Keynote Address

“The Christian message of hope is what sustains millions of people struggling under the weight of unjust economic and social arrangements all over Africa and all over the world.” said Professor  of the University of South Africa, whose keynote address at the conference focused the thinking of the delegates on the challenges and hopes in Africa. Stressing that Christian mission is about “witness” he said that the mission is less about words and more about living, acting and enacting – “It is something we do in bold humility.”

Professor Maluleke emphasised the difficulty inherent in talking about Africa: Africa he claimed has a rich and wide variety of contexts, experiences and countries: the continent has many and multi-faceted meanings and experiences and there is always the danger of making over-simplifications, particularly in treating Africa as monolithic rather than the rich and diverse continent it is. To fully understand Africa there has to be the acknowledgement of the humanity of Africa and a change in our mind set to appreciate that the problems and challenges of Africans – poverty, corruption, are the problems and challenges of humanity as a whole: “the hurdles to be scaled in Africa will be found anywhere else in the world: if we scratch the surface of Africa a little, we will find humanity; we will find ourselves.”

Thus the first hurdle to be scaled is the need “to recognise that whatever else Africa is, it is a dynamic conglomerate of countries and peoples” and the question that MWM needs to ask is how best it can become a partner of African churches.

Pointing out that the colonial entanglement of imperial colonists with Church missions was highly significant in the development of Christian mission particularly from the nineteenth century onwards, Professor Maluleke said it had created both an identity and legacy problem for Christianity, due to churches in the colonies which had often served the interests of the upper classes and, only by accident, the interests of the lower classes. This development has meant that “mission” and “missionaries” have become tainted notions amongst many African people.

African churches, he said, were young churches which meant that many lacked a body of scholarship in theology: their need to find new financial backers as the global financial crisis hits traditional sources of finance in the West might result in alternative unhelpful partnerships being established.

Report by Ed Standhaft

Questions to Professor Maluleke

Q. What solutions can be found to address religious conflict between Christians and Muslims in Africa?

A. Conflict is never confined to either politics or religion, but to a process of interlocking issues. Religious fundamentalism, both Christian and Muslim, leads to misunderstandings and results in a perversion of truth. On the other hand, Inter-Faith organisations operate across Africa seeking to encourage mutual respect and understanding. Religious affiliation is all too often an easy explanation given by the media and those critics who do not recognise the reconciling role played by people of faith.

Q. China is beginning to play a major role in development in Africa, but who calls the tune?

A. While China is influential, Africans are free and able to make choices. They have much to learn from China, both good and bad. China offers an alternative at a time when Europe and the US are less able to offer aid. ‘Hopefully,’ he said, ‘We’ve learnt lessons from previous colonial powers!’

Q. What about literacy levels in Africa today? Why are they still so low?

A. Reading is a big problem. Many do not read because they don’t enjoy reading: the same might be said of many, old and young in the UK! Yet people are learning through other ways: from DVDs, CD Roms, the Internet…

Q. Why does the media offer only negative images of Africa?

A. Sadly only bad news sells. Journalists fall into the trap of always looking for a simple story; they lack creativity and mostly fail to explore the real stories of a continent where hope is predominant.


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