ACCEPTANCE SPEECH BY THE REV PROF SIMANGALISO KUMALO, AT THE OCCASION OF HIS INDUCTION AS PRESIDENT OF THE SETH MOKITIMI METHODIST SEMINARY.
31 January 2016
The Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Chancellor of SMMS Dr Simon Gqubule, our the doyen of TE, Deputy Vice Chancellor & Principal of the College of Humanities, Prof C Potgieter, Inkosi of the Khumalo people in KZN, All Bishops here present, The leadership of the UCCSA, All ministers, All fraternal delegates, Heads of institutions and ecumenical bodies, The former president of the seminary, The chairperson of the Seminary Council, The student representatives and the entire student’s body, Friends and colleagues and lastly, My dear wife and family.
I thank the people called Methodists for giving me an opportunity to say something on such a historical occasion. I stand before you today to accept this appointment and show of confidence not with a sense of pride and achievement. I receive it with a sense of humility and trepidation. In both African culture and traditional Christian practice, you do not receive appointments to higher office with a sense of pride, achievement and victory. Two reasons account for this. First, you are expected to be aware that, any form of public office that you find yourself in, is a call to serve the people not yourself. Therefore your own will, agenda and ambition has to be sacrificed for the greater good. Second, you are also aware that there are many who are more qualified than you, who can even do a better job than you, but you have been offered to serve the people. Therefore it humbles you, when people give you a chance. It is with that in mind that I come into this office. I have no sense of pride and achievement whatsoever. Rather I am overwhelmed by the sense of calling to serve first the Methodist people and second the six nations that are part of our connexion through this great institution.
When I was welcomed into the ministry in November 3, 1993, at a service that was held at my home Church then, Orlando East Methodist Church, my pastor, the Rev Paul Verryn, by whose presence I am honored today, preached a powerful sermon, titled ‘Seek not to be Successful but to remain faithful to your calling.’ Those noble words have guided me in my ministry over the years. Success is not the language of the church but rather of the world, where dog-eats-dog. The church teaches us to remain faithful to our calling, not to seek accolades. It is my prayer and commitment to remain faithful to the calling by the Methodist people and those in the academy as I serve them in the leadership of this great institution.
Today’s service is historical in more than one way. Firstly it is historical in the sense that it’s happening in Pietermaritzburg which is the city of FEDSEM. That great ecumenical venture in theological education, experimented by the South African Church, whose legacy continues to linger over us. Secondly it is historical in the sense that the entire church leadership is here including people from across the borders of South Africa. I do want to emphasize that SMMS is not just a South African institution or project. The MCSA extends its boarders to Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia. Our people from those countries contributed to the building of this institution and also its sustenance equally to those within the SA boarders. Therefore this institution must not be minimized as an exclusively South African institution, but rather as a regional one. It is one of the most successful transnational projects we have in the region and that calls for celebration. That is why we draw students from all these countries. Thirdly it is historical in the sense that it is a rite of passage for me as an individual and for my family too. My immediate family is here to witness this occasion. My wonderful wife uMakhumalo, the children, my mother, my sisters, friends and the Khumalo people from all over KZN, Swaziland and Johannesburg. They are all here to say we are with you our son. We want to pray for you, to support you. I want to look at them and say Mantungwa ka Mbulase, Nina bakaMzilikazi obomvu kaMashobana, Nina enithi nidla nibe niyeng’ umuntu ngendaba, nina bakwaDonda weziziba. Thank you for giving me life, tradition, religion and above all, Methodism.
We have here today, people from a number of churches. We have people from Mahamba Circuit, Orlando Circuit in Soweto, Central Methodist and Brentwood Methodist Church. These are the people who have contributed to my upbringing. I would like to salute you all. My cousin and sisters from Soweto, umama uMakhaya and others like my adoptive father Mr. Mbhense who could not join us because of health reasons.
We also have my colleagues in the academy. First I would like to salute my senior line manager Prof Cheryl Potgieter, from UKZN, was the first one to demonstrate superior leadership by suggesting a joint appointment between UKZN and SMMS. The staff of Ujamaa is here, my colleagues from different departments in the university.
