What will the AFM-SA 2012 Elective Conference really bring if anything at all?

–          Can we now agree the unity project is a failed one? – An Outsiders analysis

This week brings another elective conference in AFM-SA context, to be precise the 5thinclusive the original unity of 1996. Tuesday, September 18, 2012 is earmarked, as the day of elections for the top leadership of the AFM-SA, off course this is not the first elections since ‘unity’ as established in the 1996 Unity Project. There were elective conferences before the last 2008. It is my unsolicited view that this elective conference proves historic because it will confirm the unity project as failed and doomed exercise either in birth or in a make belief of short-changed hope of confusion.

Perhaps there will be those who may consider my either or as an unnecessary overt and harsh critique, yet though such may be the case the reality is the ‘unity’ of the AFM- SA remains a subject of much debate. Perhaps it is time to first ask from where the ‘unity’ project?

This question will definitely have many answers and depending who you speak t when and where it may be also a subject of personal legacy and glory claim for others. There is no doubt that the unity of the AFM-SA 16 years later left more questions than answers. The truth is the leadership of 1996 except for a few musical chairs have remained the same, leaving some to conclude in the AFM once you are elected to high office it is set for life. Before we deal with the implications if not ramifications for this elective conference in the broader context of what this UNITY really means, it is only proper to advance my speculative outcomes of the elections.

Presidential Elections / Candidate(s)

There is little doubt that Dr. Isak Burger, the incumbent president will be re-elected as president of the AFM-SA, making him the official president of the AFM-SA in post-apartheid context. I have in a previous analysis between the comparisons between the AFM-SA and ANC advanced that though Burger had wanted to resign and step aside, the fragile unity in the AFM-SA 16 years later will demand of him to avail himself. This availing has little to do with a strategic necessary from a visionary input, it has less to do with the fact that the church is on a solid footing and transformative in engendering an agreed path of vision and mission dictum. It has more if not mostly to do with the aspect of perceptive hegemony. It appears that the ‘white’ counterparts in the United Church have placed this as a subliminal demand in an offensive of ‘it is either you stay or we go’ because the powerful and economically empowered networks need not beg anyone. I advanced back then that Dr. Burger will be compelled to avail himself  and the raison detre for his availing will have a solitary cornerstone, namely the church’s unity.

Burger, will certainly beat any potential contender easily, because the unity it could be argued confirms dogmatic lines we less want to admit. It is not far-fetched to argue the former composite division of the church comprising back then of your ‘African, Coloured and Indian’ church assemblies, has yet to prove it trust its own in voting for a president from the vantage point of sheer numbers. The consistent electing of President Burger says more of how disunited and less trusted black contenders are for the very black constituencies formerly defined along those apartheid based racial classification lines. In 1996, at the time of the historic opportunity of AFM-SA unification, the church back then regardless to the clear black majority failed to elect a Dr. Frank Chikane. Since that, time it has never been able to elect a black president and now has an entrenched history in which across all racial platforms Burger is an endorsed candidate for presidency not anymore on racial lines but as the only hope for the church.  Not taking anything away from Burger, it is clear he has made his mark and has established himself not as a ‘white’ endorsed president but the preferred choice from a cross-section of members across the racial divide.

It must therefore equally attest to his ability he had to win the hearts of those who normally would have been assumed to be held immured by racial divides evident in choice. Burger’s perpetual elections victories tells us something else at another level, it could communicate the willingness of black constituency to rise above racial tendencies and entrust one from another classification to lead. Yet it glaringly conveys a subliminal message that the ‘white’ counterparts in the AFM – SA have not shown that willingness, and have remain trapped in their block voting of entrusted ‘white’ candidacy.

From the start of the unity, the interest for the ‘white’ cohort  was and has consistently remained  two office bearer positions  of  ‘President and Treasurer’. It is therefore no coincidence that for the greater part of the post unity process these two positions remained in the hands and control of whites, though the last election of Treasurership had its own jolts and twists ultimately seeing Pastor Trevor Herbert becoming the first ‘black ‘ treasurer of the AFM – SA.

Yet whilst he became and held that position until is unfortunate sanctioning, it must also be noted that the elected Former Treasurer Pieter De Witt, was kept on as consultant effectively running the books of the church, rendering Herbert in a name  the treasurer only.

