Meqoqo: Call for a new Kairos Moment

Meqoqo, a nation in conversation

For decades the apartheid regime enjoyed support from some mainstream churches. But with the escalation of state repression as well as the States of Emergency in the mid- Eighties, prominent church leaders took a stand. They called on people to rise up against injustice. And so, exactly 30 years ago this month the Kairos Document was born. This week in our occasional Meqoqo (Conversations) slot we take a look at this landmark document’s current relevance.

Kairos is a Greek word simply meaning ‘opportunity’. When theologians use it it’s a decisive moment. Time to take a stand. Three decades ago church leaders in South Africa and elsewhere declared apartheid unBiblical. They placed a state that claimed to be Christian and that had the support of the Ned Geref Kerk, in an invidious position.

The Khulumani Support Group (KSG) recently held a ceremony at the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto to mark the 30th anniversary of the Kairos document, dubbed “the moment of truth” by members of the religious community.

Our Meqoqo guest this week is Dr Marjorie Jobson, KSG national director. She talks about the relation between the Kairos Document and the quest for Khulumani to find justice for the oppressed.

The Regina Mundi Church in Soweto was filled by members from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities who came to celebrate thirty years of a document that became a moral sword in the anti-apartheid arsenal. At the height of the anti-apartheid activities it was often at Regina Mundi that the oppressed gathered to demand justice and express their pain.

A media release says:

The KAIROS document is explained as a Christian, Biblical and theological comment on the political crisis in South Africa. It came into being as an attempt by concerned Christians in South Africa to reflect on the situation of death in our country. It is a critique of the current theological models that determine the type of activities the Church engages in to try to resolve the problems of the country. It is an attempt to develop, out of this perplexing situation, an alternative biblical and theological model that will in turn lead to forms of activity that will make a real difference to the future of our country.

In June 1985 as the crisis was intensifying in the country, as more and more people were killed, maimed and imprisoned, as one black township after another revolted against the apartheid regime, as the people refused to be oppressed or to co-operate with oppressors, facing death by the day, and as the apartheid army moved into the townships to rule by the barrel of the gun, a number of theologians who were concerned about the situation expressed the need to reflect on this situation to determine what response by the Church and by all Christians in South Africa would be most appropriate.

Our country has been free from the shackles of apartheid for over two decades now and we are reaping the fruits democracy has offered. What prevents our country from reaching its fullest potential, according to the KSG, are the realities of unrestored and non-restituted losses sustained by some 100 000 political activists who contributed to the country’s liberation from apartheid.

The Struggle Continues

According to Jobson, Khulumani shares the same core values of the Kairos Document.

“The struggle of Khulumani is a struggle for justice for victims and the central demand of the Kairos Document was that we should stop tolerating the oppressors and it is time for us to make a stand for the oppressed. That was the turning point that the Kairos Document created. The reflections of this celebration or commemoration were that once again we are telling people perpetually don’t hope for too much, you’ll have to adjust yourself to the existing political regime where the oppressed are exploited as they were before. And so the thesis was that it is time to stop humouring the oppressors whoever they are. The economic oppressors particularly and the corporate oppressors because the largest number of violations are committed now by corporations and that is particularly important for Khulumani.

“We have struggled now for 13 years to call the multinational companies that colluded with the apartheid government to accountability. They gave the money to sustain apartheid long before it was no longer financially viable. By giving the equipment, the army and military vehicles to go into the townships and keep them in a state of siege. Much like what is happening in Gaza. That is what was happening in all of South Africa during apartheid and especially during the state of emergency.

“Now the Kairos Document of 1985 was written in the context of the state of emergency and it was critiquing the fact of who the oppressors are and how we need to stand up to the oppressors and we haven’t won that struggle. The link with Khulumani is that that struggle for justice for victims is a struggle that political leadership refuses to honour and the church leadership, many of whom were involved with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), have washed their hands from,” Jobson said.

No Songs of Hope

Jobson was particularly moved by a sermon by Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana who is the acting general secretary of the South African Council of Churches as well as Reverend Frank Chikane, a leading clerical light in the anti-apartheid struggle.

“Bishop Mpumlwana was reflecting on how the church had had to stand up to the colonial agenda of subjugation and that out of that there were these great songs of hope that developed which inspired people across the continent. He went on to ask about our song of hope for today. Do we even have a song of hope? When things like the Marikana massacre, the killing of people with R1 and R5 riffles is happening, and his questions were very moving. He asked what recourse is there when the state becomes a killing agency. And why on earth in this country does the South African police force believe that to control a civilian protest you have to have these automatic rifles? His conclusion was that we need to mourn the fact that the mandate of the Farlam commission became restricted and constrained as the commission continued,” Jobson said.

According to Jobson, Chikane abandoned his prepared speech and replaced it with an impromptu address during the Regina Mundi gathering.

“He made a very moving and short speech which he said it wasn’t what he had planned and prepared for but one he felt that he had to deliver. He said he is very fearful today in South Africa, that if we are not vigilant we are going to lose what many people died for. He talked about how he was involved in sending three young people to Nicaragua to go and look at what happened after the revolution there. He shared how these young people came back and said that the people there having won their struggle are now being crucified for the second time.

“I think he was saying that if we are not careful, we are going to see people sacrificed for a second time and we are going to lose what people struggled for,” Jobson said.

The Next Generation

I cannot resist asking about my generation. Which baton are we supposed to pick up? What significance does the Kairos Document have for us?

“I think the significance is how doing a social analysis of what is going on is critical for every single generation towards undoing exploitation and oppression wherever it is. It is the same struggle for a real lived experience of justice, of emancipation. The issue is that it is never going to be the state that is going to drive a struggle for emancipation. It will always be the people affected who will have to stand up against what is oppressive.

“I think young people today have so many issues to be involved in. I know, from a recent survey that was done, that you will never inspire young people by saying you will have to take a stand today because so many people died for the freedom that you have. The biggest struggle today is around the fact that the economic system makes so many people redundant, especially young people. In Khulumani we feel that our mission is to create the opportunity for young people to be involved in what the older people started. That is giving substance to the struggle for justice,” Jobson said.

Call for A New Kairos

A media statement from KSG calling on for a new Kairos reads as follows:

Over the past thirty years, much has changed in the country in its journey towards the building of a just and inclusive society in which people are able to realise their fullest potential..

Families of apartheid activists are left with unhealed wounds of the past. Now almost 20 years since the commencement of the TRC in 1996, there has not been full disclosure of the truth. For some family members of the victims of these crimes, there is an important and almost overwhelming need to know what happened to their loved ones, how they were murdered and where their bodies are buried. The family of Nokuthula Simelane   is one amongst many who exhibit the complicated grief that affects those denied the truth of the disappearance of their daughter and sibling 32 years ago.

And then there is the Biblical injunction that underpins it all:

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.”

This is Corinthians II and it’s the verse that ended the statement produced by a conference to mark 30 years since the first Kairos document of 1985.

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