Saturday, February 28, 2009

Stop the bus ( I mean taxis!)

The taxi industry has allways intrigued me. On the one hand they are dependant on
(some would say part of) the local people and constantly remind the public, of their unfortunate plight, in the face of governments efforts at regulating the industry. Here, so they say, they are the vulnerable victims of gross discrimination. They would even come close to paint themselves as an industry that has build itself up from scratch-literally from 'rags to riches'. If you come from the townships, you know how dependant you are on the taxis and taxi drivers. You get to know the drivers by name and by combi; even by the holes in the seats or the floor, by the oily odour and the coloured wires hanging from the dashboard. In a weird way your fellow communters, in 'your taxi' form a community of sorts.

Yet, on the other hand, this industry has consistently failed to weed out the criminal, vile currents, that lead to barbarous and deeply disturbing behaviour on the roads. Many a time these commuters would be found dead, lying somewhere in the wet mud, on the side of the highway, because of just another 'taxi accident'. The most recent horrific incident, caused the untimely death of a young school girl, Bernadine Kruger, who, as she made her way to school was crushed to death, by a taxi. We all at one point or the other witnessed how these thugs, skipped red traffic lights (I saw it today again and again !); how they race down the yellow-line, how they would switch between lanes, with no indicators, as they display absolutely no concern for their fellow-road users. I wonder, as I put on the breaks for another taxi, whether this behaviour is as a result of simply being arrogant or a case of being totally unfit for such a responsibility.

Be that as it may, I think it is in this light that the call for tougher action against criminal taxi-drivers and bosses makes perfect sense. These measures should be a deterant and public examples need to be made, espescially now in the case of the late Bernadine. Her cruel death should not be forgotten. But also, the measures to tighen up control of this industry, should be increased as well as the recapitalisation programme to clean up our road from this mess. Further, I also believe that stronger regulation of driver's legitimacy and competence, as well as mental and emotional composure, need to be put in place. Many of these drivers, who transport us and our workforce on a daily basis, seems to suffer from delusions of being a law unto themselves, the 'kings of the road'. They evidently may not be in kind of mental state, to whom such a responsibility is bestowed. And whether we like it or not, unless we rigorously address the carnage on this level, we will not be able to build safer roads for our children and young people to drive on their bike or scooter, or walk to school, but also,for our workforce, who are, on a daily basis, in the belly of this beast.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

reconciliation, a road always under construction

Whilst South Africans, after 14 years insist that we have reconciled, so we must 'get over it', Poland and Germany are still at each other's throat over what to do with the memory of World War Two, 70 years later. A story over an appointment of Erika Steinbach at a museum highlighting the plight of Germans, who were relocated from Poland, Hungary and Chechoslovakia, seems to open up anew the wounds and a new effort at reconciliation is called from all quarters. Interesting how often it is expected from South Africans to forget. I wonder why ?

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hope for Zimbabwe

Let's get Zimbabwe on her feet again! Whilst we all may have our reservations about the Zimbabwean styled aka Mbeki-styled government of national unity, we cannot deny that this is a step forward. Being an optimist, I would give it a go and would suggest that Zimbabwe's new government need our support.

Of course, Mugabe is still there and preparing for another obscene narcissistic feast; the current security forces still go on and commit serious human rights offences, the cholera and HIV/AIDS crisis is still spreading like wildfire, but we should not yield to the temptation to cynicism or worse, shades of Afro pessimism, which paints Zimbabwe as forever condemned beyond hope. The South African transition, the mammoth task here of restoring dignity, humanity, which will possibly take generations, remind us that the turnaround in Zimbabwe also call for a long term perspective, a dream that need to guide current choices and actions. Let's remind ourselves that Barack Obama's, 'Yes we can' is embedded in the struggle against slavery, racism which was sustained over decades. The journey of our northern neighbours will be no different and like some-one else said recently, (my paraphrasing) 'when friends are hitting low times, we who can, must lend a hand'.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Vespers worship, strange but intriguing

With fear and trepidation I entered the church building in Brixton, on Saturday night. Brixton is infamous for the 'Brixton se Moord en Roof' (murder and robbery squad). This would however be my first visit to the St Nicholas congregation for 'Vespers'. Vespers, for a Reformed Coloured, sounded like a kind of scooter, so, I simply did not know what to expect from this cross between an Orthodox church and a scooter.

Once inside, I recognised one or two friends and familiar faces, which looked like 'friendly strangers', as well. In church, it helps if others are also uncomfortable, and not sure what's going to happen next. It doesn't if you are at a place where everyone seems to be so in control and too ready to save you. Here, I can expose my uncertainty; I can also walk around, and marvel at the art (icons), the smell and the aura of the worship space. It touches my senses and at some point I may simply sit down and look around, smell and listen. I see some young black faces, (possibly the children of the 'pastor'?), mostly older people and 'pastors' with robes and beards. I am intrigued. Then the drama begins with interesting chanting, the choir singing, and movement through the doors, speaking from this side and answering from 'the other side'. All this, whilst we are standing (and sitting at some points). It's weird, but fascinating, indeed intriguing.

