What Is African theology;10 Facts You Must Know

Both African theology and South African Black theology and how each relates to the other evidently demonstrate how doing theology in Africa can be an onerously complex task to undertake.

A student of theology in Africa realizes that although African theology  and South African Black theology have both come out of the womb of Africa, they are not identical. Another factor which adds to the complexity is the underlying fact that even though the two theological traditions are different in terms of their histories, emphases and functions, nonetheless, their methodologies can be seen as alternatives among black theologians in South Africa and among African theologians in independent Africa.

What Is African theology;10 Facts You Must Know

Furthermore, the way Africa itself is fragmented by ethnicity and by European colonization exacerbates this intricacy. For instance, the colonial legacy has divided sub-Saharan Africa into at least six fragments: anglophone Africa, francophone Africa. Portuguese Africa, Belgian Africa, Spanish Africa and apartheid South Africa. Of these, anglophone and francophone Africa and South Africa form the three major zones where theological activity has been the most intense.

Therefore, while in independent Africa the Xegritude movement in francophone Africa and African personality in anglophone .Africa contributed significantly to the emergence of African theology of indignation (or inoculation),1 in apartheid South Africa, the Black consciousness movement contributed immensely to the emergence of Black theology of liberation.

Even though the content of these cultural-political movements has been the same —namely, the struggle of the black African for emancipation from the forces of domination, oppression and social injustice — the differences in the political and socioeconomic structures, as well as the ideological and cultural diversity between neocolonialism Africa and South Africa, have apparently created a theological-hermetical tension between theologians on both sizes of the Zambezi River, the natural division between South Africa and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

Thus, while African theologians pinpointed the agriculturalist sphere as the main domain of Africa’s dehumanization and exploitation and therefore employ inculturation hermeneutics and sec African culture and religion as the dominant sources for the theological enterprise, black theologians also see the sociopolitical and economic structures as the major determining factor for oppression and domination and therefore in their theological struggle emphasize liberation hermeneutics, which will bring about radical transformation of evil and oppressive structures.

So, instead of envisioning both rcligiocultural and politico-socioeconomic factors as mutually interpenetrating elements which must shape African societal life and experience, both African and black theologians have used much energy fighting  over a false dilemma —a battle which, doubtlessly, has obstructed rather than facilitated more effective development in theological and transformative praxis.

Indisputably, the ideological encounter between African theology and South African Black theology especially, within the contexts of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) and the Ecumenical Association of African Theologians (EAAT), as well as within the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) —although indirect —has contributed tremendously in reducing the tension and polarity between the two theological systems. However, recent publications of some theologians from both sides of the Zambezi, such as Jean-Marc Ela2 and Gabriel Setiloane,3 evidence that this polarity is not completely over.

Difference Between African theology and South African Black theology.

Although there is now a substantial body of writings on both African and South African Black theologies, the student interested in these traditions realizes that much effort has not been made toward an integral synthesis. Even though a few black African theologians endeavor in their writings to emphasize such a need, there has not been a major study undertaken on the synthesis of inculturation and liberation in Africa.

Therefore, theological study of the connection between religion-cultural and sociopolitical and economic realities of the African continent is still in its infancy. The present position is a frustrating one, since it has been demonstrated in this study that not only docs the gospel of Jesus Christ contain nuances of both political and cultural theological liberation, but also the African theological reality itself calls for an integral vision of cultural and political liberation.

Of the works which have emphasized both political and cultural liberation in Black/African theology, some deserve to be mentioned. Although Gwinyai Muzorewa’s The Origins and Development of African Theology (1985)4 is not a comparative study but —as the title implies—traces the origins and development of the major theological trends in Africa, by challenging African theology not to ignore “the African political world” but “articulate the concepts of freedom, human equality and liberation” (55) and Black theology to “call for political as well as cultural liberation .. (113), the author has carried into the efforts at synthesis perspectives which concern both African and Black theologies. This position is further strengthened in his later book. An African Theology of Mission.


African theology and South African Black theology are not synonymous. The former developed in independent, or more precisely, neocolonial Africa, and the latter, in apartheid South Africa. Investigation of the key-factors in their respective histories suggests strongly that these two theological systems are not the same. They arc different not only in terms of their histories, but also in terms of their emphases. Insofar as Africanization or indigenization is identified as the theme of the first, with an emphasis on culture, and liberation is identified as the theme of the second, with an emphasis on politics, the two remain dissimilar although not contradictory.

Therefore, finally, the following two conclusions, which are to be seen as dialectically related, could be drawn.

1.The polarity between African theology and Black theology may, in a sense, be attributable to the differences in the historical backgrounds and emphases of the two theologies.

2) Analyses of the key historical moments reveal a single (common) underlying motif in the political and cultural struggles in both independent and South Africa.

Thus, while the differences in the historical backdrops may seem to justify a tension polarity, the common underlying motif in the two struggles—cultural and political-suggests the need to come to a dialectic understanding of these factors as two sides of the same liberation process.

by Abdullah Sam
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