We like to pretend that our churches are bastions of progress and not temples of doom
AZAD ESSA feels the role of religion in our politics must be interrogated.
When Pastor Andre Olivier said that white people hadn’t taken anything from black people during apartheid, he disrespected his congregation, but he also disrespected his faith. Of course, he wouldn’t be the first religious leader to do so. History is filled with examples of brazen characters – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or otherwise – who usurp religious texts for personal gain, or find reason to diffuse blame. So his comments are neither unique, or extraordinarily original. Instead, it is a sobering reminder that religious institutions in this country are part of the social fabric of this society.
Whereas â€œraceâ€ remains a fundamental fault line in South African politics, culture and humour, we tend to ignore, and perhaps forget, the role in which our religious freedoms help maintain the racial status quo. We like to pretend that our churches, mosques, synagogues, are bastions of progress and not temples of doom. But are they? What purpose do they serve in our communities? What story are they telling?
And who is making sure that our religious centres are using their unique freedoms to promote self-esteem, freedom of thought, gifting them new ideas of taking control of their life rather than some glib missionary position of yore that sold stories of black people needing saving, by of course white settlers? But this is precisely what Olivier said: “If you are black, God will send you white people.”
This is not a call for the policing of our religious centres. But given how important a role religion plays in South Africa and the mediating role that it plays between state and citizen, law and justice, surely it must be a hate crime for a pastor to torment people with such triggering lies?
Retaliation to his words has come swiftly. And sharply. And he will meet his maker, but he should meet his congregation first. And no, the half-baked apology is not sufficient.