I also have deep and intimate friends, who know themselves, some are here and others could not make it. I am grateful to them for their support.
Lastly, Sir I am blessed by being part of an amazing team at SMMS. All the staff at SMMS have welcomed me well, be they academic, administrative or grounds staff. To all of them I would like to say that I am inspired by the story of leadership that I have heard, emanating from NASA, and the space agency in the US. It is said that all the employees at NASA were told to share the common vision of the organization, which was to build a machine that would enable them to put a human being on the moon. That was their primary, job no matter what role they played in the organization. So even if you asked a cleaner, or a tea-maker, ‘what is your job?’ they would answer by saying, ‘I am building a machine that will help us put a man in the moon’. To you, members of staff of this great institution, though we have different jobs, be they academic, administrative, or cleaning the grounds, may you know that your primary purpose at SMMS is to contribute to the training of ‘transforming leaders for church and nation’.
The day before yesterday, I had an opportunity to address our student body. The room was packed, with highly motivated and abled students. Some who are high achievers, some who are second career students and have great minds! I listened to them addressing one another, demonstrating superior leadership qualities, engaging me and the Dean of the Chapel on critical issues during the question and answer session. I left the meeting feeling that the future of the church and the nation is in good hands. There are extremely good students here that we need to embrace and support for the good of our nations. So Sir, I would like to assure you that with the caliber of students that we have here, our future as a church and a people is in good hands.
All of us have one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to ‘form transforming leaders for church and nation’. No one is more important than another. Now that I have thanked you all and you all feel so good about yourselves, let me tell you what is on my mind about this institution.
CHURCH AND EDUCATION
Before the arrival of missionaries, Africa was regarded as a dark continent. Some social anthropologists and arm chair theorists referred to Africa as a bizarre continent whose people were tabularasas (empty without anything in the head) beside arrogance and ignorance. With the arrival of Missionaries, institutions were built and our people began to learn.
It was only in mission schools that transformative education was imparted. Mission schools gave this nation its primary political and religious impetus. That is why it is not surprising that the first African elites, who pioneered the liberation of our people were graduates of mission schools. It was the schools of this great church that gave us, the Enoch Sontonga who wrote Nkosi Sikelela I Africa, Charlotte Maxeke, the first African women to attain a BSc from an American University, Albert Luthuli the first continental African to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Nelson Mandela who liberated us. Today this seminary must not only be a symbol of good education but a place of formation for innovative and transforming leaders.
THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION AS A LIFE-TRANSFORMING ENDEAVOR
By offering me this opportunity the MCSA is continuing with the transformation that started the day I became a minister in the MCSA in 1993. I am a country boy from the stony mountains of KwaHlathikhulu, who was destined for destruction, had it not been for the seeds of faith that were sown in me. Yet it was not faith alone that saw me develop from being secretary of YMG to Professor of a reputable university like UKZN, it was also through the intervention of the Methodist Church. I come from a very poor background and I got my university education through the assistance of the church. I am a testimony of how the Methodist community can transform lives. I stand here with a strong belief that in spite of the invasion of God’s Church by those who have manipulated it for selfish reasons, the Church is still a bearer of good news, it is still a viable agent of transformation as John Wesley once taught us as church that ‘There is no holiness but social holiness.’
THE UNIQUENESS OF SMMS IN THE AFRICAN THEOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE
Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary is in the order of other Methodist related Theological institutions such as Healdton, Lesseyton, Rhodes, FEDSEM and Kilnerton. It represents transformation, renewal and spirituality. It is a centre of excellence particularly when we juxtapose it with other quasi theological institutions that are training their students how to exploit the flock. Some abuse the gospel and use it as a medium to accumulate wealth. In the past we have witnessed how the church can destroy a nation by providing the much needed theological justification for separate development. Today there are many pastors who impose bizarre beliefs and practices upon their members. In spite of this, I stand here with a firm belief that SMMS should and will stand out in history as an institution that trains 21st century leaders, with the dignity of 18th century Methodism, which trained for social transformation and liberation of the oppressed.
