Nation building — an interview with Rev Frank Chikane


[notice]A fortnightly column on marriage, family and relationships.[/notice]

frank chikane
Rev Frank Chikane (PHOTO:

This week’s column departs from my usual theme, due to elections and an interview.

Elections 2016 in South Africa will go down in history as one of the most highly contested elections in the country. With each party promising voters better service and better quality of life it is anyone’s guess what the final results will look like.

Will the ruling party still have power in the major metropolitan areas — we do not know! What we do know is that South Africa has a past where it was governed along racial lines. Many died for a free South Africa — free of racism but as we all know racism in our country is something that is very much alive.

More and more cases of racism are being reported, making us realise that there is a lot that still needs to be done to build this great country we all call home. With the reality of poverty, economic decline and unemployment being challenges that we face as a nation it is going to be interesting to watch how the various political parties will carry out the programmes and changes they have promised the nation.

I recently interviewed Reverend Frank Chikane, the deputy president of the South African Council of Churches. Rev Chikane certainly played a role in what became the new South Africa. Alongside Bishop Desmond Tutu, Rev Frank Chikane was arguably one of the most vocal moral voices during the apartheid era and during the time of transitioning into the new South Africa. I spoke to him about our current racial state — how we relate to each other as races and what we can do as the Church to play our part in shaping a peaceful country:

You are one of the most respected spiritual fathers in South Africa. As Solomon built a temple for God, how do we go about building this nation?
Rev Chikane:  If the church of Christ became what it is supposed to be, if we began to be the temple of God this country would be different! We would not even need to pitch a tent because every Christian in this country would be a testimony. If it is said that Christians make up 80% of this country — could you imagine, if you went to Transnet, there would most probably be a majority of Christians. If you went to government departments the majority of the people would be Christian.

The problem is that we have become Christians who have no testimony. We have become Christians who are not temples of the Lord and therefore when we leave the temple we go and embrace worldly ways and when we come back, we come and worship and feel good about ourselves.

In fact, it is almost like you come to church for cleansing then go outside and defile yourself and come back for cleansing — abusing the grace of the Lord. Firstly, if Christians became what they where supposed to be, we would be able to make a difference and this nation would be different.

Secondly, if those few, who have really understood what the gospel means could stand for the truth, you would have a greater impact than anybody could imagine. One action can have an impact. I always say: I am just a simple child of God but if God gives you opportunities [and]you use them, you can feel the impact.

In the last couple of months we have had a number a racial incidences across the country. What would you say to the greater South Africa — not just the Church — about how we tackle racism — because you would think after 1994 we would not be having the same issues that we are facing? If you would be the voice of reason — of hope — what would you say to all of us?
Rev Chikane: Racism is a factor. If you talk about mathematical formulae, racism depends on inequalities. As long as you have the rich being mainly white and the poorer being mainly black, you will not get rid of racism because racism was built on the slave trade. There was no language of racism in the world until the slaves were taken to the United States — that was when the concept of racism came to be.

As long as groups of people see other groups as being unequal or worth less than them, then racism will be present and of course the class differentiation. You have to treat “the little people” of God as equals to yourself. Once you differentiate them, you have a problem. Until we solve the economic problem racism will remain.

What would be your advice to the youth of South Africa? If you look back to the youth of 1976, the youth then fought the educational system that was trying to introduce Afrikaans. We find ourselves 40 years down the line still fighting the educational system. What would be your words of wisdom as a father to the youth of this nation?
Rev Chikane: Well I think my message should not be to the young people of this country — it should be to the adults in this country. We have to solve the problem so that they do not have to do what they are doing, because if we solved it then we would not have the problem.

Again, as long as there is poverty and people are not able to meet their needs there will always be people who cannot support themselves and the state and the people of South Africa need to fix that equation. You can spend billions to try and help but the problem won’t be solved. You must change the economic equation so that people can be able to live a normal life and pay for their children to go to school — take care of themselves. I am not talking about billionaires. Enough so that one can live.

As a church what kind of practical solutions can we give our nation, communities, so we don’t have the situation of racism and of #feesmustfall? As the Church how do we become light and salt in our nation?
Rev Chikane: Firstly we must start among the members. Our churches still have black and white and that racism still manifests even among evangelical Pentecostals so we can’t claim to be different. We need to start from there, in our churches. Nationally, we [SACC] have brought the churches together and we have a programme about “The South Africa we pray for”. We have a framework that is accepted by the churches.

Reverend Chikane’s love and passion for South Africa is evident. He wants to see a South Africa that we can all be proud of. He continues through his many roles in different spheres to encourage the nation and the Church to not “sleep” but to be involved in nation building.

‎”Today it’s a beginning of a new thing”, Chikane said at the SACC’s June 16 commemoration in Orlando Stadium.

“The starting point was to bring back the SACC because it was in ICU… We needed to bring it back so that churches can begin to play a role.”

“We want to ‎deal with corruption, maladministration, economic transformation and anchoring democracy. These are our commitments.”

Frank Chikane was born on the 3rd of January 1951 in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga. He attended both primary and high school in Soweto.

He entered the ministry at Kagiso, Krugersdorp in 1976. Chikane grew up in the AFM and became a Sunday school teacher, a youth leader and a member of the board of the Assembly. He completed a diploma in theology and was ordained as a pastor in 1980. He served as pastor at the Kagiso Assembly and the Naledi Assemblies.

In 1992 he became the president of the black section of the AFM of South Africa and in 1993 the president of the composite section of the AFM of South Africa. In 1996 he became the first vice-president of the united AFM of South Africa and was a major role player in uniting the black and white sections of the church. He is currently the president of AFM International which has member churches in 29 countries in 6 continents.

He completed a MA in religious studies at the University of Natal in 1992 and a MA in public administration (MPA) with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1995.

He serves as a Deputy President of the SACC. At a political level (among many other roles) he was Deputy President of the Soweto Civic Association, Deputy President of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the African National Congress (ANC).

He is also the presiding pastor of the Naledi Assembly in Soweto.

He is an author of a number of books and is engaged in what he calls an “invisible” ministry to some of the leaders in the country — community as well as professional and business leaders.

Chikane has been married to Kagiso since February 1980 and they have 3 children, Obakeng, Otlile and Rekgotsofetse. He lived in Soweto for most of his life and now resides in Midrand.

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