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Date: 27/12/2004
Source: The Presidency
Title: Zuma: Anniversary celebrations of Bantu Church of Christ


Address by Deputy President Jacob Zuma at the 90th anniversary celebrations of the Bantu Church of Christ, New Brighton, Port Elizabeth

Your Grace, Bishop John Bolana,
Ababhishobhi nabafundisi,
Ibandla lonke,

I am honoured to be with you today, to share this wonderful occasion with an institution that has been part of our history for so many decades.

It is even more special to celebrate this 90th anniversary of the Bantu Church of Christ while still surrounded by the wonderful spirit of Christmas.

Another celebratory spirit in our hearts is that of the First Decade of Freedom and Democracy. This makes 2004 a real year of celebration and of praising our Maker for all these blessings.

This celebration today makes us look back many decades in the history of our country, as we trace our beginnings as a formerly oppressed people. The Bantu Church of Christ came into being in 1914, during the early stages of Christianity in its Western sense in our country. Indigenous people had had their own belief systems, which they had been practising for centuries.

You would also recall that Christianity was initially introduced to us hidden under a colonial cloak or partly if not mainly used as an instrument for subjugation of the African people. Many Africans therefore associated Christianity with the mission to subjugate and oppress them.

But fortunately, the Church was never a monolithic structure, and there were always church leaders and missionaries who were on the side of the truth and therefore on the side of the oppressed even during those early days. It is through their contribution that the Christian faith was able to take root and grow in our country.

The Christian faith also grew due to the visionary leadership of Christians such as the founder of the Bantu Church of Christ, Bishop James Ngcanjini Limba for his foresight and leadership, in seeking to link Christianity with his African roots.

The history of the Bantu Church of Christ is therefore interrelated to the history of African people's struggle to liberate themselves from oppression and ideological subjugation.

The formation of the Bantu Church of Christ in 1914 was a rejection of the colonial feature by some of the mainstream churches, and provided a message that was resonant with the dominant feelings of the people at the time, the African independent and growing spirit of Africanism mainly in our country.

It is for this reason that we viewed this occasion as important for us to be present today, to acknowledge the role of this church in the struggle for liberation, and the role you continue to play in fostering nation building in particular and in other African Independent Churches throughout the country in general.

In celebrating 90 years of this church, we also in part acknowledge the critical contribution of the African Independent Churches which emerged in the early 20th Century.

The philosophy of the African Independent Churches has always been part of the African liberation philosophy. Right from their inception, they played a crucial role in promoting a religious philosophy that was based on sound African value systems.

The pioneers of the African Independent Churches include Moses Mangena Mokane, founder of Ethiopian Church, Isaiah Shembe, founder of the Church of Nazareth of Shembe Church, James Dwane, founder of the Order of Ethiopia and Nehamiah Tile, founder of the Thembu National Church.

Brothers and sisters, in celebrating 90 years of this church, and ten years of freedom in our country, we also recall the suppression of the independent churches by the oppressive regime in the last century.

It is important to note and underline this particular point because it is not usually highlighted that oppression in our country was total. It was political, economic, social and spiritual. That is why we referred to it as national oppression.

In doing all of this to us Europeans wanted to recreate Africa after their own image, not after the image of God. In that process they were brutal, ruthless and merciless. You would remember the members of The Church of God and Saints of Christ who were ruthlessly mowed down by the forces of the Smuts Government in what is known as the Bulhoek Massacre of 1921.

Their leader Enoch Mgijima had to serve 5 years in prison, when he refused to move members of his church from their land and the place of worship at Ntabelanga near Queenstown. This is just one of many examples.

This resistance to oppressive laws by the Church did not end there it continued in the decades that followed, where many courageous church leaders took a stand against oppression.

I am giving you this background so that you know that this government understands the often neglected and marginalized history of the African Independent Churches, and that we understand the role that they have played in the past and continue to play today.

I must emphasise that our government and the ruling party are not strangers to Christian or Religious values and beliefs. Today's celebration in fact also affords us an opportunity to highlight and underpin the positive role that progressive Christians played within the ANC, and generally in the struggle to liberate this country.

This goes back to the originator of the idea to found the African National Congress (ANC) in 1912, Pixley ka Isaka Seme who was an ordained priest who has studied theology in the United States before qualifying as a lawyer.

Other leaders in the early 20th Century, who were staunch believers in the Lord, Jesus Christ, were for example John "Mafukuzela" Dube, the first President of the ANC from 1912 to 1919, and of course Reverend Makgatho, the second ANC President, who was a founder of one of the early African Independent Churches, the United National Church.

In their own way, all these Church leaders made an important contribution in terms of redefining what it meant to be an African and a Christian at the same time and what it still means today to be Christian or religious and African at the same time.

In other words, we did not have to become some false Europeans in order to be real Christians or do away with our being African.

From as early as 1919, key leaders from the African Independent Churches such as Reverend Makgatho were preaching about equality and the right to human dignity.

In their own way, all these church leaders contributed vastly in terms of redefining what it meant to be an African and a Christian at the same time, within the context of an African experience.

Your Grace, Bishop Bolana, ladies and gentlemen, as we celebrate 90 successful years of the Bantu Church of Christ, we cannot avoid looking ahead into what role the church should continue to play in the reconstruction and development of the country in particular and in the African continent in general.

The message of the Christian faith is fundamentally about the upholding of values of justice, equality, peace, respect of human rights, prosperity and goodwill towards all people.

We rely on the church to lead communities in working to strengthen families and communities, to build a strong foundation for a caring society.

Our country has just completed marking the 16 Days of Activism of No Violence against Women and Child Abuse.

We urge the religious sector to continue this campaign, working in partnership with government and other sectors, to highlight this scourge and work towards its eradication from our society.

The church, as partners with government in the Moral Regeneration Movement, also need to continue to play a critical role in ensuring that the moral values of ubuntu such as respect for human life, and respect for each other are inculcated, especially among our youth.

We also see a key role for the church to continue playing in alleviating the suffering caused by terminal diseases, especially HIV and AIDS. Across the country every day, we are encouraged to see the churches and religious people and leaders alike taking care of the aged, nursing the sick, feeding and clothing the poor and orphans especially HIV and AIDS orphans.

We greatly applaud, and appreciate these selfless efforts by the church, for they inspire the nation to greater moral heights. This is what moral regeneration is all about. As you are a direct product of the struggle for justice, freedom, peace and good value system let us join hands in the struggle for the spiritual reconstruction and development of our society.

Brothers and sisters, thank you for inviting me to share this service with you. We wish you all the best in continuing with the work of the Lord.

We rejoice with you as you celebrate the 90th Anniversary of this remarkable church. May the Lord Bless you as you continue with your mission to build a church that is rooted in preaching the true gospel of justice, peace and support for the poor and vulnerable in society.

We trust that we will continue working together to build a better life for all in our country.

I thank you.

Issued by: The Presidency
27 December 2004
Source: SAPA
Edited by: Shona Kohler
 
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