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Pondering the South African Memesphere – Looking for the Good in Everything

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Societies Exhibition at Stellenbosch University (1 of 2)

January 29th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 18 Comments

As I write this, I’m sitting in the student centre at Stellenbosch University, where the yearly societies exhibition takes place. A new year, a new set of first years looking for an identity and a place to belong, many away from home for the first time, likely feeling somewhat insecure or emotionally vulnerable.

This is South Africa, it seems everyone is a Christian. For many Christians, a large part of settling down in a new location is finding a community of faith that they feel at home in. While there is good church-state separation in South Africa, the University, a serious secular academic institution, has many religious student societies. And this is good, because it is what the students need in order to function effectively.

I count eight stalls for Christian societies: Shofar (the biggest and/or most vocal pentecostal church in Stellenbosch), Every Nation (an international family of pentecostalal churches, the local branch was formerly called His People), Ansoc (Anglican Students Society), NACS (New-Apostolic Church Society), NewGen Society (a church based in Somerset West), Christians@Maties (a new society with the aim to open some inter-denominational communication), Crux-Aksies (Crux-actions, a collection of outreach groups, primarily associated with the Dutch-Reformed church) and Canticum Novum (a church choir which falls under Crux-Aksies but has it’s own stall). In a cute juxtaposition, the stall of Freethinking Maties, with heaps of fascinating books and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos playing, is right next to one of the literalistic young-earth societies, the NewGen society. And on the other side of NewGen, Lesbigay. I love diversity.

Social Action societies and Political societies

There are societies for two political parties: the ACDP (the African Christian Democratic party, the party Shofar encouraged its members to vote for in the previous election), and the DA (The Democratic Alliance, typically considered to be the strongest opposition party to the ANC).

On the social action front: Habitat for Humanity, UNA-SA (United Nations Association, South Africa), Die Landsdiensbeweging (ickily literally: the country-serving-movement).

Other Societies

Adam Tas (in support of, and in defence of, Afrikaans), Adlib TheatreSports, Bhakti Yoga, Black Management Forum, BTK (Berg- en Toerklub), DASUS (for the Deutsch), a Debating society, Die Matie (the student newspaper), Dis-Maties (in support of disabled students), Golden Key International Honour Society, Matie Productions (for students keen on movie making), Pulp (the film society), SUPS (a Poetry society), the Wine society (obvious, famous for being the only place you can drink wine on your student account ;) ), and I might have missed some.

Some discussions with the Religious societies

I was hoping to have a discussion with each of the religious stalls to hear what their stance is on things such as science, state-church separation and secular ethics. (E.g. issues such as homosexual marriage.) I realised two things: my journalistic skills need some serious attention, and talking to the student representatives is likely not representative of the organisation they are representing. A couple of them made it clear that they are giving only their own opinions, others were able to share a more official viewpoint.

The mix includes a significant number of literalistic groups (e.g. Shofar, EveryNation, NewGen), as well as some groups that seem to want to avoid what they call the “Creation-Evolution debate”, and even a comment that “some are so busy being creationists, that they forget to be Christians…”

I especially love some of the things I see under the Crux-aksie umbrella. That’s the stuff that Christianity is supposed to be made of: a group aiming at helping children from the local informal settlement (what’s the best word for “plakkerskamp”?) with school, an outreach to street children, an effort to share love with the less fortunate in the neighbourhood. I’d love to see more of the Christian groups taking part in this kind of thing. Otherwise, maybe go lend a hand at Habitat for Humanity or UNASA?

I will now go collect some pamphlets, so that I can have an idea of what each group is up to, as well as how to get into contact with them at a later date. At the same time, what do you suggest I ask about? I’m thinking I should focus on only one issue on my next trip past the stalls, or just let it go for now. Maybe focus only on their perspectives on science education?

Christians@Maties

Of particular fascination for me was the Christians@Maties group. The rep insisted on not identifying what church he is a member of, the group aims to be an unbiased skeleton organisation apparently attempting to provide a unified voice for all Christians on campus. At the same time, the contents of their information booklet is taken directly from Shofar’s “New Life” information booklet, complete with emphasis on “soul winning”, though with no mention of Shofar. The rep at the stall said they borrowed Shofar’s material with permission, and are a new society, having only registered in November last year. (Their website, which appears “under-construction”, indicates they have existed for two years. This does not contradict the rep’s statement: I assume it means they existed but only recently registered as a society.)

