Spotlight on the Church’s role in SADC politics

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Malcolm Damon, EJN executive directorRecently the radio programme Kruis en Dwars tackled a controversial issue: the role of the Church in political and public life.

 The discussion was prompted by the formation of the National Inferfaith Leadership Council (NILC) by Pastor Ray McCauley of the Rhema Church and his seemingly close relationship with the ANC. EJN executive director Malcolm Damon joined the fray.

 

Newspaper reports had raised questions about the apparently close relationship between the NILC and the ruling party, the ANC. At least four members of the 20-stong group of religious leaders are ANC MPs, and include prominent figures such as ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga and the former Western Cape Premier, Ebrahim Rasool.

The radio programme, presented by Rev. Johan Symington, discussed the role of the church on these issues. The point was made that the Church has a role to play in political issues but strictly in a non-partisan way. This means that the Church needs to speak out on social, political and public issues and bring its voice to these issues. Reference was made to the Parliamentary Office of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), which engages with public policies including legislation and other issues discussed by parliament.

After inputs by the invited guest, the presenter asked listeners to phone in to share their social projects with listeners. The emphasis was on local projects and the role the church can play with soup kitchens and other forms of social involvement.

I called in to make the point that, apart from the involvement of the church at local level, it is also important to get involved at a national and regional level. I explained that EJN works at that level from an interdenominational perspective through the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (FOCCISA).

The Church has an important role to play at the regional and economic level. EJN works with eleven National Councils of Churches and brings the voice of the ecumenical church to the region and regional issues. These include economic, political and social matters that concern and impact on the people of the region. It is for this reason that we are engaging with regional trade issues like the Economic Partnership Agreement. We are busy with research investigating the impact of the financial crises on six southern African countries. We also participated in the SADC Civil Society Forum held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), held to coincide with the SADC Head of State Summit held in Kinshasa, DRC.

The Economic Justice Network is a church-based regional network formed by the FOCCISA to engage on economic and socio-political issues at the broader level. The church has over the last twenty years engages at this level because we believe in solidarity and interconnectedness. 

When I phoned the radio programme it was to make this point. Here I am writing to make it again. The church has an important role to play at a Southern African level. EJN was formed to play that role particularly in working for economic justice.

 

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