Universität Duisburg-Essen, Institut für Evangelische Theologie 

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Schart, Aaron, Stand: 2007-04-05

Impressions from a stay as Research Fellow at the University of Pretoria/South Africa, August 2002

Due to the great hospitality of my South African colleagues, especially Prof. Dirk Human, my stay was a great experience.

After the end of the Apartheid-regime South Africa is facing serious challenges. After the black and colored people have gained equal status in the juridical and political sphere, the society must now be transformed in such a way that the black and colored people can participate equally well in economic and educational issues. South Africa is a rich and industrialized country with a western-democratic constitution. In quite a number of issues (constitution, health care, social net) Germany serves as a best practice example, after which regulations in South Africa are modeled. Germany has invested in the country already during Apartheid-years. All of the big German automobile companies still have a branch in South Africa (Daimler-Chrysler, BMW, Opel, VW). It is imperative that this land eliminates the poverty that still lasts on large parts of the people. In order to achieve this, the necessary things seem to be on the way. However, the success is not always big and fast enough. An important part of the enterprise is research and education. The University of Pretoria does provide education of the highest standards and is successful in getting more black people into the programs. On the other side, it is so much work to do, that one is not certain, if the numbers are growing fast enough to overcome the problems.

On the other side it was a sign of great hope, that the United nations held their "World Summit on Sustainable Development" in Johannesburg. The summit was almost covered non-stop by the media. One could feel how proud the country was to host this important summit. The nations of the world seem to realize, that most of the countries in southern Africa live under terrible conditions and desperately need sustainable help. All of the problemes the world community has to face as a  whole are, in a sense, present in this area: poverty, destruction of natural ressouces and bio-diversity, mass-deseases, extreme diffferences between rich and poor, rassism, corruption, religious conflicts, civil wars, and others. All those problems, and that is the sign of hope, are now on the agenda of the world community as a whole. The rest of the nations cannot win, without solving the problems in southern Africa. As a result, those people will not be forgotten, but remembered instead.

The religious life in South Africa is still very much dominated by the Christian religion, especially by the Protestant Churches. The number of Christians is still increasing and the political and social influence of the congregations is still very important. As a consequence, the churches play an important role in the process of transforming the South African society. Mr. Schart was very impressed by two projects, which he could discuss with responsible persons. Most appealing is the Christian Community Development Project initiated by Sikheto Daniel Maluleke, who holds a doctorate form the University of Pretoria. His congregation tries to support families to build houses, so that they can leave their unhealthy baracks. In addition, it tries to encourage persons to develop small business activities, instead of solely depend on the unsufficient state funding. The city administration of Pretoria now acknowledges that housing projects are much more successful, if church congregations are involved. Equally impressive is the HIV/AIDS research project of the department for Practical Theology of the University of Pretoria. AIDS is a huge problem and many religious and moral issues are involved (religious stigmatisation, commitment in partnerships, sexual practice, help for ill persons and the many orphans, whose parents died at young age), when one wants to address it. The churches can do a lot to help in those issues.

Very important is that the white and black churches are in the process of uniting. The spiritual, liturgical and theological differences between the two parts are not so deep that the uniting process is in danger. The black reformed Christians, in contrast to the many and still growing independent charismatic churches, have accepted the western-European, enlightened type of faith and worship. They see no need to accept for example ancestor-cults within Christian faith. However, there are cultural, educational, and economic differences, which must be addressed and overcome. The new generation of Christians, however, is deeply committed to the biblical vision of unity in Christ. As a result, it is safe to assume that the unity will come, be it sooner or later.

The commission for truth and reconciliation has dealt in a very positive way with the cruelties of the Apartheid-time. Prof. Meiring, who was a member of the commission, told the following story: A black man felt very much of satisfaction, after he had told the commission, how white policemen have tortured him, by the same time ridiculing him by saying: "Cry as loud as you can! Nobody will hear you." "Now," said the man, "my cry from that time gets heard!" After the truth about the past was brought more or less to light, it now seems as if the time has come for a new generation, that no longer was personally involved in the Apartheid-regime, be it as victims or be it as collaborators, to build a new relation between the different ethnical groups.

The Christian churches must, however, live with the fact, that the South African society develops along the lines of the western democratic states. Because those societies separate state and churches and guarantee everybody freedom of religion, they develop more and more pluralism. This is even more so, because many persons immigrate with different religious backgrounds. In some cases the result is, that the churches loose their influence on the state. Very important in this respect is the decision of the state to cut back the religious education and bible study in public schools. As a consequence, the churches have to organize religious education of their own. This enterprise will, in which way it is ever done, certainly reach far less pupils than before. More and more people will leave school without any substantial knowledge of Christianity and other religions as well. This will in any case make life and work harder for the churches. Given the importance the churches have for the transformation of the society, this will create also some problems for the state.

In the case of Theology it is interesting to see, that the German Theology, especially in the exegetical field, is very much appreciated. In the well equipped library of the University of Pretoria there are many more German journals, series, and monographs than in the library of the University of Essen. All persons of the faculty and many of the students are well acquainted with the classic German works and with the recent developments as well. In the Department of Theology at the University of South Africa even hung pictures of Hermann Gunkel, Gerhard von Rad and Martin Noth on the wall! Most of the theologians have studied in Germany for a while and are still very well informed about what is going on in German society and religious life. Since the South African scholars rely so heavily on German Theology, we as Germans should try to keep in touch with the South Africans and try to better understand what the questions are they have to find answers for.

A good opportunity to get involved in exegetical research is the ProPent-Seminar, a yearly conference on issues of the Pentateuch organized and inspired by Prof. Jurie le Roux (University of Pretoria) and Prof. Eckart Otto (University of Munich/Germany). The Pentateuch is especially rich in its ethical and juridical substance and therefore promises to inspire modern ethical thinking. This years meeting was scheduled parallel to the "World Summit on Sustainable Development". As a consequence, the presentations and discussions had some relation to the topic of the summit on the basis of the two law codes, which share the goal to build a state on the basic values of equality, individual freedom, solidarity with the poor and slaves, and responsibility before the God, who has freed Israel from the slavery in Egypt:   The Covenant code and the Deutoronomic law stand in this respect out form other law codes of the Ancient Near East. Since the Deuteronimic law contains stipulations, which, from a modern point of view, are more humanitarian and more concerned about economic equality, it is important to know in which direction the development of old Israelite law went. Whereas Eckart Otto reaffirmed the traditional view, that Dtn presupposes a written version of the Covenant Code, John van Seters from Canada argued for the other way around. Although van Seters could find nobody who would support his thesis, the discussion turned out to be very stimulating, because one had to very carefully reevaluate the underlying sense of the development of Israelite law. In the case of the Sabbath law for example, a topic Prof. Schart has addressed in his lecture (photo), one has to admit, that it is still a mystery why and how the Sabbath came to be celebrated on every seventh day. From a South African background it is not conceivable, why the Sabbath was dissolved from the cycle of the moon, with which it was probably original associated. The day has lost its contact to nature, although in Gen 1 it is clearly viewed as a rhythm implemented by God into creation.

Click here, if you like to see some photographs from South Africa by Aaron Schart.