Has any other Religious persuasion shaped the ANC more than the Christian Faith?

–         If I am a true Christian I should be able to identify with the ANC for many reasons  –

Is there perhaps only one party who truthfully can claim it is fundamentally Christian in origin, design, outlook, and praxis? Does the ANC claim its rightful Christian history? Maybe stating the obvious is at times necessary.

Listening to the legacy tribute lecture rendered by the incumbent president of the ANC and SA on perhaps one of the greatest sons the Southland has produced namely Chief Albert Luthuli the 6th President of the ANC, led me to our subject of discourse.

It is not a secret that from its founding, from its inception, the Christian Faith proved present and perhaps the connecting point and proverbial glue for the leaders of this organisation. The debate as to what the ANC in its origin was has been dealt with, for its correct to argue the ANC was from its inception born from the enclave of the intelligentsia, those who gathered as its initial leadership represented this progressive middle class, educated and respected vocational elite of the time.

Among these, perhaps the most visible were the Leaders who either shared a faith tradition of Christian definition. This Christian Faith thread meanders and courses throughout the 100 years of its existence, manifesting at different times in different epochs with a distinct presence of the very Christian dictum.

It is this consistent and indisputable golden thread that a friend Rev. Hendrik van Wyk in the Northern Cape in our conversation of our topic chooses to refer to as the “the umbilical cord of the ANC that runs through the Altar / Pulpit of the Christian Faith”. I find this expression of Van Wyk particularly befitting since it seeks to suggests the ANC was in the womb  connected and fed by the very Christian Faith often misunderstood and vilified by some with a lack or grasp of the role and significance of this Faith tradition assumed and played.

I fear no contradiction to argue that no other Faith not even what is claimed as a generic ancient African Faith holds such paramount place if the ANC’s leadership, central raison d’etre, its symbols, its mission and missio-dei serves as the barometer for such analysis.

The Premise for my assertion in corroboration emanates from the following:

Firstly, the essence and critical reason for the ANC’s formation is captured as The ANC was formed on 8 January 1912 by John Dube, Pixley ka Isaka Seme and Sol Plaatje along with chiefs, people’s representatives, and church organizations, and other prominent individuals to bring all Africans together as one people to defend their rights and freedoms, the ANC from its inception represented both traditional and modern elements, from tribal chiefs to church and community bodies and educated black professionals, though women were only admitted as affiliate members from 1931 and as full members in 1943’.

The ANC was formed at Waaihoek Methodist Church in Bloemfontein. Thus, the birthing of the ANC was necessitated by a conviction of an inalienable equality of humanity and being that is directly drawn from the fundamental truth of the Christian Faith ensemble in creatorial record. Not only in creatorial record but also with the fundamental reason for the coming of Jesus Christ into the earth. Commissioned by a Love that God had an expressed for a cosmos as captured in the text of all text, “for God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son, that no man should perish but have eternal life” John 3: 16

This presupposed and accepted undeniable creatorial and inalienable equality of a humanity presupposed the God of the Christian Faith as the God of Creation, combined with the Salvific Plan of Redemption communicates an equality not with man as its origin but The God man subscribe or believe in.

The Redemption Plan in which man necessarily identified as bereft of colour, creed, race, or economic status, as the object of His love and the Subject of his Redemption, contends an equality for which Africans gather to organize against those who seek to contaminate the originality of this creatorial and redemptive equality of humanity. These proved arrogant to question the very equality preferring to claim a right over others only and purely informed by an incarcerated mind of androgynous falsehood of superiority.

Secondly, the very direct and influential place of the Christian Faith is not only manifesting in the cornerstone of its inception the organising of African people to defend their rights of an equality  but also in its first and perpetual ANC leadership profession claim.

The ANC leaders celebrated in this centenary year contains a crop of priest both ordained and lay. Luthuli, the traditional chief, scholar, and lay priest was a devout Christian following in a long line of J. Xuma, John L. Dube, and S. Makgatho, who were all qualified and ordained priests in their respective churches who equally share a Christian Faith tradition.

In order to develop my argument on this Christian Tradition I shall use at least three things that President General Albert Luthuli is credited for having said at different stages of his leadership.

Luthuli in later years a Nobel Peace lauerette, whilst not an ordained priest best summarizes the conviction of his faith and persuasion if not challenge of freedom, when he made his now famous statement “it is inevitable that in working for freedom some individuals and some families must take the lead and suffer: The Road to Freedom is via the Cross”.

When Luthuli speaks of the signpost of freedom being the Cross-, he does not refer to a cross in a generic sense but borrows immensely from the shaped conviction of the Christian Message of the centrality of the Cross-of suffering, yes the cross of Jesus Christ the Son of God, the head of salvation of all humanity.

