Forty years after the Soweto uprising, leaders of churches in conflict-torn countries gathered in South Africa to study the ways of peace and reconciliation.

“This year in South Africa is the 40th anniversary of the June 16, 1976, student uprisings, a game-changing development in the struggle against apartheid, that saw hundreds of young people killed by apartheid police and soldiers,” said Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The consultation on “Peacebuilding and Reconciliation: The Place of the Church” took place 8-11 June in Soweto, where black children rose up against inferior apartheid education in 1976. The consultation concluded with a pilgrimage from Madibane High School to Orlando stadium.

Tveit added, “South Africa dares to take new steps towards justice, forgiveness and reconciliation. We have been singing, praying and crying together in Soweto. We have heard words pleading for forgiveness, we have seen hands meet to pledge to one another to seek reconciliation in the communities, we have heard calls for an end to inequalities and poverty and corruption, we have danced and moved on a new pilgrimage.”

Tveit underlined, “We have the right to hope for South Africa. If they can find new ways together, others can as well.”

The consultation was jointly organized by the WCC and the South African Council of Churches (SACC) to provide a safe space where churches from countries with conflict or post-conflict situations could engage in mutual learning for effective participation of the churches in peacebuilding and reconciliation.

The consultation gathered 55 participants from Burundi, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Palestine, South Africa, South Sudan and Sudan, as well as representatives from the SACC, specialized ministries, WCC commission members and WCC leadership and staff.

“Church leaders were invited to take a proactive role in engaging in and supporting initiatives for peacebuilding, justice and overcoming poverty,” said Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, associate general secretary of the WCC.

Presentations began with analyisis of the situation in each of the eight countries present and on the topic “Contextualizing Conflict, Peace Building and Reconciliation.”

The WCC general secretary presented the pilgrimage of justice and peace. A presentation on healing of memories for peace building and reconciliation was offered by Loret Loumouamou from the Institute for Healing of Memories.  Reflections on the meaning and implications of reconciliation were offered by Bishop Malusi  Mpumlwana, general secretary of SACC.

Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, programme executive of the WCC’s office at the United Nations in New York City, spoke on Sustainable Development Goal 16 and the response of the churches. Mr Nigussu Legesse WCC programme executive responsible for Sudan, South Sudan, DRC and Nigeria, gave the All Africa Conference of Churches report on Sustainable Peace and Security.

The SACC has a history of advocating and witnessing for justice and reconciliation with powerful theologically grounded work. The SACC spoke out against apartheid injustice and the violation of human rights. It has assisted in the transitional process after apartheid, from the initial negotiations to peacemaking in the midst of intense violence, to the drafting of a new constitution for the country  and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Today the SACC is leading a national campaign called #TheSouthAfricaWePrayFor. The campaign builds on the platform of healing and reconciliation, addressing the challenges of poverty and inequality, the fabric of the family, economic transformation, and anchoring democracy, all in the context of healing and reconciliation for a just, reconciled, peaceful, equitable and sustainable society, free of racial, tribal and gender prejudices, free of corruption and deprivation, and with enough food and shelter for every citizen; and for each child born to grow to their God-given potential.

For example, Phiri added, “SACC is hosting a reconciliation program between the former soldiers and the former student leaders –‘the shooters and the shot at’– giving the younger generation the foundation for a reconciled future.”

Statement from the consultation

Welcome address to consultation participants by WCC associate general secretary Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri

WCC member churches in South Africa

Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace