Where diversity rules and harmony prevails
March 29 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Where diversity rules and harmony prevails | Friday, March 30, 2001

Friday, March 30, 2001

Where diversity rules and harmony prevails

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor In South Africa, diversity is a way of life. Literal walls of separation based on color and culture are slowly coming down, but the signs of apartheid remain as obvious as the segregated neighborhoods in which most people live. Yet, South Africans across the color spectrum are making valiant and concerted efforts to get beyond their past and to build a new society where there is equal respect for all. Four racial/ethnic groups predominate in South Africa. Blacks who are descended from indigenous African peoples are by far the largest (about 76 percent) - and poorest - of the population groups. They have a rich history and speak more than a dozen languages based on two main language groups. During the 50 years of apartheid, only recently ended, black South Africans were forced to live in separate townships or "homelands" located outside of most cities and towns. Most blacks still live in these areas, or in hastily built shanty towns adjacent to them.

White South Africans are descended primarily from Dutch immigrants who settled the Cape area in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the English settlers who seized the coast in the 19th century, forcing the Dutch "Afrikaners" into the interior, where they conquered and displaced many black tribes. Most whites speak both English (in its British variety) and Afrikaans, a hybridized and simplified form of Dutch. Whites make up about 13 percent of the population but hold most of the wealth.

In South Africa, "colored" is a recognized term that refers not to ethnic Africans, but to a rich variety of peoples who have a mixed heritage. Many are descended from Southeast Asians imported by early white settlers to work in the vineyards and grain fields. Persons of color, as a result of intermarriage between the various ethnic groups, were also defined as colored for purposes of apartheid, and required to live in separate areas. They make up about 9 percent of the population, and often speak both English and Afrikaans.

The smallest population group (about 2 percent) is made of peoples from India, most of whom live in the province of Natal.

In churches and denominational bodies as well as in government, those who once held power because of their privileged position are seeking balance. People of color now hold more and more positions of responsibility in government and in church.

There are no less than five Baptist "conventions" in South Africa. Two small groups consist of Indian churches, while another small group is predominately white Afrikaners. The largest group by far is the Baptist Union, which includes about 50,000 members in more than 600 churches and fellowships from all ethnic groups. In 1987, a group of 70 black churches broke from the Baptist Union because they believed the denomination's leadership had not spoken out strongly enough against apartheid. They are known as the Baptist Convention, and they now number 120 churches.

North Carolina partnership work, like the work of the International Mission Board, has related primarily to the Baptist Union, though there is also work with the other groups.

The Baptist Union is making a concerted effort to include more people of color in leadership positions. Elected presidents were uniformly white until 1992, but several black and colored persons have served as president since then. General Secretary Terry Rae will step down in October after nine years as the Baptist Union's executive leader. He has laid the groundwork for a person of color to follow him in that position.

Change is also apparent in the churches. Black churches are the most likely to be uniform in makeup, largely because of their typical location inside black townships. Colored churches often include blacks and a smattering of whites. Predominately white churches are most likely to be multicultural. One church near Johannesburg recently made a focused decision to call a black pastor, even though most of its members are white. The church recognized that shifting demographics had put it in a largely black area, and wants to be more effective in reaching the people of its community.

The South African Baptists I visited hold an impressively inclusive attitude toward cultural and theological differences. Black churches tend to be the most conservative, both theologically and in maintaining traditions such as formal dress for worship. White churches often hold more moderate views, with colored churches tending to fall in the middle. Such differences are accepted with hardly a blink of the eye, however, as South African Baptists focus on the challenges of their common work among the beautiful peoples of their land.

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3/29/2001 11:00:00 PM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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