Now, let me come clean: I have participated in mass worship led by some from the Russian Orthodox Tradition, a bit from a distance; the group was bigger and I was way at the back. This time it was a closer group, so I felt I wanted to participate, but the closest I came was to sing a bit, tried the movement of the right hand doing the 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit' and smelled the burning stuff with the sound of the choir and the prayers. I hoped though, for a sermon of sorts or a song to well-known hymn to sing, but I suppose its all in the atmosphere, in the mystery.

The refreshments, conversations and building friendships afterwards were closer to home. Here we can talk and reflect and its stimulating, I'm not yet, sure what to make of it, but then, the experience and the mystery still linger, it still haunts me…the fear which becomes awe, there has to be more…

Friday, February 06, 2009

Missional is still in white hands, purposefully


Black churches are not missional. So it seems, if we follow the arguments of some bloggers. One day, after we have come finally through modernity, we will catch up on the white, Northern churches, who are out there in front, with we, Africans lagging (again sheepishly following!) behind. Is this the best we can say here? I don't think so. The real issue is that the politics and economics of the conversation in being missional or emergent is still in the hands of white males; at least in terms of my experience in South Africa. (Gordon Dames, notwithstanding!). Let me explain.

I was introduced to this concept 'missional', via an invitation from a colleague in the white, Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), in the middle of 2004. They introduced me and other colleagues from the URCSA to the new Partnership for Missional Churches, facilitated by an US-based consultancy, Church Innovations, represented by Pat Keiffert, and the local partner, the Bureau for Continuing Theological Training and Research (BUCTER, now called Communitas). The various partnering congregations were asked to pay a predetermined amount of money to be part of this partnership and were invited to send representatives of their church council for an introductory meeting and training, at one of the DRC congregations, to be called the "leader congregation" in this cluster of congregations. The partnership has grown under this structure, with various clusters being formed in South Africa and Namibia, with a structured MTh (Missional Church) started at the University of Stellenbosch, in 2006, under the leadership of Prof Jurgens Hendriks. Key emergent proponents, like Brian McClaren, Allan Hirsch, Scot McKnight, Tony Jones, amongst others, have visited some of these congregations and they maintain close ties to this partnership.

Of course, the concept, missional, has been in circulation before this and has gained currency, especially since the publication of Missional Church: A Vision for sending the church in North America, after which we saw an upsurge of new literature and other sources of reflection on missional ecclesiology. Kritzinger however recently made the interesting point that the journal of the Southern African Association for Mission studies (SAMS), started by David Bosch in 1972, was called Missionalia. The theological meaning then, was never discussed although, also in the Southern African context, concepts like "sending", mission, missionary, etc were already hotly contested and vigorously debated.

Another new network, in the Southern African context, is called Missionet, under the theological and inspirational leadership of Theo and Johan Geyser, who are leading reshaped and reinvented pentecostal local churches and what is called "new church plants". Their own doctoral research grappled with the transition of local Pentecostal churches towards being responsive to the post-modern cultural context, in line with the models of the well-known USA based Saddleback and Willowcreek community churches, lead by Rick Warren and Bill Hybels, respectively. They also keep with close linkages with the emergent church movements in the US and UK, with key advocates like Brian McClaren, Rob Bell and Leonard Sweet, being regular visitors at their all white, mega-churches, consisting now of mostly migrated, former DRC members. Many mainline local congregations, now also follow these models and proponents with varying degrees of agreement with the principles and practices, as proposed in the various literature, websites and blogs available.

Then in 2007 I was invited, by a South African colleague, who is versed in the emerging church conversation, to a consultation which was held in Kampala, Uganda. Under the banner of Amahoro, leaders and members from various emergent churches in the United States, as well as church leaders especially from East and Central Africa, gathered to mainly discuss issues of post-modernity and the relevance of the emerging conversation for Africa. The aim was to start a conversation and build partnerships amongst, what were called, missional leaders and thinkers. Here, the dialogue centred on the question whether we are in fact dealing with a postmodern or postcolonial turn, but also how in a practical way these churches could link up with African churches. Another consultation followed in 2008 in Rwanda and for 2009 one is planned for Johannesburg, South Africa.

These wide range of proposals are not an exhaustive overview of the current post-colonial ecclesial landscape, but in terms of responding to the missional and emerging phenomenon, gives a glimpse of the current search for the agenda and vocation of being church in a shifting context of, what some would call, the post-modern Southern Africa. My observation is that, at least in this context, those clustered under the missional banner, are mostly driven by DRC ministers and professional theologians, employed at universities and research institutes, who are a generation or two older, then those who are part of a Southern African emergent conversation. The latter cohort, consists mostly of a younger generation of individuals, albeit not necessarily pastors of congregations, mostly from reinvented or evangelical backgrounds, who have unrestrained access to the flows of blogs and other social networking communities, framing and constraining participation in the conversation. The issue is not that African communities are lagging behind, the issue is that the missional conversation reflects the divisions and the powerful control that whites still wield, ecclesially, but also socially. That is the reality and that has to change.

Bob Marley, not just another coloured

Today we remember not simply another 'person of mixed' descend. For many, if not thousands he was a prophet, for others simply one of the first, if not the first superstars from the Third World- a great entertainer. Certainly he captured the imagination of a generation, irrespective of race or class. He was not just another coloured- he was Bob Marley.

