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Southern Africa Presbyterians express solidarity with US in the struggle for racial justice

Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa laments security force excesses in South Africa, police killings in the US

by Douglas Tilton, World Mission | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Lungile Mpetsheni is General Secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa. (Contributed photo)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground…” (Genesis 4: 10 NIV)

This was the opening passage of a heartfelt and prophetic pastoral message that the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA) sent to its congregations condemning systemic and structural injustice and lamenting security force excesses in both South Africa and the United States.

“The cries of Collins Khosa and George Floyd, who both died in the hands of the security forces are heard in the streets of our societies every day,” wrote the Rev. Dr. Lungile Mpetsheni, General Secretary of UPCSA. “Similar voices are heard in our homes, our workplaces and in our churches.”

Khosa, a 40-year-old Johannesburg resident, died shortly after being assaulted by members of the South African National Defense Force on Good Friday (April 10). The soldiers had been deployed to enforce national lockdown regulations introduced on March 27 to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Mpetsheni urged congregations to “hearken to the cry: ‘Black lives matter!’ Black people are crying out: ‘I can’t breathe.’” He cited the UPCSA’s Declaration of Faith for the Church in Southern Africa, which says that God “’wants all people to live together as brothers and sisters in one family.” It also speaks of God the Son – Jesus Christ who came “to break down every separating barrier of race, culture or class, and to unite all God’s people into one body.”

“May the cries of the ‘non-persons,’ the marginalized, the impoverished, those on the ‘underside of modernity,’ keep on haunting us, until we realize and live up to the dictates of our DECLARATION,” he urged. “May their blood continue to cry out to the Lord, so that we become restless.”

“We, therefore, condemn systemic and structural injustices and inequalities (racial, economic and gender injustices and inequalities) that keep on sacrificing lives of helpless people to feed the ego of the empire,” Mpetsheni concluded.  “In so doing, we invoke the efficacies of the Belhar Confession and Accra Confession [both of which have been adopted by the UPCSA]. Let us recommit to value, affirm and save life in every way possible. Let everyone enjoy the right to BREATHE.”

Mpetsheni shared the UPCSA’s message in solidarity with a video message by the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, raising concerns about racial injustice in the USA and calling for change. The Africa Office of World Mission had alerted global partners to Nelson’s plea.

“History has a tendency of repeating itself,” Mpetsheni observed in his letter to the PC(USA). “USA and South Africa have a common record of systemic and structural human rights violation through similar manifestations of empire, including racism and whiteness.”

“South Africa experienced similar acts of human abuse where … a handful of people died at the hands of security forces during the COVID-19 lockdown,” he continued. “On receiving the news of George Floyd and many others before him, we witnessed the repetition of history in the two countries. South Africans were taken aback by the atrocious acts of the security personnel. These are not the societies we are praying for.”

“Let us continue to work together for total emancipation of humanity, for violence free societies and for [an] end to racism,” the General Secretary counseled. “We pray that the Holy Spirit will fall afresh on us.”

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