South Africa's president Thabo Mbeki reinforced his dedication to continuing partnership between his government and the Anglican Church during a March 9 meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, and Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Southern Africa.
The meeting, requested by Ndungane and attended by the president's director general, Frank Chikane, was held at the president's residence in Pretoria, about 60 kilometers from Boxburg where more than 400 Anglicans are meeting for the Towards Effective Anglican Mission (TEAM) conference.
"That the Archbishop is in the country and that we're able to meet helps us to reinforce the message that our common work is not yet done," Mbeki told media gathered after the meeting. 9Full text of the media briefing available here).
"There are these common challenges of peace, of development in this country, on the continent, of poverty and so on, and questions of morality, of the soul," he said, noting that the government works very closely with Ndungane in addressing those issues. "So I am very, very glad that the Archbishop of Canterbury came, the head of the Anglican community globally, in reality to reinforce this partnership which is indeed very, very long-standing."
Mbeki acknowledged that the role of the Anglican Church, both domestically and in the rest of the world during the struggle against apartheid, is well known. "So we will continue to maintain [that relationship] to address the new challenges of the day," he said.
Williams described the conversation as "wide-ranging, instructive and encouraging," and noted that South Africa has a very special place in his heart "as in the hearts of many people in the Anglican Church."
Referring to the TEAM conference, which is addressing the church's involvement in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Williams said that the meeting with Mbeki offered "a very special opportunity to discuss ... some of the ways in which the church here in South Africa is contributing, especially at the grass-roots level, to the meeting of those goals, and how more effective partnership between the churches and government here could help take forward those crucial goals for the good, not only of this country, but of the whole continent."
Williams described his visit to South Africa in the 80s, when he and his wife, Jane, did some work for the church, as "a crucial time for us, and it has been wonderful to be back in the country to see the changes, see the challenges, to pick up some old friendships and to make some new ones."
Ndungane has met with the Mbeki regularly throughout the president's term in office.
He noted that Williams has "a deep love" for South Africa and that it only seemed natural that he should pay a courtesy call on the president. "Archbishop Rowan was here during the height of the apartheid era and gave us great encouragement at that time," he said. "He had longed to come and see post-liberalization South Africa."
Asked about the importance of church and government leaders building strong working relationships, Ndungane told Episcopal News Service: "We are all leaders in God's world, but with different responsibilities. It is important for the world leadership to meet and to partner with one another, particularly as the eighth Millennium Development Goal talks about creating a global partnership."
Ndungane identified three pillars for ensuring sustainable development: government, which opens the space in which to work; private sector, which provides the know-how and the resources; and the church, which offers the moral and spiritual resources.
"The faith communities are in touch with the grassroots to ensure effective delivery," he said. "They cover every square inch of this continent. The poor are in our pews. We have to make sure that not just the spiritual, but the physical needs are met."
Structured partnerships, Ndungane said, are needed "to create a space that allows constructive criticism and an opportunity to influence policy."
Prior to meeting with Mbeki, Williams spoke with Sheila Sisula, an Anglican who is the deputy executive director of the World Food Program (WFP).
"If the church can put their experiences behind the challenges of the 21st century, we can really have a great impact on this continent and the world," Sisula told Williams at the house of the vice chancellor of Pretoria University, Barney Pityana.
Anglicans in Development, an initiative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to equip one of Africa's largest civil society networks with the ability to design and implement better poverty-reduction programs, has established a partnership between the Anglican church and WFP to meet people's educational and nutritional needs.
Williams leaves South Africa March 9 for Angola, the newest diocese in the Anglican Communion and part of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, for a three-day visit to experience the role of the church in its post-conflict era. During his stay, he will meet with the country's president and minister of education.
An audio stream of the media briefing following the meeting with Mbeki will be available later today here. More information about TEAM is available at the conference website. Continuing ENS coverage is available here.