About the Author(s)

Vuyani Vellem Email
Department of Dogmatics and Christian Ethics, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


Vellem, V., 2016, ‘Tiyo Soga: Violence, disruption and dislocation in the white polis’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 72(1), a3563. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i1.3563

Project leader: V.S. Vellem

Project number: 04425030

Description: This research is part of the research project, ‘Social Cohesion’, directed by Prof Dr. Vuyani Vellem of the Department of Dogmatics and Christian Ethics, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria.

Note: This article emanates from a joint consultation on Spatial Justice and Reconcilliation, co-hosted by the Centre for Contextual Ministry, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa.

This article is part of the Special Collection titled ‘Spatial Justice and Reconciliation’, sub-edited by Stephan de Beer, of the Department of Practical Theology and the Centre for Contextual Ministry, University of Pretoria.

Original Research

Tiyo Soga: Violence, disruption and dislocation in the white polis

Vuyani Vellem

Received: 10 June 2016; Accepted: 08 Aug. 2016; Published: 02 Dec. 2016

Copyright: © 2016. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Tiyo Soga must be celebrated as he is the personification of a body of knowledge pertinent to the development of foundational knowledge in examining the violence, disruptions and dislocations of the bodies, knowledge and spirit in modernity. The question of skill and memory cannot be dichotomised in epistemologies of justice—the naming of black as pagan, kaffir, native, bantu, etcetra, in the history of oppression. Spatial justice, the article argues, is not just about physical space; it is about spiritual and temporal spaces as well. The linearity of time cannot do justice for the memory of the conquered. Land, the article argues, by inserting the memory of Tiyo Soga, is central to spatial justice as long as the ‘wedding’ between the troublesome Bible and the genocidal, epistemicidal and spirtualicidal forms of knowledge is debunked.


Urbanisation at best is about the movement of people from one location, and their habitat, to another. Whatever the underlying causes, it entails scales of movement and migration to places that promise a better life for the people, resulting ultimately in the formation of a polis, a new city, if not the expansion or growth of the existing polis which is directly linked to the factors that underlie the movement or migration of the people. Characteristically, urbanisation features a dynamic displacement of human beings to new territories and, in most instances, disrupts the relationship of human beings with other spheres of life, which combine to define their holistic endeavours for a living. Numerous predictions and measurements of the scales of movement and displacement in the twenty-first century suggest that the city will be all the more concentrated than ever before in this century as people are rapidly moving away from rural settings. In South Africa, the post-1994 democratic settlement is one of the drivers of the movement of people to the city in unprecedented ways, with many cities in the land constantly becoming crowded and consequently, cities facing tremendous challenges ranging from infrastructure development, access to facilities and human relations to mention but a few.

While urbanisation is understandably inevitable a process, especially in the current form of the modern polis and its centripetal forces, the movement and displacement of people in scales can easily turn others into patients while others are agents in the face of changes related to these seismic movements and the migration of the people. The general challenge is that of the building of the polis that enhances the participation of the people not as patients, but as agents if these movements are by and large a result of the human quest for a better life.

Our conversation in this article is centred on this broad understanding of urbanisation thus far ambitiously described. More specifically, it focuses on the experience and content of urbanisation among the poor and the marginalised. The article, employing the black African concept of home, ikhaya,1 throws a spotlight on the life and work of Tiyo Soga to demonstrate the protological challenges associated with the creation of a modern city or polis at the encounter of blacks and whites and the clash of the epistemological frames in building the South African city. Through the life of Tiyo Soga, the features of the modern city are shown to be fraught with forms of killing in the light of blacks’ experiences in South Africa. Urbanisation in South Africa, for as long as the black African forms of knowledge associated with ikhaya are marginalised, cannot completely respond to the killing of black Africans, and their knowledge and spirituality.

This celebratory article presents a brief background of Tiyo Soga and discusses forms of killing associated with the violence and spirit of conquest, concluding with a brief list of the implications of Tiyo Soga for spatial justice in South Africa.

