Politician or Pastor :
An interview with Rev Dr Vukile Mehana, (Director of the MCSA Human Resources Unit)
1. You have been in ministry for almost 25 years now. What were your aspirations when you first entered ministry?
This is in fact my 30th year in the ministry, I believe that when God called me to the ministry, it was not about my aspirations more than it was God’s plan for me. I celebrate the fact that through the Methodist Church I have worshipped and served God in various Circuits and other appointments as directed by the Church. Therefore I never had aspirations, I still don’t have any, I am in the hands of God, through Conference, to serve Him.
2. When did you decide to leave full time ministry and why?
From the time I evidenced a call to ministry, I knew that God was calling me to a ministry which goes beyond the full-time and itinerant ministry. While this conviction was strong, I was equally strong in that, it should be practiced within the disciplines of the Church.
In 1992, having been given an opportunity to start an Educational Trust by the National Sorghum Breweries, I approached the Church Leadership for permission to work with this Educational Trust whilst serving the Meadowlands Section in the Johannesburg North Circuit. At that time the Church did not have a category that could accommodate my request. During the 1994 Conference, noting that I was already working within the Corporate World, Conference resolved that I resign from the Full Connexion. By 1998, Conference established a new category; that of part-time ministry and the same Conference re-instated me into Full Connexion as a Part-time minister. You will note that throughout the four year period I remained under the discipline of the Church, I never left or felt bitter about this exclusion because I knew that God had called me to a broader ministry. I still serve the Church even today as a part-time minister.
3. You have been dubbed ‘the ANC Priest” by some. What say you to this assertion?
I am not really sure what is exactly meant by “ANC Priest”. I can only guess that maybe those who dubbed me as such, do so because I always feature prominently in the ANC National gatherings or events as I always co-ordinate opening Inter-faith and Inter-denominational prayers. Therefore, if it is because of that, then the assertion is reasonable. However, let it be known that I have never been proclaimed by the ANC into this honour.
4. What does your role as the Chaplain General of the ANC entail?
I am extremely happy for being afforded the opportunity to air my views openly to the people called Methodists on this matter. I also welcome the fact that Methodist people in general may also decide to critically engage on this subject as a matter of principle rather than a form of personal attack on a particular individual.
The office of the Chaplain General in the ANC goes back to the inception of the ANC in 1912. After the election of the first National Executive Committee (NEC), under the leadership of the first President Rev Dr Dube, that NEC appointed a Methodist Minister, Rev Dr E.J. Mqoboli D.D. (the author of a manual of Theology entitled, “METHODISM IN SOUTH AFRICA”“NATIVE PAST AND PRESENT” This is a manual well known by Xhosa speaking Methodists as “INTYILA ZWI”
Rev Dr Mqoboli was appointed as the “Chaplain-In-Chief” working with other Clergy that included Rev Henry Ngcayiya of the Ethopian Movement, Rev Andries Pitso of the Methodist Church and Rev Z.R. Mahabane, a Methodist minister, who later became the third President of the ANC in 1924 following the second President Mr Sefako Makgatho who served from 1917 to 1924. Mr Sefako Makgatho was a fully accredited Methodist Local Preacher at the time, who later, in 1930 established a new Church.
There were three main tasks that the aforementioned Clergy and others were assigned to perform as the Chaplaincy.
· Firstly, they were requested to pray for the presence of God, to support the leadership and those embarking on the struggle for freedom and democracy to be successful. This included the development of their spirituality in order to have unshakeable faith in God.
· Secondly, they were asked to always safeguard, and be the custodians of “Revolutionary Morality” central to this, to be the constant reminders of the Comrades that they should conduct themselves with discipline and dignity so that the struggle could always be taken seriously by the World.
· Thirdly, their task was to provide pastoral care to the Comrades, their families and those who were to be the victims of brutal and harsh treatment by representatives of the system of oppression they were fighting.
· These three terms of reference of the first ANC Chaplaincy were kept throughout the 101 years of the life of the ANC, to the extent that, even now, the Cadres of the ANC are mobilised around these terms. To this end, these terms form the foundation of the work of the current Chaplaincy although there are some modifications that now include.
