Address by His Excellency President Jacob Zuma at the Farewell Gala Dinner in honour of Bishop Ivan Abrahams of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Kempton Park
19 November 2011
Bishop Ivan Abrahams,
Presiding Bishop Elect,
Reverend Zipho Siwa,
The General Secretary,
Reverend Vuyani Nyobole,
All religious leaders,Ladies and gentlemen;
Good Evening to you all,It is always a wonderful occasion for us to come together to celebrate the achievements of one of our own.
That is what makes this occasion special, as we are paying tribute to a great son of our country, His Grace Bishop Ivan Manuel Abrahams, who has served our people and our country selflessly over many years.
The contribution of His Grace to our nation reminds us of the inspiring role of the church in our country, especially during the struggle for freedom.
Most of the Churches in South Africa, being true spiritual leaders of the people they served, took a stand with those engaged in the struggle for liberation.
The church pronounced without any reservation or fear, their abhorrence of the apartheid system.
In marking your retirement Your Grace, we have an opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa as well.
This church has a very progressive legacy in this country in various fields.It has made its mark in education, the fight against poverty, support for orphans and the vulnerable in our society in general, the fight against HIV and AIDS, speaking out against injustice and generally working to make South Africa a better place for all our people.
The Methodist Church established various educational training institutions in the country, such as Kilnerton, Indaleni, Wesley House, and Healdtown, which produced one of our finest leaders and icons including former President Nelson Mandela.
It is not surprising that this church also produced clerics of the calibre of His Grace Bishop Abrahams.
True to the mission of his church, Bishop Abrahams became one of our leading church leaders who did not separate the word of God from the daily struggles of our people.
Having been a victim of forced removals at an early age, Bishop Abrahams understands profoundly the devastating effects of racism and the extent of material deprivation in this country.And in his involvement in the Justice and Service portfolios of the Methodist Church in six Southern African countries, Bishop Abrahams witnessed the suffering of the people, particularly women, children and the old in these countries.
It is these kinds of experiences which strengthened Bishop Abrahams and the Methodist Church’s commitment to humanity and improving the lives of the poor and the needy in society. Your Grace, in your other role as Board member and Chairman of the Ecumenical Service for Social and Economic Transformation, you continue to be an ardent fighter for social justice, equality and equal distribution of resources.
You remind us that religion should speak to the circumstances of the people, and that it should liberate mankind from all kinds of oppression. Your Grace,We also thank you for placing great importance to the strengthening of the family as a unit of society as part of liberating mankind and society, and your love of children.
We know your campaigns against child trafficking and other crimes against our children.
Your interest in the wellbeing of children emphasises the church’s role in strengthening the family as the primary agent of socialisation where ethics, behavioural and social values are learnt.
Through close knit church institutions, families are supported and nurtured.
This is essentially one of the ways of building a caring society.
I am underlining this point because one of the key problems facing our country is the breakdown of basic social values such as respect – respect for one another, respect for one’s elders and respect for society in general.In our modern day society, some young people do not know the difference between young and old, and have no idea of how to relate to adults and seniors with respect.
Our faith-based sector should also continue helping us to inculcate the fear of a higher being, God, ancestors or any supreme being that our people look up to.
If you do not fear a higher being, it means you can do anything you want and it opens up possibilities of making cardinal mistakes.
As the Bible says “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God”.We need to teach our children and youth to fear God and also to love God.
If you love God, you will love and respect other human beings and will also be recognised by them as a person worthy of being part of them as a human being.Umuntu umuntu ngabanye abantu.We take these values for granted but they are what cement ubuntu in all of us and make us worthy of being called human beings by other human beings.
These values also build good citizenship in our people and build a nation of people who understand what it means to be a South African and who promote the value system enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic.
It is only when we understand and respect one another that we can work closely together to build South Africa and make it a better place for all. Ladies and gentlemen,Compatriots,Tonight is also an occasion to renew our commitment to working with the faith-based sector as government, to build the caring society we speak about.
This is indeed the true role of the church. It should be a spiritual sanctuary for the people and a shelter for the despised, the frail and the poorest among us.