A brief background on Tiyo Soga

It is important first to make a caveat. There are a number of works on the life and work of Tiyo Soga (e.g. Chalmers 1877; Khabela 1996; Njeza 2000; Williams 1983 and many others). In this article, there is no intention to repeat what others have said, especially about the biographical aspects of the Rev. Tiyo Soga. Those biographical aspects of Tiyo Soga that are selected, rather are deepened to argue the points related to spatial justice from a black perspective. Tiyo Soga has been interpreted and will continue to be interpreted as he remains a model of the ambivalent experience of blackness and the conundrums of modernity in Africa. This article does not pretend to be a panacea of Tiyo Soga’s interpretation but proceeds from the understanding of Tiyo Soga’s life as a model that lived in contradiction and ambivalence resulting from the conquest of the black people. Thabo Mbeki on the occasion of the unveiling of Tiyo Soga’s Memorial on 9 September 2011 rightly said:

I believe that there can be no greater justification for us to be here today than we have come to pay tribute and indeed draw inspiration from one whom Dr Anderson correctly described as – a model African for the imitation and inspiration of his countrymen and women. (2011:1)

He opened his talk by referring to two poet laureates, S.K. Mqayi and W.B Yeats. By appealing to the poet Mqayi – Mqayi’s poem which painted a gloomy picture of the context of amaXhosa at that time – and Yeats’ poetic line, ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold …’, there can be no eloquent manner to describe Tiyo Soga’s life as one that was lived in crossroads and a model for imitation and inspiration for black South Africans.

The interpretation of Tiyo Soga’s life in the context of crossroads, the seismic changes of the global social order, especially the social order and world of amaXhosa, puts him at the same level with his contemporaries in the West such as Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim and others, whose contributions to social theory remain classical in the West. Tiyo Soga’s life and critical reflections in times of change continue to influence any quest for knowledge construction in similar circumstances. Indeed following what Charles Lemert (2010:3–5) says about the common traits of those doyens of social theory in the West, especially their preoccupation with the difference between modern and traditional societies, Tiyo Soga’s standing as one among the important theorists and symbolically his lived experiences in times of the crossroads between the world of amaXhosa and Western modernity cannot be bypassed in the development of social knowledge in South Africa. For us in this article, Tiyo Soga is not only an embodiment of theological life – the subject of our conversation – but also an embodiment of sociological, political and economic knowledge forms associated with modernity, integrated nonetheless as experience inscribed in his life and ipso facto, blacks. He is an embodiment of a life lived on the underside and shadows of Western constructs of knowledge. In this article, his life is viewed from the perspective of spatial justice in South Africa and true to Tiyo Soga’s roots, the concept of ikhaya, home, is prismatically assumed as a tool of interpretation for Black Urban Theology Liberation.

On 10 December 1856, a Wednesday (Njeza 2000:98), Tiyo Soga was ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament in Scotland. This year, 2016, marks 160th anniversary of the ordination of the first black minister in the history of Christianity in South Africa. It is thus also fitting for us, in our quest, reflecting on faith matters in relation to spatial justice to then go back to this starting point, indeed, the quintessential lived experience of a life that sought to be included in the white world – white polis – without any success as he was constantly reminded about his place as a black. This particular point is extremely important for the development of Black Urban Theology because Tiyo Soga showed an attitude that espoused the white world completely and his marriage to Janet Burnside from Glasgow remains one undeniable example of a person whose conviction about racial equality and harmony cannot be questioned. Our choice to dialogue with Tiyo Soga’s life in making a contribution to urban theology in general and specifically from a black perspective is inspired by this memory we rightly should celebrate this year. It is the celebration of his ordination in the quest for racial harmony and the building of a just polis in South Africa as exemplified by his constant attempt to espouse the values of the white polis that constantly rejected him. The questions that became pertinent during his life and since his ordination as a potential citizen of the white polis, which persist to this day, have an impact on how we perceive space and temporality today.

Tiyo Soga belongs to the clan of amaJwara, he was the son of a councillor in Hintsa’s Council, old Soga, the son of Jotelo. Tiyo’s mother, Nosuthu, of amaNtinde clan, daughter of Jan Tshatshu, was old Soga’s great wife. He was born when King Maqoma was expelled from the Kat River territory, an event that in the thinking of amaXhosa remains epochal both as one of the tragic occurrences in the history of dispossession and also as a marker for the very date of Tiyo Soga’s birth, 1829. Tiyo Soga’s birth is as symbolic as its marker; the eviction of King Maqoma and the understanding of time by black Africans become inscribed in his whole life. In this sense, Tiyo Soga’s life was in contradiction – an excruciating ambivalence to be precise – as he constantly had to traverse two worlds throughout his life. For example, what he identified later in his life as the date of his birth he did through the acquisition of Western knowledge and skills, yet without the memory of his own mother, who informed him about the event that marked his birth, the very knowledge that he later acquired to read and search for information would have not been helpful at all. Tiyo Soga’s life is made up of foot prints at Lovedale, Scotland, and in the mission work among his own people, amaXhosa, until his death on 12 August 1871. He also wrote articles and even composed hymns. One of his most famous hymns is Lezalis’ Idinga Lakho – ‘Fulfil thy Promise God’. This hymn came second to Nkosi, sikel’ iAfrika during the struggle against Apartheid and at times, it was dubbed the anthem of the struggle.2 This brief background on Tiyo Soga will never do justice to this colossal figure and pioneer of Black African Christianity.

Tiyo Soga: An experience of genocide, epistemicide and spiritualicide

Tiyo Soga, responding to the myth of black extinction in an article titled ‘What is the Destiny of the Kaffir Race?’ published on 11 May 1865 inter alia, says:

I openly at the outset avow myself to the writer of that article to be one of those who hold the very opposite views he has given forth to the public, on the important question of the extinction of the Kaffir race. If he had said that the three reasons he has advanced to prove his case form some of the difficulties in the way of elevating his people, I would have understood him clearly. But when he draws from the astounding conclusion of their extinction, that conclusion I cannot accept until it rests upon surer premises. (Williams 1983:178)

The sentiments above vividly demonstrate that Tiyo Soga’s life is effectively an experience embedded and embroiled in various forms of killing associated with the conquest, colonisation and Christianisation of black people in South Africa. The myth of ‘black extinction’ expressed in the quotation above as ‘the extinction of the Kaffir race’ speaks volumes to the subject of our conversation in this section.

The knowledge systems associated with conquest and colonisation cannot be delinked from genocide, epistemicide and spiritualicide and pose ethical questions on social justice and space in post-1994 South Africa. We have already alluded to the ‘ambivalence’ of Tiyo Soga’s life which according to him constantly put his life in the ‘impassable gulf between the degraded condition of the black and white condition’ (Khabela 1996:50ff). City life and spatial justice remain terrains of this experience and our imaginary of the post-1994 polis, the impassable gulf between the degraded conditions of relations between blacks and whites.

Ambivalence or paradox is essentially a pathological condition inscribed on the black bodies, in their minds and souls that were systematically responded to by pioneers of Black Theology of Liberation such as James Cone and Allan Boesak in developing the distinctions between ontological blackness and black consciousness, ultimately for the affirmation of blackness in the quest of humanity. Desmond Tutu, in his debate with John Mbiti, argues that in the paradoxical circumstances of black identity, resulting from the displacement of millions of blacks from Africa during the Transatlantic slave trade, there are bonds among all Africans, including those in the diaspora, because ‘blackness’ is ‘an intractable ontological surd’ that defines their common experience. All Africans, Tutu argues, share an identical history of exploitation. That one could easily be identified with whiteness or blackness continues to be one of the most harrowing experiences of blackness as lived out in Tiyo Soga’s experience with all kinds of paradoxical manifestations in real life. As a black minister and missionary in South Africa, his white colleagues could not treat him as an equal among them.

While he innocently attempted to embrace this white world view, he kept on being reminded about his identity as a black and thus where he ‘belonged’ as a black person in the white world or polis. At the same time, among his own people, amaXhosa, he was equally treated with suspicion. On a number of occasions, Tiyo Soga did have to flee in times of war to settle among the missionaries who in most instances served as the informants of the colonialists who conquered amaXhosa.

The starting point of Black Urban Theology of liberation thus begins from this excruciating experience of ambivalence by remembering that amaXhosa warriors destroyed the Bible and said, ‘this is the thing Tiyo troubles us with’. The Bible is too troublesome for black people; it simply enhances this ambivalence when interpreted uncritically. As Cone’s theology later illustrates, the ambivalence of the cross, especially in his most recent work on the Cross and the Lynching Tree, the ambivalence that leads to the ‘destroying’ the Bible, is not easy to avoid in the troublesome conditions, which are not bereft of violence as the choices made, from the very word go, are a matter of life and death for the black person. Before we proceed with our brief discussion of the forms of killing imbued in Tiyo Soga’s life, the first point is that conditions of ‘ambivalence’, resulting from a violent defeat of amaXhosa, encapsulates all there is to say about genocide, epistemicide and spiritualicide. Methodology is in itself a matter that cannot be disembodied from contradictions that amount to life or death as seen in Tiyo Soga’s life and consequently the quest for the development of urban theology in general. Let us then move to the question of genocide first, in relation to the life and work of Tiyo Soga.

Tiyo and genocidal experience

It is arguable that colonisation was genocidal in South Africa. The history of colonial power in South Africa, while resulting from internecine wars of dispossession, does not seem to suggest any history of genocide. In other words, the conquest of the black African does not at face value present evidence of genocide but scales of death in the tale of violent dispossession of land. Surely there was gunfire (Storey 2008) and untold acts of violence in the history of the Seven Frontier Wars of the Eastern Cape. The genocidal experience in relation to Tiyo Soga must be seen through the direct relationship of the colonial project itself with genocide. According to Ramos Grosfoguel (2013:79–85), the so-called discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus was preceded by an order to wait for the conquest of Granada in the Iberian Peninsula issued to him by the monarchy. The idea of this war or conquest was to unite the whole territory under one rule, identity and religion (Grosfoguel 2013:79). The conquest of the Iberian Peninsula finalised on 2 January 1492 was immediately followed by the authorisation of Columbus’ voyage, ‘only nine days later’ (Grosfoguel 2013:79). Human beings were simply wiped of the face of the earth before the ‘order,’ by the monarch, to authorise the voyage was issued out. It is important that we completely grasp this picture of the relationship of colonialism with genocide.

In the context of Africa, the excruciating scale of death across the Atlantic continues to shock anyone who deeply thinks about this history. The bodies hidden under the currents of the Atlantic Ocean right to the Caribbean and Cuba and through to the Americas surely speak with the waves and swells of the Atlantic waters. The roughness of the sea is an eloquent speech about this horrendous narrative in the history of humanity since the days of slavery in Africa.

Genocide and epistemicide went together, but Grosfoguel also argues that another form of killing accompanied these worldwide processes of conquest namely, spiritualicide, meaning the destruction of the spirituality (spiritualicide) of the conquered. The methods used by Columbus became a paradigm for colonial conquests, ultimately the racial justification of the Africans, and these insights by Ramos Grosfoguel are worth citing:

While ‘Indians’ were placed in the ‘encomienda’ under a coerced form of labour, Africans who were already classified as ‘people without a soul’ were brought to the Americas to replace the ‘Indians’ in slave labour. Africans were perceived at the time as Muslims and the racialisation of Muslims in 16th century Spain was extended to them. The decision to bring captives from Africa to enslave them in the Americas was directly related to the conclusion of the 1522 Valladolid trial. (2013:84)3

The same sentiments are expressed by Storey:

In the nineteenth century, the focus of the present study, guns were associated with the depopulation of game animals; the development of capitalism; and the establishment of new colonies, republics, and chiefdoms. Legal restrictions on gun ownership came to mark who was a citizen and who was not. (2008:1)

The establishment of the colony was associated with guns and the dispossession of the black people. The story of Tiyo Soga must continue to be retold in relation to violent land dispossession, just as Khabela draws our attention to the legend of Makhanda, whose story is now being retold by Wells, as one centred on the question of land. In addition, it must be clarified; this violence took form in many ways of killing.

By focusing on land alone, all these forms of killing by colonialism could be integrated, because land is related to human relations, politics, economics and spirituality from an African perspective. For our purpose, Tiyo Soga’s life was immersed in the ‘frontier’, as Njeza (2000) rightly argues. At one stage he had to engage his own people who thought war was an option like Mlanjeni. That he, at the age of six, during the war in 1835–1836, in the care of his mother, fled to the mountains (Njeza 2000:6), is even more telling. In 1846, a Frontier War, ‘The War of the Axe’ broke out while he was at Lovedale. The relationship of black conquest with genocide is the metanarrative of colonisation, applicable in South Africa and written on the body of Tiyo Soga. The Mission Station, which became a geo-political space distinct from the land occupied by the red-blanketed, directly accounts for the bifurcation not only of the physical space originally occupied by black people but also of mental and spiritual spaces.