· Advocacy work especially around religious policies, including policies, programmes and practices that promote social renewal, social cohesion and nation building.
· Additionally, the current Chaplaincy does research work around theologies and doctrines at National as well as International levels, relevant to the on-going liberation of the people of South Africa in terms of their socio-economic spheres of their lives. This is to be done by promoting good relations with the faith-based Organisations.
The Chaplaincy also co-ordinates the inter-faith and inter-denominational opening prayers at the start of National gatherings and events. As well as offering, from time-to-time, specific pastoral care services such as counselling, funeral services, weddings and other ministries as required by the members of the ANC at various structural levels of the Movement.
The role of the Chaplain General is to co-ordinate the aforementioned functions. There is a full-time National Co-ordinator who runs the office on a full time basis, as the Chaplain General is not full-time.
5. The proximity between the pulpit and political power makes many Methodists nervous. Do you believe that, as most Methodists believe, you are in breach of section 4.92; and 1.18 and 1.20 ( miscellaneous conference resolutions) of the Laws and Discipline of the MCSA the first one of which states that “A minister who takes up a party-political post or any other appointment that Conference or Connexional Executive considers will compromise the necessary independence of the church in its witness to the Gospel in society, shall resign from the ministry failing which shall be deemed to have resigned.”
I am definitely not in breach of any of the provisions of the Laws and Disciplines you have made reference to.
· Before I elaborate as to why I say so, please allow me to clarify a number of points which I believe are an under-current to this question.
· I hold no political post or position in any of the structures of the ANC. I am not employed by the ANC, in other words, I am not on the payroll of the ANC.
· Furthermore, I am not employed by the Government and hold no seat or office in Parliament of any kind.
· I work within the Corporate World as permitted by the Church; hence I am in a Part-time Non-Itinerant and Non-Stipendiary (PTNINS) category of ministry.
I provide a religious service to the ANC on a voluntary basis. I am not stationed by the Church to this voluntary service as the Laws & Discipline make no provision for such an appointment.
It is my informed submission that there are many Methodsit Ministers who offer voluntary ministries to many Organisations of various kinds, and I see myself no different to such Ministers. In fact, the Church should encourage and support such initiatives as they extend the mission and the word of God.
For your information, the ANC is not the only Organisation that I provide voluntary ministerial services to. I have been, for many years, a Chaplain to the National Choir Festival that promotes the high standards of choral music in the Country. I am the Chaplain of Orlando Pirates Football Club, as well as its Chairman, Dr Irvin Khosa. I am also the Chaplain of the Black Business Council (BBC).
This voluntary ministry is no different from what I do for the ANC, and it does not mean that I am necessarily part of these Organisations, I only provide religious services to them.
It should also be understood that my Chaplaincy to the ANC as a voluntary service is totally different to the Chaplaincy as practiced by the Church. In accordance with Station number 1404 (page 119, Yearbook 2013), the Church appoints around 23 Ministers to various Government Security Services on a full-time basis. Whilst these Ministers explore their calling, through these appointments they do not necessarily become part of the said Security Services, but they merely conduct religious services to these environments as Chaplains. Because such Ministers are deployed by the Church on a full-time basis, they account annually to the Church (see page 181, Yearbook 2013) through the Connexional Chaplaincy Committee about their ministry and not about them, being part of the Security Services they provide religious services to.
I have also heard some people saying “. . . by being a Chaplain to the ANC, one is creating a particular perception”. I am not sure as to what this particular perception is, however I know that some people see perception as reality.
If such reality refers to the fact that one is a member of the ANC, my response would be that there is no provision in the Laws and Discipline that prohibits any Minister of the Church from being a member of any political party.
If such reality maybe refers to a possibility of compromising the independence of the Church, my response is that, I have voluntarily worked for the Religious Desk of the ANC since 1993, and in particular as Chaplain since 1997, the latter part of the Laws and Discipline, paragraph 4.92 empowers the Connexional Executive in that:, if they consider my Chaplaincy as compromising the independence of the Church and its witness to the Gospel in Society, the CE has authority to ask me to either stop this ministry to the ANC or ask me to resign or deem me to have resigned. That authority has always been there even during the above stated period.
