By Gerald O. West
Ujamaa Centre for Community Development and Research
School of Religion and Theology, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
More than a decade and a half before liberation, in one of the bleakest periods of the liberation struggle, the South African Black theologian Takatso Mofokeng emphasised the contested nature of the Bible. Against a backdrop during the 1970s of Black Theology’s predominantly positive appropriation of the Bible, Mofokeng insisted that there are numerous “texts, stories and traditions in the Bible which lend themselves to only oppressive interpretations and oppressive uses because of their inherent oppressive nature.” What is more, he continues, any attempt “to ‘save’ or ‘co-opt’ these oppressive texts for the oppressed only serve the interests of the oppressors”. While Black theologians may not have recognised this reality, Mofokeng argues, ordinary organised young black South Africans, “have categorically identified the Bible as an oppressive document by its very nature and to its very core” and have argued that the best option “is to disavow the Christian faith and consequently be rid of the obnoxious Bible.” Indeed, says Mofokeng, some “have zealously campaigned for its expulsion from the oppressed Black community”.
Mbeki remains concerned about the African soul, but we can discern a shift from a soul that includes a socio-cultural breadth to a narrower Church-Theology-type moral soul. We see too, I suggest, a growing awareness in Mbeki that he is addressing at least two audiences, a small well-educated vaguely liberal elite who are somewhat embarrassed by religion (as is Mbeki himself) and a large less-educated mass of religious believers, most of whom are Christians. Mbeki wants to address them both, and the Bible lends itself to this task. It remains classic literature, even for the post-religious postcolonial educated elite. And it resonates with the believing religious masses, for it remains a favoured silo.
Cedric Mayson, long time liberation theologian and now National Coordinator of the ANC Commission for Religious Affairs calls for “Secular Spirituality” (and the upper case is his): We need to liberate religion into a new secular spirituality (lower case this time) which drives away superstition and fear, and empowers millions of agnostics and believers who are seeking a spirituality not wrapped in colonial religions. It means a new evangelism, a unity in diversity of people seeking values which change society, a new prophetic context which sees politics and economics as godly spheres.