Edited and updated version of an interview by Renier Koegelenberg with Rev Udo Hahn, Protestant Academy of Tutzing, Bavaria, Germany, Published in Tutzing Newsletter 8 April 2020; &
The role of faith communities – Tsantsabane case study.



President Ramaphosa declared a national emergency on 27 March in South Africa, with very strict lock-down measures. Schools, universities, general businesses (excluding pharmacies and medical doctors) were closed; with an instruction to stay at home – to curb the spread of the virus.

South Africa is the country that is most affected in Africa – what are the reasons for this development?


South Africa is the most industrialized country in Africa – with modern infrastructure and multiple international partnerships. We are also one of the world’s most favourite tourist destinations – with many international flights to cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The first Covid 19 Virus infections registered where families returning from a ski holiday in Italy. All the initial infections came from South Africans returning home from England, Germany, Switzerland or Italy – and of course, several foreign tourist groups visiting South Africa. A special wine tasting tour for a Dutch wine club resulted in the first infections at some of our well-known wine Estates in Stellenbosch. 

The fast urbanisation of our local population – resulting in very high density “townships” filled with South Africans (and refugees from neighbouring countries) living in small shacks around the big cities (dependent on travel by train, bus and Mini-bus taxis) – contributes to the high risk of spreading the disease.


How does South Africans respond to lock-down measures?


There are positive and negative experiences: many of the guidelines published by the government to regulate the lock-down (staying in your home – unless you have to buy food or need medication) are not clear, and almost daily new changes are announced. There is, for instance, a constant debate on what are “essential services” that may remain open for business – like food-stores and pharmacies.

In many suburbs and small towns, people generally adhere to the lock-down – staying in your home, not even allowed to walk your dogs.

In many instances, the measures seem unnecessary extreme – not allowing self-discretion to keep to physical distancing – giving the South African Police (with back-up from the national Defence Force) have absolute powers to enforce. Many instances of police violence to enforce measures have been reported, as well as irrational fines for people on the way to collect medicine from pharmacies.

In a more recent development, President Ramaphosa announced that from 1 May some of the measures will slowly be loosened step by step – to enable certain sectors of the economy to start functioning again– based on a risk management model the distinguish between metros and different regions in the country (according to the infection rate).

It is a complex model and process- and although the principle is sound – the way it is implemented is very controversial. Leading cabinet ministers that are announcing detailed measures (and changes them frequently) that seems to be irrational and ad hoc is threatening to derail the trust of citizens that largely responded positive to the first lock-down measures.


Are the measures that were imposed to keep physical distance between people practical – especially in the Townships?


It is almost impossible to adhere to this regulation in the large, over-crowded townships around the cities. The metal shacks are small with many people sharing one room (5-10) depending on size of the shacks. Thus, people mill around in large numbers and do not adhere to “physical distancing” – keeping at least 1-meter distance from other people. This is especially a problem for the taxi industry – that transports people around and into the cities – and although they try to constrain them to 70% of capacity, the taxis are known to be over-crowded and difficult to monitor. This poses a serious risk for the spread of the virus. 

This is one of the reasons why Government testing measures have been prioritized for taxis and certain of the “hotspots” in the townships close to cities (e.g. Alexandra – Johannesburg, Kayalitsha – Cape Town).


What are the implications of the special measures for the poor in the society, that cannot buy food if they cannot find work?


The economic impact of the emergency measures is very serious for the poor. It poses a very serious challenge – for daily food security and informal work opportunities. This is especially the case for informal traders – often women that have their fruit stalls close to taxi-ranks – who is self-employed and have to care for children and grand-children. They simply cannot survive without this income.

Although some of the regulations for these “spaza shops” have been relaxed, but with less people travelling, they still find it very hard to survive.

There are positive experiences, where families that employ domestic or cleaning staff (who are not allowed to travel to work) still pay them (electronically) and support them with food – even if they do not come to work.