Luthuli gives us another glimpse into this strong  Christian influence when he asserts “my only painful concern at times is that of the welfare of my family but I try even in this regard, in a spirit of trust and surrender to God’s will as I see it, to say: God will provide’.

Luthuli is also quoted as follow, ‘I also, as a Christian and patriot, could not look on while systematic attempts were made, almost in every department of life, to debase the God-factor in Man or to set a limit beyond which the human being in his black form might not strive to serve his Creator to the best of his ability. To remain neutral in a situation where the laws of the land virtually criticised God for having created men of colour was the sort of thing I could not, as a Christian, tolerate.”

The prism of Luthuli’s mind on emancipation freedom and liberation is directly drawn from his deep and unapologetic Christian convictions. For him the Christian prism of God is not a remote possibility but a active complete construct that has chosen to be on the side of those who are oppressed, diminished, and debased by a claim of others in superiority. Luthuli finds it challenging not to respond from such conviction of Christian bedrock as justified a necessary defence of the humanity of all celebrated in an equality of creation.

Thirdly, we see the presence of this Christian Faith and tradition permeating through the critical symbols of the organisation.

One such symbol, which stands in the shadow of its own, is the ANC’s National Anthem. The Anthem ‘ Nkosi sikelela ‘ which has become anthem of a number of African countries among others Zimbabwe, also constitutes the bigger part of our Post – Apartheid democratic nationhood anthem.

This anthem written by Enoch Sontonga is not just a pure celebration of humanity exemplified in hope but an earnest direct prayer in submission of God, God understood in the Christian Faith as God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This anthem clearly speaks of the relationship of a people with its God, a desire to surrender to their complete dependence on God. It is a prayer dedicated to the Christian God.

If the ANC in 100 years of distinct stages of a collective freedom struggle for the African found it necessary to elect leaders from the Church, of the Christian Faith, was this accidental or intentional. If indeed it was accidental, why the perpetual precedent? If the argument for a deliberate choice is advanced, why the firm persuasion in such Faith?

Unpacking the golden thread of Christian Faith’s influence in ANC history throughout the trajectory of its Century long past cannot support the claimed accidental notion, for it argues against the natural history of its founding.

Arguing on the other hand for a deliberate intent notion to elect Christian Leaders proves also weak, perhaps we can argue, as some of us who believe in a Divinity would hold that the Christian God had personally intervened, from inception in the unfolding history of the ANC.

There is perhaps a logical explanation for the occurrence and reoccurrence as simply explicable in a view that it was common for Africans to ascend and prefer the Christian Priests. Yet this cannot be used as a true argument for  from its inception the ANC leaders that founded the South African Native National Council (SANNC) in 1912 which became in 1913 the ANC included jurists, medical practitioners etc. Yet even these subscribed in many instances to the very Christian Faith tradition herewith argued as the golden thread of its visible existence.

In the fourth, instance it is worth noting an interesting  observation that all  twelve Presidents of the ANC professed and subscribed to a Christian Faith Tradition, even when the very  Christian Faith was used in State Theology mode as a means to defend the indefensible evil and elegit Apartheid system. These ANC Leaders we  celebrate today  all confessed a Christian Faith mostly with the expressed Methodist face.

Not only does this Christian Faith meanders and courses throughout as the lifeblood of the past and present of the ANC, but equally the dichotomies of its challenges especially in gender role definition confirms this umbilical connectedness of an organisation and its unequivocal Christian Faith persuasion. It is noteworthy that though the ANC subscribes to the principle of an equality of humanity, it has always struggled to give meaning to such in the gender question as it relates to its top leadership and particular its president.

The emancipation of women is an remains an intrinsic and cardinal aspect of its cause of liberation yet the shackles of the Christian Faith in praxis holds it ransom in manifestation of this dream of a gender equality less in articulation but praxis. For in all of its 100 years of history it is yet to have its first Woman for president, notwithstanding the noises made, the truth is the ANC has not yet elected a woman president.

Perhaps the answer for thus conundrum is best understood in the historical traditional leadership exemplified in men as that which define the canvas of the African mind. Yet I shall argue the traditional claim is possibly not a single claim but hides another component the dilemma of Christian Praxis in which Church leadership has remained male.

Could it be that the challenge of the Christian faith on gender parity is visible or reflecting in the ANC the very organization I claim is fundamentally a Christian Organisation? Even those who today seek to judge the ANC do so out of the conviction of this Christian premise and ethic. Equally, those who seek to deny this Christian claim in a farcical claim of parity of other faiths in ANC embrace have misunderstood this mosaic history of Christian Faith influence.

