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Tribalism: Thorny issue towards reconciliation in South Africa – A practical theological appraisal



The apartheid regime used various strategies to ensure that South Africans formed a divided nation. It was through the differences between ethnic groups and tribes, among other things, that the government of the time managed to manipulate and entrench hatred and a lack of trust among most black South Africans. Tribalism, which existed even before apartheid, became instrumental in inflicting those divisions as perpetuated by the formation of homelands. The various ethnic groups had been turned against one other, and it had become a norm. Nepotism, which is part and parcel of the South African government, is just an extension of tribalism. It is the objective of this article to uncover how tribalism is still rearing its ugly head. From a practical theological perspective, it is important to deal with tribalism as a tool that plays a part in delaying tribal reconciliation, which was orchestrated by apartheid policies in South Africa.
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Elijah M. Baloyi1
1Department of Philosophy,
Praccal and Systemac
Theology, University of
South Africa, South Africa
Corresponding author:
Elijah Baloyi
Received: 15 Aug. 2017
Accepted: 29 Mar. 2018
Published: 28 June 2018
How to cite this arcle:
Baloyi, E.M., 2018, ‘Tribalism:
Thorny issue towards
reconciliaon in South Africa –
A praccal theological
appraisal’, HTS Teologiese
Studies/Theological Studies
74(2), 4772. hps://doi.
© 2018. The Authors.
Licensee: AOSIS. This work
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Creave Commons
Aribuon License.
A newspaper article entitled ‘I am not an African, no, I am 100% Zulu’ did not only help to sell the
paper but also sketched a picture of tribalism in South Africa (Khumalo 2016). The slogan of ‘100%
Zulu’ was made famous by President Jacob Zuma when he had to face various rape charges.
Moloi (2016) indicated that tribalism is not history by saying, ‘The danger of tribalism is at our
doorstep. It is so scary that in the current situation it is associated with our previous kings’. It is
remarkable that in all research colonialism, among other things, also played a role in inflicting
tribal tensions. There are many incidents that evidence that tribalism in South Africa is at work to
try and keep the black people separated in accordance with their ethnic or tribal divides. For the
sake of this study, I will only mention a few to open the discussion:
1. It is on record that Senzeni Zokwana was dragged to court by his department’s liaison officer,
Renee Thompson, on claims of her being discriminated as a tribalist (Ndenze 2016:2).
2. Secondly, there is a recorded claim that when SABC Radio station ‘Phalaphala FM’ was moved
from Polokwane to Thohoyandou, it was a way of taking it back to its people. This meant the
former Venda homeland is where its people are.
3. Some attribution when the African National Congress (ANC) lost to Democratic Alliance (DA)
and EFF coalition in the Tshwane municipality elections in 2016 pointed to tribal contestations
in which many Tswana-speaking people in the area declined to support Thoko Didiza as they
claimed she does not belong to Tshwane, but to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) (News24Wire June, 23,
4. Another tribalism was evidenced during the Malamulele-Vuwani protests in which the
inability to speak fluent Venda was a criteria used to turn back people who were crossing to
Thohoyandou to do some shopping when their area, Malamulele, was violently in protest to
have its own municipality (SABC, Munghana Lonene, 06 February 2015).
These few cases strengthen Boahen’s (1992) argument in which he agrees that the racial and
ethnic divides have not only continued to haunt our nation but also affected its rivalry. Baloyi
(2016:43) argues that: ‘[O]ne of the pressing issues in the present day South Africa is reconciliation
and unification of South Africans across the racial and ethnic divides that were created during
apartheid’. This confirms that colonial education ensured that the black ethnic groups did not
only undermine one another but also subjugated one another (Ashimolowo 2007:271). Though
the slow pace can be blamed on many factors, the continued tribalism plays a special role in
ensuring the delay of the reconciliation programmes towards the previously racially and
tribally divided South Africa. It is therefore the intention of the researcher to argue that tribalism
The apartheid regime used various strategies to ensure that South Africans formed a divided
nation. It was through the differences between ethnic groups and tribes, among other things,
that the government of the time managed to manipulate and entrench hatred and a lack of
trust among most black South Africans. Tribalism, which existed even before apartheid,
became instrumental in inflicting those divisions as perpetuated by the formation of
homelands. The various ethnic groups had been turned against one other, and it had become
a norm. Nepotism, which is part and parcel of the South African government, is just an
extension of tribalism. It is the objective of this article to uncover how tribalism is still rearing
its ugly head. From a practical theological perspective, it is important to deal with tribalism as
a tool that plays a part in delaying tribal reconciliation, which was orchestrated by apartheid
policies in South Africa.
Tribalism: Thorny issue towards reconciliaon in
South Africa – A praccal theological appraisal
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Note: This arcle is a product of a reworked paper delivered in a conference entled ‘Transatlanc Roundtable …’ that was held between
27 and 30 July 2017 in Howard University, Washington DC, United States.
Note: This arcle is published in the secon Praccal Theology of the Society for Praccal Theology in South Africa.
