Pastors Will Try to Spare South Africa’s Tense Elections from Violence
Pastors Will Try to Spare South Africa’s Tense Elections from Violence

Oscar Siwali is mobilizing conflict mediators as the country goes to the polls. He only wishes his organization could train more.

Oscar Siwali remembers watching Nelson Mandela’s triumphant walk as he left prison after 27 years. In 1990, as the young pastor of a Baptist church, Siwali saw himself as an evangelical focused on winning souls and tending to his flock’s spiritual needs, not needing to prioritize political concerns. Nonetheless, he shared the pride of his people’s successful anti-apartheid activism that demanded “Free South Africa Now,” an outcry that inspired worldwide solidarity.

But just three years later, a far-right white nationalist assassinated Chris Hani, the charismatic leader of the African National Congress (ANC)—an attack that threatened to derail South Africa’s transition from the oppressive white-minority rule to a democratic government that represented the entire country.

When Hani’s murder threatened to unleash a civil war that South Africans had labored so many decades to avoid, Siwali, like fellow Christian leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu, realized his faith compelled him to action. He began to preach peace in his sermons and to talk to those who had taken to the streets.

“I saw a different way of the work that I was called into, where I wasn’t just in service from the pulpit,” Siwali said. “That was truly my first revelation in seeing the importance of the clergy being out there, engaging with people … and [figuratively] taking that pulpit and placing it in the center of a community.”

In 2013, Siwali founded SADRA, a faith-based organization that trains people of all ages and backgrounds to be conflict mediators in their communities. It also has special programs for local church leaders, whom SADRA believes can be most effective in areas prone …

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