Tiyo Soga’s epistemicidal experience

The constant battles that Tiyo Soga had with his own people, especially those who were the leaders of amaXhosa, are not only one example we could cite about the destruction of the knowledge systems of amaXhosa. Khabela discusses Tiyo Soga in comparison with leaders such as Nxele and Mlanjeni (1996:56–68) and says:

The new culture had caused a serious cleavage among the (sic) Xhosa. School people despised the Red-blanketed ones. The general treatment meted out against the Red-blanketed ones was one of inferiority. As Les Switzer observes, ‘communal habits of living were discouraged among the educated ones in favour of individual enterprise and self-sufficiency’. (1996:58–59)

This matter troubled Tiyo Soga as he put this in his own journal (Williams 1983:38–39) and later prompted the response he made earlier to make sense of the troubled knowledge system of his own people and the invading systems of colonial knowledge. Tiyo Soga says, ‘The gospel has been interfered with – its good has been neutralised – the vices of Civilisation, have been introduced – & never better – & hence this – doom of the Kaffir’ (Williams 1983:39). The direct link of the doom of the black people with ‘the vices of Civilisation’ captures the sentiment very well. It is not his reflections for now that we should rather spend our time on, but his lived experience as one who was doomed as a symbol and body of knowledge:

Sirs, – I was yesterday unprovokedly insulted by the toll keeper and his assistant in crossing the river on my way from Alice. After I had crossed the river, I went to pay the usual rates for horses. While doing this, the assistant would know my name, evidently with the design of taking me off. I at first took no notice of this, as I saw that the young man was not altogether sober, but he persisted in his insolence. I then told him that as an Englishman he ought to know that it was ungentlemanly and rude to ask a stranger’s name in this way. Hereupon the old gentleman took me up, and taunted me with ridiculousness of refusing to give my name, more especially as he thought that a fine gentlemen like me ought rather to wish his name to be known. During the time they were changing the money, they carried on this jeering simultaneously. Now sirs, if Mr Hall and his assistant possess a monopoly for insulting quiet individuals without reason, but because as black men, they think they must take them down for aiming at being fine gentlemen, the sooner they are informed of this self-assumed right the better. (Williams 1983:182)

This letter was addressed to the Town Council of King William on 13 October 1865. There are a few things we need to observe from the crux of the letter. Firstly, the insults are unprovoked. Secondly, the appeasement against this insolent encounter and the perpetrator appeals to the values of the provoker, the ‘gentleman!’ Thirdly, insulting is a monopoly and fourthly, blacks are being insulted at attempting to being ‘gentlemen’, and last but not least, this insolence is a self-assumed right.

Tiyo Soga experienced this first hand. As a body that carried this experience, then Western epistemology came to know blacks by insulting them, it does so without being provoked to do so, and this insolence does not exculpate those who aspire to be ‘gentlemen’ but more harrowing, the Eurocentric knowledge of a black person that is insolent to a black who tries to espouse it is a self-assumed right! Any student of Black Theology of Liberation will rather add than subtract these attributes in Tiyo Soga’s experience of an insolent epistemological discourse that takes blacks down. The ‘doom of the Kaffir race’ for the past centuries has been built along this experience. Importantly, we must bear this point in mind: Tiyo’s passage through Western education followed conquest and, thus, constantly challenges the persuasive character of this epistemology. Njeza (2000) in his chapter titled ‘Colonising the Mind-The Lovedale Experiment’ posits Tiyo Soga’s education within the psychological dangers related to the transmission of knowledge to the conquered black person. Graham Duncan (2003) does the same and indeed, the experimentation of education for black people finds expression in Tiyo Soga’s life. The mental space of a black person is a habitus for Western experiments and epistemological weaponry to destroy the consciousness of the black person.

Tiyo’s spiritualicidal experience

The destruction of the spiritual roots of the knowledge of the African blacks is probably aggregated in the displacement of Tiyo Soga and his mother from their own land. The up-rooting of black people from their land, as explicitly shown in Tiyo Soga’s life, is the deepest wound on the spirituality of the black person. These words of Tiyo Soga suggest something deep about the struggles of spirituality even today: ‘But Christianity, and Infidelity, and Rationalism, as abstract principles, can engage in no hostile contest’ (Williams 1983:194). Tiyo Soga here, was presenting a lecture in Cape Town in 1866, speaking about the ecclesial or ecclesiological challenges of the day.

