8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on the Way
6.4. Response to the Africa Plenary

Gathering in Zimbabwe has given the world church an opportunity to experience some of the realities of life in Southern Africa. We recalled how on arrival here the currency exchange was 34 Zimbabwe dollars to one US dollar. One week later it was 40 Zimbabwe dollars to one US dollar. What will it be next week and the weeks following? Each devaluing brings increased hardship for the local people.

Here are some images beyond the assembly setting that helped us to feel the pulse of Africa:

  • Sunday worship on the outskirts of Harare with hundreds of people sitting on sheets of plastic in a simple open shed as they listened attentively to the message;
  • a small boy who sheds his ill-fitting shabby shoes and walks barefoot (echoes of "grace goes barefoot" from the plenary theme presentation);
  • the woman marketing beautifully crafted products hand-made by women and unemployed school leavers. She warmly invites us to "feel free" to "take time" as she engages us in conversations about where we live and about the work we are doing here.
All human brings are created in the image of God and have the right to life with dignity in a free and just society: life in all its fullness. The church is called to be in solidarity with those who suffer deprivation, injustice and oppression. We are also called to celebrate life as a free gift from God, and rejoice in hope when we behold the acceptable year of the Lord.

Response to the Africa Plenary

1. Throughout the assembly we have been reminded of the significance of our meeting in Africa. We have enjoyed, and responded to, the hospitality and courtesy of the churches and people of Zimbabwe. We have heard much of the range of problems and challenges facing the governments, people and churches at this time throughout this vast continent.

2. The holding of the World Council of Churches' eighth assembly on African soil gives us the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the African dream and agenda for the twenty-first century. It is imperative that effective change should occur on the African continent towards the attainment of lasting peace, the enabling of people to participate in making the decisions that affect their lives, and respect for the integrity of the human person and community.

3. We were deeply impressed by the Africa presentation through drama of past and present hopes and traumas in the life of Africa's nations, including our host nation. We express our deep respect for the prophetic courage of this presentation.

The dream of Africa
4. Through its "Reconstructing Africa" programme of dialogue and study, culminating in the event held in May 1997 in Johannesburg with the theme "Jubilee and the African Kairos", the WCC has already sought to engage creatively and in solidarity with Africa and to stimulate a new way of looking at Africa. This has already generated renewed hope in the African church that change is possible. Participants at the Johannesburg meeting expressed their conviction about the future of Africa on the following lines:

"We are proud in seeing a vision of the journey of hope of African churches for the development of the continent for the twenty-first century. We are determined to work out this vision that promises life with dignity for the African people. We see such a vision grounded in the spirit of ‘ubuntu' (‘ubu', ‘umuntu') the embodiment of African spirituality and moral integrity lived in sustainable communities.

"This is a vision that

  • calls us to work together and creatively to be in solidarity with one another, to accompany those among us with burdens too heavy to carry alone;
  • compels us to work towards the elimination of the barriers and walls that divide and enslave us;
  • provides us with instruments to reconcile broken relationships and heal wounds inflicted by violent ways of resolving misunderstandings and conflict;
  • can be realized if Africans agree to work together in the spirit of pan-Africanism, and manage their human and natural resources responsibly and ethically, together and in partnership with one another and with nature."
The African challenge
5. In the padare there were many opportunities to share and exchange stories about issues of social change relating to Africa. In the plenary session that focused specifically on Africa, we heard, in striking and powerful form, the voices of the people of Africa, including not only cries of pain and suffering, but also testimonies of struggle, faith and hope. We listened to accounts of Africa's twin legacies of oppression and resistance and of the current opportunity to determine her own future. Through music, drama and discussion the dilemmas and challenges were presented and explored -- the liberation from colonialism; the struggle to overcome poverty; the progress towards good government and participatory civil society; issues concerning justice, human rights, the rule of law, fragmentation and exclusion, and the moral regeneration of society.

