By Stephen Brown
President Nelson Mandela today made a passionate appeal to the World Council of Churches to give the same solidarity to the struggle for development and the entrenchment of democracy in Africa that it gave to liberation movements fighting white rule in southern Africa.
Accompanied by Zimbabwean president Dr Robert Mugabe, to the music of the Imilonji KaNtu Choral Society, a choir long associated with the African National Congress, President Mandela received a rapturous reception from more than 3000 participants at the celebrations.
Nelson Mandela has long had the support of the ecumenical movement and of major churches, and today, as on previous occasions, he expressed his deep gratitude to the WCC.
The guest of honour at a ceremony today marking the 50th anniversary of the WCC's foundation, he praised the WCC for "activating the conscience of the world for peace and on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed".
One of the most controversial programs of the WCC's 50-year history has been its Program to Combat Racism, launched in 1969, and the special fund from which humanitarian grants were given to liberation movements in southern Africa. The grants were frequently criticised because they were made directly to liberation movements engaged in armed struggle.
"Your support exemplified in the most concrete way the contribution that religion has made to our liberation, from the days when religious bodies took responsibility for the education of the oppressed because it was denied to us by our rulers, to support for our liberation struggle," President Mandela, one of southern Africa's foremost anti-apartheid champions, told the gathering.
"To us in South and southern Africa, and indeed the entire continent, the WCC has always been known as a champion of the oppressed and the exploited.
"On the other hand, the name of the WCC struck fear in the hearts of those who ruled our country during the inhuman days of apartheid," said the president, who was imprisoned from 1962 until 1990 for his struggled against apartheid.
"To mention your name was to incur the wrath of the authorities. To indicate support for your views was to be labelled an enemy of the state."
President Mandela, who was inaugurated as South Africa's president on 10 May 1994, after the country's first non-racial elections, told the assembly that "the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment" was central to the challenge of the new millennium.
"My own continent of Africa dreams of an African renaissance in which, through reconstruction and development, we will overcome the legacy of a devastating past and ensure that peace, human rights, democracy, growth and development are a living reality for all Africans."
President Mandela's visit to Harare for the WCC's 50th anniversary celebrations was announced only on last Friday. Originally his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, had been scheduled to participate.
Linking the struggle against apartheid with the struggle for development, President Mandela told the assembly, "Thirty years ago you launched a program that broke new ground and set new directions for the future.
"You moved beyond the affirmation of the right to resist on the part of oppressed, to the risk of active engagement in the struggle to end oppression.
"Today the WCC is called upon to show that same engagement in the new and more difficult struggle for development and the entrenchment of democracy."
Back to top
Read other articles in this issue:
Mandela to WCC: tribute, and the development goal
Four fundamental questions for churches
Experiences people have had: Living the ecumenical connection
Orthodox preachers shares testimony about being lost
Visitors take home gift of a covenant
Bulgarian Orthodox quit WCC
Looking for the vision
WCC to set up commission with Orthodox churches
Trees will be reminder of the 8th assembly
Listen! Children can work
Letters: Provocative, misleading
50 years ago: Report from Amsterdam
Zimbabwe Christians criticise government
WCC celebrates 50th anniversary
Assembly yes to Christian 'forum'
|8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary|