The Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) in South Africa 1970-2015

Coffe Table logo

However, soon the need for chaplains to serve other miners extends the work of the Chaplaincy and becomes known as the Catholic Mine Chaplaincy. The bulk of the work takes place in four Dioceses (Archdiocese of Johannesburg and the Dioceses of Rustenburg, Witbank and Dundee). Over the following twenty years, the responsibility to serve the mines becomes more and more entrusted to the local Church; gradually, the handover to local parishes is done between 1992 and 1994. 

At the same time, as the M.Afr become more known in South Africa, we see new requests for more Missionaries to come. In rather quick succession, communities are established in Phuthaditjhaba, and later on in Bohlokong, both in Bethlehem Diocese; Tweefontein and Siyabuswa in Kwandebele, and Diepsloot, all in Pretoria Archdiocese; Kamhlushwa and Malelane in Lebombo, and later on, in Kwaguqa, all in Witbank Diocese. 

In 2008, the M.Afr start a Formation Centre in Merrivale, near Cedara St. Joseph’s Theological Institute, in Durban Archdiocese. Our most recent insertion in this archdiocese is Henley parish, close to Merrivale. This gives a chance to our candidates in formation to get some practical pastoral experience.

Presence in Johannesburg Archdiocese

In 1987, the M.Afr take three parishes in Soweto: Zola, Zondi and Emdeni. In 1992, they start a new Parish in Protea North. These four parishes are handed over to the local clergy in 1996.

On 1st January 1994, the M.Afr open the Orange Farm Pastoral Region, which is to become a real hive of active development projects. Eight churches are served systematically in this area, until its handover in April 2012. From 1998 to 2004, three M.Afr served in Lumko Institute.

In 2003, the M.Afr, who specialize in dialogue with non-Christian religions, take over the parish of Lenasia where we find a dense population of Muslims and Hindus. 

A Community House in Edenglen, Johannesburg, opened in 1998, assumes the administration of the South African Sector. Many confreres from different countries pass through this guest house. The resident priests of this community offer much appreciated service to local parishes and religious communities in that area. They also have helped celebrating Mass at Radio Veritas every week since 2008. 

The Mission Continues

The Missionary of Africa presence in South Africa over the years has tried to respond to the requests of the local Church, and in particular, to requests of building a vibrant local Church, especially where the Church was not established. This has happened in the areas mentioned above, territories now served by local priests. Dwindling vocations, old age and a loss of two confreres at the hands of assassins, coupled with a policy of eventually handing over to the local Church, has resulted in a reduction of parish commitments to Malelane, Lenasia and Henley.

As needs are deemed to be greater in other parts of Africa, for the time being there is no plan to extend our presence in South Africa – unless we get more vocations, thus increasing our personnel -, but rather to consolidate our actual commitments. The M.Afr have tried to be true to their vocation: establishing a vibrant missionary Church, handing over and moving on!

Note: this short article was written in view of a ‘Coffee-Table Book’ published by the Archdiocese of Johannesburg. Each community/parish/Institute was invited to write one page size in that book.

25th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union Sandton Convention Centre Johannesburg South Africa, June 11th to 15th 2015