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is still troubling South Africa, despite being 22 years into
democracy. It is my articulation that practical theology must
have a specific role to play through its church and pastoral
Problem statement, relevance and
movaon of the study
Memela (2017:14) confirms the disappearance of ubuntu,
which has always been used as a tool to unite black people
across various cultures, traditions and ethnic divides when
stating the following: ‘Well-off blacks lost their sense of
ubuntu and have instead bought into the selfishness of white
This research is situated in the discipline of practical theology.
There is a considerable amount of evidence that besides
other sociological disciplines, practical theology has not
done much as far as fighting for the reduction or elimination
of tribalism is concerned. This is an acknowledgement that
sociology is doing well in this regard, but the gap for practical
theology needs to be occupied too. Dlanjwa (2015:5) makes
the following statement: ‘Tribalism is visible in almost all
government departments, and especially in South African
police stations.’ This statement supports Dlanjwa’s argument
that 21 years after the first elections, tribalism is back with
a vengeance. One of the effects of tribalism is that some
government departments are seen as representatives of
certain tribes; hence, the equity act that our constitution
expects is biased. This is becoming a playground for civil
war and genocide. In his report entitled ‘Tribalism is eating
South Africa alive’, Bevhula (2017:10) hits the nail on the
head. One of the popular pastors and preachers, Billy
Graham, was quoted as (Sanou 2015:96) saying that racial
and ethnic resentment is the number one social problem that
churches worldwide are faced with.
As part of the injustices of the past, tribalism is playing a
crucial role in delaying the reconciliation and unification of
society, which has been fragmented for long time now. I share
the sentiments of Lyborn Rikhotso (2016:12) that ‘tribal
remarks must be condemned because they are as bad as racist
remarks’. This argument resulted from some people trying
to judge the performance of Johannesburg Mayor, Herman
Mashaba on the basis of him being either a Mozambican or
Tsonga. For me it is a theological concern that factionalism
continues to characterise this nation. It is for this reason that
if theology cannot reach people in the immediate situation,
it is not only irrelevant but also ceased to exist. The truth is
that some lives and properties have been destroyed and lost
because of tribal allegations and tensions in South Africa.
On reconciliaon and tribalism
There is enough evidence that South Africa had been and is
still a divided country, not only along racial lines but even on
tribal or ethnic groupings. For apartheid regime to succeed,
tribalism was a tool that ensured that black people were
divided and placed in tribal zones. This became a fertile
ground for racism, which ensured that South Africans are
really divided and blacks were subjected. The tribalism that
was evidenced by tensions between Tsongas and Vendas in
the Vuwani-Malamulele municipality protests (As in Baloyi
2016:50) potentially works against the project of uniting a
divided South Africa. The fact that racism used tribalism,
among other instruments, to ensure that South Africans were
divided so that subjection of one race by the other could take
place, demands that tribalism is also addressed when the
bigger picture of racial division is to be overcome. The fact
that tribalism became an effective tool for divide and rule
policies implemented by the apartheid regime indicates that
tribalism cannot be innocent if we want reconciliation in
South Africa. The parting shot is that if racism and past
divisions are to be eradicated, the tools among which
tribalism is evidenced must be part of the project towards
Why praccal theology?
Practical theology concerns itself with ending human
suffering, fostering well-being and seeking human liberation,
freedom and equality. This is what Morris (2014:22–23) refers
to when arguing about a theology that should be on the side
of the poor and those who struggle for human emancipation.
It is for this reason that Graham Walton (in Morris 2014:23)
insists that liberation theology helped to shape practical
theology towards what we call ‘theology in action: praxis’.
Besides being a discipline that just interprets and employs
the thoughts of other disciplines, it could also be a critical
conversation that converses with the real world in its own
context (Pattison 2000:135–145). When looking at Osmer’s
(2008:57) view, it makes sense to say that the unity between
the thoughts above gives us a discipline that engages with
the real challenges and problems and affects people with
its methodologies. It is for this reason that I see practical
theology as a relevant discipline that involves itself in dealing
with issues related to the challenges contemporary people
are faced with; tribalism in this instance. It is a pastoral
paradigm to see the church actively engaged in the public
sphere, the focus being on providing material and spiritual
care to God’s people (Carney 2008:2).
Historical background
The definition of tribalism is important for the discussion.
According to Nothwehr (2008:5), tribalism is the attitude and
practice of harbouring such a strong feeling of loyalty or
bonds to one’s tribe that one excludes or even demonises
other tribes that do not belong to that group. In the book
entitled The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa, Leroy Vail
(1989) included a large collection of essays from various
scholars who exposed how tribalism engulfed the Southern
Although Mackenzie (1989:72) holds the opinion that without
denying that tribalism existed before racism, it can still be
argued that the forceful removals which targeted the
formation of bantustans in the late 1960s played a role in
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ensuring that organised tribalism becomes a brand that
will exist for as long as people are still separated. Lonsdale
(2014:2) agrees that scholars believed that precolonial Africa
had been a land of tribes, each united by language, modes of
subsistence, kingship and religious and cultural practices
which separated each tribe from its neighbours.
It was the forceful removal of black ethnic groups that also
paved the way for the whites to have a land designed only
for their exclusive use (Kgatla 2013:120), something the EFF
is trying to voice out today.
One of the important things for colonialists in South Africa
was to deepen the differences between Zulus and Xhosas,
Ndebele and Vendas, Tswana and Qwaqwa and so forth.