At the same time, part-time workers in gardening, building and in hotels industry (and restaurants) – have no income.

Many of these businesses (small, medium and even large chains) have serious problems to pay their workers – which increases with every additional week of the shut-down.


You have founded the National Religious Association for Social Development (NRASD) in 1997, that amongst others, initiated special programmes for faith communities to curb the HIV and AIDs pandemic, as well as TB. Why is such an interreligious initiative important for the public health challenges in South Africa?


South Africa is a country with many contradictions – a mixture of the First and Third Worlds. On the one hand we have good universities that are internationally recognized (especially in terms of medical research and training); we have an excellent private health sector (with highly trained specialists and modern facilities – and event subsidiaries in Europe) – but it is too expensive for the majority of our citizens, that do not have medical insurance.

On the other hand, the public health system is failing many poor South Africans – mainly due to a chronic shortage of medical staff (doctors and nurses) – especially in the rural areas. Weak management capacity leads to a crisis with maintenance of public hospitals and clinics; even to outages (shortages of stock) of basic medication. A recent example suffices to demonstrate this challenge: for several months the Kwazulu Natal Province had no oncology specialists in public hospitals – due to challenges with maintenance of critical diagnostic and treatment equipment, they have all migrated to private hospitals.

Not only are we challenged by pandemics like HIV/AIDS and TB; but an increase in non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes) adds to the challenge – which is a global phenomenon.

Health education, treatment and adherence to treatment, and support in the fight against HIV and AIDS has been proved to be the most effective at local community level – where churches and faith communities have the largest footprint and presence.

It is a well-documented that churches started the first nursing colleges and training programmes for doctors – reaching into rural areas even today. Churches and faith communities are the best placed in all areas of South Africa to give basic health education (and treatment) of chronic diseases in partnership with Health Department.

There is a serious concern, that South Africa’s nurses and doctors working in public hospitals, do not have enough protective clothing to cope with the increase in cases. There is also a deep concern that we simply do not have enough test-kits, test teams or laboratories available to cope with a sudden and huge increase in demand for testing.

The Minister of Health, Dr Mkhize, is warning the public constantly that we has to expect an increase in infections and possible deaths – that we have not seen the peak of the virus infections in South Africa yet. It can become much worse – despite all the attempts to curb it.


What are the implications of the lock-down measures for the NRASD?


An important part of our work is the conferences and consultations (or “public theology” seminars) for senior church and faith leaders – focussing on policy design and implementation challenges; sharing the latest research findings and educational material. The current Covid 19 pandemic poses challenges for self-protection measures.

Although we cannot meet in seminars or groups– we use electronic media and regular e-mail newsletters to continue to inform our religious leaders.

The immediate response of faith communities to organize practical relief and food programmes in some areas – is currently a priority. In this regard I attach a second part, focusing on just one case study – “Tsantsabane Cares” – an initiative in partnership with the Anglo American Kumba Kolomela mine, Department of Social Development and a local faith network in the Postmasburg area. We have facilitated a local network of cooperation between different denominations and sectors – which is crucial to form effective local partnerships.

On a more national level, we are also sharing some of the global research on the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic for the years to come – on all sectors of society.


South Africa has been facing a severe economic crisis for some time. Production in the formal industry has been declining and unemployed numbers are rising. In the first quarter of 2020 the unemployment figures rose to 29.1 percent – from 27.1 percent in previous year. What impact will the corona pandemic have on the economy?   


Even before the Covid 19 pandemic started to manifest itself, South Africa was in a very serious economic crisis.

This is the cumulative result of wrong or bad political and economic policy choices over the past 25 years in our democratic dispensation: an explosion in the numbers of public servants; that in addition earned public salaries that is three times higher than other countries with comparable economies – without any improvement in the real delivery or improvement of basic services (with the exception of widely extended social grants to poor families; and the provision of water and electricity to many townships); the preferred employment of inexperienced senior ANC party members as business managers in State Own Enterprises (SOE’s) – resulting in the loss of Billions of Rands [examples are the South African Airways – SAA; the Electricity Supply Commission – ESCOM;  The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa  – PRASA].