25th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union 01Introduction:  In my capacity as Former Director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute, I was asked by the Apostolic Nunciature to be one of two delegates to represent the Holy Sea at the 25th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) in Johannesburg. The other person was the Counsellor of the Nunciature. We were accredited Observer Status; which meant we could only attend ‘open sessions’ and not those held behind ‘closed doors’. The organisation of such a huge event could not be faulted; and once again South Africa must be credited with delivering the goods. A major drawback was the fact that timetables were rarely heeded and sessions often went on into the late night. It was a tragedy that the proceedings were eclipsed by the presence of President Omar Al Bashir from Sudan. He had been promised that an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant of arrest would not be carried out; despite South Africa have ratified the ICC protocol.  This was a costly mistake as the saga became the focus of the Assembly. A local NGO won a court order to have the President remain in South Africa until the same court ruled on whether he should be arrested or not. With over 1.000 South African soldiers on a peace mission in Darfur; South Africa were taken no chances of possible revenge and had President Bashir ushered out of the country in a top secret mission. However, the harm had been done and a lot of the good work of the Assembly went unnoticed. As an Observer one could roam freely during intervals and greet whoever one wanted. I availed of this possibility to greet the Presidents of the countries DHPI worked in and where possible to discuss our work. I met President Bashir who was most pleasant and President Salva Kirr from South Sudan.  As Presidents were seated in alphabetical order, normally the two Sudanese should have been seated side by side but the organisers decided to split them by putting the head of the Seychelles between them. Interestingly, the South Africans had invited Riek Machar to be present in Johannesburg for yet another attempt at peace brokering in South Sudan and again behind closed doors.

The Opening ceremony a lavish affair, had curtailed speakers to 7 minutes opening remarks. The speakers included President Zuma from South Africa, Dr. Kosazana Zuma, Chairperson of the AU, a delegate representing Ban Ki Moon from the UN, President Mahoud Abbas from Palestine who spoke in Arabic and President Mugabe, the present Chairperson of Heads of State. President Mugabe spoke for close on one hour, was highly amusing, as he hurled insults at leaders across the globe. Few were speared his wrath and no one dared try and stop him talking.

The Content:  There is no doubt that the rhetoric was impressive and music to the ears for all those who wanted to see fundamental change in Africa. What was missing across the five days was a plan of action and a commitment to see it implemented. The theme of the 24th Assembly in January this year was ‘gender’ but this was eclipsed by ‘The Ebola Epidemic and Boko Haram and this time round one could see that there was a concerted effort to place the ‘gender issue’ at the heart of the Assembly. The American actress and UN Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie gave a passionate plea for an end to gender based violence, particularly in war torn countries in Africa. Gender dominated many interventions and time and again the dignity of women was affirmed. There was also a call to put in place a plan ‘to silence all guns on the African continent’ by 2020. This goes hand in hand with attempts to get more control over scarce national resources, often seen as the cause of much of the conflicts in Africa. There is also an impressive socio-economic plan to improve the lives of all Africans known as Agenda 2063. 2063 will mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) which preceded the AU. This Assembly would articulate the first ten year plan of Agenda 2063.  The signing of a trade free zone in East and Southern Africa had taken place prior to the Assembly in Cairo and many spoke of the need for an all Africa free trade zone. There was also passionate pleas for the AU to become self-reliant and not to be dependent on foreign donors who often wanted to set their own agenda for Africa. Among meetings held behind closed doors were the following: 

  • Gender Pre-Summit-High Level Panel on Gender Equality and Woman Empowerment.
  • Meeting of the Panel of Eminent Persons
  • Meeting of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM)
  • Meeting of the International Contact Group for Libya
  • Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change
  • Special Session of the High Level Committee on the Post 2015 Development Agenda
  • Meeting of the Committee of 10 on the United Nations Reforms
  • Meeting of the Peace and Security Council (PSC)

25th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union 02Conclusion: The Agenda was impressive, the issues pertinent for Africa today, the commitment for fundamental change for the good of all Africans impressive. One presumes that the Secretariat of the AU in Addis Ababa will now have to put in place the decisions agreed on and come up with relative plans of action. What was lacking at the Assembly was a Secretariat that would disseminate what was agreed upon on the spot. Though much was spoken in the open; decisions and plans were to be hammered out behind closed doors and to date these have not been made public. I was reminded of the closing line of the 2009 African Synod Working document: ‘Africa take up your pallet and walk’.  One had the impression at the Assembly that Africa was indeed walking together to new exciting horizons. Only time will tell if this 25th Assembly of the AU actually achieved anything.

Seán_O'LearyReport compiled by Seán O’Leary

Former Director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute, Pretoria June 18th 2015