Also, those of mixed race were segregated from the white
groups by means of culture, residence, occupation and status.
These differences benefited the elite because it caused
conflict. New York times reporter has this to say:
The South African conflict involved the Zulus and the Xhosas,
African National Congress supporters in the KwaZulu-
Natal homeland. Few physical conflicts occurred between the
dominant minority white groups and the black majority ethnic
groups. This was partly because of the government strategy of
segregation, which distanced black homelands from white cities.
However, there was a high level of violent conflict between black
ethnic groups in the homelands. In Natal alone, well-over 1,147
people were killed during the first months of 1992. (The New York
Times, 18 November 1992: A6)
The inception of democracy has seen the new government
battling to reverse the issue of those removals by
compensating those who were unjustly removed from their
ancestral land in the form of money or even by building them
new houses. Even though this kind of compensation was
made, it did not attempt to undo the damage and effects of
tribalism (Hampton 2014). Dlanjwa (2015) argues as follows:
Prior to the ANC conference in Mangaung and afterwards, for
the first time in the history of South Africa, delegates were seen
wearing ANC T-shirts bearing 100% Zulu slogan in a public
domain. This tribal lobbying yielded a positive outcome for
President Jacob Zuma as he defeated Kgalema Motlanthe. (p. 5)
It is a fact that KwaZulu-Natal, where Zulus come from, is
the biggest region for the ANC with regards to the party’s
internal elections, and hence winning that region would
ensure winning ANC elections. Therefore, Zuma knew that if
he gets the support of that region by any means, including
tribal slogans, it would not be difficult for him to defeat his
opponent, Motlanthe, who is Sotho speaking. On the other
hand, even other people from other tribes, who were mislead
to think that the courts are being used against Zuma because
of his being Zulu, had compassion to support him.
It is usually difficult to define the thin line that exists between
tribalism and ethnicity. According to Irobi (2005), the most
probable causes of ethnic or tribal divisions in countries like
South Africa and Nigeria are that:
• Ethnic communities violently compete for property,
rights, jobs, education, language, social amenities
and good healthcare facilities. Okwudiba Nnoli (1980)
published empirical examples relevant to socio-economic
factors of ethnic factions in Nigeria that look more or
less the same as the problems between Malamulele and
Vuwani in South Africa. The Xhosas, Zulus and Afrikaners
mobilise to compete for resources in South Africa.
• The second cause of ethnic divide and conflict is
psychology; specifically the fear and insecurity of ethnic
groups during transition (Irobi 2005). This is a reminder
of the pre-1994 incident where all the governments of the
former Venda claimed their pensions before coming to
the new democratic South Africa out of fear that they may
lose their investments if they allow their pension schemes
to be joined to those of South Africa.
However, there is evidence that the ANC, during inception of
Freedom Charter in 1955, also voiced its opposition to
tribalism and made the following remark:
While we do not encourage tribal pride – in fact we denounce
it – we are far from being indifferent to traditions, languages, and
culture of individual ethnic groups; we do not propagate ethnic
nihilism. Our reality is multi-ethnic society, we respect and strive
to develop all local languages and cultures and this help us
to combat all forms of reactionary nationalism, chauvinism
and ethno-centricity. It also helps us to improve inter-ethnic
relations, thus facilitating the drive towards national and social
emancipation. (Shivambu 2005)
After the democratic elections, one of the main tasks of
the ANC-led government was to reverse all forms of
discrimination and segregation, including tribal divides that
were formed through the homelands system. This was all
targeted at having one nation with equality across race,
gender, language and so forth. This dream was evidenced
with the adoption of 11 languages as official languages of the
republic. Unfortunately, tribalism is fast becoming one of the
biggest problems and hindrances towards reconciliation and
According to Dlanjwa (2015), former Mozambican freedom
stalwart, Samora Machel, was quoted saying about
Zimbabwe: ‘To ensure national unity, there must be no
Shonas in Zimbabwe, there must be no Ndebele’s in
Zimbabwe, there must be Zimbabweans.’ This was a speech
given by Machel to Zimbabweans, who were still teetering
and grappling with the task of building a solid nation state in
early 1980, just 6 years before his death. He went on to argue
that some people are proud of their tribalism, but he called
tribalists reactionary agents of the enemy (Mataire 2017).
This was his impassioned plea for the continental unity,
which would obviously not be addressed before the tribal
divisions were addressed. On the other end, Dr Kenneth
Kaunda, a former Zambian president, in his attempts to
unite the country introduced the motto of ‘One Zambia,
One Nation’ with some policies that deliberately transferred
the newly employed young civil servant from working in
their home districts or provinces as a way to avoid tribalism
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(Goez 2015:2). These attempts by the leaders from the
Southern African region are just a direct opposite of what
President Zuma was attempting to do by trying to secure
support by using tribal utterances. As a leader of the nation,
it was expected of him to embrace everyone regardless of
tribal barriers as well as trying to avoid promoting tribalism
by his statement. It should be mentioned that most of
the Zulu-speaking people who heard this, interpreted it as
if the president was being dragged to courts as a way of
victimising him as a Zulu, not as a suspect of a particular
crime committed.