It is my conviction that the Connexional Executives did not exercise this authority (in my view) because in my ministry to the ANC I was, and still, I am conscious of, not subjecting my Church to a compromising position about her independence. In the main, privately and public, I have always confined my ministry in the ANC to conducting religious services, save for one instance when the current President made a religious statement which was not acceptable to the religious community. The leadership of the ANC requested that I deal with that particular matter.
MY UNDERSTANDING OF CHAPLAINCY:
With regard to my understanding of what a Chaplain is, I submit that a Chaplain is, a member of the Clergy (Clergy being a collective of ordained persons) who conducts religious services (it could be to a number of environments).
The said Clergy could be attached to a Chapel (Chapel being a place of Worship which could be formally dedicated or not formally dedicated – see The American Heritage: Dictionary of the English Language; 4th Edition).
These religious services can be conducted to an individual, as in the case of our Church, it sometimes directs that a Minister be appointed to give pastoral oversight to a King.
These religious services can be conducted in Institutions such as Prisons, Hospitals, Schools or Universities.
Such religious services may also be conducted in Government Departments such as the SANDF, Police or Correctional Services, as it is the case with our Church, as the Church ministers to these Departments.
Finally, such religious services may be conducted to any Organisation, be it Non-governmental, Community based and even Political Organisations.
It is my argument that when the Clergy conducts these religious services, they are not necessarily members, or they hold any post or position in these environments.
I want to assure the Methodist People that the day I take up a party-political post or position; I shall follow previous Methodist Ministers whom have joined political parties before me, and resign from the Full Connexion of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. For now, I have not taken up any such a post or position, but I am conducting religious services to the ANC. In this context I see Chaplaincy as a Ministry of presence.
It is also very important to observe as to what Conference (being the highest decision-making body of the Church) have said about this matter of Ministers and Party Politics.
In the recent past, this matter has been before Conference on two occasions, firstly in 2009 when Conference met in Pietermaritzburg and secondly in 2012 when Conference met in Swaziland.
There were two related resolutions brought before the Policy and Doctrine Committee of the 2009 Conference on this matter, which the said Conference dealt with. The said resolution appear hereunder:
LAWS AND DISCIPLINE : PARTY POLITICS
(i) “Conference resolves to request that Ministers/Clergy continue to adhere to the prescribed discipline of non-association with political parties and refrain from participating in party political structures.”
“Conference resolves that L&D 4.92 be changed as follows:”
(ii) “A minister who takes up an appointment that Conference considers will compromise the necessary independence of the Church in its witness to the Gospel of Society, shall resign from the ministry failing which, be deemed to have resigned. However, a minister who takes up a party-political post shall resign from the ministry, failing which shall be deemed to have resigned.”
These two resolutions were thoroughly and robustly discussed by the Policy and Doctrine Commission of the 2009 Conference and this Commission responded as follows:
1. Refer to general regulations: i.e. Ministers must examine their consciousness (in respect to Membership of a Political Party)
2. L&D addresses this issue (4.92), thus no need to amend or change current practice.
THEREFORE WITH REFERENCE TO THE ABOVE, THE SECOND RESOLUTION (MARKED (ii) ABOVE) BECOMES NULL AND VOID.
This response of the Policy & Doctrine Commission was put before the plenary of the 2009 Conference and it was robustly discussed by Conference to an extent that one of the ministerial delegates specifically referred to my Chaplaincy to the ANC as a case in point, despite that, Conference resolved to accept the recommendations of the Policy & Doctrine Commission. Hence on page 90, Yearbook 2010, Resolution 2.39 entitled MINISTERS AND PARTY POLITICS, “Conference reaffirms Laws and Disciplines, paragraph 4.92”.
A similar resolution was once again put before the 2012 Conference, and the said resolution supported by DEWCOM was again discussed by the Policy & Doctrine Commission of the 2012 Conference.