A SEMINARY FOR ALL
This seminary is unique in the sense that although it is a Methodist institution, it does not close its doors to people of a different creed, faith, race or ethnicity. I want to submit to you, the leadership of the Methodist people, that SMMS will not be a place where people will be discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or whether they are nationals or foreigners. We are committed to teaching men that can be unchauvinistic, Africans that you can subvert the demon of ethnicity, whites that you can be free of the demon of racial superiority, heterosexuals that you can be embracing to people struggling with issues of sexual identity in a homophobic church and society, that you can be a your brother or sister’s keeper in a xenophobic country and that you can hold public office without being corrupt. This is what training transforming leaders is about.
THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION AS AN INTELLECTUAL PROJECT
SMMS is committed not only to training ministers for church ministry, but also for the sake of research, the production of knowledge and its dissemination thereafter. We hold the belief that faith and knowledge can be brought into a creative synergy. The tired debate about the dichotomization of what is sacred from the secular, science and religion, faith and wisdom, evidence versus experience, wisdom versus spirituality is not our priority in an African church and context. Ours is the knowledge that life is holistic, ours is to work through these intricate and complex spheres in order to find life-giving knowledge, faith and mission. It is with this understanding that SMMS will continue to improve its partnership with public institutions such as UKZN, where rigorous research is the primary agenda of the theological enterprise. In this regard three academics from SMMS have made applications to be accepted as Honorary Research Associates at UKZN, we have also committed ourselves to encouraging great minds amongst our students to pursue postgraduate studies at UKZN and other institutions, and we have agreed to start a research unit at SMMS as soon as possible.
Sir, the staff and management of SMMS welcome the clarion call by our principals that SMMS shall be an ecumenical project. This means that we are called to collaborate with other denominations in the training of their leaders, whilst retaining the Methodist ethos and essence. It is with the commitment to ecumenism that we have welcomed the offer of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa to recognize SMMS as their official institution for the training of their ministers. This will symbolically be demonstrated by the signing of the MOU between the two churches. We are also grateful to say that even in our student body we have students from the UCCSA and the Presbyterian Church and more are still to come.
Lastly Sir, I want to put it on record that SMMS longs for young people from all race groups to come and do theological education with us. In the past few years we have observed with unease the decline of the numbers of white young men and women joining the ministry and coming for training at SMMS. We would like to say that SMMS is open for business for all people especially those in the minority groups. It is with that in mind that, this year we are very excited that after 3 years of not receiving new candidates from the minority groups we seem to be turning the corner. We promise to make this a programme for all people who feel the call to serve God and we shall train them all without fear nor favor. As an educator myself I know that there is no neutral education because all education is political. Every curriculum is political, institutions are political. But my plea and pledge is that SMMS shall transcend the ordinary by becoming a Centre for Truth and Enlightenment.
VISION FOR THE FUTURE
SMMS shall be a centre for doing research and not a playground for those who specialize in party and church politics. This should be a place where people will drink from the wells of knowledge and grace and then learn to speak the truth to power.
The vision is to build an international profile for the seminary on behalf of the Methodist people. This institution belongs to God and it is entrusted to the people called Methodists. It has been loaned to us by future generations and we cannot afford to personalize it neither can we afford to run it down.
We shall endeavor to balance rigorous research and credible education with ministerial formation so that our graduates will be suitable for the challenges facing Africa and the world. We do not want to produce ministers for Africa only, but for the world.
I would want to thank the church and all stakeholders for having demonstrated such confidence in me. I implore the staff members and the students to work with us. We have a great job to do. History will judge us. But my hope is that, when future generations look back at what we will endeavor to do for them in and through SMMS, that they can utter Winston Churchill’s great words of wisdom and appreciation. ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few.’
God Bless You and May God Bless the MCSA.
Rev Prof S Kumalo