The praccal eects of tribalism on
current transformaonal agenda
Although tribalism is not the only problem that delays
the reconciliation process in this country, there is no doubt
that tribalism has been one of the main issues that keeps
democracy and transformation of people’s lives at a very
slow pace. Goez (2015:5) emphasises that tribalism is indeed
a major stumbling block to democracy. It is, for instance,
difficult to imagine how service delivery in the Thulamela
municipality, which is based in Thohoyandou, catered for the
former Venda areas at the expense of the Tsonga towns and
villages. Dlanjwa (2015) is correct when saying that tribal
politics continue to derail development and frustrate
reconciliation and reconstruction in many African countries.
This links up very well with what Oneale (2015) means when
arguing that tribalism is a threat to democracy:
There is no other practice that has such devastating effects on the
democracy of South Africa than the evils, extremes and venom
of tribalism. The practice and tendencies of tribalism are
implemented by people who represent the highest position of
the liberation struggle and who profess to be custodians of the
The current state of affairs in South Africa is typified among
other things by tribalism that manifests itself in greed and
egotism. There is evidently an increase of clear class divisions
in the black community, and the false bonds of black solidarity
and unity are shattered (Memela 2017:14).
Besides being a hindrance to the democratic agenda of
transformation, there is also no doubt that the current
political landscape of South Africa is characterised by the
economic exclusion of some people and the economic
inclusion of others. President Zuma and his cronies, including
his children and family, had benefited from all the corrupt
deeds that we read and hear about in the media on a daily
basis. This view can be understood in the context of what
former President, Thabo Mbeki, said when addressing Unisa’s
College of Human Sciences (Makhubu 2014). Mbeki was
quoted saying that:
When a minister comes from a certain region, so will the officials
in that department. They conspire in one language, and this
is one of the challenges we need to address. When the ANC
was formed 102 years ago part of its mandate was to bury the
demon of tribalism. But 102 years later tribalism is showing its
ugly head.
The truth is that in South Africa there is a very wide disparity
in access to income and wealth as a result of tribalism. The
report by Olifant (2016) entitled ‘Zuma Dynasty; Now
entering the province of KwaZuma-Natal’ clearly indicates
how Zuma and his family employs a tribal strategy to keep
the province under their control. The reporter went on to say:
But the Zuma family influence has become quite clear in
KwaZulu-Natal where the president’s relatives from provincial
ANC secretary Super Zuma to businessman and Zuma Nephew
Deebo Mzobe wield enormous influence.
The reporter indicated that Super and his nephews are said to
be at the forefront of the campaign for Dlamini-Zuma to take
over as ANC president from their uncle in December 2017.
With this in mind, one can start to understand why it will be
difficult to win the fight against corruption issues surrounding
the president. It also tells how long the country will continue
to experience the corrupt connections of the Zuma clan even
after his retirement. Tribal ideology is bad, but this is how the
tribal connections keep on feeding corruption. This confirms
what Smith (2008) reported when she said:
Tribalism is another form of that old political favourite. In South
Africa, Jacob Zuma has built KwaZulu-Natal as the strongest
ANC region; previously it was the Xhosa Eastern Cape. He now
wanders around in skins and does tribal dances. Perhaps we
need to ask: Is this charming or potentially dangerous? In South
Africa, the Zulu are seen as a brave warrior tribe – but the Sotho,
Tswana and others also had heroic warriors.
The challenge is that the very same ANC, including its
leaders, are reviving the tribalism used to accuse the Inkatha
Freedom Party of being tribalist (Lonsdale 2014:133). Still on
the issue of feeding corruption, tribalism promotes bad
governance and a lack of accountability. This is evident when
people cannot question wrong governance by their own
tribesman or kinsman (Goez 2015:5). This is also becoming
evident in South Africa where some leaders continue to loot
from the state while those who have the powers to stop it are
quiet because they cannot oppose one of their own. Socio-
economic development is blocked; meanwhile, leaders are
still concentrating on their pockets while they are protected
by their own people who hold high positions in the
government and state-owned companies.
Tribalism can be a potenal assert
for civil war and genocide
Any kind of exclusion is possible in the existence of tribalism.
This is why one of the biggest problems in South Africa is that
negative terms are used when thinking and speaking about
‘other’. There is a considerable number of testimonies to the
fact that many incidents of genocide that occurred originated
from tribal and ethnic divides. Hintjens (1999:248) articulates
that from the inception of genocide in April 1994 in Rwanda,
the international media indicated that it stemmed from
ethical tension. Paglia (2007) in her article entitled, ‘Ethnicity
and tribalism: are these the root causes of the Sudanese civil
conflicts?’ is in agreement that in the Sudanese context,
tribalism and ethnicity played a role to stir up civil conflicts.
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According to Mwakikagile (in Shivambu 2005):
The Nigerian civil war reminds us in a very gruesome way that
African countries cannot continue to survive and function as
stable political entities if some of their tribes are not guaranteed
equal protection and opportunity enjoyed, and some even taken
for granted by members of other ethnic groups.
Though the author agrees with Shivambu on the issue of
having tribalism as our problem, we differ on his opinion
that we are still far from concluding that South Africa is
under threat and menace of tribal confrontations and
conflicts. The Tshwane and Vuwani incidents are just the
evidence that we are already starting to reap the fruits of
tribal tensions. According to Shorter (1996), the Rwandan
genocides, which also destroyed the work of evangelism,
were rooted among others in tribalism and ethnicity.
