Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has commended Christian communicators for support that helped liberate his country from minority white rule, and has appealed for their continued assistance in the post-apartheid era.
"We are free today because you supported us," Tutu said at the opening in Cape Town of a 6-10 October congress of the World Association for Christian Communication, as he highlighted the role that the group had played in sustaining independent media during the apartheid era.
WACC, whose headquarters are in Toronto, Canada, describes its mission as one in which it promotes communication for social change.
"We need your help and support as we seek to continue speaking the truth to power," said the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town.
In recent days, Tutu has been sharply critical of the ruling African National Congress party, which came to power after South Africa's first universal suffrage elections in 1994.
In an interview with South Africa's Sunday Times newspaper on 4 October, Tutu said the country had effectively become a one-party state that now needs a strong opposition.
Addressing the WACC meeting, Tutu said, "It is one of the most excruciating things to have to stand up against those with whom you were once in agreement about many things."
Earlier, the 300 participants at the WACC gathering heard the mayor of Cape Town, Helen Zille, who also leads South Africa's official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, say that the Church and the media play an essential role in checking the misuse of power.
"The price of freedom is constant vigilance in all times and in all places," said Zille, a former political correspondent for South Africa's defunct Rand Daily Mail newspaper, who helped expose the torturing to death of the anti-apartheid Black activist Steve Biko in police custody.
Now, in the post-colonial and post-apartheid era, Africa needs "to move from liberation politics to constitutional politics", said the Cape Town mayor, who attends the Rondebosch United Church in the city, where she is a choir member.
"The liberation struggle was about seizing power," said Zille. "Constitutional democracy is about limiting power, and the checks and balances this entails." The Church and a free press, as well as independent courts, are "essential" to this task, she noted.
The mayor described recent developments in Kenya and Zimbabwe as "a terrible precedent" for Africa. In both countries, power-sharing agreements have been put in place through negotiations between rival parties following disputed elections.
"Communication seeks to establish truth," said Zille, who described the process of citizens choosing their leaders through the ballot box as a "key mechanism for communication".
When this fails, she stated, "then all the pretences at communication … actually become part of the problem".
In an apparent reference to the resignation of South African president Thabo Mbeki after he lost a vote of confidence in the ruling ANC party, Zille said that the change of leaders should take place, "not through a meeting of 65 people in a smoke-filled room but through the ballot box".
[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.]