“A New Dawn: Reflections on South Africa’s Democracy” 

Thabo Makgoba speaking at a podium

Thabo Makgoba is the archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa; metropolitan of the Anglican Church of the ecclesiastical province of Southern Africa; and chancellor of the University of the Western Cape. 

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See the honorary degree citation read by President Biddy Martin at the 2019 Commencement ceremony.


Femi Vaughan: My name is Femi Vaughan. I teach African Studies and African Diaspora Studies here at Amherst College. Uh, welcome to Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, his lecture on South Africa. Before I introduce a guest speaker, I would like to acknowledge Mrs. Makgoba. She is right here in front of them, front seat. Thank you so much for joining us and welcome to everyone and thank you all for joining us. I am delighted to introduce Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, a foremost theologian and eminent leader of the global Anglican communion as the guest lecturer. This morning, Archbishop Makoba is the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town South Africa. He's also metropolitan of the Anglican Church of the ecclesiastical province of southern Africa and Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape. After earning his bachelor's degree from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Archbishop Makoba trained as a priest at Saint Paul's College in Grahamstown, South Africa before being ordained Archbishop Makoba earned a second bachelor's degree and a master's degree in applied psychology from WITS and a Doctorate in Spirituality at the University of Cape Town. Among many notable achievements, Archbishop Makoba holds four honorary degrees and serves on the board of many civic and religious organizations in South Africa and around the world. The youngest person ever elected Anglican Bishop, Archbishop of Cape Town, Archbishop Makoba has worked tirelessly, and I think this is very important to encourage an open and progressive dialog on pressing matters of difference in South Africa's rapidly changing society. I was just talking earlier a few minutes ago to the archbishop that when I was approached by our president Biddy Martin to serve as escort of the Archbishop, somebody who I've been, uh, paying attention to his work for quite some time. I felt so honored and humbled in large measure because of his work on matters of reconciliation, peaceful coexistence across faiths in South Africa, in Africa, on a whole range of questions. Archbishop Makoba's lecture is titled "A New Dawn: Reflections on South Africa's Democracy." I am delighted to welcome Archbishop Thabo Makgoba to our College

Thabo Makgoba: I've never needed my cassock like I do today. Uh, my daughter 
calls  the cassock that we wear in church "my dad's long red dress." It hides how my knees are feeling at the moment. But let me acknowledge Professor Femi and to thank you so much for your kind introduction. When we spoke, I said to him. Please don't worry about the other things that you read about me. Just say,  he is a priest and he is married to Lungelwa and I've got two children, so that is my greatest achievement. But thank you so much though for that introduction and thanks to the chairperson of the honorary degrees committee and to the council and to Professor Biddy Martin for inviting me, uh, to this wonderful place. I need to acknowledge a dear friend, Father John Paterson, uh, in our midst. In the year in which we are celebrating the 25 anniversary of the Liberation of South Africa, I really have a great pleasure and joy in bringing greetings to you, the citizens of one of the world's older democracy from your sisters and brothers in South Africa, one of the well younger democracy. And just this morning I woke my wife, early and say, you have to watch South Africa is inaugurating a new president. And she kept on saying, where's that? because it was quite early in the morning. I didn't bother more. In  my mother, tongue, Sepedi, on occasions like this, we say "Rea lotsha and I add, ke tag ke lehabo." Translated into English, this means: "Greetings, I'm so intoxicated by joy."

Thabo Makgoba: If you wanted to respond in Sepedi, you will say, "ogee" or "thobela."  In English, basically you're saying we see you and we see your joy. But today I want to ask you to say Thobela or age. But today's also very special day because in our continent we are celebrating Africa Day.

