Very little theological work is being done in relation to African urbanization and Africa’s urban complexities. Yet, African cities will double in population by 2050, to stand at a staggering 1,5 billion people. Currently Africa is the continent with the fastest rate of urbanization, and cities like Lagos, Kinshasa and even the Gauteng City-Region will count among the largest cities in the world by 2030.
In 2020 the Centre for Contextual Ministry will transition into the Centre for Faith and Community, merging the work of the Centre for Contextual Ministry, the Centre for Public Theology, and the ecological agenda of the Nova Institute. We do theology, engagement in communities and transdisciplinary research against the backdrop of the African city, and the Gauteng City-Region.
It is within this context that our research theme – Faith in the city – has become a central part of our Centre’s agenda. What are the contours of faith in the African city today? Are faith communities contributing in ways that are liberating or oppressive? Do we have faith in the possibility of African cities – with 62% of urban dwellers currently living in informal settlements or urban slums – to be safe, nourishing, life-affirming and flourishing human spaces for all?
In our research project, “Urban Africa 2050”, 15 scholars from 15 theological institutions and 15 African cities, imagined together what theological education or formation should look like, if it was to mediate flourishing African cities. This resulted in recommendations for curriculum transformation, and the creation of an African network committed to urbanized theological education.
We connect nationally with those committed to urban land justice, as expressed in access to affordable and well-located housing. During a recent Old Testament conference on land, we organized a panel of land and housing activists and politicians, sharing local contestations, imaginaries and strategies, for advancing access to urban land justice.
At a local level, we are now in the second configuration of the “Pathways out of homelessness” research project. Phase 1 produced a policy and strategy on street homelessness in the City of Tshwane, whilst serving as a catalyst for launching a national network on street homelessness. Phase 2 of this project is paying closer attention to the growing number of older people being homeless; the reality of student homelessness; and the suburbanization of homelessness, whilst advising Statistics South Africa on “hard-to-count” populations for the 2020 Census.
Many of our second year Theology and Religion students engaged in urban communities in 2019, where they developed a sensitivity for the realities of urban vulnerability, in many forms, through deep listening, and practices of mutual sharing. We offer a one-year programme as part of postgraduate course work, titled Leadership in Urban Transformation, with cohorts in both Gauteng and Cape Town.
We grow in an awareness of the necessity for theology, activism and healing to dwell together – to inform and shape each other, into mutually deepening forms of prophetic praxis. Apart from our courses in urban and community transformation, and missional congregational development, the greatest demand is for courses dealing with trauma, healing and counselling. This is symptomatic of the wounded communities of African cities and towns, crying for both healing and justice. This also requires a more dedicated focus on ethical public leadership, a hope Vuyani Vellem held for our newly imagined Centre.
Transitioning from 2019 to 2020, and into the new Centre for Faith and Community, we will continue to improve our course content and pedagogical approaches, do engaged research that can contribute to tangible change, and create transdisciplinary spaces in which scholars, practitioners, community members and activists, can share challenges and find solutions together.
In doing all of the above, we do not dare forget that Africa is young, and our course offerings need to be reconsidered through the lense of children and the youth, in particular those facing precarious daily lives. Our capacity is thin and the landscapes of struggle and hope beg us to join in. We need to raise the bar in terms of resources, staffing and quality of output, if we are to honour our vocation.
Stephan de Beer
“We have come to a growing appreciation of theology as change-making and research as the organisation of transformation”