A conversation with Dr Thabo Makgoba, The Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa

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Part One 

LM:

Your Grace, thank you so much for an opportunity to share leadership ideas and perspectives. 

TM:

Thank you for this opportunity to engage in such a critical I’m humbled LM because you have always been an admired leader from your student days at Rhodes University when I was studying theology at St Paul’s College.

LM:

Our society is at a major crossroads; we either face an increase in poverty, unemployment, underdevelopment and social strife or we can move towards a path of inclusive economic growth, economic development and social cohesion. What are some of the key collective steps that we can take as a nation toward a more prosperous and equitable society? 

TM:

The preamble to the Constitution and the section that talks about socio-economic rights are good starting points for me. As an Archbishop my Christian sacred text (the Bible) abounds with examples of how we can achieve this. One example is John 10:10 where the imperative is for all of us to ensure that each human being flourishes, not just some. This may be utilitarian in outlook but it is possible to achieve.

What I have done for the last four years, particularly post the Marikana massacre, is to create more safe spaces for ongoing dialogue across the broad spectrum of our society. In these conversations with mining communities, the executives, labour leaders and government as well as people of faith and representatives from mining communities, we have met annually at Bishopscourt for “courageous conversations” and for spelling out practical projects in education, health and enterprise development over and above the conversations. In this way we have built trust and strengthened partnerships. I am pursuing this model and hope to implement it within other business sectors of our community through what we call South Africa Day.

LM:

What do you see as the role of the Church in a post-apartheid South Africa? 

TM:

The church should continue to ensure quality value-based (Christian) and accessible education for all South Africans, especially the poorest of the poor. As an example, through the Archbishop’s Development Trust and in my role as an Archbishop and educationist I have raised resources and encouraged others to do so in building the St Joseph’s Vuleka Archbishop Makgoba School for boys in Sophiatown. We need more such schools and we need corporate South Africa to partner with the church in such endeavours and in building more Early Childhood centres in South Africa. The other contribution will be to continue to hold the needs and the desperation of the poor in front of the eyes of policy makers, politicians, and corporate South Africa, and to raise the immorality of inequality which makes South Africa unsustainable. Above all, this is part of the mandate of the SA Council of Churches’s campaign to pray for our country, under the banner of the campaign, “The South Africa We Pray For”.

LM:

The scourge of sexual abuse and harassment has affected a large group of institutions such as major companies, donor agencies, religious organisations and public-sector organizations, what is the role of leaders in creating a much more safer and better environment against sexual abuse and harassment? 

TM:

As a church we are part of the greater community and we are not insulated from the challenges in our religious, social and political landscapes. There are many initiatives addressing gender-based violence and we need to support those initiatives and create more awareness through teaching of what it means to be created in the image of God. Furthermore we must “Speak Out” against such atrocities, come alongside the victims and provide care and support – the touchstone of our Christian faith and of other sacred texts. Some of the examples that I’m involved in a representative capacity are “We will speak out”, the Hope Africa gender sensitization ministry, and I was previously involved in Women against Women Abuse and the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to end violence against women. Every year we encourage and participate in the activities of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. To come to your question directly, these activities highlight the scourge and extent of abuse and empower the affected to speak out but also highlight the role of perpetrators. They also allow us to advocate for policy that is friendlier and sensitive to the needs of the abused.

LM:

The world faces a leadership crisis with leaders and institutions involved in scandals involving fraud, corruption, bribery, money laundering, price fixing, currency manipulations and tender fraud. How do we guide young people towards a life of selflessness, probity and integrity? 

TM:

The church continues to be committed to anti-corruption campaigns and to address issues of corruption. We believe it is wrong. It is not serving the people of the country well when its leaders are being caught in greed and not being accountable the people on the ground. We need the youth and upcoming leaders to recognise the value of servant leadership, which is not self-serving but upholds the common good of all.

Recently I addressed the SAICA, which is a body of accountants and auditors in South Africa. In my paper*, I highlighted that we need to be motivated by doing the right thing for the right reasons at all times. This was really borrowing from the book that I’m currently reading, How Much is Enough.** The principles here are that we need as much as possible to promote the values of contentment rather than Hollywood-style consumption or instant gratification. Our executives need to lead the way too by cutting their wages so that there is some degree of wage parity as this will model the value of contentment that our young people should aspire to.  

LM:

Africa has not reached its true potential, what concrete steps could we take to become the midwives of its rebirth? 

