Category Archives: Soo Tian Lee

An Open Letter to Church Leaders in the United Kingdom

An Open Letter to Church Leaders in the United Kingdom
21 February 2010

Dear church leaders in the United Kingdom,

I would like to draw your attention to a situation of great injustice that is festering in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal South Africa. In response to their campaigns for economic and social rights for shack dwellers, members of Abahlali baseMjondolo (Abahlali), a community movement based in the shack settlement of Kennedy Road, have been subjected to violent attacks, forced evictions and unjust court proceedings since September last year. The most worrying fact about these travesties is that they appear to have been conducted with the knowledge and tacit support of local authorities and structures of the governing party. This repression of a democratic organisation, brings back memories of the oppressive days of apartheid in the country.

The church, particularly the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, has been exemplary in its response to the injustice inflicted on Abahlali and its members. Rubin Phillip, the Bishop of Natal, was one of the first to speak out when the attacks occurred and has consistently done so up till today. Archbishop Thabo Cecil Makgoba endorsed one of Bishop Phillip’s first statements. Other South African churches, including the Methodist Church, the Catholic Church and numerous others have banded together to express their solidarity through organising prayer meetings outside the courts where proceedings – highly questionable in their fairness – are being brought against Abahlali members. Joint statements have also been issued under the South African Council of Churches and the Diakonia Council of Churches.

In Archbishop Rowan Williams’ address to Anglican leaders in South Africa during the TEAM Conference in 2007, he stressed that the in the Bible, justice requires that no-one be forgotten and no-one be invisible. Poor people in South Africa, disempowered as they are, are commonly forgotten and ‘made’ invisible by more affluent citizens and the global community. One sometimes wonders how the history of the church in this period will be written. If the church is to bear witness to our crucified Lord, it must indeed not only walk humbly, but also act justly and love mercy. I believe part of all this is speaking out against the injustices occurring in our world today.

Bishop Phillip, in a statement released shortly after the attacks, urged concerned people to convey their concerns to South African political leaders. Church leaders, it is my hope that all of you will be gracious enough to use your good offices and communicate to President Jacob Zuma your concerns on the matter, supporting the calls made by your fellow leaders in South Africa for justice to be served and an independent inquiry into the attacks made. I also hope you would consider either making your intervention public, or at least issuing a statement in this connection.

I believe this is of the utmost importance because, as one prominent theologian has stated, ‘if any one is deprived or diminished, something is wrong with everything in the Church.’

Yours sincerely in Christ,
Soo Tian Lee

P.S. I have compiled a short list of weblinks to the statements by church leaders referred to in this letter, as well as a couple of other background documents here: