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Debate on Christianity & colonialism: an invitation to think Freedom

By Andile Mngxitama

On 24 May 2020 we went live on the Blacks Can’t Be Racist Facebook page and debated the topic of Christianity and colonialism/decoloniality. We canvassed many vexed questions flowing from my essay “Blacks Can’t Be Racist“ including: how was Christianity introduced to South Africa (SA) and what was the purpose of that; can Christianity be used for liberation; and were Sobukwe and Biko Christians? That’s the YouTube version of the debate of last night on Christianity and colonialism/decoloniality. My mind has not slept since.

Certain important considerations arose from the debate, namely:

1. Doctor Lerato Mokoena’s call to a present God suggests a disavowal of the heaven hereafter instead of the here and now; the refusal to accept suffering, the call of Jeremiah, and the allusion to the wound and perpetual suffering; and the cross as a symbol of redemption and lynching at the same time. The question is, how do we get out of the Christian church without abandoning it but using it as a point of insubordination and insurgency?

2. Pastor Xola Skosana presents in the main the challenge of the over determination of structure which leads to the impotency/castration value of agency. He postulates that since the Christian church and its practices are so deeply over determined by the colonial structure of feeling, thought and practice – then the promise of Black Theology is not attainable. Moreover Christ can’t be blackened and revolutionised -it’s a cul de sac!

3. Lerato Kobe seems to suggest that there is a place of agency from the bowels of the anti black Christian church via Black Theology into African spirituality. She recognizes a contest of Gods. The trouble is the need to overcome Pastor Skosana‘s challenge of structural over determination. She puts forward the African independent churches as a prototype of the move towards this “african spirituality”.

4. Patrick Matabeni poses a challenge on this hope presented by Kobe via the African Independent Churches (AIC’s) without abandoning agency via Black Theology. He critiques the efficacy of the independent churches as a Kilombo for the insurgency against the entrenched colonial modes in the spiritual realm. He devastatingly shows how in fact those denominations are not resistant to cooptation by white monopoly capital (WMC) and white supremacy. But unlike Pastor Skosana, Matabeni still sees Black Theology as the window out of the plantation.

There is a challenge that Matabeni also presents against the easy solution of abandoning Christ or expelling Jesus and embracing the African ancestor who will equally prove to be impotent in the face of white aggression. What’s to be done?

Here I find the invitation to radical reimagination of real decolonial spiritual practices presented by Dr Mokoena seductive. Yet there is a lingering doubt in its power of deliverance. I’m now wondering if we aren’t trapped in the zone of ephinomena instead of the phenomenon itself?

What breeds this alienation? Is it not our condition of unfreedom which is the zone that creates these spiritual amputations? Aren’t we invited to the real arena of deliverance by first recognising the original sin (land theft) and putting all our efforts towards addressing this – where a new theology of the oppressed can find expression as a theology of revolutionary battle, not attempts to create African spirituality within the colonial material reality?

The creation of the alternative is in the act of resistance itself, not so much in contemplation and creating alternative spheres of our spiritual existence?
The question remains open but I do feel progress was made in the debate.

Yes I’m fired up by the intellectual insurgency.

Thanks to:

1. Lerato Kobe
2. Dr Lerato Mokoena
3. Pastor Xola Skosana
4. Patrick Matabeni

Great Azanian teachers….

Watch the full debate: https://youtu.be/7WcxpUJ9lwY

Order your copy of the 10th Anniversary edition of BCBR via WhatsApp, email or go to the Facebook page, Blacks Can’t Be Racist.

Andile Mngxitama is the President of Black First Land First (BLF), a radical black consciousness organization.

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