Does the ANC not rob itself in proving shy to claim its rightful Christian history? Maybe stating the obvious is at times not an overstatement. Yet I hold the ANC is the only true Christian Party who rightfully can claim that space in uncontested sense.

The majority of South Africans subscribe, by choice, to this Christian Faith persuasion, if the recent CENSUS statistics is used as the assessment tool. Is there a causal link in these statistics and the fact that he ANC remains the most preferred political party entrusted by most to deliver the dream of total freedom manifested in unemployment, inequality, and poverty?

One thing is certain the claim of the African Christian Democratic Party  (ACDP) of being the Christian party is not without contestation  perhaps  even standing naked if the true history of Christian claim is the standard, for no party accept one can claim this Christian Faith claim equal to the African National Congress.

Hence as a devout Christian I have consistently voted for this party and will continue to vote for it, for my faith permits me to identify with those who share its claim, and I have identified this often less expressed claim, and equally less celebrated rightful claim.

In conclusion, it is argued that even those who today rightfully and wrongfully criticised the ANC for having strayed from its fundamentals, do so primarily informed by this conviction less of human premises but a morality traced in an ancient faith of Christian dictum.

Hence there is today in South Africa one party, whose name does not include no reference to its Faith, yet has lived the principles of this Christian Faith persuasion in blessedness and equal challenge, and is perhaps held hostage by this very Faith Tradition, which others claim but less have lived.

Bishop Clyde N. S. Ramalaine

Independent Analyst

This Article Appears Courtesy of : ‘Tradewinds are Blowing’- an Anthology of Contemporary Political Musings  – Due November 30, 2012

This article is dedicated to Rev. Hendrik Van Wyk, (current serving MRM Provincial Coordinator in the Northern Cape Provincial Government) and all clergy who in the cause of serving found themselves castigated for associating with the ANC by some who never took the time to research the symbiotic relationship between the Christian Faith and the African National Congress.


2 comments on “Has any other Religious persuasion shaped the ANC more than the Christian Faith?

  1. Desmond Moses says:

    Maybe that explains why most of the self-confessed Communists ( those that deny the existence of God) in the ANC were given decent Christian burials. Remember Joe Slovo, Joe Modise, Chris Hani and countless others. They gave credence to the old adage that says:” No man regretted God on hss deathbed”

    • Des, I hold there is no practical Atheists in this world, its more a theoretical claim. I remember in my 3rd Year (1990) at UWC Prof Chareles Villa Vicencio from UCT along with our Faculty organised a session of engagement on the subject matter of “religion in a Post Apartheid context” The keynote address was delievered by Joe Slovo, perhaps the most astute face of Communism in SA context. Slovo started out by asking us all permission if he could use the Bible and quote from it since he professed being a Atheist and Communist. Needless to say we agreed, Slovo quoted a text ‘ In the begining God created man…’ then he said in his view man made God in their image. This view is not a troublesome view because any preacher would be able to identify a homelitic angle of justification for Slovo’s claim. He continued to say, ‘if there is a heaven let it be a big surprise whilst we work for it here and now” Again this is vintage stuff, so i can as theologian work and have preached often that the mystery of Heaven is not yet for us revealed suggesting God is hoping to blow our minds or surprise us as Slovo said. Off course Slovo took time to explain his family and he do not come from a non-believing history, in Lithuania where they herald from. It became clear to me that Slovo like so many never had a issue God, but a circumstance of experience that was led by those who claim to be of God. When the question and answer session came: I as a student could not wait to ask Slovo, one question: ” Cde. Slovo, if you being a communist and atheist is informed by the experience you subjugated to holds then can it be safely assumed that had those circumstances not prevailed, Slovo may still have been a practicing Jew of faith persuasion. He laughed walked over to me and rubbed my head, as if he saw where i was heading to. On the subject of Chris Hani, Archbishop Tutu shares this one experiecne where he was attending a funeral and heard this great tenor singing bountifully from behind Tutu, so admirable was this tenor that it forced Tutu to peek backwards to see who this tenor was, it turned out to be Chris Hani, who later told him it was his personal amibition when he was younget to pursue a Priest vocation. My personal interaction with Mantashe, he once stated for a long while in his earlier days he was desirious of becoming a priest. In fact no one who has ever belted out the ANC national anthem can ever claim they are communists or atheists. I hold most who associated with such Communist Philosophy at a particular juncture were doing so for the cause of Freedom, and not as a retaliation against what they fundamentally believe. That may explain why some like Mbeki, Motlanthe etc in latter years parted from the SACP membership. In the end, i hold The ANC is a the only true Christian Party in SA.

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