World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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14 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 50

The South African President, Nelson Mandela, has called on the World Council of Churches to be engaged in the entrenchment of democracy, so helping the fulfilment "of the dreams of African renaissance".

His surprise attendance at its Eighth Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Sunday (13 December) was seen to have heightened the significance of the WCC as he used the occasion to bid its member churches farewell before he quits the leadership of his country next year.

In the past few months President Mandela has been visiting selected countries and institutions for such farewells. "It is because of the values you promote and what you have stood for that I set aside whatever I was engaged in, to come and join you", he told a capacity audience at the University of Zimbabwe's Great Hall. "As my public life draws to a close," he went on, " I feel privileged to share my dreams and my thoughts with you."

According to earlier Assembly announcements, his Deputy President, Mr Thabo Mbeki, was expected at the WCC's 50th anniversary celebration.The surpise turn of events, marked by Mandela's arrival accompanied by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, brought all events at the university campus to a standstill.Assembly participants thronged his passage when he entered the hall to have a closer glimpse of Africa's most charismatic leader. The scene was repeated on his departure by crowds estimated at more than 3,500 inside and outside the hall.

Giving a prescription for Africa's growth and development, he emphasised that the following were necessary:

  • Finding ways to increase the inward flow of investment to widen market access and to remove the burden of external debt which affects Africa more than any other region.
  • Co-operating to re-orient the institutions that regulate the international trade and investment system, so that world economic growth translates into the benefits of development.
  • Finding ways of ensuring that the efforts of countries to put their economies on a sound basis, in order to uplift their people, are not set back by huge flows of finance as transnational companies move across the globe in search of quick profits.
  • Seeking ways in which the prodigious capacity of the contemporary world economy is used to address decisively the poverty that continues to afflict much of humanity.
  • Working together to ensure that the legacy of underdevelopment does not leave Africa on the margins of the world economy.

    Referring to the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Mandela gave the Assembly the assurance that leaders in the sub-regions (Southern, Central and East Africa ) were committed to finding peaceful solution.

    He expressed his appreciation and that "of the entire continent" to the WCC, saying it has always "been known as a champion of the oppressed and the exploited.". He recalled: "The name WCC struck fear in the hearts of those who ruled our country during the inhuman days of apartheid. To mention you was to incur the wrath of the authorities. To indicate support for your views was to be labelled an enemy of the state."

    He humorously offered a tip to church leaders on how to attract increased membership. "When we were in prison, various religious leaders visited us. Muslim leaders attracted most of us because they offered us samosas and biriani (Indian rice).

    Noting that his generation was a produce of church education, President Mandela said: "If it was not for the Church, I would not be with you here today. The government of the day had no interest in educating Africans, Coloured and Indians."

    He termed the WCC's anniversary as "50 years of achievement in activating the conscience of the world for peace and on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed".

    His age at 80 years did not inhibit him from joining a choir on stage and dancing to the African rumba beat. Then he went on to tell more jokes, assuring his audience that if they thought he was not handsome, at least Zimbabwean children assured him during a past visit to their country that he was handsome in his youth.

    Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
    Press and Information Office, Harare
    Tel: +
    E-Mail: WCC media

    The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.