Vice President Election/ Candidates

On the vice president elections for 2012, I shall advance that, the incumbent  Dr. Japie J. La Poorta, will have a contested race, I fear no contradiction in speculating that the African cohort will advance a candidate and my assumption is the current international president Frank Chikane, who may also contest for President against Burger, but will fail. The contest for Vice President will end with Dr, Chikane being preferred to La Poorta. This will not necessarily be a bloody affair, but will have an impact on the remaining two offices of General Secretary and Treasurer. It is my assessment that a La Poorta loss will impact the potential outcome of the Treasurer Position widely tipped as a foregone conclusion with Pastor Barend Pietersen as front-runner given  the history of 2008 elections in which h really won it but gave it away in preference of Pastor Herbert.  I will revert back to the treasurer position when I look at it by itself. Yet the vice president of the Church will be Chikane  and not La Poorta.

General Secretary  who may square off?

The General Secretary, position held from 1996 by Pastor George Mahlobo, is also an open race, open because though a  number of contenders may emerge, in my assessment the real competition will come from the looser of the Vice President contest. I shall advance that  one should not be surprised if  Pastor Mahlobo finds himself in a race with Pastor J.J. La Poorta, which will see him beaten by  La Poorta, yet I am not sure if La Poorta has the heart, passion or hunger for the general secretary position, although there is not much to be chosen in remuneration between these office bearers save for a R100 here or there.  The ever media shy Mahlobo in my assessment will be offloaded because the ‘white’ constituency will see La Poorta through.

Though it cannot  also be discounted that the African section of the former ‘composite division’ may decide field candidates in all positions up for elections as their demonstration of tiredness of being sold out, yet that is a rare possibility by all standards.

National Treasurer Position, who may square off?

As I alluded to earlier, Pastor Barend Pietersen, remains the front-runner for this position, yet it’s not a foregone conclusion, since the outfall of the Vice-President race could negatively impact Pietersen’s candidacy. Pietersen may  portend to be less interested, but stay in the circumference of power is crucial if a future candidacy for president is in the subconscious wrongly or rightly.

Yet Pietersen is also carrying the can as last man standing for  representing the often too radical face of the church. Notwithstanding the fact that he is well established in the business world, the attraction of power to sit in the seat of glory as perhaps first black president in 2016 , when most of the musical chairs contenders would all be too old to contest, proves wise if one stays around the power and pretend that it does not concern one. It is a wise political and tactical move if he avail himself for Treasurer position.

Yet he will have competition for the ‘white’ counterparts will nominate a strong candidate, whose identity remains sealed until the moment of truth. Also besides the definite ‘white’ counterpart candidacy, it could well be that should La Poorta suffer defeat against Mahlobo for the General Secretary position that he may throw his hat in the race, and he certainly will have some white support to carry him to dislocate Pietersen.

Hence, my assertion that Pietersen cannot afford to be lulled by an assumed 2008 preference to be in 2012 in natural pound seat, I do not think him that unwise.  In the end, I think he will make though in close shave to pip his contender(s), because the old composite will carry him though for diverse reasons. His stability in the secular world communicates different messages all of positive nature for a diverse constituency whom it can be claimed trusts him enough to see him elected.

Let my now turn to the possible ramifications of the recurring elections dating back from 1996 to 2012. It is perhaps right to argue what are the lessons this elections and all previous ones communicate for the ‘unity project’ as an either success or failed project.

