Mbeki's African Renaissance. African spiritual powers versus God's Word.
are over. South Africa has the second 'democratically elected' Government.
The new State President is Thabo Mbeki, born on 18 June 1942 in Idutywa,
Queenstown, as one of the four children of Govan Mbeki, a Communist. After
attending the mission school Lovedale he joined the ANC Youth League at
14. In Johannesburg he learned politics from Walter Sisulu. In 1962 he
left for Tanzania and later England, received a Master's Degree in Economics
from the University of Sussex, and married Zanele Dlamini. In 1970 he
went to the Soviet Union for military training. He became a member of
the Revolutionary Council of the ANC in Lusaka, joined its Executive,
was Secretary of Oliver Tambo and a member of the politbureau of the S.A.
Communist Party - until 1989, after which he became one of the leading
negotiators for a new S.A. Constitution. In 1994 Thabo Mbeki was appointed
Vice?State President. His special interest and emphasis is the African
Renaissance.' 1) His greatest aim is 'a better life for all.'
The word 'Renaissance' means 'a new birth or revival. ' In Europe it meant
the 'great revival of art and letters, under the influence of classical
models, beginning in Italy in the 14th century and continued during the
15th and 16th; a style of art or architecture characteristic of this period.'
2) What does it mean in the African context? Is it simply what a foreign
paper says: "In the next 5 years there will be a total exchange of
colour in South Africa ? from 'White to Black'? 3) If one interprets 'African
Renaissance" in its literal sense, it must mean a revival of pre-Christian
culture and religion. Was that culture conducive to a "better life
for all" as we understand it now - with job security, food, peace,
education, advanced medical care? Since all this is the result of generations
of Christian faith and action, how can one better it by rejecting Christianity?
of Christianity is already embodied in the South African Constitution.
In making all religions equal, one makes them equally invalid Multi-faith
South Africa has no common spiritual and ethical foundation. In spite
of all the talk of 'nation building' there is no more social cohesion.
What is right for one person becomes wrong for another. In the past, though
not all worshipped the Triune God, South Africa upheld His Ten Commandments.
Now the Commandments are broken, and the result is disorder. For instance,
God forbids murder, but South Africa makes murder pardonable (by amnesty)
if it is political. Murder is legal if committed on an unborn person.
- God forbids adultery, but South Africa protects adultery (granting rights
to perverts and sex workers). - God forbids the bearing of false witness,
but South Africa rejects "Truth" in the same measure as it rejects
its embodiment, the Lord Jesus Christ. - God forbids covetousness, but
South Africa encourages envy by constantly talking of 'privilege' and'
State President, Nelson Mandela, called for 'a New Morality' - the present
State President, Thabo Mbeki, for an African Renaissance'. This shows
that Religion/Morality is the Number One question for the South African
Government today, though it has a very large number of Communists in its
ranks whose ideology is based on atheism.
Over the past 30 years the Western nations have increasingly asked: Why
is there so little success - even complete failure - of development programmes
in Africa? After some research they came to the conclusion that it is
because of "the mental attitude of the African, as shaped by his
cosmology. " Scholars found that the African world view "is
not conducive to the successful transfer of capitalist ideas such as individuality,
creativity, conceptual thinking, a rational approach to cause and effect,
linear future planning etc. " If one wants to successfully develop
Africa, they say: "First, the obstacles of a counterproductive, fatalistic,
and psychical world-view must be overcome and removed before the new value-system
can be implanted. " 4) The anthropologist and ethnologist, Prof JS
Malan, wrote: "Africa is to a large extent still caught up in its
traditional cosmology based on psychical thinking. Ancestral spirits and
magical powers manipulated by medicine men and sorcerers are regarded
as the most important agents of causation, hence the predominantly fatalistic
outlook on life... Even despite extensive Christianisation, most of these
ideas still prevail, " 5)
Most Africans believe in a creator God who, after having made the world,
withdrew Himself and left His creation to be run by His agents. This God
is not actually worshipped. He created the world full of natural and supernatural
forces, of which the ancestral spirits dominate African life. They need
to be appeased lest they bring disease and disaster. These spirits impress
their will on their living kin, They are not the only supernatural powers
whom the Africans need to harness and manipulate through diviners and
medicine men. Most of their medicine is made of herbs, but the really
potent magic contains animal and human ingredients, often obtained through
ritual murders. Such medicine is used to ensure food crops, health and
strength, bat many Africans also seek magical help to improve their economic,
social or political position. Mutt' gives strength even to executives
and entrepreneurs in their competitive lifestyles. 6) - Then there are
the witches and sorcerers who threaten life and well-being. They do their
evil work at night, and often act against people who are more Prosperous
than they are. They may poison their victims or send lightning and hail.
Africans believe that evil forces must be resisted by killing the sorcerers
and witches, but also other individuals who threaten group solidarity
- such as sell-outs and 'informers'.
Africans live communally, firmly embedded in the tribe or group, and the
common weal is more important than the well-being of the individual. The
group determines their values and social orientation. Personal initiative
and independent action are discouraged. The individual has to conform.