6. We heard about the huge challenges facing Africa, many resulting from the economics of "war and manna" that have resulted in the phenomenon known as globalization. Global pressures mean that nations and individuals battle against overwhelming socio-economic odds arising from the debt crisis, structural adjustment programmes, and in some cases bribery, corruption and the misuse of resources. Half of Africa is at present at war in their own countries and we were vividly reminded of the suffering that continues in southern Sudan as a result of 50 years protracted civil war. Conflict in some parts of Africa, such as the Great Lakes Region, has been continuing for many years. Issues of indigenization are not as clear cut in Africa as in other places, but are being addressed in the WCC through the Indigenous Peoples Programme. There is widespread concern about health issues, particularly about the spread of HIV/AIDS. Overarching all else, there is an urgent need to carry forward the process of moral regeneration, a process to which the churches have an important contribution to make, through the development of both a new ecumenical vision with a coherent prophetic voice and the capacity to explore and articulate ecumenical social thinking.

7. In relation to the priority of human rights and the integrity and dignity of the person, church leadership in Africa must secure the full participation of women, youth and lay persons in the definition, articulation and implementation of the African agenda at all levels. This will ensure the development of common initiatives and actions that would guarantee the survival and success of the agenda. The role and place of the family, and distinctive Christian qualities such as integrity, generosity and, above all, hope in Christ, also need to be explored and clarified in the context of the emerging civil society.

8. It is important that the emphasis should be positive, leaving behind the notes of fatalism, despair and helplessness which tend to characterize some attitudes and responses. There are clear signs within Africa, alongside the vibrant Christian faith and spiritual vitality, of the emergence of a new spirit of patriotism, a sense of pride in identity ("ubuntu") and a desire to construct a different image of the continent. In responding to all that we have heard, we wish therefore to celebrate the heritage and culture of Africa and to reflect on the assembly theme "Turn to God -- Rejoice in Hope". With a sense of repentance we recognize that governments and churches from out of Africa bear no little responsibility for policies and decisions that have contributed to the present difficulties; but we see a situation at present that is full of promise and hope. Reiterating the action with which our Africa Plenary session ended, we commit ourselves in mutual solidarity to the reconstruction of Africa. In the case of those of us from Africa this represents a commitment to work with and through our churches for a better future and to seek to ensure that never again will Africa suffer such humiliation as has been experienced previously. In the case of those of us who belong elsewhere this represents a commitment to work with and through our churches in accompanying our African brothers and sisters in their journey of hope.

Recommendations (Adopted)
The eighth assembly of the World Council of Churches:
1. affirms the African agenda and commits the World Council of Churches' structures and constituencies to supporting, accompanying and helping with the realization of this agenda by placing a special focus on Africa during the beginning of the 21st century;

2. supports wholeheartedly the commitment, undertaken before God by the leaders and representatives of member churches of Africa at the assembly, to

a. continue the unfinished task of working towards the transformation of their social, political and economic systems and institutions with a view to creating a just society in which women and young people have opportunity for full participation;

b. seek and pursue peace and reconciliation for their people and communities;

c. work towards the establishment of appropriate ethical values in work, governance and management, and good stewardship;

d. do everything in their means to help contain and overcome the scourge of HIV/AIDS;

e. affirm the right of African children to hope for a bright future which, with all strength and ability, they will help to create.

3. instructs the central committee to carry forward the work already started through the Reconstructing Africa programme of dialogue and study, with an emphasis on capacity-building and information-sharing so as to develop solidarity within the ecumenical family and enable Africa to make the unique contribution it has to offer to the world ecumenical movement;

4. encourages councils of churches in Africa, and the All Africa Conference of Churches, to seek new ways, within the limits of available resources, of working together with the churches in their areas, and in partnership with civil society organizations in Africa, so as to provide moral leadership, articulate a new vision for Africa, and motivate and mobilize Africans to participate in the building of just and sustainable communities;

5. urges all member churches to engage in dialogue with their respective governments and make representations with a view to the governments, United Nations organizations and other international bodies playing whatever part they can in the process of reconstruction and reconciliation within Africa through, for example, respect for human rights, the promotion of an alternative economic order, debt relief, reductions in the arms trade, and urgent measures to bring about peace with justice in the Sudan, the Great Lakes Region and other areas of conflict in Africa in particular and the world at large.

See also Appendix I: Sudan

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