Transforming Prophetic Actions In Changing Landscapes

Stellenbosch University

Faculty of Theology

Theology Day:            3 February 2014

Theme:            “Churches, Theology and
Socio-economic contexts in South Africa today”

Presented by:             Bishop
Zipho Siwa, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa


Greetings and

Prof Nico Koopman, members of the Faculty, Guests, ladies and
gentlemen, I greet you warmly in the Name of the Triune God. Amen. I am
grateful to the organisers for the invitation for me to participate in this
event, though I do so with a sense of trepidation. Each word in the title of
the presentation clarifies the call that is being made. I would like to use the
popular slogan from around King William’s Town for my presentation – which is
“iTaxi yaseDimbaza.” (Dimbaza Taxi) - which refers to something that is being
fixed on the go. Dimbaza is a settlement outside of King William’s Town which
is a product of forced removals. People were dumped there and really struggled
to cope with very difficult circumstances in a foreign territory and suspicions
of the locals. So even those who tried the taxi business had no resources and
so there was no privilege of taking the taxi for service or repairs – one would
improvise and fix it on the go (ilungiswa ihamba).

Changing Landscapes:                      

Rev Bongani Finca captures very well the context in which we
live today. Using the Exodus story, he says that “we live in the in-between
land and in time between times.” We have left the land of institutionalised
oppression, but we have not reached the Promised Land. Some of us made the
mistake of thinking that 1994 had delivered us to the gates of the Promised
Land, only to learn that there is a journey with many detours and no one knows
how long it will take. This is evidenced by the many attempts in putting
together some plans and roadmaps – the National Development Plan being one of
the latest. The enemy is no longer clearly defined. Whilst there is some
excitement and hope about where we are going – sometimes that excitement and
hope fades – there are challenges which are not easy to define. As in the Exodus
story, new enemies have emerged and new challenges are being encountered. In
the Exodus story there were the Egyptians who were chasing, the water of the
Red/Reed Sea, lack of food and water and even venomous snakes and suspicion. We
are still learning to name our own challenges. The landscape is changing every

Call for Transforming
Prophetic Actions:

Jim Wallis uses very familiar analogies and they are found in
the following quotations:

“Too many people are hauling drowning
people out of the river – which is a good thing to do – but not sending
somebody upstream to find out who or what is throwing them in. A lot of people
are still trying to work with the symptoms and the victims – which is wonderful
and compassionate – but now we need to look at the causes.”

Jim Wallis goes on:

“I had someone saying ‘don’t just
give someone a fish, teach them how to fish.’ I agree with that. Here is
another question: who owns the pond? And who is controlling what’s happening to
the fish, the ecosystem and the water?

Using the two quotations in our socio-economic context – let
us look at what had dominated the news recently –EDUCATION. The honourable minister
of basic education announced a  78, 2%
pass rate for the 2013 matric class. Let me congratulate the minister, the
learners, teachers, parents and all who were involved. I also heard the
minister saying that 30% have university entrance pass. I also heard that about
half of those who entered Grade 1 did not make it to Matric. They fell along
the way and dropped out of school. I also heard that among those who make up
the announced 30% (which in real terms is 15%); there are those who have not
picked up adequate skills necessary for later on in life. Now the Universities
don’t have space to absorb all the 15% - NO SPACE! And those who may get the
places may not all graduate from the university with. Who is throwing these
young citizens into the river?  Prophetic
action means someone going up the stream to find out and initiating or
strengthening actions at all levels which are aimed at access to quality
education, beyond any political rhetoric by all of us.

There is an organisation called ESSET (Ecumenical Service for
Socio-economic Transformation.)  According to their vision statement their
vision is “to realise a transformed
society that promotes a just socio-economic system prioritising the needs of
the poor
. They are of course very small with a big vision that they cannot
carry alone. But I like their stated approach – ‘accompanying and acting in
solidarity with the struggles of the poor as they strive to resist
marginalisation and oppression.’ Their methodology as explained by Dr Vuyani
Vellem is “immersion in reality.”


Prof Itumeleng J Mosala is the one who inspired me to look at
what Paul Ricoeur called Hermeneutics of Suspicion. Paul Ricoeur distinguished
between two forms of hermeneutics namely: “hermeneutics of faith which aims to
restore meaning of a text; and hermeneutics of suspicion which attempts to
decode meanings that are disguised.” In a lecture at the ESSET Dinner in honour
of Dr Beyers Naudé, Mosala drew our attention to the question; “why do the
wicked prosper?” and also referred to verse 29 of Matthew 25 which reads; “For
everyone who has will be given more and he will have abundance. Whoever does
not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” This made me to read more
of the Parable of Talents, and I even preached from that text at the Tata
Nelson Mandela funeral. Those who do not have will be perpetual prey of those
who have. Unless the system is radically transformed, the prosperity and
dominance of those who have will be perpetuated. Hermeneutics of suspicion help
to ask deeper questions. In the parable of talents for instance, take note of
the person who defines the third slave – the dominant employer/slave owner. Who
then defines the workers in Marikana?

The Methodology:

I will not have space or time here to unpack in detail the
methodology of prophetic actions. But as the Dimbaza taxi “ilungiswa ihamba.”
Clodovis Boff wrote a book titled; “Feet-on-the Ground Theology,” in which he
highlights the inspiring power of a praxis approach to theology. The book
reflects a way of living the faith – viewing everything in the light of God’s
illuminating Word especially among the poor and the powerless, advocating
together the issues of justice and abundant life that Jesus says He came that
we may have. The call is to seek to be a transforming presence and engage in
signs of God’s presence in the world.

Many methodologies have been suggested but the ‘see, judge,
act’ approach of as early as 1920 (by Joseph Cardijn) is still a very helpful
tool. This is the approach that easily emphasises the active involvement of
all, not a select few. As the meaningful slogan of people with disabilities puts
it – there must be ‘nothing about us without us.’

I am further fascinated by the approach of Nathan who went to
King David in 2 Samuel 12 and without talking about him but instead went to him
and said, “You are the man.” That must have been a frightening thing – to speak
truth to power where necessary and doing it directly and not via the media.
Prophetic actions need courage and truth and seek to restore full humanity in
us as it is the will of God.

Empower members of society for full participation in being
agents of life in our daily lives.


I pray that the plan will be allowed to receive critical
engagement by all stake-holders. In as much as some parts of it are technical
and require those with the tools of engagement, but its destination must be
every household, church, faith community, community and institution so that it
inspires transforming actions by all of us.



Jim Wallis; The Soul of Politics. The New Press, USA 1995.

Clodovis Boff; Feet-On-The-Ground-Theology. Orbis Books, New
York. 1884

Itumeleng J Mosala; Unpublished Public Lecture at the Esset
Dinner in honour of Dr Beyers     Naudé,
titled “The state of grassroots struggles and organisations: Lessons from Dr
Beyers Naudé. 2012.

Bongani Finca; Unpublised address to the Methodist Church
Leaders in November 2013.

Itumeleng J Mosala; Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology
in South Africa

New International Version of the Bible