Ploughing the land issue
Nomalanga Mkhize, in an article on the Church and land reform in the Daily Dispatch of 21 August 2018, admitted that she had been “wondering” what Christian churches in South Africa were preaching in relation to the land question. It seems a pity that she did not go beyond wondering, and engage in a little research. The Anglican Diocese of Grahamstown has not only been preaching about the land question, but discussing it, taking decisions and acting on those decisions, for two decades. I cannot speak for all Christian denominations, but I would not be so arrogant as to assume that the Anglicans were unique in this respect.
As far back as 1998, the Department of Social Responsibility (DSR) of the Diocese of Grahamstown organised a Land Settlement Workshop. It was recognised that the church owned substantial holdings of agricultural land, and that land redistribution was “an essential part of the healing process of our country” according to Canon Jesse Sage, Administrator of the DSR. Also taking part in the Workshop were representatives of the Border Rural Committee and the Department of Land Affairs.
Canon Sage undertook a comprehensive audit of all the land owned by the Diocese of Grahamstown, which at that time stretched from Aliwal North to the sea, and results of the diocesan initiative soon for this area were 200 houses, a police station, taxi rank, small business park and clinic, in addition to the large area to be used for agriculture.
The oral tradition or memory concerning the site of Grahamstown Cathedral and also, presumably, the site of the City Hall, and its importance in Xhosa history, does not come as news to the church.
On 11 February 2003 the Bishops and Chapter of the Diocese of Grahamstown issued a Statement of Repentance and Affirmation, reflecting on the history of the diocese and its roots both in the gospel and in the violent frontier history of the Eastern Cape. In a symbolic gesture of apology for past wrongs, the Bishop on behalf of the Diocese handed over this Statement to Prince Zolile Burns-ncamashe. It was also agreed that a statue be erected in Grahamstown next to the Cathedral, in honour of the Xhosa leader Makana (Makhanda), a project to be undertaken in conjunction with Makana Municipality. However, due to lack of funds, this did not materialise.
Lastly, Mkhize’s allegation that “Racist segregation was practised by the Grahamstown Anglican Church throughout the apartheid years…” is patently untrue. Although some churches were (and are) attended mainly by black congregants, this is because of historical geographical segregation imposed by the apartheid government. People generally attend churches close to where they live. At no time did the Anglican Church in Southern Africa impose segregation on any congregation.
In 1957 the Native Laws Amendment Bill introduced by the Nationalist Government included a clause, 29 (c) which sought to prohibit “natives” from attending gatherings in “white” areas without permission both from the Government Minister and the local authority.
The then Archbishop of Cape Town, Geoffrey Clayton, called a meeting of the Emergency Committee of his fellow Bishops, which agreed that this clause was something the Church could not consent to obey.
The Archbishop’s letter to the Prime Minister, setting out the Church’s determination to disobey this Clause, received considerable publicity, not least because after signing the letter, the Archbishop collapsed and died of a heart attack. Although the Bill was passed into law, Clause 29 (c) was never enforced against any church, and Anglican churches, including Grahamstown Cathedral, continued to welcome worshippers of all colours throughout the apartheid years. People continue to choose where they wish to worship.
• The Very Reverend Andrew Hunter is Dean of Grahamstown (Makhanda)