Tag Archive: No Life of My Own


This is the last part i want to share from this book, but once again suggest that you grab a copy and read it in its entirety, especially if you are a white South African trying to get a fuller education of this country’s history.

This is a letter that Frank Chikane wrote on the 26th June 1986 that is addressed to the Institute For Contextual Theology but would have done well to land in the hand of every pastor in every church at that time. What is incredible is seeing the alternative response of violence he feared might be the inevitable solution [and breathe deeply on how we somehow managed to avoid that] and to ask what type of letter might be written today which should be placed in the hands of every pastor and Chris-following leader across the land with reference to unity and reconciliation and restitution and justice and more…

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Dear Friends,

Events have been happening so fast that it looks like ages after one had visited Europe. Maybe it is because since the last three weeks or so the whole face of South Africa has changed radically. Suddenly people can be detained and kept in prison indefinitely or for periods of six months for no particular crime or misdeed. If a policeman thinks you should be removed, he can do so without explaining his action.

No publication of names of those who is detained is allowed. Even passing information from one family member to another about a detained brother or sister could constitute an offence. And in all this, one has no recourse to a court of law or justice. Because of this strange new face of South Africa, many people have disappeared and it is very difficult now to make out whether some are in detention, in hiding, dead or have left the country. Those who have some information, those who have seen residents in the township gunned down along the streets, cannot make their witness known.

This brings us to the witness of the Church in South Africa. Is it still possible under the circumstances where no one is allowed by ‘law’ to critique the regime, its State of Emergency, and its security forces? Is it still possible to be a conscience of the State? Is it still possible to minister effectively to the black masses of South Africa who are victims of this system when one cannot talk about their suffering, pain and death? When one cannot even talk about the evil that is responsible for this death? The Catholic Church cannot even announce that its General Secretary, so and so, is detained or deported. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church cannot even announce that its Moderator, so and so, is detained. How does the Church carry lout its mission under the circumstances?

Given this set-up, the people of South Africa, especially the victims, are looking forward to the Church as their only Salvation at this stage. Is it possible that the Church could go on according to the emergency regulations, where using a descriptive word (adjective) would fall within the law? Or is the Church going to submit and be quiet? Is this not the time when the whole church should go to prison and join the people there rather than imprison itself by subjecting itself to these regulations? Is this not the time when the Church should say now in a louder voice than ever before that ‘WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN’ (Acts 5.29) – when the Church is faced with this kairos in the country and in its history? Shouldn’t the Church review what the Lordship of Christ means at this stage?’

This is the time, the moment of truth. As the Kairos Document says that there is ‘no place to hide and no way of pretending to be what we are not in fact. At this moment in South Africa, the Church is about to be shown up for what it really is and no cover-up will be possible’ (p.1).

Most of you will remember that I said after the end of March that if the Botha regime did not accede to the demands of the people, there will be only two options in the offing for us, that, either the International Community (particularly the USA, the UK, West Germany, France, Switzerland, and Japan) put pressure on South Africa to change peacefully by taking to the people’s leadership, or the other option which is too ghastly to contemplate: direct violent confrontation between the forces of apartheid and the oppressed masses of South Africa. This will be brutal, merciless and cost millions in life, leaving a trail of maimed people and a devastated country. A determination of the people to die for their freedom and the determination of the regime to preserve white domination and apartheid at all costs spell only death and death ahead.

The tragedy of our situation is that the five Western countries I referred to above and Japan have come out clearly that they are not going to apply pressure on their partner in the oppression and exploitation of the black people of South Africa. The fact is that, unless these Western powers and Japan are pressured by their own people, who must also be prepared to sacrifice in this regard, they are not going to move on a purely moral basis. Where capital, profits and power are involved, there is no room for morality!

This leaves us with the option I said is ‘too ghastly to contemplate’. This option has already been embarked on and the world is going to see the type of violence it has never seen before in the days ahead of us. Maybe we, as South Africans, are caled to face this reality. May God help us to die in faith with a clear goal in mind, the Kingdom of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Belonging to the one Body of Christ, we are looking forward to your solidarity, support and prayers in this regard.

Your fellow brother in Christ

Frank Chikane (Rev.)

General Secretary

NB: Letter written from the Wilderness. Is it not in Midian, or is it here in the land of my birth? Or have we already moved to the west side of the wilderness, and come to Horeb, ‘the mountain of God’, to be reckoned with God? Yes, it is real wilderness away from the family, friends, with no freedom to walk along the streets of the country of one’s birth.

[To return to the start of this series, click here]


i love love love this piece on Christians not being saved to relax and enjoy the Kingdom of God while living in the midst of chaos in the world:

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To be a Christian…

We need to be alive to the reality that Jesus could not have established the church without dying on the cross and being raised again. Thus, the church was born in a struggle of life and death and is plunged into this struggle to work for the Kingdom of God. To be Christian is not to relax and enjoy the Kingdom of God in the midst of sin, corruption, oppression and death. To be Christian means to engage in the struggle for righteousness against unrighteousness, the struggle for justice against injustice, the struggle to save the world. Any view of Christian life without engaging in struggle cannot be compatible with the work of the Lord on the cross. Our mission as Christians is to engage in acts of salvation for the world in the name of Him who died for it. We are called to proclaim the good news of salvation to the world.

