Abulkader Tayob, Wolfram Weisse, eds. Religion and Politics in South Africa. Munster and New York: Waxmann, 1999. 174 pp. DM 38.00 (paper), ISBN 978-3-89325-719-5.
Reviewed by Derick A. Fay (School of Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management, University of California at Berkeley)
Published on H-SAfrica (September, 2003)
As a compilation of papers from two symposia (held in 1997 at the Universities of Cape Town and Hamburg), this volume is uneven in its subject matter and quality. It consists of fifteen fairly short pieces by authors ranging from senior scholars (Heribert Adam, James Cochrane) to graduate students; a few chapters are finished papers while most are clearly works in progress, programmatic statements and/or transcriptions of verbal conference comments. The diverse topics covered include Islam, Jewish women, "Afrikanerdom," oral history, identity and ethnicity, African traditional religion, religious education, and an extended description of an ongoing University of Hamburg research project. Overall, this book is appropriate for purchase primarily by research libraries where interested scholars may consult particular chapters within their area of specialization.
I will not attempt to comment on all of these diverse topics; rather, I will highlight several articles that were of particular interest to me. As an occasional listener to Nokuzola Mndende's program on Umhlobo WeNene FM, I enjoyed her chapter, "From Underground Praxis to Recognized Religion: Challenges Facing African Religions." Mndende articulates a critique regarding the marginalization of African religion that I frequently heard while living in a conservative Xhosa community in the coastal Transkei (there may be an element of circularity here: traditionalists there told me "we must listen to Nokuzola Mndende's program so that we can learn about Xhosa tradition"). Mndende critiques the dominance of Christianity in African theology and media, arguing that African Traditional Religion "adherents are not part of the rainbow but are somewhere outside" (p. 95). In particular, she critiques the tendency of the African Theology movement to see African religion as "a preparation for evangelisation" (p. 93). She also describes the biases of African-language media, telling how she was accused of being a devil worshipper by another Umhlobo WeNene presenter. She continues, "in addition to Umhlobo WeNene ... Radio Sotho and Tswana also called the ancestors 'demons.' When these incidents were reported to the management they have not been taken seriously. The usual response is that 'it is what the Bible, which is the word of God, says'" (p. 95). Mndende's chapter recalls the long-standing division in Xhosa-speaking communities between Christians and traditionalists, pointing out that this is not simply a reflection of an urban/rural divide, and tying the defense of African religion to issues of free speech and human rights.
Heribert Adam's "The Presence of the Past: South Africa's Truth Commission as a Model" is another of the more polished chapters in the book. Drawing on arguments that will be familiar to readers of his Comrades in Business (1997), co-authored with Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert and Kogila Moodley. Adam characterizes the South African transition as a "purchased revolution [amounting] to a compromise that satisfies neither side" (p. 140). He sees the TRC as a "grand spectacle ... to clarify the moral winners and losers in the negotiated revolution" (p. 140). Like much of the writing on the TRC (with the notable exception of Richard Wilson's _The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa ), Adam focuses primarily on the TRC's hearings, official pronouncements and actions, as well as media commentary, and less on its reception among its various audiences. Nevertheless, he reaches a conclusion which seems widely shared, that "the continued material legacy of apartheid [means] that the commission had to fail in its second goal of reconciliation" (p. 157).
Finally, I would draw attention to the chapter outlining the University of Hamburg's ongoing research project on "Religion and Politics in the Transition-process of South Africa," comprising some fourteen projects supported by twenty researchers in seven departments of the university, over a period of nine to twelve years. The proposed research described here is significant, and promises new empirical studies of a number of understudied topics. These include the "the religiosity of youths and religious education in schools" (p. 124); connections between South African Islam and politics 1976-94; and African Independent Churches and post-1994 reevaluations of African cultural tradition. Scholars interested in these topics would be advised to watch for publications from these researchers as their projects continue.
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Derick A. Fay. Review of Tayob, Abulkader; Weisse, Wolfram, eds., Religion and Politics in South Africa.
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