13 November 2018 | Story Eugene Seegers | Photo Eugene Seegers
UFS hosts Land and Religion conference
Joel Mokhoathi (UFS), Mocholoko Zulumathabo Zulu (Cosmologist), Dr Nokuzola Mndende (Icamagu Institute), and Dr Gideon van der Watt (Vennote in Getuienis, NG Kerk Vrystaat) at the‘Land and Religion’ conference.

Based on a research paper that was presented by Professor Martin Prozesky at the Land Ethics Summit, held on 26 June 2018 at Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, Joel Mokhoathi, a lecturer in Religion Studies at the Faculty of Theology and Religion, UFS, proposed a platform for various religious groups in the Free State to critically engage with the question of land.

A conference is born

Being not merely an introspective person, but an active one as well, Mr Mokhoathi, with the collaborative effort of the Inter-Religious Forum (IRF), conceptualised a conference at which the land issue could be discussed from a vantage point which few could have dared to consider. And the Land Question? An Interchange Conference on “Land and Religion” was therefore held on 27 September 2018 on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS), in order to offer a unique voice to the current socio-political debates on land restitution.

The point of inquiry for the conference was: What are the implications of land restitution as viewed from a religious perspective? In order to address this issue, diverse and disparate religious representatives, including delegates from local government, engaged in a dialogue to put forward a religious voice on land restitution.

The ‘religious voices’ on the land issue

There were three keynote speakers who presented academic papers at the conference, each representing a particular religious group: Dr Gideon van der Watt, Dr Nokuzola Mndende, and Mocholoko Zulumathabo Zulu. 

Dr Gideon van der Watt spoke on Christian theological perspectives, using certain pivotal events recorded in the Bible to illustrate principles that could apply to the land discourse. Some of these included the Genesis account of creation, God’s injunction to care for the land and the wellbeing of fellow humans (as was the case during the Jubilee year in Israel), and from Christ’s Kingdom narratives on material possessions.

Dr Nokuzola Mndende, under the topic: “Land, Spirituality, and Identity: Living together in Harmony,” dealt with the intersectionality between land and African traditional practices; sacred spaces and ancestral presence; and the expression of African spirituality against privatisation of property or limitations in the use of land.

The final speaker, Mocholoko Zulumathabo Zulu, provided a unique metaphysical overview of Basotho philosophy from a cosmologist’s perspective, which unfolded the conceptualisation of cosmology, linguistic and mathematical formulae, taking into consideration the land as a platform of the Ancestors.

The ice has been broken—Now what?

Attendees at this conference, during the final session, resolved to compile a brief document that contains their recommendations, which is to be presented to the local government for possible reconsideration during the land restitution process in the Free State. As part of her final remarks, Dr Mndende expressed her gratitude and thanked the Dean, Prof Fanie Snyman, and the UFS for organising the inter-change conference. She said: “We appreciate that the university has broken the ice on this topic.”

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