It has been a weekend of festivities in South Africa and for many Africans across the globe who share the solidarity. Sunday in particular was glammed by street parades, speeches, prayers, music and military salutes and and many more fanciful displays.
While a parochial glance at the African continent makes such a celebration worth the while, a more synoptic view will only reveal one fact: as far as segregation and conflict go, Africa is in a relay race. So, while South Africa celebrates the 20th anniversary of its first ever all-race, democratic election that ended decades of sanctioned racial oppression under the apartheid system, other countries in Africa have taken the baton of segregation and mass murder. In most cases, it has not been much about race or ethnicity but about religion.
The paradox of it all lies in that Christianity played a crucial role in providing theological rationalisations for maintenance of apartheid, in the same manner it did with colonialism. The South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church was unwavering in its support of the regime until the late 1980s. There were only a few voices, like that of Desmond Tutu, crying in the wilderness. Little wonder the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, Volume 4 Chapter 3 clearly states that:
Some of the major Christian churches gave their blessing to the system of apartheid. And many of its early proponents prided themselves in being Christians. Indeed, the system of apartheid was regarded as stemming from the mission of the church…Religious communities also suffered under apartheid, their activities were disrupted, their leaders persecuted, their land taken away. Churches, mosques, synagogues and temples – often divided amongst themselves – spawned many of apartheid’s strongest foes, motivated by values and norms coming from their particular faith traditions.”
So today, being Low Sunday, the Sunday in the Octave of Easter, the Sunday in which Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII were canonised and millions gathered at the Vatican to witness the event, in the Central African Republic, another kind of service was being held by ‘Christians’ in a Mosque. In a conflict that has already accounted for thousands of deaths and 700,000 IDPs and a further 290,000 who have fled to other neighbouring countries, I am apt to wonder if many Churches or Church leaders so much as thought of what is happening in the Central African Republic (CAR) in their sermons and prayers as they marked this Easter Octave.
The conflict in the CAR began since March 24, 2013. Muslim rebels known as the Seleka seized Bangui, the capital of the CAR, sparking the division between Christians and Muslims. As soon as François Bozizé was ousted, the Social Contract ceased to exist and there was a swift return to the State of Nature where chaos an anarchy is the only language the people understood .
If there is one thing I know about Christianity and Islam, it is that the adherents of these religions have an almost unquestionable loyalty to their leaders. The mind-boggling question remains therefore whether the leaders have not spoken to them in this instance or whether they have simply decided to kick the can down the road and look the other way as has been the case with other past atrocities.
In the case of South Sudan. its church leaders have urged expansion of peace talks to include the religious leaders probably because many Christians played a crucial role in South Sudan’s independence, reconciling fighting factions, providing services and building structures. But the fragility of the first mediation must be questioned and questions asked of this conflict which began after Salva Kiir alleged that his former deputy Riek Machar was planning a coup and arrested several senior politicians.
In Nigeria, it seems as if Boko Haram is the only faction gaining from the many Inter-religious Dialogues that have been taking place. The recent kidnapping of 230 young school girls and the bombing in the Nigerian Capital Abuja are silent testimonies that much more has to be done by the religious leaders in Africa than holding dialogues.
Wole Soyinka was spot-on when he said that “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” And since according to Henri Frederic Amiel “Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence“, the silence or half-hearted condemnation by religious leaders, of the mass murders going on in different African countries under the banner of religion, makes the leaders not only ‘dead men’, but given that these religions claim to be based on truth, out-rightly challenges the core of whatever these religions profess.