Thursday, June 16, 2011

Villa-Vicencio and 16 June

Yesterday we had Charles Villa-Vicencio at the seminary to give special June 16 addresses. I guess the best way to describe him is as a 'struggle academic'. My previous knowledge of him was just that he and John de Gruchy, both of UCT co-authored books about apartheid, struggle and theology. It was cool to hear him speak and to meet him. I was perhaps a little disappointed in how ordinary he looked . . . I'm sure I must have seen photos somewhere of a more dramatic figure.
But I wasn't disappointed in his speaking - he has my thoughts going in about seventeen directions and I know that I'll never think through all of them. Here is one train of thought - every step could be debated and I might disagree with myself tomorrow, but I quite like the end of the train.
I landed up somewhat unexpectedly in conversation with Charles and someone else (Michael if you want to know . . .). So I started with a question based on a premise that some might disagree with strongly and others would see as obvious. Something to the effect of 'I think that the death of apartheid was inevitable because it was essentially an unsustainable system and we need to be careful about congratulating ourselves too much on overcoming it. Can we really learn anything from it about combating injustice that may occur in a more sustainable system?' After unpacking that a little, and remembering that people did very bold and sacrificial things to defeat the system, I think we agreed that the premise was ok. Unfortunately the conversation got derailed so I never got an answer.
Step 2. In the evening lecture Charles quoted Maphela Rampela who in conversation with him said that it was not the struggle leaders who brought about freedom, but the people. That fed into my thinking. As I write it, I see that the link to step 1 may be a bit obscure . . . but I can see it! The power of the people and external pressure. How can that be brought to bear on say, corruption? External pressure is capricious. But the government is afraid of discouraging 'investors'. People power?
Step 3. I've mentioned somewhere here before my thoughts on the role the church could play by providing Christian trade unions. Charles made a connection for me that I hadn't quite seen in this context. And that is that the unemployed are not represented by the trade unions. This is why I felt a sort of disconnect when Vavi spoke about the disillusionment of the unemployed youth. It is a real concern, but Vavi and COSATU are not necessarily in a position to fight for them. The conflict of interest with the workers is too great.
Step 4. And that really opens up clearly defined role for the church - to be the voice of the unemployed youth. To whom does the voice speak? That's important. It needs to speak to the corrupt elite who because they feel that they have arrived have forgotten those who sent them. It's too easy to speak to business - which is already making an impact through social upliftment programmes. I do believe that the church can help by forcing an awareness of the struggles of the youth on the people with the power to make a difference and I think that this would also ultimately result in a diminishing of corruption.
I now need a few more steps . . . but am quite excited that as a church minister I may actually be able to complete those steps. Let me pray a bit . . . a lot.


markpenrith said...

"And that really opens up clearly defined role for the church"

Can the church with any integrity speak on behalf of anyone who does not belong to it?

Yes, I understand God’s system in many ways encompasses all and sundry but as far as representation goes are we able of representing anyone or anything which falls outside of the ambient of our membership (for lack of a better word)?

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Mark - that's a good point. The thing is that the Methodist Church in SA has one of the largest memberships in the country. Many trade union leaders and much of that activity happens in the church. For instance, information regarding strikes will be passed out at funerals. I don't believe that the church is taking ownership of this and imprinting Christian values on it. We are in a good position to represent the poor and the marginalised because they are often well-represented in the church. So there are really too things: taking existing activism and ensuring that it is in line with what we think Jesus would like and secondly taking initiative where we see that it needs to be taken.