A Message by the Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa Mr. Paulus Shipokosa Mashatile to the Grace Bible Church Faithful, Soweto, Johannesburg
Our Bishop, Bishop Mosa Sono
The leadership of the Church,
On behalf of the government I convey my sincere greetings and well wishes on this auspicious occasion as we mark and celebrate Good Friday. Thank you for inviting me, my wife and the team I work with in the Presidency.
I have decided to come to spend Good Friday with you because when I am here I always feel at home. Bishop Sono has been with me in pain and in joy. He is my spiritual leader and I know that I can always count on him for spiritual nourishment which I will always require as I execute the tasks given to me by the ANC and President Ramaphosa.
I congratulate you on reaching a monumental milestone as you celebrate 40 years since the church started in Hlengiwe Primary School with 35 people.
Since then the church has grown and has produced great leaders who serve our country in different capacities. I have always seen senior officials in government and private sector leaders when I visit the church.
We are equally aware that you are celebrating returning to Orlando Stadium after being away for 3 years because of Covid. During covid we lost lives, we lost jobs but together with you we are on the way to economic recovery. I would like to thank you and the church for working with us during the intense Covid period. It was a first and I would like to assure you that we have drawn lessons from our Covid response and hence going forward we will endeavour to be inclusive in response to any disaster and challenges facing society.
This month, as it often does, coincides with the most important time in the religious calendar of our Christian community: the time when Christians both here and across the world observe the Easter holiday.
There are a number of important holy days to mark and to celebrate in the Christian calendar. We have have just been through Lent, a time to mark Christ’s triumph over temptation, a time when we as Christians are called upon to do likewise, to value piety above possessions, to affirm self-sacrifice above self-gratification.
And of course most famous of all we observe Christmas in December, to remind ourselves of the miracle of the Immaculate Conception; and the importance of the New Covenant that God made with us through when He descended on Earth and was born as we are, walked among us as flesh and blood, so as to reinforce the message that we are made in His image, and ultimately to redeem us through His sacrifice.
But there is, in the Christian calendar, no time more important than this one; nothing speaks to the essence of our Faith in the way that Easter does. It is in Easter that the essence of Christ’s ministry is most felt. It is not the birth of Christ that is the foundation of the Christian faith, as important a moment as it may be. It is His death and His resurrection that is the foundation of this New Covenant. His sacrifice alone contains the promise of Salvation and eternal life. Christ’s death, and His ultimate triumph over death, is the central tenet of our Faith.
I am so grateful to have been invited to start the freedom month celebration here with you as prepare to mark 30 years of freedom and democracy in 2024. I am grateful for the honour and privilege to share in your holy fellowship during Easter.
I am, like all of you, a product of this faith, and a believer as a servant of this faith, and a believer in this promise.
I will not attempt to convince you, the holy congregation, of anything; but to assure you of my continued belief in the promise and the covenant that gathers all of you, and all of us as this community of Christ.
From my earliest years, the Church shaped who I am. It moulded my character, nourished my soul, and shaped my belief in justice, in what’s right and how to pursue what is right, it convinced me of the equality of all people before their Maker, it enveloped me in His love and protection, and it fortified me through the darkest moments of our struggle for freedom during apartheid. The Church, as much as the youth movements I belonged to as a young activist and later the ANC and the mass democratic movement, was the foundational institution of my activism and my subsequent career in public life.
We should never forget that South Africa is the birthplace and early hotbed of what we came to know as ‘liberation theology’: the simple belief and practice that holds that we are all equal before God, and that injustice and oppression are against the laws of God. The belief that no religion, and certainly never the religion founded upon the ministry of Jesus, should ever be used to justify oppression, segregation, injustice, and intolerance.
In our country, when our oppressors attempted to convince us that their hatred and intolerance had foundations in Scripture, Christians of all denominations and hues stood up and said: “not in the name of Christ!”
After all, how can anyone read any of the Gospels, or know the central message of the Sermon on the Mount, and still believe in the enslavement and exploitation of their fellow man? There is nothing more unChristian than injustice, inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, and intolerance.
There is nothing more Christian than love, tolerance, equality, fellowship, and caring for all humans and placing unrestricted value to human life. The political movement I belong to, and in whose service I have dedicated my entire life, the African National Congress, was founded and preserved by pious men and women, patriots who sacrificed so much and pursued justice not only as a political imperative, but as a central article of their faith. The ANC may be a secular political organisation, but it has always been one founded upon the progressive teachings of the faith. Freedom, tolerance, equality, justice, service to the people, and indeed “a better life for all”, all of these political goals, are religious, spiritual, and moral imperatives.
I must emphasise again that I was shaped equally, as an individual, by both these complementary and progressive political and religious currents in our history.
But uniquely among all those institutions, the church was also a spiritual support system and a staff to lean on through hard times in my personal life.
It is your values that shape mine, that shape ours in the ANC, and that should shape ours as a society. These values must characterise our actions, and we must build ethical leadership across society.
Guided by the commitment to build a culture of positive values, we must fight all social ills in society, fight corruption and ensure we rid our society of lawlessness. You should be at the centre of this dialogue as the religious community.
I invite you to partner with us, in the enormous task of changing the moral and ethical values of our society. We have faltered, and we cannot correct course without our nation’s diverse faith communities.
My presence at your Good Friday church service is an appreciation of the critical role you play in nation-building and social cohesion.
Together we must resolve the challenges of social divisions, economic inequality, poverty and exclusion. We are proud of your achievements and are looking forward to you celebrating 100 years.
I wish you all a blessed Easter.
Thank you for inviting me!
Republic of South Africa