black masses which they enjoyed through the policy of isolation. The Belhar Confession in 1982 shook the DRC because it contained elements which were directly in opposition to the teachings of the DRC regarding the separation of races.

Other catalysts towards change were the Soweto Students’ Uprisings against Afrikaans as a language of instruction at schools in line with Bantu Education. There were also rent boycotts and boycotts of businesses to force the government to change. By the early eighties repression had escalated so much that a group of Christian activists met, first in Cape Town and then in Johannesburg, to chart what is now known as the Kairos Document (Speckman and Kaufmann 2001:18ff).

My research dealt with the three types of theologies as expounded by the KD: State Theology, Church Theology and Prophetic Theology. Again my participant-observer position was activated because I became the next Director of the Institute of Contextual Theology (ICT) and have understood the KD’s importance in the broader history of the Church. The literature I have used had to do with liberation and hope as found in writers such as Moltmann, Jacques Ellul, and liberation theologians such as Albert Nolan, Church and State theologians such as Charles Villa-Vicencio and John de Gruchy and many others.

In my research I analysed the situation in the Church today as exposed by interviews and questionnaires with those who had been involved with the KD before, plus a social analysis gleaned from the media and from discussions and relevant writings. The result of my research is that there are principles and ideas contained in the KD and that the three theologies will be applicable for a long time to come. The context has changed remarkably but the Church needs to develop itself to be able to meet a different challenge. The Church can still fall into the same trap as the DRC did during the time of apartheid by doing the reverse and opting out of issues, and by not assisting the government and the country to mobilise its forces to work towards nation building. Furthermore, the Church needs to work more with other religions across the board to fight against the ills within the country which know no borders.

I maintain again, as I say in my conclusion, that there is still more to be done in this field of the Research I have undertaken and my intention here is to awaken debate again towards a healthy Church-State relationship with the Church constantly being aware of the imperative preferential option for the poor and oppressed. There is another added kind of “poor and oppressed”. How is the Church going to deal with those who have become poor by the quality of a life of the poverty of consumerism and materialism plus the oppression of a greedy lifestyle. The Church dare not ignore its mandate.

© 2009 University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Mabuza, WM 2009, Kairos revisited : investigating the relevance of the Kairos document for church-state relations within a democratic South Africa, PhD thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-07292010-235111/ >


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