[page 84]

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So as followers of Jesus, we can’t not be involved in the societal woes that surround us and yet far too often we choose to ‘protect ourselves’ in the bubble of religious life and activity and keep an active distance from the often overwhelming struggles that are taking place outside our doors.

A little bit later in the book Frank takes it further with this:

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This brings us to an expression quoted by one of the participants at a workshop on the Kairos document in Zurich, Switzerland, in the process of grappling  with the kairos of the Western Church, of Western Christians. The statement was expressed in the following way:

… our problem is that we are stuck with love and charity in our response to the evils of this world rather than justice. We in the West are compelled by love, Christian love and concern about the brutality of some of the systems in the Third World, we are moved by the hunger and poverty to give charity. But we never go beyond charity to justice.

The implications of this statement became very clear to the group. Giving charity was seen as necessary to save lives in these devastated areas of oppression and exploitation and to alleviate pain and suffering. But it was noted that this good, generous activity on its own cannot resolve the fundamental problem. It remains an ‘ambulance’ ministry to help save the victims of a vicious system. To participate in the ministry of addressing the fundamental problem, Christians in the West must engage in the struggle to uproot the foundations of this problem, which are mainly based in their countries. They must have a deliberate programme of action as part of their confession and their commitment to the gospel. To put it in crude terms, terms that are threatening to some people, they too must engage in a liberation struggle to redeem and free themselves of this subtle system which benefits them, directly or indirectly making them partners in this primary sin.

Churches need to begin to challenge the bankers at their home base. They need to challenge business people, corporations, governments and para-state institutions at their home base. They need to challenge their membership and raise their consciousness about this sin and equip them with better, more critical theological tools to detect it. Christians and committed people at grassroots also need to undertake campaigns to mobilise their people to deal with this problem from below. It seems to me that this is going to become increasingly the most effective way of expressing solidarity in action and struggle, rather than necessarily stopping the attack of apartheid at the frontline of the battleground (i.e. South Africa itself). Our solidarity, our sharing of the same body of Christ, our ecumenism, will be expressed in this common action of faith on all fronts of this war (struggle) against evil and injustice in the world. Our unity in Christ can only be unity in action, united action in struggle; it cannot be a unity that leaves the very structures of oppression intact.

[page 176-178]

[For the next passage dealing with Violence Avoided, click here]

[For some thoughts and shares from Antjie Krog’s ‘Begging to the Black’, click here]


My wife, tbV, has a thing about having a thing about buying me presents, maintaining that i am the hardest person to buy for [mostly cos if i want or need something i often just go and buy it myself]. But for my birthday this year she got it spot on – two books about South Africa by South Africans. The first one i read was Better to be Black by Antjie Krog which i wrote a number of posts about which are well worth taking in if you haven’t yet. i took a break in between [of sorts] and read ‘The Lemon Tree’ by Sandy Tolan to try and educate myself on the Palestinian/Israeli conversation/journey. Then i moved on to Frank Chikane’s revised and updated edition of his autobiography, ‘No Life of My Own’ which was initially published in 1988 during the final throes of apartheid.

The main reason for wanting to read books about South Africa by South Africans is that i was fed a largely one-sided history while at school and grew up in a not-very-political family, and so i have a lot to learn and as someone who is wanting to have an impact in South Africa, learning a more accurate story about our country seems like the best place to start. Next up is ‘I write what I Like’ by Steve Biko which i am waiting for a friend to drop off and always open to more suggestions.

‘No Life Of My Own’ was an interesting book to read because the author ‘Frank Chikane’ feels like a name i know quite well, but on reflection, realised i didn’t know much about him at all. It was also really helpful reading a book, where at the time of writing, the author didn’t know how the story was going to progress.

Let me let his back cover tell you what it’s about: ‘Beginning with his childhood growing up black under an oppressive system, and continuing through to his call to the Christian ministry, Frank Chikane tells of his family’s increasing involvement in the struggle against apartheid, the disapproval and suspension he faced from his own church, and the harrowing detention, harassment, torture and exile he endured. Chikane relates his return to South Africa, despite the threat of further detention and death, to continue the fight for freedom. Through it all one thing remains clear: this is a man whose faith compels and sustains him in a courageous and selfless journey towards freedom.’ 

Not as many folded corner pages, which is usually the sign of a book that has deeply affected me, but then this was largely story and so it was more about listening and trying to really hear than being inspired by teachable thoughts. Definitely worth a read though and have one or two extracts i do want to share in the next while… One of the most interesting parts of Frank’s story is the part where the apartheid government actually put poison into his clothes during a flight [via his luggage] which almost killed him – to the point where a priest in the US was brought in to administer last rites, and yet he made a miraculous recovery and was given the chance of continuing his life journey.

For white friends in South Africa in particular, who might be trying to broaden the hue of written thought they are exposed to, No Life of My Own is a worthwhile read in that regard.

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