The potential of tribalism to destroy the church cannot
be ignored. The church is always affected by the socio-
economical political issues that are raised by the specific
community from which it operates. There is no doubt that
tribalism, regardless of whether it starts outside the church,
will end up affecting the church. Mudenda’s (2011) MA
research thesis entitled ‘Tribalism in the Presbytery of
Zimbabwe’ indicates and argues how the foundations of the
unity in the Presbytery were destroyed by tribal opinions of
the church leaders. Onyalla (2005) understands and explains
the effects of tribalism on the church by saying:
Tribalism creates discord among members of the same
congregation, community and society. this malaise is spiritually,
emotionally and socially crippling religious communities, hence
making them unspiritual, unhappy, unloving and unfruitful,
leave alone making them lead unfulfilled lives in the church.
Such people’s original inspiration and admiration of religious
life, at the time when they joined it, has been tragically lost,
leaving them spiritually dry, unproductive and bitter towards
themselves and others. (p. 163)
The fact that churches operate in a particular society makes it
difficult, if not impossible, to avert the consequences of
tribalism. While some churches deteriorated, others were
completely destroyed. Okullu (2001) is in agreement that
tribalism has many negative effects on the church. It is just
unfortunate that Christianity, which stands a good chance of
initiating reconciliation and healing, got introduced to sub-
Saharan Africa through slave traders and colonial masters;
hence, we are stuck with tribal challenges (Tanye 2010:2).
Pastoral intervenons
Katongole (2005:69) blames the Rwandan genocide on the
church because of its ignorance to provide moral and spiritual
guidance. This is because he noted with regret that numerous
priests, pastors, nuns, brothers, catechists and Catholic and
Protestant lay leaders supported and participated in helping
to organise the genocidal killings. He argues that the church
could have integrated the Gospel with all other aspects of
life. The author’s understanding in this context is that the
church needs to be contextual in order to deal with people’s
immediate challenges. This is why the author is convinced
that the church can play its role in averting tribalism and its
intended and unintended consequences in South Africa.
One of the ways in which Jesus demonstrated a break from
tribalism was his love and selection of the disciples. His
disciples came from various backgrounds (Mt 12:46–50). This
is why, if we want to curb the tribal divisions, as Christians
we should not ignore Jesus’ words in John 13:34–35:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved
you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know
that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (NIV)
It is advisable to read this command in the light of how Jesus
responded in Matthew 22:39 when he said: ‘Love your
neighbor as yourself.’ According to Sanou (2015:101), the
church needs to teach and help its members to humble
themselves, pray and seek God’s face and turn from their
wicked ways. By teaching the members they will be able to
confront and deal with the demons of racial and ethnical
The biblical concepts of truth, mercy, peace and justice play a
pivotal role in fostering unity and reconciliation for a
previously fragmented society. The prophetic voice of the
church towards the government and the citizens of the
country should not ignore the power that these concepts
have. It is for this reason the author is in agreement with
Lederach (1998:30), who advocates that the four concepts
mentioned above must be a meeting point for reconciliation
to take place. The church, through its pastoral services,
should be vocal about making reconciliation a reality for all
South Africans.
Mercer (1996:87) is correct to allude that the Christian
perspective towards the problem of racism and tribalism
should begin with an understanding of the basic Bible
doctrines and teachings about man and God. Therefore, the
implications of doctrines of creation, discipleship, salvation
and the church’s image in the New Testament must be
explored and interpreted as responsive ways towards tribal
and race-related issues. McGarry (2001:194–195) argues that to
be a Christian also implies to live up to the richness of one’s
ethnic origin, culture, education and at the same time
experience an even deeper unity with those of other races,
tribes and cultures in the Christian calling of being disciples. It
is advisable for pastors to retain trust for the church to be a
neutral arbiter. The church’s voice must be seen as non-
partisan as it interacts with politicians. The author is in full
agreement with Goez (2015:6) that the tendencies of some
churches to invite and align themselves with some political
parties may undermine and compromise the church’s voice.
This is because some statements are tribally biased and can
alienate other tribes. Such practices subject the church to
criticism – to be seen as siding or supporting a certain tribe.
The church needs to exhibit a counter-cultural faith, a faith
that will rise above the tides of ethnic and tribal divisions. It
is this counter-cultural church which, according to Tarus and
Gathogo (2016:14), will exhibit a different way of being human.
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The church must not shy away from highlighting the negative
effects of tribalism in its teachings. This opinion is also held
by Gitari (2014) who advocates that the church should be at
the forefront when it comes to discouraging tribalism. When
we read Exodus 18:21–22, God instructed Moses saying:
But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God,
trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as
officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them
serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring
every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide
themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will
share it with you.
There were 12 tribes from which Moses was supposed to
choose, but he was not instructed to choose from one tribe of
his favour. Gitari (2014) discovered that it is unfortunate that
tribalism finds its way even to churches today and in selecting
leaders like Bishops and so forth where you find people
wanting to select only people from their own tribes. In John
4, Jesus Christ broke the tribal barrier that even took his own
disciples by surprise when he was found speaking to a
‘Samaritan’ woman (Jn 4:27). There was both gender and
tribal tension in that episode.