  • The unity of the church proves farcical because it is today best understood in the candidacy of Dr. Burger, for if he does not stand the unity is threatened.  A unity defined in personality is precarious in praxis, challenging in defence and suspect in longevity. If the unity of any entity is intrinsically and directly linked to the availability of an individual, we must have reached a rugged course.
  • The challenge for the church unity future resonates in the undeniable and indisputable fact that the United Church has failed to bleed to new leadership, and will go down in history as having lacked foresight exemplified in new leaders birthing or what is called succession planning. Hence, the AFM-SA in post-apartheid context leadership remains a plausible what I choose to dub a ‘Musical Chairs – Leadership’ in which the same names remained the contenders.
  • This election similar to all before undeniably confirms the lack of confidence  the former composite church – division has in collectively trusting one of its own to lead as president. Is apartheid successful in the AFM-SA of post – apartheid context?
  • It also communicates the story of South Africa of post-apartheid making, in which ‘blacks’ remain the demanded underwriters of a unity of lop-sided definition in which they must bring the proverbial ‘bacon’ to the meal when ‘whites’ still heckle about giving proverbial egg for the breakfast.
  • It confirms that whites or the formerly known ‘single division’ still vote along strong racial tones and ideological paradigms, less informed by openness of mind but by closeness of fear borne from a threat of discomfort. Less tested but subscribed to in an almost biblical faithfulness of construct and design.
  • The Church’s unity is a failed project because the unity of national organisation has left a disjointed dishevelled and ambivalent church at regional and all other levels. It appears that the unity was a hashed job which less proved concerned about casting a vision, but remained caught in the euphoria of a ‘unity’ which never was practically and in real sense understood. It appears it is a unity less explained and equally not methodologically engaged. The unity proves less sensitive to a very long history of faith in praxis for those who loved this church regardless of ideological and political persuasion.
  • The modalities for this unity remains ubiquitous (seemingly everywhere but really nowhere), for it is perhaps time to count how much was really lost, because of this unity. I am now dealing at assembly and regional context; often the vibrancy of the AFM prior to unification was measured in the cross-pollination of interactions of regions and districts exemplified in a family of unity evident in Eisteddfods, Conferences, and Youth Programmes etc.
  • The Unity of the Church, failed to seize the moment the new President of RSA Jacob Zuma presented the church, when he unequivocally made his conscious choice for the Pentecostal Churches to lead this epoch in being the face of Religious definition. I still hold it was an excellent opportunity the AFM- SA the oldest Pentecostal Church founded in 1908 failed to seize and remains elusive.  I trust the president’s polygamous and traditional persuasions did not serve as the barrier for those in the AFM – SA embrace.We may argue the many reasons for such truculence on the part of the AFM-SA to step up, though we may speculate comfortably that some in the higher echelons of power in the AFM-SA made a conscious decision to prove the opposite of this Polokwane Democratically elected ANC leadership. Is it possible that the church failed to seize this opportunity if not Kairos because the church proved to have a soft belly when it should not have allowed itself to be held immured by potentially one or two voices, who equally may be trapped in their own political historical cocoons. 
  •  The unity of the church is a failed project because those who worked for this unity, represented a’ claimed think tank of the church’, who often excluded all, led by testosterone caucus of Western Cape ‘Coloured’ definition. It is perhaps time to admit that the unity of the church was less the desire of the people, but the brainchild of those who appropriated and arrogated a power unto themselves to believe they represented the church and can influence any decision due to their afforded visibility. These equally now are willing to admit the Unity project failed, though we have to wait for them to publish their thesis for such success or failure.
  • The unity of the church failed because the church allowed politics to dictate the unity, manifested in caucuses where six people, from the very strong Western Cape lobby group would gather to determine what the church leadership in ‘coloured’ sense an ultimately national sense should look like.
  • The church unity has failed because it has failed to prove sensitive 16 years into unity to embrace the unity of the Church with women elected into the top leadership. The church therefore notwithstanding the fact of ordaining women clergy have remained stuck in seeing this escalated to embrace such women leadership in the higher echelons of power. The Church remains a male dominated, leadership team, insensitive to the …. In Christ, there is no Greek, Jew, male, female… declaration.
  • The church unity in recorded history of opinion has failed for outside of two pieces written one an analysis in comparison to the ANC, documented by the author of this piece who is an outsider, nothing else is available. The other adumbrated history of unity was written by a ‘white’ researcher.The architects of this ‘unity’ is yet to take us all into their confidence to pen the context of the unity, the paradigms of its  complex political influences, the trade-offs done behind those who knew, the political agendas, the ego-tripping some, the fights engaged in, and the mistakes made. The unity is therefore no-where captured as lived through experience by and told by those who claimed to have united the church.  We hear from time to time the threats of ‘I will have to find the time and write’ but this remain opaque and empty of realising, perhaps because some realise that it is more than daunting a task to capture and defend this ‘unity’ in origin as that which was the desire of all in the AFM-SA.  We can only hope that when it is penned it will not be a biased insider opinion, wrapped in I was there when this was discussed and that was resolved, proving vacuous of content and defensive of the glaring mistakes committed by some who proved over eager and arrogated a right to decide above others.
  • The unity failed because the church today in Theological educational context proves an insult for not having its own curricula. We can write volumes on what the current systems mean and who decided on such.  A Church that is over 100 years old must have its own Christian Education of strong Theological premised curricula at all levels. In 2012, the AFM-SA notwithstanding the great minds in the church lacks this and this must attest to the failure of the unity Project.
  • The Unity of the church failed because though the unity of 1996 at national level afforded regions 2 years to work out the intricacies and dynamics of such unity or parity of unity, there was an unnecessary rush to get Regions to be in line with the national unity project.To corroborate my assertion, I shall flag what happened and can be substantiated in fact, that literally two weeks after the unification we had as Gauteng Central had a meeting in one of the Northern Suburbs, Churches. Upon entering the building, I found the newly elected president occupying the chairperson seat. I raised this as an objection on a point of clarity before the meeting started. My question was directly aimed at Dr. Burger, I asked him to what honour do we have him in our meeting – he shrugged his shoulders and quipped clearly dishevelled, Pastor Ramalaine, you must ask the organisers of the meeting. To which I formally requested Dr. Burger to leave the venue and allow us to engage, it became clear that day was set as an elections for the Gauteng Central. Sensing this, we forced the stopping of the elections and opted for a later date preferred for Meadowlands AFM, led by the late stalwart Holesome Mthembu. On the day of the elections, whites were bussed in many out of retirement, on kierie support. The elections delivered a victory for Pastor Vincent Barnes, who in stark glaring of us watching gripped his cellphone and ran out shouting in Afrikaans ‘ons het hom’ . This was for me the second shock of his ‘unity’ project, which for me clearly is led orchestrated by the claimed Spirit but the result of man’s definitive political interventions passed as the work of God.  This proverbial final straw broke the camel’s back and saw me leaving in 1997 the AFM-SA.This incident led me to conclude how many other regions were caught so off-guard into regional unity when it was to be afforded time to practicalise.
  • The unity of the church failed because it was preceded by the South African political unity of freedom. Perhaps this is significant for it can be argued justifiably that the AFM- SA unity is less natural but was a coerced united predated by the redefining of the political landscape. We must find out if the consciousness of unity mind prevailed at heart or opportunity level. Could it be that this may have compromised the very ‘unity’ rendering it perhaps eternally shackled in an ambiguity of origin?