Good intended measures to correct historic exclusion of the black population from economic and educational opportunities – through preferred supply chain contracts with state entities (part of Black Economic Empowerment [BEE] legislation) – enriched a circle of “politically connected entrepreneurs”, without benefitting the majority of the black population. Rather the opposite in some cases: inexperienced contract holders were not adding value – the maintenance of ESCOM power stations is one example; the failure of most local town councils to deliver basic sewerage and water services to small towns by highly paid bureaucrats is another.

Populistic policy choices to please frustrated black voters – like the proposals to change the constitution to give the state powers to dis-appropriate private land without compensation – increase insecurity that harms local and foreign investment.

Unfortunately, after more than 10 years of disastrous management and corruption under the former President Zuma, South Africa’s economy is in a serious crisis – the down-grading of our government’s credit rating (and those of all the major banks and SOE’s) to junk status by all international rating agencies – like Fitch and Moody’s. The consequences of these lost years weakened state institutions and depleted public funds – which current President Ramaphosa strives to correct. His reform plans are slow to gain traction (have an impact), with many senior ANC representatives not been prosecuted yet for mismanagement or fraud (including current parliamentarians).

On the positive side: the national Reserve Bank have lowered the interest rate to stimulate the economy; many insuring companies and bank have offered “payment breaks” in repayment of loans or policies for a limited period.

Several of the most well-known wealthy families (Oppenheimers; Ruperts, Motsepe) donated 5-6 Billion Rand from their own private wealth to support the national programmes initiated by the private sector and the “Solidarity Fund” created by President Ramaphosa. These special programmes attempt to address immediate financial support to small businesses (through credits and grants) – for measures to ensure that they can remain viable and are able to pay their employees. It also support special relief food programmes. However, the problem remains, that the real needs are much higher than the available funding.

More recently, on 21 April, President Ramaphosa also announced a 500 billion Rand ($26.3 billion) rescue package with comprehensive measures to support a wide range of businesses in order to survive, strengthening the capacity of the health care system, an increase in the value of childcare grants and special emergency food programmes

Thus, we have a perfect storm: a very serious economic crisis that weakened state institutions (including health and social services) – and now a very dangerous virus pandemic to combat.


The emergency lock-down measures are restricting basic civil rights (freedom of movement, meetings) – what are the implications for society?


There is an appreciation for the decisive action that President Ramaphosa took – after extensive consultations with opposition parties, churches, business networks – to introduce emergency measures to curb the spread of the virus. His leadership inspired trust.

But the same could not be said about the action of several of his senior cabinet ministers – those responsible for local and cooperative government, policing, transport, social development and education. Their almost ad hoc and sometimes irrational decisions erode the initial goodwill of the public and a growing opposition to specific measures. Several associations in different sectors are processing formal court cases to challenges some of these measures.

An example is: the banning of the sale of tobacco products and liquor – “because it is dangerous for your health”, is fuelling the sale of illegal (more dangerous) products – whereas the official outlets functioned within a legal framework that are taxed and monitored.

The new measures announced to slightly loosen some of the stringent measures in phases – guided by the risk to manage new infections according to different regions and industries – may be very complex to implement. It is again open for criticism – that some of these “emergencies measures” are not clear, consistent and are not inspiring trust amongst the public – and seems to depend on the personal and arbitrary decisions of specific Cabinet Ministers.

It also is leading to an increase in family abuse cases within relationships and some families, and is very difficult to monitor. Church and faith communities are very important to monitor such abuses – as well as the continued critical evaluation of emergency measures.


How does the churches and faith communities respond to the concrete challenges posed by the Covid 19 pandemic?


