World Council of Churches Office of Communication
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13 August 2001

WCC general secretary to visit Southern Africa

HIV/AIDS, overcoming violence, and the equitable distribution of land will be among the topics pursued by a World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation led by general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, 14-27 August.

South Africa
Raiser will preach at the opening worship of the South African Council of Churches' (SACC) Tri-annual National Conference in Johannesburg on 14 August, and give the keynote address to the conference on 15 August. The SACC will be inducting a new general secretary, Dr Molefe Tsele, who has been serving as interim general secretary.

Raiser notes that the visit is a renewal of the solidarity between WCC and SACC and an "expression of hope that SACC can continue and increase its significant role in the people's life in what promises to be a critical time in South Africa". Raiser's last visit to South Africa was in 1998.

The church's role in addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic, unemployment, criminal and youth violence, equitable land access and ownership is among the topics the delegation expects to address in meetings with church and ecumenical leaders. The United Nations' World Conference on Racism will begin in Durban at the end of August, and Raiser is also interested in church and government leaders' views on its possible impact within South Africa, especially in light of concerns about whether the conference will in fact be able to address the crucial issues of racism today.

The delegation's programme includes a tour of Soweto and meetings with local social action movements and with African theologians from the University of South Africa and the University of Pretoria. A visit to the office of president Thabo Mbeki is planned on 16 August.

Christians make up 68 percent of the country's population of 43.5 million. Traditional religions are followed by 28.5 percent, Islam by 2 percent, and Hinduism by 1.5 percent.

The delegation will arrive in Windhoek, Namibia, on 17 August for meetings with Namibian and Angolan church leaders and with the Council of Churches of Namibia.

HIV/AIDS and land distribution are also critical issues in Namibia and are being addressed as such by the churches. Namibia is currently second in the world in terms of the percentage of the population infected by the HIV virus.

The delegation will travel to Rundu to visit refugee camps and landmines victims there, as well as to meet with church leaders from Angola. Noting that the Fellowship of Councils of Churches in Southern Africa (FOCCISA) has identified peace in Angola as their top priority, Raiser points out that "Peace in Angola is not just a national issue; it is a sub-regional issue."

The delegation will meet with Namibian president Sam Nujoma on 22 August.

The total population of Namibia is 1.8 million, of whom 80-90 percent are Christian, with the majority Lutheran, and 10-20 percent follow traditional religions. Ninety percent of the Christian population belong to member churches of the Council of Churches of Namibia.

From 22-26 August, the delegation will focus on challenges facing peace-making and pastoral care to victims of violence and HIV/AIDS in Botswana. Meetings with leaders and staff of the Botswana Christian Council, churches and religious organizations, and discussions with theological lecturers and students are planned. A meeting with the Mothers' Union and visits to home-based care centres for HIV/AIDS orphans and street children are included in the programme.

A meeting with president Festus Mogoe is scheduled on 24 August. A visit with former president Ketumile Masire is also tentatively planned on 23 August, depending on his return from his current involvement in dialogue efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Raiser notes that the government of Botswana is doing its best to address the problems of HIV/AIDS and street children, but points out that the Botswana churches are calling for increased attention to the indigenous San People, who have long been and continue to be marginalized in Botswana society. The Botswana Christian Council is also very involved in FOCCISA's peace initiative in Angola.

Half of Botswana's 1.6 million people are Christian. Fifty percent follow traditional religions.

The delegation ends its trip with a one-day visit to Harare, Zimbabwe. The delegation will meet with church and ecumenical leaders, including the leadership of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC). A meeting with government representatives is also planned. The delegation will be particularly interested in hearing from the churches about the current relationship between church and state, the situation as regards land access and ownership and the state of the economy, and about prospects for church involvement in monitoring the upcoming presidential elections.

In a 2 August letter to ZCC President, Bishop Ambrose Moyo, Raiser commended the ZCC for a recent communiqué, issued by the heads of denominations, and expressed particular appreciation for the council's commitment "to continue to give witness in their life and worship to stemming the tide of violence, to promote peace, to care for the victims of injustice without distinction, and to continue through dialogue with all those involved in the politics of the nation to promote the values of democratic governance".

Raiser was last in Zimbabwe for the WCC's eighth assembly in 1998.

Seventy-five percent of the 11.3 million people in Zimbabwe are Christian. Twenty-four percent follow traditional religions and the remaining one percent are Muslim or other religions.

WCC member churches
The WCC has 16 member churches in the region: Church of the Province of Southern Africa, Council of African Instituted Churches, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia, Evangelical Presbyterian Church in South Africa, Methodist Church in Zimbabwe, Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Moravian Church in South Africa, Presbyterian Church of Africa, Reformed Church in Zimbabwe, United Church of Christ in Zimbabwe, United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa and the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa.

Members of the delegation
Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, WCC general secretary
Dr William Temu, WCC Africa secretary
Ms. Diana Mavunduse, WCC Decade to Overcome Violence communication officer
Mr David J. Modiega, chairperson of Fellowship of Councils of Churches in Southern Africa (FOCCISA) and general secretary of the Botswana Christian Council
Rev. José Domingo Caetano, WCC Central Committee member, Evangelical Pentecostal Mission of Angola
Rev. Dr Kasonga wa Kasonga, All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), executive secretary, Christian and Family Life Education and Eighth AACC General Assembly coordinator

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, 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.