MINISTERS WHO TAKE UP A PARTY-POLITICAL POST
“The Synod of the Cape of Good Hope believes that the position of Chaplain General of a political party falls within the scope of Laws and Discipline paragraph 4.92 and requests Conference to rule accordingly and to require any Methodist Minister occupying such a position to relinquish it, failing which the provisions of the above paragraph should apply.”
This resolution once more generated a heated and robust debate in the Policy & Doctrine Commission. Once more it was the recommendation of the Commission to the plenary of the 2012 Conference that the said resolution be rejected and the 2009 Conference resolution on the matter be reaffirmed. Hence, on page 84, Yearbook 2013, Resolution 29 entitled: MINISTERS AND PARTY POLITICS, it is recorded that:
“Conference reaffirms its policy as articulated in Laws and Discipline, paragraph 4.92 (page 42) and the 2009 Conference resolution on MINISTERS AND PARTY POLITICS (Resolution Book, page 14)”
This latest resolution (in my view) was specifically directed at me; on both these occasions Conference did not resolve that my Chaplaincy to a political party is a political post. Once more, it is my submission that this Chaplaincy is a religious service that I voluntarily conduct to the ANC, it is not a post as provided in L&D para 4.92.
Having made the above explanations let me now come back to the specific question posed, as I stated earlier that I have not contravened or breached any of the provisions of the Laws and Discipline let me deal with each of the provisions, which I am alleged to have breached.
With regard to the proximity between the pulpit and political power, Methodists should not be nervous. The Laws and Discipline, page 230, paragraph 1.18 entitled POLITICS AND RELIGION, gives clear guidelines on this matter, as I am fully aware of this provision, at no stage have I ever contravened any part thereof. On the contrary, it is the strict observance of this provision that has guided me not to compromise the independence of the Church when conducting these religious services for the ANC.
I have already explained that I have not contravened paragraph 1.20 as the paragraph simply says Methodist Ministers should seriously examine their consciences whether to be seen to be MEMBERS of any political party. This provision I have already stated that it was reaffirmed by the 2009 Conference. It is equally important to note that the said provision does not say Ministers should not be members of any political party.
I have also explained that I have not breached paragraph 4.92. I have given the wisdom of Conference on this provision; therefore, I cannot contravene what Conference did not see as contravention. Simply put, Conference, on two occasions, has not seen the Chaplaincy to the ANC as taking up a party-political post. To this end, I plead with the Methodist people to understand that I only conduct religious services, for and in the ANC.
6. The bible says that it is not possible to serve God and mammon- do you not see having one leg in the church and another in business and politics as a conflict of interest?
I fully agree with the bible that God is the ONLY ONE to be served. I have already explained that I am not a politician so I have no leg in politics. I am in business with the permission of the Church. I have already explained the ministerial category the Church permitted me to serve under. I am not sure if it is correct to assume that Methodist people who are in either politics or business are not able to serve God. Theologically I am not sure if one can have conflicts of interest in serving God because all interests are before God.
7. Would you, as an ambassador of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and the Church of Christ as a whole and as the moral adviser of the ANC speak prophetically against any socio-economic wrong doing on their part?
I do not regard myself as an ambassador of the MCSA nor of the Church of Christ. Neither do I regard myself as the moral adviser of the ANC because I have never been proclaimed as one.
With regard to speaking prophetically, I can only refer you to Year Book 2013, page 86, Resolution 40, particularly to the referred conclusion of the DEWCOM document on Moral Decay, by saying …. “as one of God’s people and as a Methodist, I shall always be part of the Church’s prophetic witness in whatever role or capacity I hold in Society”.
8. You have recently taken over the Human Resources function of the church pro bono. Please say something about what your work in the office of the Presiding Bishop entails and the importance of this function to the administration of the Church as a whole.
Yes indeed, the Conference of 2011 appointed me as a Director of the Human Resources Unit in the office of the Presiding Bishop. I do not regard what I am doing for the Church as pro-bono; on the contrary, I regard this appointment as a privilege the Church has bestowed upon me to serve the people called Methodists and to serve God.
