from Africa in Transition

South Africa: Missions, Transformation, and the Legacy of Apartheid

July 16, 2014

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This is a guest post by Jim Sanders, a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are his personal views and do not reflect those of his former employers.

Tom and Dorothy Linthicum spoke at Christ Church in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia last Sunday about their experiences in South Africa. They recently returned from a year of teaching, preaching, and listening in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, at the College of the Transfiguration, the only residential Anglican seminary in southern Africa.

South Africa, they explained at the outset, is simultaneously “first world” and “third world.” However, unlike much of the United States, for example, impoverished areas are not always tucked away, out of view. Grahamstown is situated in a bowl-like depression, enabling residents to look up and see the poverty of those living all around. The material wealth enjoyed by most Americans and Europeans dwarfs that of most South Africans.

Despite South Africa’s transition from the apartheid system to one of majority rule in 1994, the Linthicums observed that racism remains deeply ingrained. Tension between groups is great, and anger is never far from the surface.

During their stay, an African American clergyman visited and attempted to broach the issue in a racially mixed seminar. His effort to start a conversation was met with silence. Eventually, a student stood up and asked, “Why can’t we talk about racism in this faith setting?” Again, dead silence met the request, and the session ended.

Like most missionaries, the Linthicums found that relationships require time and trust to build. Ms. Linthicum shared an experience in which one young Zulu man eventually, and unexpectedly, opened up after she introduced the concept of post-modernism.

Those with power like those in his church, he intimated, live in the modern world, where authority exists in hierarchies and words are stronger than action. Most of the women and young people, like himself, live in a post-modern world, he explained, where people don’t tell others, but rather walk with them, and let the example of their lives teach, and possibly convert.

The chapel emerged as the ultimate levelling ground, Ms. Linthicum noted. All baggage was dropped at the door before entering and the Anglican exchange of the peace represented true reconciliation.