/ 28 March 2024

Faith helped build a free South Africa

South Africans Celebrate Mandela Victory
A huge crowd of South Africans celebrates the victory of Nelson Mandela in the 1994 Presidential election. (Photo by David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
God Edition

It is impossible to think about the ANC without thinking about both the church and traditional authorities in South Africa, considering the role that these have played in the formation of the party, and essentially in the process of building South Africa as a nation.

Since its inception in 1912, the ANC has always perceived God, and faith in general, as integral for dealing with the oppressive colonial regime and thereafter what we call “colonialism of a special type” under the apartheid regime since 1948.

The hymn by Reverend Tiyo Soga, Lizalis’idinga Lakho, has served as one of the guiding mantras for the ANC for more than a century. This hymn is a call to the God of truth to fulfil His promise to take away our troubles, bring joy and rule the land. 

My father was a priest in the Apostolic church, and this hymn’s significance in the liberation movement affected how I approached my political activism as a believer, and as an activist committed to the ideals of freedom, equality and justice. 

In my youth, I served as the co-founder of the Alexandra Youth Congress, a predecessor to the ANC Youth League, but also spent a lot of time as an organiser and assistant general secretary of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 1980s. 

The UDF was essentially a movement that called upon churches, civic associations, trade unions, student organisations and sports bodies to fight oppression. 

Although a multi-sectoral organisation, faith informed the various ways that the UDF organised in communities across the country against racial capitalism, and for a better and just future. 

This contributed to the repositioning of religion as a tool for colonial oppression to it being an equally viable weapon against apartheid.

The relationship between faith and politics is well articulated and better understood through liberation theology, a philosophy centred on the plight of the oppressed. Black liberation theology gained momentum in the United States under Martin Luther King Jr during the American segregation period. 

Given the similarities between the US and South Africa as it relates to racial segregation, black liberation theology shaped the political discourse in our country, not only during apartheid but also during the transition to democracy. 

The formation of a Government of National Unity, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are some of the ways that I believe godly virtues such as love, forgiveness, compassion, patience and courage were evident in our nation-building process, ushering in a peaceful transition in South Africa. 

It is through this and several other ways that we can see the influence of Christianity, and faith as a whole, in our politics and our developmental choices as a nation. 

As deputy president of South Africa, some of the responsibilities delegated to me by the president include accelerating land reform, responding to service delivery backlogs, rolling out the district development model and being a champion for social cohesion, working closely with traditional and Khoi-San leaders, the South African National Aids Council and the Human Resource Development Council. 

These responsibilities require that I always lead with love and compassion, and call for me to always be anchored in my service to God’s people. 

My family and I are members of the Methodist Church of South Africa, and when there is an opportunity, I prioritise fellowship and collective worship with my family and other believers in a church in Johannesburg or Cape Town. 

I cherish the opportunity of fellowship with other believers, and will always acknowledge the role that the church has and continues to play in building our society through prayer and taking care of the vulnerable. 

Considering its significant role in society, I also firmly believe that the church and other faith-based organisations should take the responsibility of educating the people about our history as a nation, about democracy, and the importance of voting. 

The church was central to our victory against apartheid; it should in this conjuncture also be an agent that protects the gains made over the past 30 years of our democracy. God, faith and politics should not be treated as isolated from each other, but rather as important actors in building an equal and prosperous future for South Africa. 

Shipokosa Paulus Mashatile is the deputy president of South Africa.