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Makgoba: Lambeth 2020 boycotts will not help anyone

28 June 2019

The Archbishop of Cape Town speaks to Anli Serfontein

Anglican Archives

The Archbishop of Capetown, Dr Thabo Makgoba

The Archbishop of Capetown, Dr Thabo Makgoba

THE Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, has urged bishops and Provinces in the Anglican Communion — including members of GAFCON — not to boycott the Lambeth Conference in 2020. Instead, he has said that they should “all come around the table”.

Speaking on Monday, Dr Makgoba, the Primate of Southern Africa and chairman of the Design Committee for Lambeth 2020, said: “I’m urging everyone to say really, really that boycotts have never helped any of our nations to attain freedom. Boycotts never helped us to agree on the creeds in the Anglican tradition. Boycotts fuel breakages.

“But, if we all come around the table at Lambeth, and African Christians have a say, all other Christians have a say. Let’s all come and sit around the table, acknowledge our pain, try to remedy our brokenness, try to remove the tensions. But we can’t just say, ‘Let’s vote: are you in or are you out?’ That’s not how the Church works.”

Dr Makgoba said that he hoped that the Primates of GAFCON, a conservative grouping formed in 2008 in protest at liberal moves on sexuality, would attend the Lambeth Conference. The GAFCON Primates have announced that they will host an alternative gathering at the same time as Lambeth 2020 (News, 10 May).

“It is really my prayer that if those who are in GAFCON are not on board, we have not started the debate fully,” he said. “We need those in GAFCON to be around the table, we need those who are in the Anglican Church in North America [ACNA] to be around the table. We need those who have just quietly left, or those who don’t understand what we are talking about, around the table, so we can hear every possible voice; and what is our obligation to God in such a time like this.”

In a book published last week, Faith and Courage: Praying with Mandela (SPCK), Dr Makgoba writes: “The Anglican Communion is not at present setting a good example to the world of how to achieve reconciliation.”

He argues that same-sex unions should not be treated “as a church-dividing matter but as one of Pastoral accommodation to the needs of each individual Province: we can do this by adopting a new Anglican via media, a middle way that bridges the divide.”

He said on Monday: “We have to acknowledge that most Provinces still agree that the canon of marriage is between man and woman, and most Provinces do not have a particular design to change that particular canon. But all Provinces realise that we need to minister in a context in which same-sex unions are not accepted in other countries by law.

“What I’m saying is [that], whether it is accepted or not accepted, I cannot, in my small mind, understand how I can refuse ministry to a child of God who is living in a faithful, monogamous relationship with his or her partner who seeks God’s blessing on that relationship. That’s really my deep struggle. I’m not saying, ‘Change the canon of marriage.’ I’m saying, ‘What is our pastoral obligation? What is our mission? What is the faith and the heart of the reconciliation?’”


DR MAKGOBA has been the Primate of Southern Africa since 2008, when he was elected, aged 47, shortly before President Jacob Zuma became President. Dr Makgoba used sermons preached at Easter and Christmas services to highlight the corruption that was rife during Mr Zuma’s time in office. “Under Zuma, the country was being stolen brick by brick,” Dr Makgoba said.

In retaliation, Mr Zuma threatened to regulate the churches and deregister them when they criticised him, which led to widespread protests.

“I was part of the debate. I was also saying, consciously, I’m criticising not as a partisan member,” Dr Makgoba said. “I don’t belong to a political party. I’m criticising from the tool that is at my disposal, where I’m urging Anglicans to say please remember the message of Easter. The message of Easter is light came to darkness, and, in certain instances, darkness did not see the light. And I’m saying let’s all be part of the light of Christ and illuminate that light of our baptismal vows in all the dark corners of our country.”

In his book, Dr Makgoba addresses the Church’s colonial past, and tells of how, as a young student in Grahamstown, he protested against hurtful colonial relics in the cathedral.

“Present-day visitors to the cathedral will find that a memorial to Colonel Graham has been turned to face a pillar so that much of it is obscured, and that the offensive wording on the plaques and on part of the memorial have been covered over with marble,” he writes.

The title of the book came from when the Archbishop was asked, in June 2009, by Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, to pray with Mandela, who was sick.

Using the example of Mandela’s life, reconciliation is the main theme of the book. Dr Makgoba said, however, that he and Mandela agreed to disagree on Mr Zuma, who was a protégé of Mandela’s.

There is also a humorous story told in the book about Graça Machel’s summoning him to Johannesburg from Cape Town. When he arrived at Mandela’s house in Houghton, he found Mandela unconscious. With her permission, he began to administer the last rites. Mandela then opened his eyes and, in a strong voice, said to his wife: “Who is this man, Graça? Get out! Bring me my sticks!” As a young Xhosa boy, Mandela was used to stick fighting. The medical team was thankful.

When Dr Makgoba went to see Mandela a few months later in Qunu, in the Transkei, he writes that Mandela told him: “‘My wife tells me,’ he said in a jocular mood, ‘that I wanted to beat you about the head with sticks when you came to say the last rites without my permission. But don’t worry, now you are my friend.’”



DR MAKGOBA traces his family history to his great-great-grandfather Kgosi (King) Mamphoku Makgoba, who resisted Boer rule, before his land was taken from him by the Boers and he was beheaded. His skull has never been found.

In 1908, in German colonial records, spoils from the 1894-95 war between the Boers and Makgoba were offered for sale. Among the items was “one Kaffir skull, for free”. Dr Makgoba’s mission is to find and bury his grandfather’s skull.

He still visits the area in the northern part of South Africa regularly. “If you look at the inter-generational gap in wealth of the Makgobas who were the owners staying in poor areas, and if you look at those who took Makgoba’s Kloof who are flourishing, and their families are flourishing, it is painful, it is very painful,” he said. “But the question always for me is what do I do with pain. Because I can sit and cry and wallow in pain and wish the situation was not like that.”

“In Makgoba’s Kloof, we may be able to start working with the farmers in creating jobs, in creating food security — a process of reconciliation. I can’t say, ‘You are out because your father stole my great-grandfather’s land, I’m going to take it and I’m going to hoard it.’ How do we achieve a way of finding reconciliation together? But reconciliation . . . is hurting and, at times, you can be rejected. But we have to do it.”

This is relevant to next year’s Lambeth Conference, he said. “What I’m proposing for the Anglicans is that we need to engage each other like we do those in Makgoba’s Kloof, in terms of courageous conversations, in courageous conversations of naming our pain. Faith and Courage was also a journey for holding my pain, sharing my pain, and hopefully it touched others.”

He spoke of how two clergy friends of Afrikaans descent read the book when it was published in South Africa. Their great-grandfathers were in the Cabinet of Paul Krüger, President of the Boer Republic.

One of the friends wrote to Dr Makgoba: “I did not know, my great-grandfather was one of those who signed the decree that the Makgobas had to be moved from Makgoba’s Kloof.”

Dr Makgoba said: “For me, that is priceless, that is very healing.

Faith and Courage: Praying with Mandela by Thabo Makgoba is published by SPCK at £16.99 (£15.40) ISBN 978-0-281-08058-8.

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