Upward mobility in society is inhibited, and respect for the tribe or
group is enforced by the ancestor spirits. Group consciousness is so great,
that whatever happens to one is perceived as happening to all - and vice
versa. Africans, therefore, observe the traditions, for once an ancestor
spirit is angry he must be appeased with a sacrifice. This stops many
from initiating developments unknown to their ancestors, for they might
arouse their envy.
see the entire cosmos as an integrated system, a holistic entity, in which
everything is permeated by spirit and spirits. To them Nature has a soul.
A human being or an ancestor spirit may appear in the form of a snake
or any other animal. A mixture of herbs, a piece of wire, a piece of fur,
hair, or nails etc. can bring either misfortune or protection. They do
not, like Westerners, divide the natural from the supernatural. Nor do
they divide social life into different areas. They do not regard, for
instance, the church, education, justice, sport, or the economy, as separate,
each built on its own principles, each independent of the State. They
do not think in analytical, categorizing and conceptual terms, but regard
all matters as of the same fabric and ultimately related to the ancestor
orientation as a whole. Western man, by contrast divides and discriminates.
He seeks separate fields and freedoms - religious and academic freedom,
an independent judiciary, a free market, culture, sports etc. Africans
prefer to see all things as a Whole, not as separate free entities, but
to be ruled over by a central power. The central power then must grant
progress and prosperity. The central power is the giver of all.
The African concept of time is cyclical, i.e. it is seen in days, months,
and seasons. The longest cycle is that of the four seasons of the year,
which cover the subsistence needs. Because they seldom look beyond, little
surplus is produced for investment and expansion. In a Christian culture,
on the other hand, the concept of time is linear. There is a beginning
and an end God rules over time working out His perfect plan for the world.
There is progress, meaning and significance to our efforts. The future
is not uncertain. - Unless one holds a linear view of time, it is difficult
to consider the future. Africans therefore do not in their own initiative
undertake medium and long?term developments based on future economic projections.
- Their attitude to work too, is different. In a Christian culture work
is considered to be good, since God worked in creation. Work is a communicable
attribute of God. Adam and Eve were given work to do before the curse.
The curse only made work harder. Pagan cultures, however, do not understand
that progress comes from working hard. They fail to recognise the connection
between work and prosperity. They believe prosperity depends on manipulating
and propitiating envious spirits.
An African believes himself to be exposed to supernatural forces which
direct him from outside. Therefore he shows little initiative in trying
to understand his world through rational thinking and overcoming his obstacles.
Ancestor spirits and magic powers hinder his creativity and development.
Indeed, for an African the knowledge of supernatural powers is more important
than any other land of knowledge. Many want to become traditional healers
- to understand hidden and mystical powers and use them for the benefit
of the community. - Failure or success, they believe, are due to external
powers. - If a Christian, on the other hand, suffers failure or misfortune
he will examine himself and try to do better. An African believes himself
to be a victim of external circumstances - a victim of exploitation, oppression,
apartheid and many nameless powers. For him it is more logical to fight
against his perceived oppressor than to find fault with himself. A failed
student, for instance, will find fault with the educational system. There
am typical African idioms, such as "The bus left me behind."
- Not: I was too late for the bus. Or, "The knife cut me." -
"The car turned over with me." - Even right and wrong are subject
to external circumstances. For an African it is the context which determines
the ethics. If he is considered oppressed, his deeds are not seen in terms
of fixed ethical norms, but as arising from the situation in which he
finds himself. 7)
of Africa is not lack of economic aid, nor lack of opportunity or freedom,
but a world view which has not yet adjusted to "the functioning of
present-day industrial societies. " 8) -The American theologian Brian
Abshire says: "The problems facing modern Africa are due to the effects
of paganism. Africa has a thin layer of Western materialism covering millennia
of pagan philosophy. The endemic poverty, sickness, tribal warfare, etc.,
can be attributed to the paganism which continues to operate. The problem
is not race but religion. The main difference between white Europeans
and black Africans is not skin colour but the influence of 2000 years
of the Christian religion... Africa will continue to experience its cycles
of poverty, warfare and famine until this pagan orientation has been overcome
by the Gospel. " - Having rejected the Gospel, where will South Africa
go? Will an 'African Renaissance" help? Can it produce a "better
life for all?" Unless the hoped for revival is something quite different
from that recorded above, it will lead to ever more disorder and decline.
- "The only hope for Africa, " says Brian Abshire, "as
well as for the West, is a new Reformation and revival. Cultures will
prosper only as they repent of their sins, acknowledge the Lord Jesus
Christ and obey His Law. " 9)
May God bless you richly,
1. Die Afrikaner,4?10.12.99.
2. Oxford Illustrated Dictionary.
3. Die Tagepost, Germany, No. 65/66,1.6.99.
4. SA Journal of Ethnology 1999,11(2) The cosmological factor in development
programmes, by JS Malan.
6. At the Sonke Festival in Durban on 24.10.93 more than 100 Sangomas invoked
ancestral blessings an Nelson Mandela's forthcoming presidency through the
muti ceremony Kushisha impepho'
7. SA J. Ethnol. 1989,11(2) and SA J Ethnol. 1992,15(2). Die kosmologiese
krisis in swartverstedeliking en transkulturele ontwikkeling in Suid Afrika,
by JS. Malan.
9. Brian Abshire, paganism and Modem Africa, Chalcedon Report Dec. 1997,
reprinted in The Christian Digest, Nov. 1998.