Bennie van der Walt


From 27 April to 1 May 1992 the Institute for Reformational Studies offered an important Pan-African conference at the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education. It was attended by 150 people from South Africa and 15 other African countries - from as far away as Nigeria and Ghana. (Participants also came from four other continents.)


I would now like to give a few general impressions of positive change on the continent. In spite of the fact that many believe that Africa is a “lost continent”, I gained new hope. New and wonderful things are happening, of which I would like to give ten flashes.


·         A second liberation


Africa has now gone through the following phases: the pre-colonial, the colonial, the post-colonial (liberation and independence, a period of (mainly) one-party government, and at present some countries are already in or moving towards the phase of democratisation (or so-called second liberation). Most African countries realize today that, although they might have been released from one form of oppression (colonialism) they were never really liberated politically (because of oppression by their own people) and in any case not economically.


‘Liberation” should take place on different levels. It is also not merely a negative concept (free from), but should in the first place bold a positive connotation (for example, free towards development). It is to be hoped that we have now  reached this new, positive stage.


·         Democracy only a means towards a better future


The realization has also come (probably not among all the people) that democracy is merely a means to an end (such as a more just society), and not an end in itself. It is not a magic concept that will resolve all Africa’s problems in the wink of an eye – injustice can still be committed, even in the name of democracy.


·         New private initiative


This goes hand in hand with a growing realization that the so-called state culture did not offer a real solution. Too much has been expected of governments, viz, to create and order the whole of society and to have direct control over all facets of life and to provide in every need. The whole of life (also in South Africa) was politicised, because the principle of sovereignty in its own sphere of societal relationships was not respected.


A fundamental depoliticalization of society is therefore needed. This is happening in Africa - not necessarily as a result of a correct societal philosophy, but simply because governments have dumped their countries in chaos - and in more than simply economic chaos. Africa learnt the hard way that one of its leaders, Kwame Nkrumah, was totally wrong when he declared: ‘First seek the political kingdom and all the other things will come of themselves’.


Private initiative in various fields (as against earlier state absolutism) is therefore becoming not only a possibility, but an absolute necessity for survival.


·         Re-awakening of a more radical and encompassing Christianity


Christianity and the churches are one of the facets showing signs of awakening at present. The earlier tendency towards pietism is being exchanged for a greater reformational invo1vement in the fields of politics, society and economics.


Christians, for example, are raising their voices against injustice in politics, and Christian actions are being organized across denominational borders. As a result of the respect which most people in Africa still have for Christianity, a politician’s mouth can be shut, but a prominent Christian leader’s cannot. Rightly, one of the conference participants from Africa said that “Christians do make a difference in Africa. And I am proud to be one of them.”


Two examples (which emerged during the conference) can be cited in illustration of this: In Kenya there will soon be no less than six Christian colleges which came into being through the private initiative of the church. (Because: “Our universities in Africa arc killed by our own leaders for political reasons”.) In Zaire, after the medical faculty of the university of Kinshasa closed down, forty different churches came together to start their own (Christian) medical university.


Do we really realize what this means? This means that the field is also open to, without state intervention, establish really free Christian (higher) educational institutions.


Indeed (once again in the words of a conference participant):

The time has arrived for Christians in Africa to act’.


·         End of the wars between East and West


Because the East and the West have ceased their ideological war - and especially their efforts to fight it out on the African continent - our continent might now taste the necessary peace to give attention to more constructive matters than war (should it also be able to avoid its own ethnic clashes.) Perhaps the East-West struggle did teach Africa not to expect its salvation from outside its own borders. And Africa also learned the lesson that ideologies are destructive and cannot give peace, provide jobs or feed hungry people.


This brings me to the following point:


·         Self-reliance as the solution


The people of Africa have no more illusions about help from the East, the West or the North in order to help Africa out of the mire. During the conference it was repeated like a refrain that


(l) the so-called new World Order should not invoke false hope in Africa, and 
(2) we have to help ourselves, for if we should not do that, we will surely go under - finally.


This brings us to the next sign of hope for the bleeding continent


·         Openness towards self-criticism


At international conferences in the past we often had to hear - ad nauseam - how Africans piled all the guilt for the terrible conditions in Africa squarely on the shoulders of either colonialism (of at least 25 years ago) or neo-colonialism (especially the multi-nationals). Of course they were not 100% wrong.


I have, however, over the past two years noticed a healthy change, a greater openness towards self-criticism, instead of always accusing others.


Somebody, for example, said at the conference:   “There are outside factors, e.g. international. But most of our problems ate our own creations - the results of bad leadership.’ And three other speakers did not hesitate to expose the exact conditions of university Life in Africa publicly even though criticized by other participants from Africa as not being loyal and fitting. Their response to such criticism of co-Africans was that we can only make progress if we are willing to face up squarely to realities.


·         A new spirit of reconciliation


In conjunction with the previous comments, it is clear that Africa is tired of all the struggle and warring. A new spirit of reconciliation - even towards white South Africans - has settled on people. “One does not kill a human being when one differs with him. One reconciles with him”, one conference-goer said pertinently. Al the same time, however, it has become clear that reconciliation is never cheap. The three r’s cannot be seen in isolation from each other: they are reconciliation, repentance and restitution.


·         High expectations of South Africa


Another tendency that struck me was the extent to which all eyes (even from as far away as the numerically strong Nigeria) are fixed on South Africa. At times the expectations centring on the “new” South Africa are unrealistic. This does not eliminate the fact, however, that very high expectations are held of South

Africa in general, and of the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education in particular.


However it may be, the doors to Africa are - finally - opening for us. The question is whether we are going to use these open doors? This brings me to the final tendency which I would like to highlight.


·         South Africa is also changing


Fortunately things have begun to change not only for Africa but also for South Africa in the final decade of this highly fraught century. It would seem to me that people have finally begun to realize that South Africa as well as white South Africans are an inherent part of Africa, and not a coincidental Western bastion at the Southern tip of the continent.


It is a pity that the process of becoming aware of this should still be a nightmare experience for many white South Africans. (If they have not yet realized that we are part of Africa, they will soon become more aware of it - whether they want to or not.) For me personally (and I have had the privilege of travelling widely in Africa) the awareness has been a blessing and not a curse. Because now I need not hesitate any longer about whether I am an African or a European. I know that I am a (white) African. I also know that I will never really be at home in Europe or in America. Almost along the lines of a friend from Zimbabwe whose poster said -l am a Zimbabwean - and proud of it”, I want to say “I am an African - and proud of It”. May this become the attitude of the majority of (especially white) South Africans.


Many to Many Issue 3 February 1993

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