The South African Council of Churches held its Triennial Conference from the 25-26th February at the Willow Park Lodge under the theme “God of Life: Renew, Restore and Transform us for the service of Your Kingdom.” The Conference drew inspiration and hope from the key text found in Isaiah 43:19: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”, as it reflected on the state of the nation, the economy and the SACC. On reflecting on the state of the nation, we give thanks and praise to Almighty God for the changes in our country since the birth of our democratic South Africa some 20 years ago. We recognise with thanksgiving and gratitude the many positive things that have been accomplished in these past years. We also, regrettably, express our concern that still much more must be achieved in the areas of education, health and social transformation. We were hoping that President Jacob Zuma would have used the opportunity in his recent State of the Nation Address to unfold a vision and action plan to address these issues as we move into the future but we were left somewhat disappointed that this was not the case. We are deeply concerned about the ever increasing corruption, service delivery protests and the unrest and violence it is bringing upon our land. Particularly disheartening is the fact that innocent people are dying at the hands of those who are supposed to care for them. We are really concerned about the safety of our children as we observe the increasing numbers of rape, sexual abuse and murders of innocent little ones. We are deeply alarmed by the rising cultic and satanic practices, rituals and killings that seem to attract our youth. We realise that the context in which we do mission and ministry as churches has become a moral challenge. Hence we call on church leaders to not wait for government alone to address these matters but to seriously engage and address these on the ground.
On reflecting on the state of the economy, we express our deep concern over the widening gap between the rich and the poor in South Africa. We are therefore not surprised by the strikes and protests emerging from the mines and other sectors of business and society. Inequalities in society are bound to lead to social instability and this is what we are seeing daily in our country. Added to this is the escalating rate of unemployment and the struggles young people are encountering to find decent jobs. Resources are a gift from God for all and not just a few. We call on our churches to proclaim this biblical message as we seek to address the inequalities and economic discrepancies in our country, especially as we focus on the needs of the poor. We hope and pray that the latter would be seriously factored into Budget Speech of the Minister of Finance. We thus call for a fresh social dialogue on the trajectory of the political economy of our country. The Conference also recognised that on the 7th May 2014 South Africa will hold its next General Elections. We take joy in the report of the IEC that more people have registered to vote than ever before and this includes 1.2 million new young voters. We encourage all those who have the right to vote to exercise it in the interest of our democracy and the development of our country. We call on all political leaders and parties to restrain from acts of violence and to refrain from endeavours to make certain areas as “no go areas” for other political parties to campaign. Indeed, we call upon churches to pray for, and participate at all cost to ensure that the elections are peaceful, free and fair. The Conference also heard about the situation in Palestine and Israel and called for all parties concerned to work towards a just peace and reiterated its solidarity and support for all those working towards this goal. We urge churches to campaign for greater awareness for the Palestinian struggle in general and the plight of Palestinian Christians in particular. We also request churches to dedicate Sunday services on March 16th to reflect and pray for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel. As Christians we are called to pray and work for justice and peace all over the world.
On reflecting on the state of the SACC, we lamented the fact that we have many internal issues that need to be addressed with urgency and wisdom. These ranged from challenges related to the lack of significant participation, ownership and involvement of many church leaders in the work of the Council, financial constraints which led to the retrenchment of virtually all of the SACC staff, no clear vision and direction by the Council since the demise of apartheid, the involvement of women and youth, management issues and other organisational matters. Against this background and in keeping with its theme, the Conference entered into a process in which it looked at the role and value of the SACC today, what it could do to renew, restore and transform the organisation, and the value Member Churches and partners could bring to the work and life of the SACC. This exercise injected a strong positive response and commitment of churches to the work of the SACC and created a new found spirit and joy to make it a formidable and strong organisation again. All the material collected from the workshop will be processed, analysed and sent to the participants by the new National Executive Committee with the intention of paving a new direction for the SACC which is expected to also impact on its future operational, management and organisational structures. We call on all our member churches and ecumenical partners to continue to pray for the renewal, restoration and transformation of the SACC and to also visibly and financially commit themselves to the work, life and witness of the SACC. We need to be in relationship with one another. We need to meet, pray together, listen to God and go out into the world to be His presence. The Conference expressed its thanks and appreciation to the outgoing President, Bishop Jo Seoka, the Presidium and members of the NEC. Bishop Z. Siwa was elected as the new President of the SACC and Dr Frank Chikane was elected as the Senior Vice President and Father Michael Lapsley as Vice President. A new Executive Committee (NEC) was elected and would duly continue the work of the SACC. May we keep them in our constant prayers as we continue to pray, “God of Life: Renew, Restore and Transform us for the service of Your Kingdom.”