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Anti-apartheid cleric Boesak set to return to South African politics


South African church cleric Allan Boesak is on the verge of giving up his church positions and returning to a leadership role in politics.

Boesak, a leader of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, was sidelined by his organization, the now-ruling African National Congress, in the 1990s after becoming embroiled in an extramarital affair and a corruption scandal. He served one year in jail after being convicted of fraud.

Boesak is currently moderator of the Cape synod of the Uniting Reformed Church, one of several groups of the Reformed Church, which is still divided in South Africa on race lines almost 15 years since the country held its first universal suffrage elections after the end of apartheid.

Boesak indicated on 3 October that he would resign his church positions after he had earlier been accused during a synod debate of abusing the 1986 Belhar Declaration, which condemns all forms of discrimination, and which Boesak said his own church was misusing against homosexuals.

His likely departure from church leadership coincides with the worst crisis in the ANC since it took power in 1994. The party first ousted Thabo Mbeki as its president in December 2007, replacing him with Jacob Zuma, and then in September pressured Mbeki to resign as president of South Africa.

This has caused deep divisions within the ANC, and this week a breakaway faction of Mbeki sympathisers is expected to form a new party.

In an interview with Independent Newspapers on 7 October, Boesak revealed he was engaged in talks to mount a new coalition of religious, community and youth organizations along the lines of the United Democratic Front that he helped launch in 1983 to oppose the apartheid government, and which acted as the ANC, which was a banned movement at the time.

He also said people behind plans to launch a breakaway party spearheaded by disaffected ANC leaders had approached him. "Some of those people have come knocking on my door, and I have said I will listen to what they have to say," said Boesak, "but I do not think people who have been involved in the dominant party for the past 15 years can regain the trust of the community."

Boesak said his proposed civil society coalition was needed to force politicians to heed the will of the people. He also noted that the "over hasty" decision to disband the UDF in 1991 was the "biggest mistake" because it saw South Africans who had fought to end apartheid hand over power to ANC leaders who had spent most of their time in exile.

"They came with a different experience, a different view and a totally different set of values but we were too afraid to say anything," said Boesak.

Civil society "took a back seat", and put its trust, which has since been betrayed, in the ANC, said Boesak. "The churches were silent when it came to speaking critically about whether government was doing the right thing … I think the time has come for civil society to realise that too much power was given to the politicians."

 (c) Ecumenical News International