It is the calling of the church to ensure that unity, peace and
justice is fought for. No church should turn a blind eye when
injustice is being fuelled either by racism or tribalism.
In Baloyi’s (2011) article ‘Church Unity and Justice in the
Gereformeerde Kerke in South Africa’, there is a clear
discussion which deals with the way in which injustice and
disunity creep into the life of the church and the community
when issues of racism and tribalism are ignored. Lastly, it is
important to note that the language of ‘being responsible’ for
one another is not only biblical but also African. This is what
the spirit of Ubuntu is all about. Mkhwanazi, (2013) in his
research topic ‘To be human is to be responsible for the other’,
clarified very well that through the study of Levinus, we can
understand that we need to be available for one another. Let
me close this section by quoting Mkhwanazi (2012) as he said:
Conversely, in the African traditional system, emphasis is on
solidarity and reciprocity and co-operation and sharing, whose
undermining can breed the following: Nepotism, corruption and
lack of sympathy for the other. (p. 25)
All these can be a result of tribalism, which selfishly teaches
people not to think of the other in positive terms. ‘It is the
African sense of belonging that can conquer fears and
uncertainty which can be brought by tribal tensions’ (Tanye
2010:112). The church needs to be mindful of the unity
in diversity in which the values of various cultures and
traditions blend effectively to enrich the universal church.
Although tribalism is not only a South African problem but
also a worldwide challenge, it becomes impossible to deny
that tribalism is an enemy of democracy, particularly in South
Africa. Again, it is undeniable that South Africa is faced
with a big challenge of this practice despite the principles
and constitution. As a result, democratic transformational
agendas like reconciliation, equality and others are finding it
difficult to penetrate the lives of people. Although corruption
and hatred among tribes and a lack of service delivery
become the order of the day, tribalism is also playing its bad
role in dividing people. It is therefore Practical theology,
among other disciplines, which must take responsibility not
only to voice the dangers posed by tribalism but also to
suggest and give guidelines as to how this can be eliminated.
It is part of the church’s role and calling that there should be
stability, peace, unity and justice in the societies from which
it operates. Practical theology, practical theologians and
pastoral caregivers cannot afford to watch how this kind of
inequality continues to hurt the nation.
Compeng interests
The author declares that he has no financial or personal
relationships which may have inappropriately influenced
him in writing this article.
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... Here, Baloyi (2018:1) mentions an aphorism attributed to the former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, that portrays the Zulus as superior to other tribes in South Africa, as having potential to cause tribal tensions instead of unity and peace, as accorded in the concept of Ubuntu. In discussing Jacob Zuma's aphorism, Baloyi (2018) affirms that: ...
... Here, Baloyi (2018:1) mentions an aphorism attributed to the former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, that portrays the Zulus as superior to other tribes in South Africa, as having potential to cause tribal tensions instead of unity and peace, as accorded in the concept of Ubuntu. In discussing Jacob Zuma's aphorism, Baloyi (2018) affirms that: ...
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Migration trends and the global increase in the number of displaced refugee fathers have raised urgent and serious concerns, such as the air of hopelessness amongst foreigners, the disruption of family lives because of the absence of fathers and problematic fatherhood. Migration trends are foregrounding issues such as national identity and civil connectivity, and the How to cite: Freeks, F.E., 2020, 'A life beyond iron bars: Creating a space of dignity and hope for the displaced father in prison', in A.R. Brunsdon (ed.), The human dilemma of displacement: Towards a practical theology and ecclesiology of home, pp. 151-170, AOSIS, Cape Town. https://doi.
... Here, Baloyi (2018:1) mentions an aphorism attributed to the former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, that portrays the Zulus as superior to other tribes in South Africa, as having potential to cause tribal tensions instead of unity and peace, as accorded in the concept of Ubuntu. In discussing Jacob Zuma's aphorism, Baloyi (2018) affirms that: ...
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Ethnic politics will continue to be a more significant challenge in the twenty-first century for a large number of African countries. Many scholars believe that creating ethnic-based political ideologies in the mainstream will make it more difficult for the masses to have representation. Ethnic politics could be an appealing tool for leaders seeking to preserve power through appeals to emotion and manipulation of resources, with no added value or rational debate. Political stability and democratic ideas are contingent on how African politicians respond to ethnic and language-based politics in the future. The challenge is finding a way to reconcile economic growth and well-being with entitlement politics. This article examines the rise of ethnic politics in Africa through the lens of six African countries. The article's question is how political, ideological polarisation can be avoided in Africa, and a win-win strategy to that end is being explored. The article also attempts to convey a comprehensive perspective on shaping political debates to understand the foundations of political elites and parties.
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Following the independence of South Sudan in 2011, the coherence of South Sudanese “national” identity has come into question. Before the Southern secession, Northerners were united by a common language and religion, but Southerners did not have this uniting reality. For this reason, scholars now wonder whether there is a collective South Sudanese identity because the sine qua non of unity among South Sudanese tribes was a collective opposition to Northern Sudan. However, the present article defends a collective South Sudanese identity based on how “nation-building” has been undertaken historically. It also argues that tribal diversity in itself does not negate the presence of a South Sudanese collective “national” identity because internal tribal divisions are a global phenomenon and “tribal” and “national” identities are activated contextually.
