IN FOCUS: Thabo Makgoba - 'I'm not playing politics'

2017-11-30 09:55
Thabo Makgoba (Netwerk24)

Thabo Makgoba (Netwerk24)

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Cape Town - When Archbishop Thabo Makgoba used to pray for former president Nelson Mandela, the statesman would always ask him to leave behind the written prayers so that he could study them later.

He would do so and, on Makgoba's return, quiz him about what St. Peter meant when he said so and so, or about the meaning of a certain word in the Bible.

Makgoba soon realised that, despite the common perception that Madiba was a communist and therefore not religious, he had a mature spirituality and faith.

This year, in an attempt to give some insight into this side of the man who became an international icon, Makgoba wrote a book about his prayers with Madiba.  

"I think people expected Madiba to make big statements about religious dogma and, when he didn't, they assumed he wasn't religious. But he revered faith as something that couldn't be dirtied by politics," the Archbishop said, sitting at a conference table in his personal home and office in Bishop's Court.

It is this lesson that he takes into every discussion with politicians, business people and government representatives, where matters of privilege, corruption and inadequate service delivery are often topics of the day.

"God is God of all, or no God at all. And that's why President [Jacob] Zuma and I always fight. When he says: 'Archbishop, stay out of politics,' I say: 'But God is God of all. When God says he wants righteousness and justice, he wants it to flow like a river for all'."

"I've become really comfortable speaking about God in politics because I realised that politics is about life. If Julius says: 'Take the farms', it's not about the EFF. It's just wrong. It transgresses the rule of fairness and justice. If President Zuma takes from the fiscal purse to build his own private home, and I take a visit to Nkandla and see what is happening, I must say so. I'm not playing politics, Mr President, but it is just so unfair."

Makgoba (56), who's been the head of the Anglican Church in South Africa for the past 10 years, is arguably one of our most respected ambassadors locally and abroad, and often meets with world leaders to discuss the fate of the country.

He believes South Africa still has the admiration of the world, but that organisations such as the IMF are becoming increasingly concerned about the direction the economy is taking.

"People at home ask me if they should pack up and leave, and I always say no. South Africa is a beautiful country. We have no option but to make it work."

In this, the church has a very specific role to play that it can only do if it knows its own identity very well, says Makgoba.

"We're not an NGO or an opposition party, we're not in business. Although we have people from all those areas in our pews. We have a unique role. The church is the only organisation in society that does not exist to serve its own members. It exists to serve others.

"Our business is about hope, where we encourage people to do the things to make that which you hope for materialise.

"And so, we must preach and embody hope and, where that is not enough, we must go to the government and hold its hand and say: 'You're not here because you're the ANC. You're here because you are the representatives of the people'."

The church's contribution, in terms of welfare and advocacy, extends throughout the country and is often understated. With massive reach and resources, as well as the goodwill of the international community, it has raised millions for HIV/Aids treatment and awareness, as well as adult literacy and early childhood development. It is currently working with the department of health to highlight the scourge of TB in local communities.

Where government has been simply overwhelmed to tackle the issue of human trafficking, the church has stepped in, providing resources and expertise where needed.

"I don't believe the state has realised the potential of the church to help. Take education, for instance. We've got churches all over. We've got educators. We've got the connections abroad with the resources. Can we offer education together? Can we highlight the mud schools in the Eastern Cape?"

But the state seems to be afraid of the church and the support it has been able to mobilise in the past and, as a result, it is providing less and less funding to the church's welfares. Makgoba chalks it up to a lack of maturit but believes that, over time, this will change.

"We have no choice to just go out there and do it ourselves. And the solutions lie with every person – with you and me," he says.

"Let's build longer tables of friendship, instead of high walls of fear. Let's not be impatient and let's think long term. Our democracy is still young. South Africans are beautiful people. I am hopeful for the future."

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