Thabo Makgoba:  Africa Day was instituted on the 25th of May in 1963 when the organization of Africa Union decided that they wanted to help Rhodesia, South Africa, Angola and Mozambique to be liberated. But in the churches calendar today we remember Venerable Bede, a good theologian among, uh, who wrote a lot of English history. And as I said, we also inaugurated a new president in South Africa. I run a much smaller scale. It is a very special day for me because 17 years ago today I was consecrated a bishop in the Church of God, so this is indeed a very special day for me. I want to thank the president and other leaders of this great institution warmly for inviting me here this weekend. I must confess, I hardly feel worthy of the honor that is to be bestowed on me, especially if you consider the credentials of our greatest generations that lead us of our countries such as Nelson Mandela, who my generation has replaced. In the church, I've been fortunate to follow in the footsteps of a series of church leaders, renowned for their advocacy of justice and peace. Notably my predecessor, the 1984 winner of the Nobel peace prize, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who lives within 30 minutes of me in Cape Town. I see him regularly and he is well, although aging that he has asked me to send you his greetings and also his special thanks to those of you who campaigned tirelessly in the 1970s at the 1980s for an end to apartheid sort of.

Thabo Makgoba:  Our democracy may be a lot younger than yours, but our nation's share a great deal in common. We were vivid, vividly reminded of this half a century ago when a member of a prominent family with deep roots in Massachusetts came to South Africa at the height of apartheid state. In the words of one of our newspapers at the time, the visit of Robert F. Kennedy was like a gust of fresh air swooping into a stuffy room. In the highlight of his tour, he gave a stirring speech at one of my Alma Mater, the University of Cape Town. I learned that in the United State, his speech is best known as his "Ripples of Hope" speech because of his stirring declaration that every time someone stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes against injustice, that person sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And that coming from a million different places, those ripples build a current which can strip down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance inside Africa.

Thabo Makgoba: However, it was the opening words of Robert Kennedy's speech, which first resonated with us. Allow me also to quote from them. He began, "I come here because of my deep interest and affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid 17th century, then taken over by the British and at last independent. A land in which the massive inhabitants were at first subdued, a relation with whom remain a problem to this day. A land which defined itself on hostile frontier land, which has tamed rich natural resources through energetic application of modern technology and land, which was once importer of slaves and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that form of bondage." End quote. Of course, we thought he was talking about us, but we were taken completely by surprise when he continued with his words and I quote again: "I refer of course to the United States of American." Close quotes.

Thabo Makgoba: Such are the many parallels you can find in our different countries. Democ-histories. I had cause to reflect on the similarities of our respective heritages last year when I spent a few days staying in lower Manhattan as the guest of our friends in the Episcopal church that is [inaudible] to Wall Street there. I first visited the New York branch of the National Museum of American Indian where I found the ceremonial rituals and dance of the area's inhabitants of the Americas. Interestingly, similar to those of my rural forebears back at home. Also similar was the way in which European missionaries had conflated Western culture with the Gospel are growing the traditional cultural practices of indigenous peoples after branding them as dancing with the devil. But what affected me the most was reading about how just as settlers from another continent fought and dispossessed the original inhabitants of southern Africa, including my ancestors during the 18th and 19th century.

Thabo Makgoba: So had they done the same in the United States on another day, a visit to the African burial ground, National Monument on Broadway reminded me of the latest similarities between the South African and American experiences of colonialism and slavery. 30 years after the Dutch west, East India company colonized Manhattan, Manhattan, the Dutch East India company colonize what is now Cape Town. The main source often slaved Africans shipped into New York by the Dutch was Angola in southern Africa. And when the British took over the colony, they spread the slaving net to incorporate west Africa. And at one stage mother Augusta Madagascar under Dutch rule, Cape Town initially received shipments of enslaved people from Angola and West Africa. Later they came from Madagascar, the east African coast, India and Indonesia. Of course, much has changed since Robert Kennedy's first visit to South Africa in 1966 helped by pressure from people overseas such as yourselves and especially by young people on college campuses.

