“While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Luke 24: 51 – 53)
The month of May this year played host to three very significant events in South Africa, that we recognise in this issue of The Outlook:
- The May 8 National and Provincial Elections and their consequent May 25 Inauguration of the President of the Republic.
- In this issue we feature both a post-election prayer by Rev. Roxane Jordaan of the United Congregational Church; and the prayer offered at the Inauguration by the SACC President and Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church, Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa.
- Africa Day, the commemoration of the formation on May 25 1963, of the Organisation of African Unity that has become the African Union, and the day of commitment to an Africa of unity, prosperity and the goodness of life for its citizens.
- In this issue of the Outlook we feature a reflection on Africa Day from a church perspective, by Rev. Zwoitwaho Nevhutalu of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Southern Africa.
- The celebration of The Ascension of Jesus Christ that we recognise on Thursday May 30.
Other significant observances of the month of May include:
- May 3, World Press Freedom Day, declared by the United Nations “In order to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom in the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in line of duty”. This is something we in South Africa need to take seriously and not these freedoms for granted.
- May 15, 2019 Theme: International Day of Families, Families and Climate Action;
- May 21, World Down Syndrome Day, an important moment to raise public awareness of Down syndrome and advocate for the rights of people with Down Syndrome, under the theme of “Leave No One Behind”.
- May 21, also being World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development; especially in our society where reconciliation and social is increasingly challenged by growing populist racial and ethnic bigotry.
The final week of May was the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories, and here highlight especially the people of the Western Sahara; Palestine and Caprivi in our own region.
With all the May events and observances in mind, we focus our lenses on the three primary events of elections, Africa Day and Ascension.
We have headlined this reflection with the brief account of the Ascension from the Gospel according to Luke. According to Christian tradition this is the final end of Jesus’ earthly presence, the final reversal of the physical incarnation of God in human life. In the context of Africa Day, we take the opportunity to reflect on the significance of the incarnation and how it challenges our prejudices against each other, especially so in regard to the cultural and racial tensions regarding the Christian faith in its western garments and how it relates to and is perceived by some in Africa. The dominant historical attitude of the colonial missionaries was that of discounting the God effect of the African worldview and in many cases undermining the very humanity of the people of Africa. The corollary of that being the African view that Christ is not for Africa.
To bring focus to this tension we have featured a painting titled The Ascension by artist JESU MAFA of Cameroon, an image of Jesus and the disciples as Africans, symbolising the meaning of the incarnation of Christ in all humanity, especially in this context – Africa. On this point Magezi and Magezi draw from Thomas Torrance’s treatise on the Incarnation and make the following telling conclusions, and we quote (in Christ also ours in Africa, 2017):
The incarnation means that Jesus Christ, God incarnate, fully identifies himself with all humanity by assuming a common human nature.
- In the incarnation, the same Creator (God the Son) acts for the redemption of all humankind.
- Jesus Christ therefore truly identifies with African Christians as both their Creator and Saviour in all aspects of life.
With this backdrop we celebrate the happy coincidence in this month of May 2019, of Africa Day and Ascension Day. Africa Day is a public holiday in most African countries, occasioning for a focused attention to the importance of African Unity for a common destiny of peace, prosperity, health and well-being. Only about 15 African countries observe a public holiday on Ascension Day, with South Africa as one of those that do not observe this day as a holiday; much to the displeasure of the Christian population in the country.
We suggest that even without the benefit of a government holiday, the significance of Ascension Day observance must be made in our homes and churches – even more so in our homes. As it always coincides with Africa Day in the month of May, it offers us in the southern tip of the African continent the happy responsibility to lift the continent together with Christ. That we can with his Ascension raise the pains and joys of Africa in recognition of how he is the reconciler of our humanity, as we are all summed up in both his work of creation and his work of redemption. As Apostle Paul says of him: he is “The image of the invisible God…all things have been created through him and for him” (Colossians 1: 15a, 16b); and of whom Apostle John also says, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 3a). At the end point of his ministry, “he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (including Africa)” (i John 2:2).
The gospel reality of the salvation message prompted Rev. Tiyo Soga, the first indigenous African to be ordained a minister of the Word, to hymn:
“Bona izwe lakowethu uxolel’izono zalo”
“Look upon our land and forgive its sins”
A claim he could make because of the salvation faith we celebrate as what the ascending Christ leaves for our heritage.
But Soga’s hymn ends with a call to a commitment to the restoration of goodness:
“Nkosi khawusikelele iimfundiso zezwe lethu
Uze usivuselele siphuthume ukulunga!” (Lord bless the teachings of our country, and revive us that we may restore goodness – what is good about and within us.)
This brings us to the demands of national and continental responsibilities for public good and ethical leadership to guide and champion the path of goodness to be revived for Soga’s prophetic hymn to be fulfilled. That is what Agenda 2063 of the African Union requires of the leaders of the continent. That is what the electors of the 2019 General Election have required of the 6th Administration; and this is what President Ramaphosa has promised. Our Opinion Piece published in the City Press (‘The election is now over. What does the employer, the voter, want to see?’Malusi Mpumlwana, 2019-05-22) seeks to underscore the elements of such an administration.
If South Africa under Ramaphosa fails to rise to the prophetic hymn of Soga, it will not be able to make good on the prayer with which South Africa was charged by Enoch Sontonga, on behalf of the African Continent: Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika. Maybe the time has come for our churches to reclaim this hymn in its original version. Unlike the National Anthem, it continues as a prayer from beginning to end. It is appropriate to make this call at the time of Africa Day and the Ascension which anticipates Pentecost, for the refrain of Sontonga hymn for Africa says:
Yiza Moya OyiNgcwele Usisikelele Thina lusapho lwayo (iAfrika)
Come Holy Spirit and bless us the children of Africa.
This blessing is promised indeed and can be expected, but we must as citizens, live the life that provides for its effect to flourish in our society. This begins with the positive owning up to our citizen responsibility for the common good; coupled with the good government that has been promised in the 6th Administration, and of which we shall be watchdogs in the spirit of Isaiah’s message:
“I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
They shall never hold their peace day or night.
You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent.” (Isaiah 62:6, NJKV)
Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana
General Secretary, SACC