Archbishop Buti Tlhagale: Major obstacles of conversion in South Africa

Speaking to a group of new missionaries at the orientation programme in Benoni on Thursday, 16 September 2021, the Archbishop of Johannesburg, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, said though challenges facing the Catholic Church in South Africa are many the major challenge to total conversion to Christianity is the believe in the ancestral cult. He mentioned the lack of equality, poverty and development, especially on the political sphere as some of other challenges. “There is still a lot of racism in South Africa, it is always under the carpet, below the surface,”said the Archbishop, adding that it is partly because the minority are doing well and the majority are doing badly.

The Archbishop said he sees a lot of young people in Johannesburg going mad because of the dire situation they are facing due to realities like unemployment. “They sleep on the streets, they lose their dignity, they beg for food, and eventually you can see that there’s something abnormal about their behaviour,” said Archbishop Tlhagale. He pointed out that apart from material problems there’s a lot of brokenness amongst the people of South Africa which results in a loss of hope.

The Archbishop questioned the role of the laity in the society at large wondering whether they go out to make in impact on the society, motivated by their faith to try and change society and its expectation. He advised that what we need is the deepening of faith, something that is mentioned a lot. Archbishop Tlhagale alerted the missionaries that they must be aware most Catholics are influenced by protestants simply because of their huge presence in any community. “Simple things like hymns”, He noted, “you find suddenly Protestant tunes in the Catholic Church.” He noted that the influence is so great that it goes to point of many Catholics not seeing the difference between the Catholic Church and other churches, that they can easily receive communion from those other communities.

He went back to what he said is the major obstacle to total conversion, the ancestral cult, noting that people believe in the ubiquitous presence of ancestors. To make the missionaries understand something concrete with regard the ancentral cult Archbishop Tlhagale showed them a video of a trainee sangoma (Traditional diviner/healer). The video was of a Catholic who became a sangoma recently and the Archbishop was trying to show them that everyone is into this even Catholics of all walks of life. He said this traditional religion is mixed with Christianity even by Catholics including some priests and nuns. He also noted it is a religion taking place away from our religion even though some think they can mix the two. “It is so deeply rooted that some people think other things can only be added upon it as it not believed it can be removed,” said Archbishop Tlhagale.

He observed that people, Christians, seem to live comfortably with it as you are likely to find a traditional healer every second or third street in townships. “Where does Christ come in?”, asked the Archbishop, noting that some people impose the Judeo-Christian God on their ancestral calling to make it relevant. He made missionaries aware that there are cases where one goes to two funeral services of the same person on the same day because there has to be a service for the ancestors and a service for the Church. He said people do these things sometimes as a way of double insurance. Archbishop Tlhagale said it is because of this double dealing that he assumes that our conversion to Christianity is incomplete. He advised that there should be more emphasis put on adult catechism which is almost non-existent. The Archbishop said people need to start reading and studying their faith and stop learning about their faith only when the prepare for confirmation.

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