THIS week's launch in London of a new theological proclamation from Third World Christians (Catholic Herald, July
attended by t
28) was the former General Secretary of the Southern African Bishops' Conference, Fr Smangaliso Mkhatshwa. It is the first time he has visited Britain since his release from
detention by the South African
security forces in 1987. He spent a year in prison at the height of the country's clampdown, and his plight promoted international coverage. "I was abducted by persons unknown, blindfolded and taken to an unknown place. During my imprisonment I was interrogated for 30 hours, assaulted and tortured." Despite being questioned by the police and military intelligence on such subjects as the ANC (African National Congress), the Youth Congress and his views on sanctions, Frpt Smangaliso believes his captors had no real interest in his answers. "They just wanted to give the impression that they knew everything I was doing and even tried to make me believe that they knew what I was thinking. The whole exercise was designed, I think, as a concerted effort to degrade and humiliate me. In doing so I believe they thought they could render me as ineffective in my opposition." After his release Fr Smangaliso took the police to court on charges of torture and won, the first time such action had been successful in South Africa. He continued as general secretary to the bishops' conference until May of last year, when he was appointed as the director of the Institute of Contextual Theology, Johannesburg
He considers that in his new job he has an important role to play in charting the path towards Fr Smangaliso Mkhatshwa reconciliation between the black and white communities.
"At the moment we are trying to put together an effective communications unit. This will address issues such as negotiations between the South African government and those wishing an end to apartheid. We want to know if the climate is right for negotiations however desirable they may be."
"By this I mean are the officials involved in negotiations ready to m
enter into meaningful talks at the moment? I mean does the ruling minority see negotiations merely as a delaying tactic in order to hold onto to power for as long as possible? Or arc they genuinely committed to relinquish power to the majority of South Africans." On the other side of the coin Fr Smangaliso believes monitoring the groups against apartheid is as important. "For example antiapartheid campaigners argue that the government is not yet ready to negotiate, and only will be if greater pressure is brought to bear on the authorities before they are ready to come to the table. We hope we can provide a balanced picture." The predicted exit of President as head of
P W Botha h government and the almost n
certain election of the new National Party leader F W de Klerk to the post in South Africa's forthcoming general elections will bring little change, Fr Smangaliso believes.
"De Klerk will almost certainly introduce a new style of ega
leadership, but regarding any change significant chae I can see no real hope. He is a child and product of the apartheid system and for that reason I cannot see how he will extricate himself from a system which gave birth to him. At the moment he hasn't given any clear signals of departing from apartheid." Fr Smangaliso sees the launch of the new document, The Road to Damascus, Kairos and Conversion, as giving a new direction for the Catholic and other churches in South Africa. "I think that this will organise the churches in South Africa into one common purpose. Governments such as the one in South Africa, are never happy when their arc c united. They won't be able to succeed in oppressing them all the time. Therefore I think I'm quite right in saying the an South African government will about this he worried ab, and certainly be in conflict with people who espouse this theology," he said. "Atthe height of the struggle in South Africa in 1985 we, the Church, felt we had to respond to the situation. We had, and still
have, a responsibility as Christians to the millions time came for the suffering. The tim ca Church to accept the challenge and to involve itself in the struggle. Whether this new initiative will threaten the safety of individuals such as Fr Smangaliso remains to be seen. "Generally speaking all those who work against apartheid and for freedom and justice are not safe. People on the side of justice are aware of the demands. They feel it is their calling to stand for the truth, whatever that might result in."