Based on a couple of things I’ve seen and heard, it looks as though Shofar is going to some effort to address some of the animosity that has been directed at it from other churches on Stellenbosch. I celebrate this – more on it later. In the context of this, and the distrust sometimes encountered between churches on Stellenbosch, I’m afraid using Shofar’s material for their info booklet will have many people wonder if Christians@Maties isn’t a covert branch of Shofar’s excellent marketing campaign. I’d suggest they take a more neutral approach, if they really want to be neutral.

Either way, I look forward to seeing what Christians@Maties gets up to, I wish we could get our town/community to get over the civil-war phase and start looking at making a difference in the bigger picture.

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18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Clare // Jan 29, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    That sounds like a pretty good variety of stalls there, although maybe in the future we should all expect to see stalls covering everything from the big five religions to humanists, pagans and everything inbetween.

    One thing you mentioned that did alarm me was the mention of Shofar encouraging people to vote for a certain party or candidate. That is where I draw the line. Offering spiritual guidance is one thing, but individuals should be allowed to choose for themselves who best represents their views and the policies they support.

  • 2 Hugo // Jan 29, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Voting is tricky. There was some rumours and controversy on campus a handful of years ago about voting recommendations with regards to the SRC, the Students’ Representative Council. I don’t know whether it was more than just rumours, but the frenzy around it could not be missed. As such, I have faith that they will not do so overtly again.

    Also, some might argue that it wasn’t a recommendation per se. That doesn’t mean the ACDP was not mentioned, that they don’t often pray for the leadership of the country and that the leadership will make the right choices, have the right priorities, and that the right, “God-appointed people” will be elected. And when I was there during the previous election, I definitely felt encouraged to vote for the ACDP. I’m sure it wasn’t just me. This was back in 2004 though.

    Where does one draw the line? Many students have no clue who to vote for, and will ask in their cell groups. And when it comes to fundamentalistic “Christian issues”, e.g. anti-abortion, anti-homosexual-marriage, the ACDP is really “the only option”. All serious fundies will know this. So is that a recommendation, or not?

    (On the gay rights issue, this country was one of the first to allow homosexual marriages. Apparently it is actually a civil union, but a civil union that may be called a marriage. Apparently it is good enough, according to the Lesbigay person I spoke to. Apparently there is still a lot of discrimination, though there are anti-discrimination laws in place. The next step for the gay-rights movement remains fighting homophobia and encouraging the enforcing the laws that are already in place.)

  • 3 Rinus // Jan 29, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    Vote ‘fixing’ definitely took place at some level. As you know I have quite a few friends that (still) are associated with Shofar. I remember, I think it was my second or third year, them discussing among themselves about who it was they were supposed to vote for again.

    As I understood it, not only Shofar was involved in this ‘scheme’. Some of the names I overheard in that discussion did indeed make their way onto the SRC. :/

    On another note, Oprah calls a ‘plakkerskamp’ a ‘shanty town’ (spelling?). ;)

  • 4 gerhard // Jan 29, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    clare, yeah :)
    but the real question is , once indoctrinated or brainwashed do you still have the ability to ‘choose for themselfs’?

  • 5 gerhard // Jan 29, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    u know , it would take a long time to break that programming towards making a perticular choice :P it could be done , but at a much slower rate than the brainwashing :)

  • 6 gerhard // Jan 29, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    rinus , ‘vote fixing’ in this regard is just democracy in action isnt it ? they can rally a uniform vote because they think uniformly or have unified interest? everyone else is just too lazy to pitch and vote or they are too diverse in interest for democracy to work. so another question that arises is, is democracy a better solution than a representative vote?

  • 7 Rinus // Jan 30, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    I hear you, but my gripe is not with democracy itself. It’s rather with the fact that a block vote takes place because influential people tell the ‘sheeple’ to do so.

    I’d have no problem if they researched or at least listened to the candidates points before making their own decision. Most of them did not even know the people they voted for or knew anything about them.

    That is not how democracy is supposed to work, but I guess that is probably just one of the shortcomings of the system.

  • 8 gerhard // Jan 30, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    i’d call that one hell of a shortcoming :) i hear fundies make up the biggest unified voting block in the us, something like 22%. so thats quite scary .. 22% of the people who will pitch to vote and will vote unified…
    personally i think the solution is to limit voting somehow but not discriminate via race or sex or even (to shock hugo) religion. The tricky bit here is by what do u limit it?
    thing is , the wisdom of the crowed is usually good enough except for when their opinion is unduely stressed by athority.

  • 9 Hugo // Jan 30, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    Democracy: the worst form of government, except for everything else invented so far.