Thabo Makgoba:  We overthrew apartheid in a peaceful revolution and then we addressed the evils of the past by establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Desmond Tutu headed after his retirement as Archbishop. The commission said for three years took over more than 20,000 statements from the survivors of human rights violation under partake and held hundred and 40 televised hearings across the country in which the five survivors could tell the country their stories. Those stories are often horrifying and the acts they described almost beyond comprehension. We have the sets of the account of the Truth and Reconciliation in my library at home and I must confess that I've not been able to even read a quarter of the first account. We also did something unique in the world unlike in Germany of the Second World War. We did not hold the equivalent of the Nuremberg trials.

Thabo Makgoba: Well, we did not have the resources, but nor did we let the perpetrators off scott-free as happened in Chile or other countries doing what would have further victimized the survivors by silencing their past. And so denying the awfulness and the lasting legacy of the experiences. Instead, we developed something unique in the world which has set a new example for other countries. We chose what I call a middle path by offering amnesty to perpetrators of human rights violation, but only if they made full confession of their crimes. In that way, we learned the truth and the truth opened away for the degree of reconciliation. I learned that there are those in this country who advocate a similar process to address the legacy of slavery. But in another respect since the end of apartheid, we have become more like you in the United State in that we abolish

Thabo Makgoba:  the old minority government which denied the rights to vote to black South Africans and adopted a new constitution with a bill of rights giving everyone the right to vote. In our case, we have what we like to describe as one of the most progressive constitutional order in the world. We have abolished the death penalty. The constitution recognizes LGBTQI rights including the rights to marry under civil law. Although as an aside, I have to acknowledge that in that respect, the state is more progressive than the religious community. Cheslow in most denominations still adheres to the position that the sacrament of marriage is only for a man and a woman.

Thabo Makgoba: In government, like you, we have three branches, the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary, and we have a vigorous fourth estate. The press and the media whose rights are also protected by the constitution. The rights of this system has been demonstrated vividly in recent years. As many of you might have read for nearly a decade until last year, our executive was badly corrupted by the action of the president at that time, who allowed his friends and allies to seize control of major state institutions, awarding govern contracts to corrupt payers of bribes and undermining the justice system to prevent them from being prosecuted. Unfortunately, some of the world's biggest names in accounting and management consultancy, including a leading American consultancy were complicit in these activities. But a combination of the media, uh, vibrant nongovernmental organization and civil society, the church and outstanding work of the judiciary has held the executive to account bringing so much pressure to bear on the governing party, that it was forced to act on his own, to fire the president before the end of his term. I've just read, if I may digress a bit, one of our newspapers, where the former president didn't go to the inauguration of the new president and the caption in that newspaper, says: Former president sells socks and vests in order to raise money for his legal cases."

Thabo Makgoba:  I have recently been critical of the failure of our parliament to hold executive accountable and a battle for control by opposing factions of the governing party is still being wasted. But just a few weeks ago, as I said, we elected a new administration and today we are proud that the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was inaugurated. There are still some bad apples in the bottle. But President Ramaphosa has vowed to bring us a new dawn. He has initiated a series of public inquiries into the corruption which are exposing the rot in live television broadcast, and he's acting to restore the integrity of the police and prosecution agencies. So as a result of the strength of the institutions of our democracy, I'm not only hopeful but optimistic about our future. Indeed, I'm on the record at home as saying that these recent elections have the potential to be the genesis and catalyst of our nation's renewal

Thabo Makgoba:  thus writing the beginning not only of a new chapter in our history but an entire new book that will define our children and our grandchildren's lifetime. May it be so in South Africa and may I make bold to say, may it be so also in the United State at a time when the threat of war is on the horizon in Iran. I pray that you will be able to avoid unnecessary conflict and that in the years to come, you too will realize the enormous potential which your nation with its enormous inner strength has for renewal and rebirth in the years to come. So God bless you. God bless our Africa, God bless America. God loves you. All Americans or Africans and the whole of humanity, as well as the whole of God's creation. May we fulfill God's desire that we preserve and protect all God's children and all God's creation for our children and our grandchildren's to come. Thank you.

Thabo Makgoba speaking at a podium

2019 Honorary Degrees

Read more about Amherst’s 2019 honorary degree recipients, and see the degree citations read by President Martin at Commencement.