In conclusion, it must be noted, it is very interesting that neither, Pastors Chikane, La Poorta, Mahlobo or Pietersen or any former ‘Composite Division’ candidate can claim an outright collective support by their previous constituencies in hegemony of vote, such as is the case of Pastor Burger.

 In the case of the former ones mentioned, they are all subject to a certain tangible level of mistrust, for a variety of reasons at least from their own, and are often forced to square-off against each other to the loss of the collective group.

Whilst they may remonstrate and counter this assertion as the evidence that the unity worked, they must contend with the fact and truth that the white counter parts have not shown similar confidence in them as previously from the ‘composite division’.  If the unity is a unity it underwritten by the composite division, is it possible that it was the leaders of composite division who wanted this ‘unity’ more than anyone and therefore forced it through without considering the lasting in effect ramifications of this ‘unity’.

It remains a mystery the confidence levels Pastor Burger has among the previously defined ‘composite division’ when no black leader shares that confidence from the ‘previously defined Single Division – white constituency’.

Hence the elections of 2012, says nothing except for the perpetual ‘musical chairs of leadership’ in which the new norm is to get so one can almost Dos Santosise or Mugabeise (Dos Santos is Africa’s longest serving president) your seat forever. The 2012 elective conference says nothing about the visionary direction of the church; it proves a mirage of promised changes less by context but defined in personalities. It equally presents the Old- Boys club of tiredness, where new blood remains nowhere visible.  The elections of 2012 may prove a convenience issue and then a principle matter.

Then again, what do I know, as an outsider? Yet we shall watch the outcomes and I will be the first to admit my analysis or speculation on the elections outcomes were wrong. Yet concerning the ‘unity’ project being a failed initiative I am more adamant to defend my views with anyone.  I can cite more reasons why it is a failed initiative but will leave that for a later opportunity when those who claimed to have delivered this ‘unity’ afford us access to the prism of their thinking that we may engage equally and perhaps substantially.  For in the absence of these penning, we are robbed of the history we equally have a right to know and engage.

Respectfully submitted,

Bishop Clyde N. S Ramalaine

Independent Analyst

This article appears, “Scrambled Eggs & Hash Browns – The AFM – SA unity Saga”

 Due January 31st 2013

September 16, 2012