TM:

I am a member of the World Economic Forum – Africa Agenda. In this group we have identified leadership and inter-African trade, amongst other things, as critical. Africa must not just mimic a global economic system that only serves the global community which promises crumbs in a form of foreign direct investment. Over and above this belief and hope, we need to find a way in which we could create our own African currency and participate in the world as an economic bloc. We could use some of the resources that we have to promote industrialization. We could use our clear skies – the sun and the wind – as sources of clean energy. If we do this, we will turn the tide and create a just economic system that serves the poorest of the poor and provides jobs, housing, education and health facilities that are contextual and accessible to all.

LM:

The land question is a very deep, painful, emotional and complex matter in South Africa. Could you share a bit about your family’s history with the land of your forefathers? 

TM:

The Makgobas’ land in Limpopo was seized and our great-grandfather, Kgoši Mamphoku Makgoba, was killed and decapitated in the 1890s. (We are still searching for his skull.) Many of us were transported to a government farm near Tshwane and others were moved to Tlhabine in the Lowveld. We secured the return of some of our land under current legislation but not all of it is being used productively because of dissension among us. I address this question in chapter one of my book Faith & Courage and in the recent articles in Sunday Times and City Press.

LM:

How does the church embrace more diversity and inclusion with regard to women, gays and lesbians as priests? 

TM:

We believe that we have all been created in the image of God and we welcome them as such. We have been one of the first church to ordain women. God is a loving, caring God and as church we need to find ways and means at a practical level to demonstrate that to people of all orientations.  

LM:

What are the key things facing the Anglican Church in Africa over the next 10 years? 

TM:

They are varied and on the whole are impacted by the geopolitical issues prevailing where each church is situated. Amongst the issues are quality education, ministry, and evangelization of our followers in a secularising world that will ensure a higher retention of our young people. Unemployment, insufficient health facilities and lack of peace in countries such as the DR Congo and interfaith conflicts in Nothern Nigeria negatively affect the church.

LM:

The world is facing a huge environment crisis, what role does the church play in raising the awareness about climate change? 

TM:

At a local congregational level, awareness has been raised through biblical teaching, workshops, synodical statements and leadership conferences on this topic, also on national, regional and national platforms. Our congregations are involved in cleaning up beaches and rivers, creating food gardens, and we have developed liturgies to inform also our children to care for its creation. In 2008, in partnership with Trinity Wall Street in New York, St Paul’s Cathedral, London and St Georges Cathedral in Cape Town, we held a virtual conference on water justice to highlight the importance of water and environmental justice.

In my tenure as Archbishop I have encouraged the formation of Green Anglicans, a body within our church that is raising awareness on environmental issues. I went to and participated in the Paris Climate talks and brought almost 2,500 signatures from people across the continent who are calling for a binding climate protocol. I have recently through my involvement as the International Ambassador for ACT Now for Climate Change  participated in a global summit to urge heads of state to accelerate their concerns for climate justice.

LM:

Our society is starting to fracture, was the notion of a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and equitable society a mirage? If not, what concrete steps is the church playing to build unity and cohesion in our society? 

TM:

The church is well placed to be agents of hope and reconciliation in every community. We can facilitate platforms with all sectors of civil society in sharing the vision for a united country. We need to encourage especially women, youth and children to take up their spaces in these discussions because they often bear the brunt of social challenges in our communities. We need to encourage interfaith dialogues and seek partnership that will strengthen this call to social coherence.

LM:

There have been a lot of scandals involving “false prophets” or “wealthy religious leaders” who have preached about miracles they can perform, material riches they can gain for their followers. Should the government step in and regulate these churches, or should this matter be handled by the religious fraternity? 

TM:

What is happening is very sad and totally unacceptable. This matter should be dealt with by each religious community, working to some extent with the Human Rights Commission on acceptable guidelines in consultation with the religious sector.

LM:

Is there a particular time in your life where your faith was truly tested, how did you pull through that experience? 

TM:

As Archbishop my role is that of a spiritual leader but also that of church management. In other words I pray with and for others but I also have to lead the church and be a good steward of its people and resources. This may entail resource mobilisation and disciplinary measures. There was once a disciplinary issue that reached the Mthatha High Court, the East London High Court and the Pietermaritzburg High Court and a number of magistrates’ courts. The cases appeared in the newspapers and took a protracted period – more than six years – to work through, with a huge legal bill. The dilemma I had was how far do I protect the principles of the church whilst using the little money that has been given by God’s people for mission. By God’s grace, through prayers and believing that we had to take this journey, the matter was resolved. There are other experiences in my public ministry that I can also talk about but these were not as protracted as this internal ecclesial matter.

