By Sphelele Khumalo
“O my body, make of me always a man who questions!” – Frantz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks
One gets their spirit unceasingly fired up when they think about the state of the black church in South Africa. From the long warm walls of synagogues to the small shacks filling the unoccupied corners of busy townships, the state of the church remains the same, or rather the state of the black church remains unchanged. In 2018 I wrote an article titled The Role of the Church in the Quest for True Humanity published by a black publishing platform, Black Opinion. This is an article written at a moment when I had divorced the church totally and took a long flight into the Western lands and ascribed with what many today have termed as the ‘liberal atheism of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins’, among others. As an African, I failed to locate myself in their ideas and reflections, I then assumed they were speaking of the White God that Biko had demanded to sit down and the Black God to start doing the talking.
We are in this mess of the demi-gods today because of the big white bearded fellow assumed to be in the sky, whom many black people still perceive to be God in their minds. These demi-gods are people who have assumed the position of being the earthly gods of black people today, but they are not creators of this evilness, theirs is an expansion of what has already been the active tradition of the white society for hundreds years long. Black people goes to church in search for hope which the Word of God brings to life, but they are met with humiliation, disrespect and disregard of their humanity by the same ‘Man of God’s whom themselves are black and knows exactly the challenge of being black in the world today. We can thus conclude that the so-called prophets/spiritual leaders are black and ignorant to their history while the Church is yet to cut it umbilical cord with the colonial lands of the Western World.
In the History of Western Medieval Philosophy by Anthony Kenny, one learns in detail of how St. Augustine of Hippo, recognized as the Father of the Church, worked tirelessly for the fusion of Christian religious notions with some of the ideas of the earliest Greek Philosopher, Plato. His driving force was to find a common ground, to form congruency between these two notions. To come into the South African context, in a post-colonial period one fails to find such an act within the actions, thoughts and ideas of those who claim to be the messengers or the prophets of God, the self-proclaimed barometers of the Word of God so to say. Those who keep trying are few and face the wrath of the hegemonic voices who seem to be in possession of a rubric manual on how to teach the Word of God and where can God be found. Christianity applies as raw as is in this land because the gatekeepers of the religion refuses to cut the umbilical cord with the Western tradition, indigenous culture or tradition takes the second spot, if available.
There is no quest for the fusion of Christianity and indigenous cultures and traditions of the land, thus the rise of demi-godism finds the ground fertile to exploit and dupe those who need hope without recourse.
This lack of fusion is what lands us to the experience of extremist Christian religious practices. If the spiritual leaders/prophets could give consideration to the indigenous cultural and traditional values, perhaps one would not be seeing people eating rabbits, drinking petrol, being sprayed by dooms and all those stuff which boils the blood when one sees them. The televised evangelical services of the Sowetan TV, with some using private media platforms, have led successfully to the normalization of anti-black practices as proudly presented by the likes of Dr. Nala of the Nala Mandate International, among others not mentioned. A man who has been “empower[ing] the nations and the churches with the gospel of truths” as per the ministry’s mission executed under his leadership, but this is an old black man who finds it normal to walk like a king in the middle of black people who turn to kneeling and lying down like small children when he passes.
Now this is contrary to the values within the African cultural and traditional scope, thus one can easily register such practices as the continuation of the colonial anti-black tradition that sees black people as the inferior who must always bow to the superior (read Men of God) who have assumed the role of being honorary whites through their custodianship of the Word of God. Their word of God, so to say as recorded in John 6 verse 38 that Jesus, the Son of God himself came down to earth so he can serve and save the people while being equal to them. Now, this is foreign to the prophets and spiritual leaders of this article’s interest, for they aspire to be God themselves.
In the previously mentioned article, a question arises if whether the Church can today be used as an organizing tool in our quest for liberation? For an answer to this question, which I believe it can save us from such virulent anti-black tradition, I turned to two great thinkers, novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o and theologian James H. Cone. Here asserts Ngugi wa Thiong’o: “I believe that the Christian members of other organizations which avow humanism could help in the struggle to move away from the strange land of capitalism, neo-colonialism and Western middle-class culture. For this we may very well need to destroy the old temple to build a new, different one”.
Interestingly, this then calls for the re-imagination and re-configuration of the black church, which goes in hand with Biko’s assertion to drop the mea culpa chorus and “redefine the message in the bible to make it relevant to the struggling masses”. Theologically, a pathway to realize this ‘new, different temple’ is presented by Black Liberation Theology, in which James H. Cone writes: “Black theology must be a church discipline, true to itself only when validated in the context of people struggling for the freedom of the oppressed. Its chief task is to help the church to be faithful to the task of preaching and living the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ in the world today”. Therefore, to avoid having churches in South Africa over black churches, the re-imagination and re-configuration of the church must be a priority. Black liberation theology as a tool of analysis provides guidance that a lot progressive work can be done within its framework.
Sphelele Khumalo is the Cape Metro, Western Cape, Regional Spokesperson of Black First Land First