Sacked South African health minister inspired by Quaker values

By Ecumenical News International
September 5, 2007

To be a member of the pacifist Society of Friends (Quakers) and a member of the South African Communist Party may seem contradictory to some of her compatriots. But Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, until recently South Africa's deputy health minister, sees no anomaly - writes David Wanless.

She was recently fired from her cabinet position, where she had been prominent in advocating an effective state programme for those living with HIV and AIDS. She had also condemned the state of affairs at a government hospital, which was said to have an exceedingly high death rate for babies.

Another anomaly might, for some, seem to be the fact that committed pacifist Madlala-Routledge's has previously served as deputy defence minister. She admits the contradictions, but said in a recent interview with a Cape Town newspaper that she would "separate from any organisation where the predominant culture is opposed to my beliefs and values".

She said she accepted the defence ministry position because she believed that the South African Defence Force in the post-apartheid era was oriented towards peace. Madlala-Routledge said that, in order to prepare for peace, one should not, as the traditional wisdom has it, prepare for war.

"I argued that, to achieve peace, it is necessary to prepare for peace," she declared.

As far as her membership of the communist party was concerned, Madlala-Routledge said that 19th century political philosopher, economic thinker and revolutionary, Karl Marx, whose writings underpin the communist movement, was not opposed to religion.

Rather than quoting Marx's much quoted phrase, "Religion is the opium of the people", which some of his supporters say is taken out of context, she cited Marx saying that "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions". But said Madlala-Routledge, what attracted her to the party, was "an alliance with the poor and the working class".

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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