*** DEBUG END ***

Interview: Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town, head of the Eco-Bishops initiative

11 December 2015

‘Please join efforts to overcome climate apartheid across the world’

I very much enjoy being an Archbishop. I’m a priest, and also have to be something of a manager, and a politician, and a lobbyist — all of them, trying in all to be a servant of God. But the key is that I am a pastor to the nations of our province [of Southern Africa], and of creation.

I’ve just returned from the Paris climate-change conference,
where the heads of states delivered good and passionate sermons at the opening. But now we need action.

In my own province,
we’re looking at making sure we do not invest in the fossil-fuels business, and we are urging congregations to become “eco-parishes”. We also want to expand the use of the Season of Creation liturgical resources produced by Green Anglicans, our province’s environmental network.

I hail from a picturesque valley in the north of our country, called Magoebaskloof; but I grew up first in the squalor of Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, and then in the slightly better location of Pimville, Soweto. So I have experienced both the worst and the best environments.

I aspire to a world in which abundant life will be enjoyed by all,
not just people of a particular race, class, or status.

My first experience of God was
confusing. I was brought up in the midst of poverty and severe oppression, and yet benefiting from warm parenting and a good childhood in spite of it. My life has been a journey of peaks and troughs, but I've always been certain of God's presence in the midst of both joys and setbacks.

How I came to be ordained is a long story of faith, stupidity, hope, and courage, inspired by people such as Desmond Tutu, who sent me for ordination. I am trying to sum it up in a book I am working on, to be entitled Faith and Courage.

I focus on the nexus of environment,
economics, and education, as I try to understand the incarnate God and the abundant life he brings through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. I try to write about these; and I am currently planting new schools, or encouraging other bishops to do so. And I try to relate to the secular authorities through the diocesan bishops in the various regions of the countries which our province covers.

I hope that we will all change our lifestyles to be in solidarity with one another, realising that we live in a finite world, sharing our burdens and adjusting our behaviour accordingly. At a global level, of course, I hope that there will be a practical, implementable climate agreement — reached through an open, transparent process — that can hold emitters accountable for what they do, and so reduce greenhouse gases.

I hope that those who stand to suffer the most from climate change, who are those who generate the smallest emissions, will be cared for, and helped to develop their countries. I hope each parishioner will learn to know the Season of Creation liturgy, which seeks to help us understand how to care for the environment.

The gatherings of the Anglican Communion’s eco-bishops have been most encouraging, but there is still a lot to be done. As a pastor, I believe in the story of the mustard seed, and seeking a little germination is all that we in the Anglican Communion Environment Network are doing.

My message to Christians,
and all people in the UK, is: “Your actions impact on the livelihoods of the poorest across the globe. Just as you strove to defeat political apartheid in South Africa, please join and support those efforts to overcome climate apartheid across the world and assure climate justice for peace’s sake.”

My aspirations do create a conflict for me,
especially because of the carbon I generate in my extensive travels. That’s in spite of the trees I plant, the waste I recycle, and the care I take using water and electricity.

I am a middle child, and a twin. I have three sisters, two older and one younger than me.

Apartheid’s forced removals placed great strain on our family when I was a boy.
My parents believed in education and hard work, and, at the age of ten, I became a golf caddie to augment my parents’ income. I was a member of our parish’s youth group, and later I joined the Anglican Students’ Federation.

I met my wife, Lungi Manona, at theological college.
She is the daughter of a university professor who died two years ago. We have two children: Nyaki, aged 20, in his second year at the University of Cape Town, and Pabi, 16, who is at high school.

I’m happiest when I’m
with my family, on family retreats recouping, and when I’m walking with the poorest of the poor and learning joy from them; when I’m in chapel at mass, or saying prayers.

For me, hearing birds singing is the most reassuring sound.

What made me angry last
was the burning down of our province’s eco-cathedral and the neighbouring diocesan centre, in a diocese in which there is a leadership dispute.

The Bible’s stories have been the greatest influences on my life;
and people like my mother,and Archbishop Tutu, and Nelson Mandela.

I pray most for peace and justice.

If I found myself locked in a church for a few hours,
I’d choose to be with my wife and the prophet Jeremiah.

Dr Thabo Cecil Makgoba was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.


Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)