Conference has asked me to lead a group of professionals, the Connexional HR Committee that was appointed by the 2012 Conference to “professionalise” the Human Resources Management (HRM) of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
To this end, the said 2012 Conference approved a framework to be used within the Theological context in executing this huge task.
The said HRM framework talks to various aspects of the Human Resources value chain.
· Procurement and deployment of talent (Ministerial and Lay).
· Alignment of the Church human resource to Methodism and professionalism.
· Development of this human resource as informed by the mission strategy of the Church.
· Retention and well-being of this human resource.
· These are the 4 aspects covered within this framework.
With regard to my specific work in the Presiding Bishop’s office, over and above the stated strategic framework, I am also responsible for the proper capacitation of the office. I specifically deal with all legal matters like the ongoing disputes as such disputes hinder the advancement of the mission of the Church and her witness.
9. You are a man perceived as having fingers in many pies both in the church and outside. Can you confirm or decline this perception?
In the context of hunger for the grace of God, I have only one “pie” that gives fulfillment to sustain my life and that is God. Besides being a Minister, the Church has permitted me to be a self-supporting Minister. It may be that this is regarded as a finger. It is also a matter of public knowledge as announced during the 2011 Conference in Lesotho, that I have been appointed as Adjunct Professor by the University of Cape Town: Graduate School of Business. I lecture part-time at this Institution; perhaps this too could be regarded as another finger. But the power I draw from to move these fingers is from the said “one pie” – GOD who makes me to serve His people in these capacities.
10. If given an ultimatum and asked to choose between full time/seconded ministry to any other organisation other than the ANC what would your response be?
I have already stated that I conduct the Chaplain services on a voluntary basis. Your question gives an impression that the Church seconded me to the ANC, and that is wrong. As a Methodist Minister, I made a vow that I shall go where Conference sends me. Wherever I work as a Methodist Minister, it is because Conference has allowed me to do so. Therefore, the question of choice as to where I would like to work should not arise.
11. What are your hopes for the church?
That God continues to inspire the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit, to advance His Kingdom here on earth.
The vision and the mission statement of the Church are fully realised.
That God continues to inspire the Leadership of this Church with His divine wisdom to lead this Church through robust mission programs so that all God’s people may be saved to the uttermost.
12. Final words…
Noting that this interview has mainly dealt with the matter of my Chaplaincy to the ANC, also noting that para 4.92 has repeatedly been affirmed by Conference, that Chaplaincy is not regarded as a party political post I think, maybe there is one fundamental question that the Church should answer, and that is, “Does the Church allow her Ministers to minister to a Political Party?”
If the Church agrees that this is the question to be asked and answered, I propose that in answering that question the Church should take into consideration the following realities:
Firstly, there are so many Methodist people who belong to many political parties in the Country, as the Church, are we not supposed to minister to them when they work and operate in these party political environments. Especially noting that some of them are leaders in Politics, Government, and the Church; including some who are our local Preachers who utilize our pulpits.
Secondly, Government policies are formulated by a political party. When that party wins the election such policies are given to the Government for implementation. Is it not wise for the Church to be closer to the formulation stage of these policies, while maintaining her independence? It is my view that the Church should influence such policy formulation processes so that her prophetic and critical engagement with Government may be more informed and be pro-active, rather than concentrating on the implementation stage by Government, which could be re-active.
Thirdly, the other reality is that when the Church deploys Ministers to work in Government either as Chaplains or any other position in Government, such Ministers work within the policy framework of the ruling political Party and they implement the policies of the said party, hence it is my view that the Church should not be very far from these various parties, but remain independent so that, as the Body of Christ, the Church remains the conscience of both the political parties and the Government for constructive and critical engagement that will improve the lives of the people of God.
Lastly, the day, my Church pronounces that, Methodist Ministers should not minister to political parties, as I am under the discipline of the Church, I will observe that decision of the Church as Laws and Discipline paragraph 4.82 directs me to do so.
Thank you for the opportunity to air my views.