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3 April 2019
Class Of 2019: Zukile Ngqeza on Positive Theology, Social Cohesion And Food Security

(Published - 3 April 2019)

“Food is about more than just eating; its availability and/or scarcity can form or break relationships among people and among peoples. That’s as true today (consider how food scarcity helped drive the xenophobic attacks in South Africa) as it was thousands of years ago.”

Those relationships are what University of the Western Cape Master’s student Zukile Ngqeza explored in his thesis, The relationship between ideology, food (in)security and socio-religious cohesion in the Old Testament with special reference to Deuteronomy and eighth century prophets - a thesis that earned him an MTh degree in Religion and Theology at UWC’s April Graduation on 3 April 2019.

“I am very proud of myself to be able to graduate with a Master’s Degree at UWC,” Zukile says. “I am grateful to God for sanity; strength and perseverance.”

In the eighth century BCE - long before the Bible or even the Old Testament was collected in its current form - prophets like Micah explained how food is used as a metaphor for broken cohesion between people.

“For instance, God accuses religious leaders of ‘eating the flesh of His people’,” Zukile explains. “On the other hand ‘planting; reaping and eating’ are used as eschatological metaphors of renewed cohesion with Yahweh and with ‘brothers’.”

But Zukile’s research established that the relationship between the ideology of the Book of Deuteronomy; food (in)security and socio-religious cohesion is not always predictable.

“Sometimes food availability brings cohesion among people,” he says. “And sometimes the scarcity of food can cause people to lose the values of care and solidarity - as is the case, for example, with cannibalism in the book of Deuteronomy.”

Despite the grisly topic he explored, Zukile still believes firmly in the positive aspects of theology - especially as it is practiced today. Nowadays, he notes, theologians - and especially theologians from Third World Countries - encourage "theology from below" rather than "theology from above".

“These are life affirming theologies rather than life denying theologies,” he explains. “These are theologies that seek to liberate the oppressed bodies - like people of colour, women, people living with disabilities as well as gender non-conforming bodies. The new developments are interdisciplinary approaches to religion and theology such as using gender, race, disability, trauma and more as the "lens" to reading sacred texts.”

Positive Theology: Affirming Life Through Spirituality

Zukile Ngqeza was born and bred in Port Elizabeth, and grew up with school teachers as his heroes and role models.

“I always knew that when I grow up my life would have something to do with books,” he says. “The dream of being an academic held till today.”

After matric Zukile decided to enroll for a BA in Theology so that he could become an ordained pastor in his denomination, the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

“But as I learned more about theology I realised that there is more to it than just being a full-time minister. I am passionate about doing theology in ways that seek to make this world a better place for all.”

After he visited UWC just to inquire about the possibility of studying in the Department of Religion and Theology, he knew he had to study at the University.

“Coming to UWC is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!” he enthuses. “I owe my gratitude to my UWC lecturers: Prof Ernst Conradie (who assisted me in receiving the Andrew Mellon Foundation Scholarship for my Masters Degree); Prof Douglas Lawrie (My Thesis Supervisor) and Dr Miranda Pillay (I regard her as my mentor).”

So what’s next for Zukile?

“I am planning to pursue a PhD in Biblical Studies with a special focus in Childist Biblical Hermeneutics,” he says. “My dream is to be a Professor and a leading expert/researcher in my field.”

Zukile believes firmly in the positive aspects of theology, and in living life to the fullest (even if he is a little shy).

“I try to live life as positively as I can,” he says. “I enjoy walking, eating out, watching reality shows and coffeeing - yes, it is a word, or it should be anyway!”