* SAICA address: https://archbishop.anglicanchurchsa.org/2018/04/accounting-giants-have-strained-our.html

** How Much is Enough? – https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za/book/how-much-enough/9781770228535

*** Faith &  Courage – https://www.loot.co.za/product/thabo-makgoba-faith-courage/vhbg-4991-g680

Part  Two 

LM: The Anglican Church has Archbishop Tutu, then Archbishop Ndungane, and Your Grace is now the spiritual leader of this great church. How has the church dealt with succession planning and leadership development to ensure continuity and change among leaders? 

TM:

The church believes in educating and exposing a broad section of its clergy. Out of the 29 dioceses from Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, St Helena and South Africa, bishops try to identify persons from which a Bishop and subsequently an Archbishop can be elected. I’m happy to say that the current cohort of our clerics in the Anglican Church is well motivated and anyone has the potential to be the Metropolitan of our church. But remember any Anglican cleric in the world nominated and subsequently elected can become the Archbishop.

LM:

Do you meet with Archbishops Tutu and Ndungane from time to time or have they taken a back seat in matters of the church? 

TM:

We meet socially every now and then. Over the generations, the practice in our Church has been that when you are retired, you are retired.

LM: How does the church remain relevant to millennials over the next 20 years? 

TM:

Recently I have done a questionnaire to the millennials enquiring about some of the challenges they are facing. This help the church to remain relevant. We have structured programmes and activities through Anglican Students’ societies, universities, Provincial Youth Councils and Diocesan Councils where the millennials participate and challenge the church. These structures help the church to remain relevant, although we don’t get it right all the time.

LM:

There are huge strides being made in science and technology. Is there a line that the church feels should not be crossed, in other words can medicine cross the line of creating new species or to give life to humans? 

TM:

As with a number of new understandings and experiences, the church wrestles with these challenges. There will inevitably be those that will be totally anti- (conservatives), those that will be open to these new strides and willing to change (liberal) and there will be those who really seem unaffected by them but view the church as a place for their spiritual nature and sustenance. The church is on a journey in such matters and I am sure that no scientist will be burnt at  the stake in our times. There are families who can’t conceive children and have adopted other children but still have a vocation to have their own children. These families have explored in-vitro fertilisation. There are ethical questions that the church raises in these particular instances. The church cannot deny, for instance, a child born in this way any of the church’s rights of passage.

LM:

What advice would you give to young and aspirant leaders who take up leadership roles? How can they remain humble, in touch with their supporters and to remain incorruptible? 

TM:

My advice is make contentment your primary value. Know your roots and stay in touch with where you come from without being imprisoned by these. Christ came to serve and not to be served and he encouraged his followers to be honest in small things. These are the values that I would share with a young and aspirant leader.

LM:

We are blessed with a country that still largely tolerates religious diversity. How can we maintain this as conflicts and divisions start to manifest themselves in communities? 

TM:

It is important to have knowledge of the other to maintain contact with each other and to work together for the common good.

LM:

When you are not busy with your duties, where is your sanctuary, where do you go to completely “switch off “? 

TM: I go home to Makgoba’s Kloof and walk and enjoy the villagers. I enjoy game, I go to Pillanesburg game park or a game park just outside Grahamnstown and recently I have been to Kenya and Tanzania.

LM:

As the spiritual leader of the church, you have to give spiritual guidance and counselling to millions of worshippers. Where do you get your personal spirituality? 

TM:

I have a spiritual director that I meet from time to time. I have regular days of reflection, retreats. I go to the gym or walk my dog. The best time was a the 40-day retreat that I once attended.

LM:

Finally, Lungi and your family have to share you with millions of others. How do  you balance your life and how do you make sure they are part of your life. What advice would you give to young leaders to find their balance? 

TM:

Lungi recently attended a 30-day retreat at St Lucia, at a Roman Catholic Centre. During that time I realised how much of the balance is held by Lungi for which I’m grateful. Sometime we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong. But as a family, we have always have what the children called family-forced holidays and forced activities. This has helped us to remain and stay as a unit.

We normally share a particular book or reading once a year and discuss it. When the children go to a movie, a party or somewhere, I usually have what they hate the most, a discussion of what was the value of the movie or party and what did they learn. There is no formula but we try to be present with and for each other, ensuring that we spend holidays together. And we drop an SMS or two on daily basis to find out how the other is.

LM:

Your Grace, thank you so much for this audience, I know young people, both in the church, and outside will enjoy this conversation. 

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