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UWC Faculty of Theology Alumni Reunion - "Returning to the place of our liberation"

Author: Lyndon Julius

On Heritage Day, members of UWC’s former Faculty of Theology gathered online for a virtual alumni reunion to commemorate fighting fearlessly against the apartheid system – while a physical discussion panel was in attendance on campus.

(Published - 29 September 2020)

On Heritage Day, 24 September 2020, members of the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) former Faculty of Theology embarked on a reflective journey through the decades as a Tokkelok, or Tokkies as they were known. A panel of esteemed alumni gathered in person and some virtually, to commemorate a faculty which fought fearlessly against the apartheid system.

Founded in 1965, five years after UWC opened its doors. The faculty was initially situated in Wellington but would relocate back to the main campus in Bellville.

UWC Rector and Vice-Chancellor Professor Tyrone Pretorius, Professor Nico Botha, Reverend Birgit Krome, Professor Xolile Simon, Professor PJJS Els, Professor J Klaasen and Ds Mariete Frantz introduced the Anthology about the Faculty of Theology. Dr Llewellyn MacMaster and Ds Anne-Marie Cloete-Damons co-hosted the event and Ms Patricia Lawrence, Director of the Department for Institutional Advancement at UWC, gave a word of appreciation.

The apartheid government’s strategy was to create a university where coloureds would be educated and integrated back into the “coloured business world”. This tactic backfired as the very institution – or Bush College – designed to fuel apartheid ideologies turned on the regime. The institution moulded some of the most outstanding anti-apartheid leaders, including Dr Allan Boesak, who was a founding leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF).  

“We went into the struggle, taking our faith with us, comforted by the One [Jesus Christ] who, in Daan Cloete’s elegant phrasing, came to show us God’s ‘heavenly solidarity’; the One [Jesus Christ] upon whom the Spirit of the Lord rested,” Dr Boesak, the keynote speaker, emphasised in his address. “We debated endlessly, and more and more understood the vital, and for us, deadly intertwinement of white Christianity, imperialism, colonialism, apartheid, the NG Kerk and her impact on us politically, socially, economically, ideologically, and theologically.”

Dr Boesak, known for his captivating and moralistic approach to addressing the masses, made mention of another great struggle hero, Steve Biko. “In his reflections on the life of Steve Biko, Father Aeldred Stubbs writes about the uplifting realities of Black solidarity and remarks how the Western Cape was one of the most militant places during that era. But some act as if what Father Stubbs said about the Western Cape and the Black Consciousness revolution, was not doubly true for the UDF.”

Rev Krome, who was an exchange student during the 80s, mentioned how severe the apartheid laws were.

“As a student from Germany, I was faced with seeing and experiencing apartheid through the eyes of my fellow Tokkeloks. This helped shape my thinking not only of South Africa but also the impact that religious leaders have on society. For the first time, I saw Muslim and Christian leaders standing in unison against something so vile and horrific, fighting as one.”

Prof Simon, who was one of the first black students in the faculty, noted how, despite the ecumenical and cultural differences that existed, he did not feel out of place.

“Here I was, a black student from the Eastern Cape, having to face a different form of Christianity – different denominations and then there were the Afrikaans lectures,” Prof Simon said. “This, however, did very little to deter me from finding my home here as a Tokkelok. When we were reflecting on the text after the day’s lectures, it was here where I experienced the uniformity and how the previous generations of solidarity could be ‘felt’ in the very essence of this faculty.”

Despite being physically separated from its main campus in Bellville, the faculty had made a tremendous impact on the institution.

Professor Nico Botha called the 1960s, the formative years not only of UWC but the theology faculty as well.

“The 1960s was a generation of Tokkelokke that created a locus of liberation for all,” Prof Botha said. “It was, however, the 70s that started with a bang. We had the workers strike in January 1973. UWC was no longer seen as a place of political injustice created by the apartheid government, but it became a place of inspiration. In 1976, with the uprising across the country, it was our chaplain, Dr Boesak that inspired us with his ‘Farewell to Innocence’ thesis.”

Farewell to Innocence: A Socio-Ethical Study on Black Theology and Black Power was later published in book form.

The Faculty of Theology at UWC closed its doors in 1999 and moved to the University of Stellenbosch. The move was a very trying time for Dr MacMaster.  

“I was cross-questioned, basically summoned by my peers, my fellow Tokkies, asking me how we could make such a decision and join up with the very institutions we had to fight against.  I had basically transgressed from the side which we fought and stood against to being on the side of the so-called enemies,” said Dr MacMaster, who gave input during the decision making process.

The Department of Religion and Theology returned to UWC as part of the Faculty of Arts in 2000. It continues the long and proud history of theological training at UWC since the inception of the Faculty of Theology in 1965.

A plaque, the brainchild of Ds Derrick Marco was unveiled during the reunion to pay homage to members of the faculty. It was only fitting that Oom Daan Cloete, as he was affectionately known as a lecturer, unveiled the plaque which reads: “This plaque commemorates the Faculty of Theology at UWC. 1965-1999. The Place of Our Liberation. (Spiritually, Ecumenically, Intellectually). “God is a God of indivisible, radical justice, radical equality, and radical inclusion.” – Dr Allan Boesak. Gal. 3: 28-29. Unveiled by Professor GD (Daan) Cloete. 24 September 2020.” 

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