Dandala elected to top Africa church post

President Thabo Mbeki yesterday congratulated the former head of the Methodist Church in South Africa, Bishop Mvumelwano Hamilton Dandala, on his election as general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC).

Making a short speech at the ceremony, Mbeki also reaffirmed that he was leaving for Liberia later that night. "I've received many messages that I shouldn't go to Liberia because people tell me its dangerous. I say its precisely because it is dangerous, because people are dying, that I should," Mbeki told his audience at Vista University in Soweto. Mbeki - while referring to his upcoming trip to Liberia - said Dandala, in his new capacity, would also also in future be forced to travel to dangerous destinations and see to it that the church looks after Africans that are dying needlessly.

The president added that the African continent was defining a new place for itself in the world and that the task of the AACC was likewise, to help Africa redefine itself.

"On January 1, 2004, we will be celebrating the bi-centenary of the formation of Haiti in the Caribbean. The slaves there fought off and defeated Napoleon's forces and in 1804 proclaimed the first independent black republic. "(But) we'll be asking ourselves what went wrong after that glorious victory 200 years ago, because after that Haiti regressed into greater poverty... With our new general secretary we have an important leader who will help reverse the disaster that came after the victory," Mbeki said. Dandala, who leaves for Kenya shortly, said he recognised the fact that what was being entrusted to him was the church's dream for Africa was being entrusted to him, that it should be restored to pursue its destiny, that it should be healed through Christ.

However, he pointed out that the church itself was also in need of healing and that the call for unity among different Christian denominations in practice often resulted in churches working in parallel and nothing more.

"This can be seen to have contributed to ethnicity. The division of the church, its divisive impact on our communities is a scandal that the church must address.

"The church has a divine duty to help Africans straighten their back so that they can stand firm. It is this sense of self worth that will stem the tide of globalisation and prevent it from swallowing Africa...

"I want to promise that the AACC will fight for justice and social righteousness and help Christ find a home in Africa," Dandala said.