It is a major challenge that impact directly on the ministry of most churches – especially on the normal services held in churches, or special events like funerals. Most churches have found alternative ways of communication (in addition to previous newsletters sharing information) through the internet or other media. Many churches, therefore, are using Websites-links or podcasts for their services and bible studies.

Counselling through telephone calls or Whatsapp groups have exploded – since the lock-in measures put additional strain on many families.

On a very practical level, many churches have registered their social and food services as “special services” that are allowed to bring food parcels and medicine to older people, or vulnerable families that have no income. The sharing of food parcels goes beyond church members – to benefit the most vulnerable in society.

It has also a direct financial impact on congregations – that depends on donations during services to fund their work and programmes. Although many of the smaller independent or Pentecostal churches have pastored the have other fulltime jobs (working as so-called “tent makers” in the congregations) – they are also directly affected by the increased levels of poverty.

It is feared that many fragile congregations will not survive the impact.


The NRASD is an initiative of the work of the “Ecumenical Foundation of Southern Africa” (EFSA) and its holding non-profit Trust (CDDC Trust). The EFSA Institute and the Protestant Academy of Tutzing has a formal partnership for more than twenty years. What does this partnership mean for the work of the EFSA Institute?


The formal cooperation between the Tutzing Protestant Academy and the EFSA Institute have not only shaped and influenced our joint international seminars and conferences; but also the conferences of church leaders, business leaders and politicians in South Africa. Academics and church leaders that visited the Tutzing Academy to make contributions – have been enriched and shared their experiences on other international platforms.

The current Corona pandemic proves the truth of two points that have been repeatedly made by our many forums and discussions in Tutzing and South Africa:

Firstly, the interdependency and “connectedness” of all countries in the world, in the North and the South – which we have seen in the consequences of climate change; and in migration patterns of refugees. It is now highlighted by the fact that diseases know no boundaries, does not differentiate between levels of income or status in society.

Secondly, that no sector on its own can solve the problems we are facing (neither governments, nor business, nor church networks) on their own. We have to foster constant dialogue and means of collaborating formally in order to meet the global and local challenges. In this sense the continued interaction and cooperation between the Tutzing Protestant Academy and the EFSA Institute will be part of the global dialogue on lessons learned from the current Corona pandemic.

Future reflection should deal with the following important themes: the quest for real political leadership (beyond party or country interests) to guide national and international development; secondly, the importance of a capable state (to safeguard citizens, to implement health and education programmes): thirdly, to review and reflect on the different roles of Government, Civil Society (including faith communities), Private Sector and organized labour – to serve the common good of all.

The role of faith communities – Tsantsabane case study.

A partnership between Business, Government (Social Development, Health, municipality) and local faith & church communities.

Background and shared roadmap

Cooperation between mining companies and faith communities was facilitated by the initiative of Archbishop Dr Thabo Makgoba’s (Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town) to host “courageous conversations” to foster dialogue between mining companies and the local communities most affected by mining activities. The objective is to strengthen partnerships that improvise the quality of life for local communities – with the support of faith communities.

The NRASD has a contract with Anglo American, Kumba Kolomela Mine, in the North-West Province of South Africa – located in the Tsantsabane Municipality – to facilitate cooperation between the mine and faith communities. This was done through a comprehensive process of consultation of different sectors (schools, faith leaders, government offices (Health Clinics, Social Development, schools forum), and local police and safety networks. Through this dialogue, a comprehensive “shared roadmap for sustainable community development was developed” – that includes cooperation with different sectors, and was launched under a special programme called “Tsantsabane cares”.

The Tsantsabane Cares roadmap is the result of a series of dialogue sessions that took place with Faith Leaders since November 2018. These Faith Leaders represent 47 different churches in the Tsantsabane Municipality. The dialogue sessions gave Faith Leaders the opportunity to identify crucial areas of concerns in their respective communities. 

