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Southern Africa Bishops Conference

International Network of Societies for Catholic Theology


St Augustines College

 

 

 

 

Finding a voice when you are voiceless

Some of the keynote speakers at the event were (left to right): Mr Benson Igboin (Adekunle Ajasin University, Nigeria), Dr Francis Mabiri (University of Zimbabwe), Prof Mercy Oduyoye (The Institute for Diasporan and African Culture), Prof James Amanze (University of Botswana), Mr Itumeleng Daniel Mothoagae (Unisa Organising Committee), Prof Baijnath, Dr Abel Tabalaka (University of Botswana), Prof Eva Shaw-Taylor (The Institute for Diasporan and African Culture) and Rev Dr Daniel Nyante (The Institute for Diasporan and African Culture)

Theologians are facing increasing “voicelessness”, and in the 21st century new developments are worsening the situation. “This is a problematic situation that needs to be overcome. After all, what are theologians without a voice?” said Prof Johannes Kritzinger from the Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology.

He was speaking at a conference on ‘Voice and voicelessness: religious, ethical, political and theological perspectives on social discourses and praxis in the new millennium’.

The three-day conference, which began on 4 October, was attended by delegates from across the continent and is focused around a five-year plan where each year various themes will be explored in the debate.

In his opening remarks, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Prof Narend Baijnath, said while Africa, in its contemporary configuration, is a continent of 54 countries, a multitude of nationalities, tongues, tribes, ideologies, cultures, customs and histories, the collective struggle of Africa’s people has resounded with the muted echo of voicelessness for centuries. And the quest to develop a voice of adequate range, commanding authority and enduring influence has been a corollary to this struggle.

“We are well aware of the pernicious effects of subjugation and alienation on African culture and epistemologies, as well as the constraints these have placed on the development of African knowledge canons. After decades of struggle to shake off the stranglehold of colonialism and apartheid, a moment of possibility has arrived for the painstaking work of building the African knowledge canon to be reinvigorated,” said Baijnath.

Baijnath also said he was thrilled by the potential of the conference as it would fire up a critical discourse in a vitally important area of study that goes to the heart of social transformation in post-liberation South Africa, but was equally apposite to the concerns of the continent, and the social justice project globally.

In his presentation, Kritzinger traced some of the reasons for theological voicelessness:

  • The normalisation of society when South Africa became a democracy. Religious leaders moved out of the political arena and back to their core job.
  • The separation between facts and values which has given rise to inferiority voicelessness. As some theologians are not natural scientists, they are often silent in the face of scientific facts.
  • The role of media and print. Theology was vital during the struggle, and the media used them as “media darlings”. However, in the past decade, very few theologians have been made into “media darlings”, except for Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
  • Theologians are also hesitant to make public statements as they are afraid of what will be said about them and how they will be viewed.
  • Apathy as a result of despair as theologians might believe they can’t make a difference in society.

Kritzinger also provided suggestions on how theologians can find their voices, and said that theologians have to first and foremost establish their integrity, and ask vital questions to define themselves. He also said that looking at the dynamics of society was important and finding ways to learn from the past to prepare for the future. “We also need to develop multi-disciplinary groups of think tanks with doctors, lawyers, and scientists, to see what can be done and plan for the future,” he said. “This is an important part of reading the signs of the times together and finding a voice together as Christians and not just theologians.”

*Written by Rivonia Naidu

 

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.  ~St. Augustine

 

© CATSSA 2011