Its duty should be to prick the conscience of the nation, to speak out against oppression and all other ills that impede growth in any society. In this regard, allow me to use this occasion to also register appreciation for the contribution of the church and His Grace Bishop Abrahams in particular, to the fight against racism, xenophobia and other related intolerances.
The Methodist Church of Southern Africa acted swiftly in condemning the violence meted out against foreign nationals resident in South Africa.
Bishop Abrahams noted with deep concern that within the poorest informal settlements where these attacks occurred, a common factor of tension is the fierce competition for scarce resources.
They remain the mitigating factors of possible conflict between South Africans and foreign nationals.
Government is fully aware of this and therefore works closely with civil society including the Church.
When we say “Together we can build a better South Africa” it should not be an empty slogan, it means we must truly work together to build our beautiful country. The church should also be vocal about crime and the social havoc it wreaks.
The church should help us in promoting quality education, health, rural development and indeed all priorities in our country.
We will be meeting with the newly formed National Interfaith Council of South Africa next week, to explore cooperation between the church and government in some of these issues.
This partnership with the faith-based sector and others is important during this nation building phase in particular.
We are a nation that comes from a severely divided past. We defeated artificial apartheid divisions.
We however still deal with other divisions. We face inequality and poverty in our society.
There are divisions between the rich and poor, the empowered and marginalised, the haves and the have nots.
All our programmes in government are designed to help bridge this gap by improving the quality of life of the poor.
We urge the faith-based sector to work with us in managing and finally eradicating these divisions and inequality in our country.
Your Grace,We are also truly pleased that the church also seeks to make solid inputs to the United Nations COP 17 climate change conference in Durban later this month.
Climate change already affects us in various ways. Our people experience high food prices due to changing weather patterns which affect production.
It impacts on the environment, infrastructure such as bridges, dams or roads and we need to do something indeed to ensure that the dangers are minimised.
We look forward to a successful conference, and as President of the conference, South Africa will do the best it can to ensure that proceedings go smoothly.
Compatriots,I cannot conclude without mentioning the biggest celebration of all time that will take place in January, the centenary of the African National Congress. Religious leaders played a pivotal role in the formation of the ANC, and also in its nurturing and growth.
The faith-based sector has a substantial claim to the success of the ANC and the celebration of the centenary is a celebration of the achievement of our religious leaders over 100 years.
Generations of our religious leaders worked with the ANC, providing guidance and support as it led the people of our country to freedom and justice.
The centenary is in part a celebration of the role of the church and all faith-based organisations.
In our view, the religious sector must celebrate the ANC centenary as its own.
We will come together to thank and praise God, Allah, our ancestors and all our higher beings that our people hold in the highest regard.
We will pray with joy for the success and achievements of our country.
Our inter-dominational prayers on the 8th of January will enable us to give thanks for the wisdom provided to generations of our leaders in the ANC, the religious sector, labour movement and civil society, to take our country to where it is now, to a free and thriving young democracy.
An ANC centenary celebration cannot be complete without a celebration by the church and the faith-based sector as a whole.
Compatriots and friends,Let me reiterate, on this special occasion, the high regard in which we hold His Grace Bishop Abrahams.
I am certain that he will continue to contribute to society even after he retires as he has been very passionate about his work.
I know that many South African families whose loved ones were detained during the apartheid period would have a lot to say about his support to the Detainees Parent Support Committee.
Many others have stories to tell in all areas that he has served in, from Verulam to the Cape Flats to Bloemfontein and others where he touched the lives of our people positively.
We know that you will do exceptionally well in your new role, Your Grace.
Your international outlook has been broadened through your various international roles and services such as being the Bishop of Namibia, and serving in the Social and International Affairs Committee of the World Methodist Council and the World Church Council.
I therefore have no doubt that you will be able to continue successfully where Bishop George Freeman, has left off and take the World Methodist Church in North Carolina to greater heights and inspire your colleagues and world congregation towards new perspectives.
We wish His Grace, Bishop Siwa well when he takes over to lead the Methodist faithful.
We wish you all the best as you continue your quest to make the world a better place!
I thank you.