Marley, the charismatic reggae icon, from Jamaica died 1981. He was only 36 years old. He was born on February 6, 1945 and would have celebrated his 64th birthday today. His marijuana ('herb') smoking lifestyle offended many, being a Rasta he defended it in terms of his theology, but also, he exposed the hypocrisy of a society that blessed the consumption and tolerates the abuse of alcohol and nicotine, yet sneers at the smoking of 'the herb', which for him was also a 'gift from God'.

I don't agree with his theology or some aspects of his lifestyle. I was however challenged by his message of unity and peace for the world. He states, 'Me only have one ambition, y'know. I only have one thing I really like to see happen. I like to see mankind live together - black, white, Chinese, everyone - that's all.'As a Christian, he challenged me to 'Get up, stand up, Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, Don't give up the fight.' As a person, who grew up in a community where, your mixed-ness, was sneered at and became the mark of Cain; where it defined your possibilities, Marley, articulated our hopes and dreams. He inspired us to 'never give up the fight', to be rooted in our history of slavery, of oppression, but to never allow it to constrain our potential, because, God see and hears the cry of his people in slavery on Egypt or in exile in Babylon.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Obituary Bert Boer , 1 February 2009

After a period in which he was seriously ill, Bert Boer died at home on Sunday 1 February at the age of 63 years. For many years, with great energy and sharp insights, he dedicated himself to Mission, World Service and Ecumenism, both in his home country, the Netherlands, and abroad. We got to know him as a strong personality who, with great expertise, was able to give substance to the work and, in at times difficult situations, acted resolutely in shaping policy.

Bert Boer was called in 1970 to serve as a missionary pastor of the Netherlands Reformed Church (Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk) in Indonesia, where he was attached to the Theological College of the Moluccan Protestant Church in Ambon. After his return to the Netherlands, he was given responsibility for promoting the contacts with the Moluccan community in the Netherlands and especially with the Moluccan churches. From 1981 to 1988, he was head of the department for World Service of the General Diaconal Council (GDR) of the Netherlands Reformed Church. From 1988 to 1999, Bert was general secretary of the GDR and, from 1997 to 2007, head of the department for Global Ministries of Kerk in Actie.

Bert was active in numerous fields. He had close ties with South Africa and, as part of the World Council of Churches, was closely involved with the Programme to Combat Racism. In Europe, he worked with Eurodiaconia and Aprodev. As chairman of the Joint Dutch Aid Agencies (Samenwerkende Hulporganisaties, SHO), he provided leadership to the collaborative effort to aid victims of the Indian Ocean Tsunami and other disasters. He also acted as spokesman of the SHO. After retiring as head of Global Ministries, he served as an advisor to the board of the Churchwide Services Organisation of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands.
We remember with gratitude his commitment to the Gospel and its translation into practical deeds. Our heartfelt wish for his wife Veronica de Lange and the other family members is that God’s comfort may give them strength at this time of sorrow.
Further details about the funeral arrangements will follow.
Haaije Feenstra,
Director, Churchwide Services Organisation of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The writing is on the Wall (street)

I think, with all the talk about the global crisis and the bail-out plans of governments of chief-executives, there should be another kind of talk. Small talk. The talk about honest hardworking people loosing their jobs; young people's jobs being casualised and having to hear that government simply cannot create jobs. That's a lie. They do have money, only to pay the excessive bonuses of those that cause this crisis in the first place.

Our own dear minister of Finance Trevor Manual, bless his soul, seems to have become the spokesperson of WEF. He knows the language. Business Report quote Manuel who state that the WEF should be the place where we raise our issues. It's only that Manuel seems to still sing the praises of these institutions and, while he is a good man and all that, he remains blissfully unaware of the fact that these guys have consistently failed to pre-empt and prevent the current crisis or turn around the fortunes of the country and continent he serves. To be the advocate of these elite clubs, betray Manuel's interests and aspirations (?) But let me not bore myself with WEF's language and impotence. What Manuel needs to know is that ordinary people, normal honest people, are looking simply for jobs and sustainable income, for dignified housing and for health and educational services, which improves our quality of living. We are not interested in clever sounding words like 'protectionism', the 'Doha trade talks', G8, G20, G22, infinitum, ad nuaseam. They know that you are clever. We can keep that for the research conferences and academic journals. What people want to hear is how local council called sommer ' the council' is going to do about the 'council houses' , the 'Helen Josephs hospital' aka 'Strydom' and 'Bara', which are literally falling apart and our dignified parents have to sit in unfriendly queues for hours. Fix it man! Fix the roads and employ our local community members and young people to do the job and give them a decent wage. Curb the influx of Chinese products and also the 'labelled producs ', by stiff import tariffs and rather put government, no tax payer's money in small businesses, owned and run by the locals and subsidise local products, so that it is affordable.

Of course, this is small talk. Who cares? Anyway, he doesn't want any tips anymore- Davos has spoken. Yet, it's the small people that will continue to speak out in a language that we all understand… writing that are already on the Wall (Street)