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Ethnic politics will continue to be a more significant challenge in the twenty-first century for many African countries. Many scholars believe that creating ethnic-based political ideologies in the mainstream will make it more difficult for the masses to have representation. Ethnic politics could be an appealing tool for leaders seeking to preserve power through appeals to emotion and manipulation of resources, with no added value or rational debate. Political stability and democratic ideas are contingent on how African politicians respond to ethnic and language-based politics in the future. The challenge is finding a way to reconcile economic growth and well-being with entitlement politics. This article examines the rise of ethnic politics in Africa through the lens of six African countries. The article's question is how political, ideological polarisation can be avoided in Africa, and a win-win strategy to that end is being explored. The article also attempts to convey a comprehensive perspective on shaping political debates to understand the foundations of political elites and parties.
South Africa is a country with a history of racial divides and those divides are still visible today. One of the many issues that characterise such divisions is inequality with regard to land ownership. The bigger part of the land is still owned by the minority white people while the blacks, who are the majority; or previously disadvantaged people, are still landless. This is evident from the escalation of informal settlements in areas surrounding the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, which have millions of black people cramped into small areas in shacks while most whites are enjoying large portions of land with few people to live on it. Many black people even lack land for shelter. On the other hand, the message of reconciling the country is being made loud to both who has the land and those who do not have it. Therefore, it becomes a serious challenge to imagine and look for reconciling strategies while these two camps still have this unresolved issue. The dilemma that is faced with is how will the different camps embrace the same message while they remain in these different situations. It is argued in this article that justice on the land issue should be first attended to so that it serves as a door to reconciliation.
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Background: Vuwani community expressed their rejection of the municipal boundary demarcations which resulted in the formation of the Collins Chabane Municipality made-up of parts of Vuwani community and Malamulele community. A number of media reports had alluded that much of what is presented as demarcation disputes is largely fueled by tribalism (Baloyi 2018). Aim: Using relevant literature, this study aimed at examining claims of tribalism in Vuwani demarcation disputes. In so doing the study examines the claims of tribalism as a catalyst in the demarcation disputes in Vuwani. Setting: The area of study is Vuwani Vhembe District in South Africa. However lessons learnt are not limited to South Africa but contributes to the body of knowledge on demarcations in Africa and worldwide. Methods: A qualitative approach was adopted using in-depth and focus group discussion analysed through Territorial and Inclusion theories. Results: The findings revealed that clustering Vuwani demarcation disputes as being merely tribalistic is a narrow and dismissive approach to the amalgamation disputes in Vuwani. The findings further revealed the contributing factors to the demarcation disputes in Vuwani such as lack of adherence to good governance principle, lack of transparency etc. have led to many misconceptions which fueled the ongoing demarcation disputes. Conclusion: Adherence to good governance principles and policies is essential in redrawing of the spatial boundaries. Land, especially rural land is a sensitive commodity in Africa because of the effects of colonialism and apartheid. Thus, redrawing of spatial boundaries need to be carried out with extreme caution.
Ririmi a ri ri xitirhisiwa eka swa tipolitiki, swa timali, na swa ndhavuko wa rixaka kumbe ntlawa lowu tirhisa ririmi rero. Khombo leri taka na ku tekela ehansi kumbe ku vekela etlhelo rin’wana ririmi i ku herisa vumundzuku bya vanhu vo karhi. Hambiloko mfumo wa xidemokirasi wu tivisile leswaku tindzimi ta khumen’we i ta ximfumo, ka ha ri na swikombeto swa leswaku tin’wana eka tindzimi leti ta ha tekeriwa ehansi no vekeriwa etlhelo. Xitsonga tanihi rin’wana ra tindzimi ta lava tshikileriweke emikarhini leyi hundzeke (ya xihlawu-hlawu) ri ya emahlweni no tshikileriweke ku fika na namuntlha. Nhlohlotelo wo vona ririmi leri ri tlakuka tani hi leswi kombisiweke eka Vumbiwa bya tiko leri i xirilo lexi vangaka leswaku ndzavisiso lowu wu tsariwa tani hi atikili leyi. Njhikajikisanokulu wa atikili leyi i ku humesela erivaleni leswaku loko wu ri ntiyiso leswaku tindzimi ta ximfumo i khume-n’we, naswona ti fanele ku hoxa xandla eka ku hundzuluxiwa ka tiko leri, Xitsonga xi fanele ku kuma nyingiso lowu xi faneleke loko swi ta eka ku hluvuka ka xona ku ri hava ku tsongahatiwa, ku tekeriwa ehansi na ku vekeriwa etlhelo.
This chapter deals with inequality in terms of economic mobility and access to education as portrayed and addressed in the memoirs of Trevor Noah and Malaika Wa Azania. The two writers grew up in similar circumstances with fierce mothers who worked hard for their children’s right to adequate education. Education is a running theme in both memoirs, and they deal with the experiences of going to, for example, former Model C schools and realising the privilege connected with such schools. Whiteness as a marker of privilege is also dealt with, as Noah is of mixed origin, making his position complex. Group membership and belonging emerge as particularly prominent themes in his writing, often from a perspective of race. Wa Azania is more vocal about persisting inequalities in South Africa and takes an explicit political stance in her memoir which is partly written as a letter to the ANC, outlining the party’s failures to create equal prospects for its citizens. The need for equity is frequently raised in her writing. The complex relationship between race and class also emerges. The concept of Black tax is addressed in both memoirs and is therefore discussed in this chapter too in connection to social and economic upward mobility.
