South Africa

Black theology turned political in South Africa on March 21, 1960 with the Sharpeville massacre, when police opened fire at a peaceful demonstration, killing 67 blacks and wounding 186 others. In response, the African National Congress (ANC), for nearly five decades the primary and moderate voice of black resistance to apartheid, and the relatively new and militant Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), along with white South African liberals, initiated public demonstrations that gained worldwide attention. Subsequently, the government banned both the ANC and the PAC, arrested black and white anti-apartheid leaders who had not gone underground or fled the country, and in 1965 tried and imprisoned Nelson Mandela. In this situation of overweening repression, the legendary resistance of black South African peoples was paralyzed; but during the early 1970s the black consciousness movement, under the leadership of Steve Biko, animated a new generation. Biko's analysis laid bare the hypocrisy of white liberal attempts to control and mediate black liberation and denounced white usurpation of land along with the policy of bantustanization or the banishment of blacks to the most unproductive areas.

Manas Buthelezi (1975, 1976), Allan A. Boesak (1976, 1981), Simon Maimela (1981), and Frank Chikane formed a theological front line to grapple with the spurious saeculum spawned in the South African church-state nexus. Buthelezi and Boesak focused their reflections around apartheid's violation of agapic or neighbor love, and Maimela argued that apartheid constituted a form of social sin. Black political theology in South Africa called for the restoration and redistribution of political and economic power as a concrete expression of love and justice. As general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, Chikane facilitated black and white Christians in the preparation of the Kairos Document (1985), which was written during the period when the apartheid regime had imposed a state of emergency and black townships were under military occupation. In expounding Rom. 13: 1-7 in this context, the document uncovered three conflicting operative theologies: (1) a "state theology" mirrored in the white Dutch Reformed Church's support of the apartheid regime; (2) a "church theology" typified in the option of many Christians for cheap peace -reconciliation without justice, restitution, or social change; and (3) a "prophetic theology" grounded in Christian social praxis for justice and social and personal transformation. Chikane also served as the first general secretary of the Institute for Contextual Theology (ITC), which provided creative intellectual space in which theologians could develop new proposals and conduct dialogues with union activists, social scientists, and educators. Black political theology in South Africa derived its authority from the suffering and anguish of ordinary women and men; took its courage from the exuberant defiance of youth toyi-toying -stamping their feet and chanting in unison - in front of police batons and whips; and drew its hope from the crucified Jesus.

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