God Wants You to End Global Poverty: An Interview with South Africa's Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane on Oprah, AIDS, and How Christians Are Battling International Debt

By Berger, Rose Marie; Palmberg, Elizabeth | Sojourners Magazine, July 2005 | Go to article overview

God Wants You to End Global Poverty: An Interview with South Africa's Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane on Oprah, AIDS, and How Christians Are Battling International Debt


Berger, Rose Marie, Palmberg, Elizabeth, Sojourners Magazine


Njongonkulu Ndungane first became known to the larger world when he clashed with then-South African president Nelson Mandela. Ndungane charged Mandela with inadequately securing the rights of the elderly in the Eastern Cape region. Mandela said the archbishop was ill-informed and was undermining the government. Ndungane declared, "No one will silence the church." In that moment, Ndungane was no longer merely the successor to Cape Town's charismatic Desmond Tutu. He had his own voice and prophetic call.

Ndungane comes from a long line of Anglican priests and was taught in Christian schools. His conversion, however, came through the political formation he received when he became involved in the anti-apartheid movement. In 1963, Ndungane was jailed for three years for "conscientising people." Half of that time was spent in what he calls "that great university of Robben Island," South Africa's most notorious prison. It was here, while mixing cement by hand and carrying it to the building site that would later house Nelson Mandela, that Ndungane decided to become a priest. He was ordained in 1974, received his master's degree in Christian ethics, became a bishop in 1991, and Anglican primate of Southern Africa in 1996.

Currently, Ndungane is spokesperson for the Micah Challenge, a Christian debt relief movement from the global South. He was interviewed in March by Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger and assistant editor Elizabeth Palmberg in Washington, D.C.

Sojourners: You've said that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) "give an entry point for us to make a better world for all." Why is 2005 a critical year for the MDGs and the fight against global poverty?

Ndungane: The world today is suffering a new kind of injustice--a new kind of apartheid. You have a few people in the developed world dominating the affairs of the rest of the world. It is sinful that in a world in which there's been so much prosperity because of globalization that we find this divide between the super-rich--the people with a lot of resources in the developed world--and the many people who go hungry every day. Economists tell us it doesn't have to be like this.

Five years ago world leaders came together and said that we need to do something about global poverty, and they set up the Millennium Development Goals. Five years down the line we have not done well at all. In a sense, 2005 is a kairos year for us to set up manageable and attainable strategies for halving world poverty by 2015.

I hear people say, "If you work hard, then you can improve your condition." That's putting it too simply. If you're born in Darfur or in Somalia, you can't help yourself. You're trapped in that cycle of poverty. It's up to us to help liberate those who are trapped in that cycle.

Sojourners: You announced in 1997, "The time has come to invoke the Doctrine of Odious Debt, [which] argues that where a debt has been incurred to strengthen a despotic regime it should be declared odious and written off." What are examples of church-based "best practices" that you see addressing global poverty, international debt, and the MDGs?

Ndungane: I was part of the launch of the Micah Challenge, whose whole objective is to galvanize a Christian voice--to say that we want a better world for all using what the prophet Micah says in Micah 6:8. "What does God want you to do? Only this," says the Jerusalem Bible, "To love kindness, to walk humbly with your God, and to do justice." The Micah Challenge was developed by the Micah Network, which consists of 260 Christian-based community development agencies in the global South, and the World Evangelical Alliance, representing 2 million evangelical Christians, predominantly from the South.

Also, Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation are saying that if we challenge the developed nations to be true to the 0.7 percent of their gross national product they pledged for development assistance, then we must also challenge ourselves.

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