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The history of Western Philosophy, especially in continental Europe, has always revolved around the following "metaphysical triangle": World (cosmology); Self (anthropology) and Deity (theology). Since René Descartes, there has been a shift of paradigm, from the cosmological and theological angles to the anthropological angle wherein the human subject had become the axis on which everything hinges. Emmanuel Levinas gave subjectivity a radical turn. For him, traditional ethics and philosophy are grounded in egoism and the neglect for the "Other" as they overemphasise self-fulfilment and self-development. They overlook human solidarity and cooperation. In this paper I discuss critically Levinas' argument that subjectivity is born out of our relations with the Other and that our responsibility for them defines its fundamental structure and is the foundation upon which all other social structures and formations rest.
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This paper investigates the intensification of the scope of migrant theology by forced removals in the 1960s and 1970s in South Africa. Forced removals in South Africa were carried out by the white government, especially in the late 1950s and 1960s, with the support of the white churches (particularly white Afrikaans churches) underpinned by a series of laws which entrenched racial segregation and inequality and which led to millions of black peoples being forced to leave their ancestral land and white cities to live in barren and overcrowded places. The policy of forced removals accompanied by its resultant reprisals led to a mass exodus of many black people going to settle in the neighbouring countries either to join the arms struggle or further their studies abroad. Those who remained in the country were forced to resist the policy either through violent protest or peaceful resistance. The policy led to black people developing theologies of survival in the country of their birth since they were exposed to a condition of poverty, exploitation and alienation from their cultural heritage, while ensuring exclusive privileges to whites in the country. The paper seeks to investigate how the migrants developed a theology of resistance amidst their dislocation and the heavy-handedness of the government.
The collection contains 13 contributions based on presentations made at a researcher training course in May 1993. They cover a wide range of subjects and geographical areas: the invention of tradition revisited (colonial Africa); ethnic groups and boundaries - Nordic schools of approach; race and nationalism in a post-colonial state - Zimbabwe; black and white nationalisms in South Africa; moral ethnicity and political tribalism (Africa); ethnicity and gender in a modernising world; religion, politics and modernity (India); history and the nationalisation of Hinduism; caste and the secular self; the making of a frontier society - Ethiopia; ethnic boundaries and development - the Oromo case; statehood, ethnicity and nationalism - the case of Denmark; and some recent theoretical trends in the study of ethnicity and nationalism. The articles can be accessed at
Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 8.3 (2005) 67-93 No event in recent history has challenged Christian reflection on Africa more than the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.Within a period of less than one hundred days, more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed by fellow Rwandans, as the rest of the world stood by and watched. The majority of the killings were carried out by ordinary Rwandans against their neighbors using machetes, sticks, and clubs with nails, making the Rwandan genocide one of the most inexplicable tragedies of our time. What makes the Rwandan genocide a particularly chilling and challenging event for Christian reflection, however, is that Rwanda has been, and perhaps remains, one of the most Christianized nations in Africa. It is estimated that as many as 90 percent of Rwandans in 1994 were Christians—62.6% Catholic, 18.8% Protestant, and 8.4% Seventh Day Adventist. Given that the majority of Rwandans were Christians, why did that not make any significant difference when it came to the events of 1994 ? Where was the church? Did God just turn his back on Rwanda? The more one probes these and similar questions, the more one faces the disturbing realization that in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the church was not simply silent, but was intimately associated with the genocide. Not only did the majority of killings take place within or around churches, they involved Christians killing other Christians. In fact, as Longman points out, the fact that the majority of Rwandans were Catholics meant that often the victims and their killers were quite familiar with each other and had even participated regularly in the same Eucharist celebrations, within the same church. He notes, In the wake of the genocide, there have been many attempts to explain the disturbing fact of a genocide taking place within a Christian country and the mass participation by self-confessed Christians in the genocide. Among different explanations, some have noted the superficial nature of Rwandan Christianity. Others have focused on the church's failure to provide moral and spiritual guidance. Other accounts have noted how the revival movement of the 1930s was narrowly "spiritual" and did not allow the church to integrate the Gospel with all other aspects of life. Still other explanations, while focusing on the political dimension of the problem, have noted the naïve and uncritical view of authority that was encouraged by the church, as well as the general lack of democracy and of respect for human dignity in Rwanda in the 1990 s (Scheer; Gatwa). Although there is truth in each of these claims, the underlying problem behind the Rwanda genocide is one of tribalism. In this case, I feel the question posed by Cardinal Etchegaray of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and the answer he received, needs to be seriously attended to. When he visited Rwanda on behalf of the Pope shortly following the genocide, he asked the assembled church leaders, "'Are you saying that the blood of tribalism is deeper than the waters of baptism?' One leader present answered, 'Yes it is.'" I am afraid that Cardinal Etchegaray's question was right on target, and the response of the church leader was even more so. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda had to do, in great part, with tribalism. I do, of course, realize that...