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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Challenging the State
Tristan Anne Borer

(Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998)
289pp. Index. Bibl. Pb.: ISBN 0-268-00829-9.

I have already advised my friends in theological and reference libraries to ensure they have a copy available. Prof Borer has produced a disciplined analysis of the contrasting statements and activities of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) as against those of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) from 1980 to 1994.

The text examines the political and religious contexts of the period and the specific responses of the two organisations. The genius is in the juxtaposition of the different themes allowing the reader a useful access to the development of theological argument through the period under review. The material is detailed and is based on numerous documents and personal interviews. The study examines the issues of political, social and religious responses to racial division and conflict in apartheid South Africa and in so doing examines these issues wherever they may arise.

Do not miss the 56 pages of notes. These are filled with fascinating additions to the main text as well as some diverting items of interest that add texture to the general review. The bibliography provides an impressive array of useful publications for further study.

An introductory chapter giving a brief historic review leading up to the situation in 1980 is most helpful. As is a closing chapter that examines the theological questions raised by the political changes brought by the new dispensation of democratic non-racial government. The questions about the response of contextual theology to a major shift in the politico-social context give the book an open ended style that challenges the church and its theological institutions to future study and debate.

Indeed, my copy has many question marks in its margins. A few of these query assumptions about statements and events, but the vast majority are there because the work raises questions that demand further consideration.

I have two difficulties:

The problem in comparing the SACC and SACBC, although acknowledged, remains. They were and are very different types of organisations, especially in regard to accountability.

Without denying the author's sensitivity to the issues under review, there is a clinical precision to this work that seems at times to ignore the deep human feelings wrought by the life and death struggle of the time.

Neither difficulty relates to the complete work nor detracts from the value of this impressive study which I would recommend to anyone who has interest in South Africa itself or the world-wide phenomena of racism and ethnic conflict.

Bernard Spong (Rev.), Recently retired Head of Communications of the SACC

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