    Back in my res days, I played a part in some vote reforming. Nothing huge, went for a ranked ballot and used Maximum Majority Voting to count the votes. No, this won’t exactly help for this problem, I’m just saying I’m a little bit of a voting geek, and you’re about to give me some more things to think about when I next want to procrastinate. :-|

    In democracy there is one really, really important thing: voter education. How to get that sorted out though, is rather tricky. I’d love to have a little entrance-exam before people may vote: you have to prove you know a bit about each of the candidates before you receive a ballot. lol. I wish. Once you have educated voters, the privacy of your vote is supposed to ensure that “block-voting” doesn’t occur. (Though, with threats of hell and a supernatural eye watching your every move to ensure you vote “correctly”, there’s still not much you can do, eh? Hmm…)

  • 10 gerhard // Jan 30, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    well you could start by saying anyone without voter education can’t vote? or what about giving a community a representive vote?
    would be quite cool to do a digg like system based on athoritive voting. so people in the tech industry would have a more athoritive vote than joe soap in matters regarding tech. what would happen in a situation where it would be one industry vs another? who’s athoritive vote would be more athoritive? the one which is the biggest? or would that be where the ‘others’ have the swing vote?
    i wonder tho what that kinda thing would lead to.

  • 11 Hugo // Jan 30, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    One man, one vote… cannot discriminate between classes. And I don’t see how giving a community a representative vote helps? Isn’t that just enforcing block-voting then? Oh, I guess that’s basically just a way to “count” the vote of those that don’t actually go vote, right? Naah… better is to figure out a way to actually get everyone voting (and educated). I’ve come across people that don’t vote, because they don’t know who to vote for. (-> Exactly the sentiment that can cause block-voting, of course. “Ask someone you trust”, e.g. the guy on the pulpit.)

  • 12 gerhard // Jan 30, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    i mean representative vote more along the lines of voting for a representative , like in a republic. except not doing it on a geographic level.
    i think a digg like system of voting is very different in this regard as voting athority is earned , both in education and economic situation.
    i consider this to be different to ‘ask someone you trust’.. i consider it , well, if you really want to be able to vote, work for it …

    Actually , i think one person one vote discriminates too . Not in a perfect situation , but in reality like when loyalty votes or religious societies are concered.. Say in south africa where majority of votes that go to the anc are loyalty votes , irrespective of how badly things are handled the vote will be the same, esp considering how most of the people voted are apparently not in a ‘previously priviliaged position’ to have had a education to know something is wrong. no matter what they had before what they have now is better , irrispective of how bad it actually is when compared to how things ‘should be’.
    Is this a very warped view to have?

  • 13 Hugo // Jan 30, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    A warped view? No, makes complete sense.

    What kind of hope is there for some competition? The DA hopes to take the Western Cape. So we have some provincial representation… (ok, and that counts as geographic as well, true.)

    I don’t know much about politics really. There is no perfect system, but more importantly: we currently have what we currently have. In this context, the most important thing is to promote voter education and participation. We’ll see what we can do about that later. Right, “signing off”, gotta get some work done. ;)

  • 14 gerhard // Jan 30, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    well, the hope lies in zuma i think. I just hope there is enough fractional fighting in the anc to cause a massive split . a multiparty system is the shit ..
    austria is a social democracy with something like 8 main parties , so for any one party to take control is pretty impossible. so government is alway multiparty coalitions , the main problem tho with this is that often they have to strike up deals. so the smallest parties always have the most direct power over policy (the small ones are the swing votes) .
    anyway , it works in that country because of how small the country is.
    hope that would help here too.

    there not being a perfect system doesnt indicate that there couldnt be a perfect system :)

  • 15 Hugo // Jan 30, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Here’s my take: there will never be a perfect system. Never. For this reason we must continue to adapt to change. And this is also not a reason not to at least try. Defeatist attitudes are very, very bad. I believe in hope…

    Hope is a big part of Christianity btw. How much “hope”, in the abstract sense, is found in other traditions? I hear Haiti’s religion, Voodoo, has a strong belief in “fate”. This belief in not having power to change the future, was probably a large contributor to the fact that Haiti is one of the only places in the world where there isn’t even a hint of a women’s-liberation movement. Or so I remember reading in an article whose link I no longer have. :-|

  • 16 gerhard // Jan 31, 2008 at 9:21 am

    dude ,there will never be a perfect system :) agreed :) just like there will never be absolute truth… the thing tho is , we will get closer to the perfect system the more we work at it :) its not called hope, its called the scientific method …
    hope is a passive thing ..

  • 17 Hugo // Jan 31, 2008 at 11:04 am

    You sound a little like Dawkins.

    Hmm, I have yet to blog about hope&faith, inspired by the New Year’s sermon at SG.

  • 18 gerhard // Jan 31, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    or does dawkins sound like a little like me ?
    too much is made of dawkins …

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