“I am human because I belong to the whole”: Ubuntu Theology & St. George’s Cathedral

St. Georges Cathedral is recognized as the oldest cathedral within Southern Africa and the head church of the Anglican Diocese of Cape Town, South Africa. The church serves many people of diverse backgrounds, including diverse communities from outside of the church. It first became a cathedral in 1848 under the first bishop, Robert Gray. The church was designed by Sir Herber Baker in the 19th century, who originally was an architect settled within London. Herbert Baker originally only came to South Africa to follow after his brother,  Lionel Baker, who had dreams of owning a fruit farm within Cape Town, and needed permission from his father under the request of Herbert after ensuring that the land was a suitable investment. Had Lionel not arrived within Cape Town, Herbert would not have followed and the cathedral that the people wanted, with its famous Gothic design and beautiful stained-glass window designs, would not have been built.

Our kind guide of the morning tour softly tells us many facts and details that make up the history of St. George’s and various aspects that have made the cathedral what it is today. She leads us to special places of interest around the cathedral and tells us what she knows before moving along to the next piece.

She introduces our group to design aspects of the cathedral by reciting the information of the designer as well as the idea that was brought forth to use sandstone brought down from Table Mountain to construct the building. Block by block, Table Mountain standstone was brought down by cable car to the the steps of what would be St. George’s. Each block was carved away, and formed into perfect squares with tiny indents on the surface for texture, one-by-one. The sandstone viewed within the cathedral is concrete on the inside and sandstone on the outside, which makes the building stand. Our guide informs us of how an additional piece was to be added, but the plan eventually fell through as lack of funds and practical structural concerns were discussed. A tower was to be built at one of end of the cathedral, a bell tower. If the lack of funds had not prevented it from being built, then a huge tower with bells that would always ring would stand. The structure, due to the cheap material what would have been used, would have surely collapsed and would not have been able to survive the constant ringing.

St. George’s is also known as “the people’s church” as it did not bow down to the laws of the apartheid government order to become segregated. Geoffrey Hare, Archbishop, wrote to the national government about their decree and demanded that such an order be revoked and that the Anglican church would not bow down to such a course of action that was downright ridiculous. The night after writing such a letter, Hare passed away. The Archbishop wished for a world free of apartheid, and did what he could to let the government know that he would not stand for it and neither would the Anglican church.

St. George’s represents that which is the recognition of togetherness and the connections shared between others under the term ubuntu. Ubuntu, as discussed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu within our reading, explains how one’s humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up by another’s. Ubuntu is “I am human because I belong to the whole, to the community, to the tribe, to the nation, and to the earth.” It is about wholeness and having the compassion for life at every turn as it is what makes humans into humans. Tutu’s framework connects every part of being into relying on others for survival and carving for one another. His thoughts relate to St. George’s as it is a structure that represents the concept of Ubuntu in multiple ways. St. George’s symbolizes how a group, a religious structure, stood up to apartheid’s demands to segregate all aspects of life for those of South Africa. People were not just uprooted from their homes, but their communities as well when areas were defined as “white only.” Additionally, people were to leave behind their religious structures in the process, but the Anglican church defied such as rulings as they realized it was unjust. St. George’s cares for not just those who are members of the church, but also reaches out to others within the community who are in need. St. George’s strives for wholeness and showing compassion to others. This is due to how the idea of Ubuntu reaches to such a space and how St. George’s promotes such activity of being there to help the oppressed and not simply ignore their pain.

Tutu’s perspective settles upon how everyone must look out for each other due to sharing the common bond of being of the earth. His theology of Ubuntu is a utopian community where forgiveness and repentance are at the forefront. Tutu’s thoughts on apartheid relate to ubuntu, but for both parties affected by that of apartheid. He states how those who were the victims of apartheid must forgive their oppressors in order for ubuntu to be realized, additionally, those who committed crimes against the oppressed must repent.

To Tutu, it is better to live in a country which is stable and peaceful and filled with reconciliation than to live in a country that is torn by strife due to revenge and negative emotions. Desmond Tutu’s thoughts come from his role as a religious leader and political leader of South Africa, which is a position and thought process that is much needed in the post-apartheid era for some. Critics challenge such ideas because many feel as though apartheid oppressors should not be forgiven and those that were oppressed are right to be such a way.

St. George’s is Tutu’s church were he regularly preaches his ubuntu-based theology. The Archbishop and this church are connected in their history of apartheid and in the ways they operate, educate, and serve the community in a post-apartheid era.

-Briana

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