The following challenges were identified by local faith leaders as priorities:

  • Youth unemployment and youth in crises (substance abuse: drugs & alcohol); After-care support for young children;
  • Safe social spaces. The communities need a programme that can convert churches into safe social spaces. Material needs to be sourced to keep the youth entertained and/or educated. Examples are youth theatre, music competitions, coffee bars, etc.;
  • Strengthen Community Policing Forum –their assistance during the times that the youth attends these safe social spaces is important;
  • After-care facility for people coming from rehabilitation centres. Can the churches assist with this by making their buildings available?  There are no after-care facilities in town at present;
  • Training for ministers and parents on drug abuse (knowing the signs and symptoms, etc.). In addition to this, support groups for families affected.

Emergency food programme

In view of the Covid 19 pandemic and emergency measures, poverty have increased, whilst support programmes like school feeding schemes have stopped. This created a food security crisis in vulnerable families – and therefore the providing of basic food and cleaning material have been fast-tracked and prioritised.

Some features of this programme:

  • In principle we are building on lessons learned and experience gained in the previous grants we have implemented in formal and structured partnerships with Government (The Presidency/ Health Department/ Social Development) Business and Civil Society, and international agencies (The Global Fund, Geneva-based on our formal MOU with Presidency; with A1 and A2 rating of US$45 Million grant over 10 years): the NRASD worked in direct partnerships with all major church and faith networks in the HIV/AIDS and TB programmes) – both at a national, regional and local levels.

This is where the implementation takes place. This is the strength of the faith sector: the pastors or leadership are based in the communities  and provide much more than just medical, social or material support – they also provide very important pastoral care and encouragement;

  • Through our leadership and dialogue programme we have consulted every sector in Tsantsabane: Kolomela Mine corporate leadership; South African Police and Police Community Services; Department of Social Development; leadership of Clinics and Health Department; leadership of schools and a range of NGOs working in this area – and established a representative church and faith leadership group that are based in every section of Tsantsabane – in finalizing a comprehensive roadmap for sustainable interventions to support vulnerable families;
  • The church and faith leaders based in Tsantsabane identify the families that are most vulnerable; in cooperation with the mine management and Social Development we have developed guidelines to select such families – focusing on families with low income; with elderly and children; people with chronic diseases (Aids, TB, diabetes) – and developed a report matrix to ensure that data is well documented and monitored. This is important for accountability and to capture reliable data;
  • The cooperation with the local office of Social Development in finalizing a template to capture social data of families at risk – directly strengthens both the data systems of Social Development and Health, and it also ensures that there is no duplication (since more than one initiative is handing out food parcels in the same area);

The work of the local pastors’ steering committee and coordinators, for instance, enabled us to identify Child-Headed Households (some for the first time).

  • The costs of distribution are very low since most pastors work as volunteers – using their own vehicles and church support structures. Their commitment and ownership of the programme delivers much more than what any voucher service could achieve – especially in the light of the enormous pressures and limited numbers of social workers;
  • We fully adhere to the lock-down regulations – we work in consultation with local police leadership (Colonel Witbooi);
  • Dr Marlene Mahokoto and Mr Charl Fredericks coordinate this programme for us: they have more than 15 years of experience of facilitating such programmes with national and international donors; The excellent working relationship with Mr George Benjamin (Kolomela Director for Corporate Affairs), and his team – and his commitment to really work with in partnership with faith communities, make it possible to respond fast to urgent needs.

This model can work in any town or region in South Africa – and is based on the principles of a real partnership between Government, faith communities and business (and other partners).

This is not only addressing the immediate food security challenge – it sets the principles of formal cooperation (proved over 20 years) as a paradigm to guide formal collaboration after the Covid-19 pandemic: neither the churches, nor the state – has the capacity on its own to succeed without formal collaboration for the years to come; it promotes co-ownership by churches and faith communities on local level; and finally – it strengthens the capacity and the data quality of the state (Social Development and Health).

The reflection and debate on how Covid-19 would change our world have just started – we have to promote the dialogue actively with a wide range of specialists in different sectors in the coming months.

Renier Koegelenberg