He presented a lecture that examined freedom from creeds, orthodoxy and confessions, among others, as these narrowed the view of reality and the other side of the debate namely, freeing the church from those who do not perceive the role of the clergy as important. We push this matter further by simply adopting the rationality of the Western forms of knowledge, which ultimately does nothing helpful in the context of knowledge that is not disembodied in the experiences of the oppressed. The disjuncture between epistemology and spirituality is one of the challenges that Tiyo Soga forecasts as a spiritual battle. One can only see this struggle when we remember that Tiyo Soga had begun to integrate African culture in his theology and in the light of the spiritual assault amaXhosa suffered including himself. He pondered a number of contradictions. He was called a ‘blackie’ in Glasgow, lost his luggage too in Glasgow and soon he saw that those who preached the gospel to the black also needed to be preached to by others. Tiyo Soga’s inwardness uprooted from his land remains a symbol of the paradoxical dent of the spirituality of black people. As a solution to this, he proclaimed a look into the African sources of spirituality, hence his iconic stature as a father of Black African Christianity. Projects of inculturation today simply question the chasm between cognitive knowledge and spiritual knowledge caused by conquest. The spirit to conquer is the core for the rationalisation and ratiocination of the myth of the supremacy of the white race and the justification for genocide, epistemicide and spiritualicide.

Implications for spatial justice in South Africa

The implications of Tiyo Soga’s life for spatial justice are evidently numerous. In our celebration of his anniversary, we remember that the African concept of home, ikhaya, integrates the epistemological, the spiritual and the economic in convivial harmony with the land and God among others. Conquest was a violent displacement of the spheres of knowledge, spirituality, economics and human relations in general. Spatial justice in South Africa is not an abstract discourse.

Spatial injustice and the resultant displacement of black people, their evictions, their ambivalent lives in the order of conquest, colonisation and its manifold forms of killing, illustrated in Tiyo Soga’s life, are not only a matter of broken bodies but also of destroyed minds and spiritualties of those who survived the genocide. If Tiyo married a white woman and wedded himself into the white polis, for hundred and fifty years to date, at least, there is no conspicuous, adequate effort by whites to ‘marry’ or at least to be wedded to the black African space in concrete terms barring a few exceptions. Wherever there are such ‘marriages’ and ‘weddings’ they have remained examples of lives lived in utter ambivalence as shown by the informal settlements in South Africa, mokhukhu. Wherever they are attempted, they cheapen the covenant of marriage between Western knowledge, spirituality and the same of the black African person.

After more than a century, there is no single congregation or white space that has been named after Tiyo Soga that I know of. Most recently, the Central Office of the Uniting Presbyterian Church was named after Tiyo Soga, but that was not the original intention as the papers the Executive Commission of the denomination show. While it pleases some of us, what happens though inside that Central Office might need deeper examination for its mitigation against the killing forms of knowledge associated with the West. The place of Tiyo Soga in the intellectual platforms of our land including the ecclesiological ones leaves much to be desired. One will have to live long enough to see the ‘wedding’ between the black congregation and the white one in South Africa generally. One still has to live long enough to experience the warmth of the ‘wedding’ between black and white epistemologies, in fact, as seen in the education of the black children in marginalised spaces, the education of a black person remains a ‘toxic mix’. Tiyo Soga embraced the white Western world; he was rejected by this world.

Ideas of justice in South Africa are divorced from the world of black Africans. One example is the notion of transitional justice in the post-1994 South Africa, a vat n sit model of justice that defiles the epistemological sentiment of a black South African.

The discussion of spatial justice in South Africa without land is simply a discussion in the trenches of genocide, epistemicide and spiritualicide.

Evictions in South Africa have included evictions from the graves of the black person’s ancestors, God, economics, politics, work, and spirituality to mention but a few. This list of the issues above is illustrative but the crux lies here: Tiyo Soga reminds us that Urban Black Theology of Liberation, and thus spatial justice, is impossible without land justice, the redistribution of land to the black people. Importantly, the building of a city does also require the archaeological insights of black people themselves in so far as their understanding of space, time and other features go (cf. Vellem 2014a). Given the violent dispossession of blacks, land as their mother, pacha mama (Boff 2014:2 of 4), urban theology that is not wedded to the self-understanding and self-conscious view of what land is to blacks is the continuation of the epistemicide, and spiritualicide of black existence in a world that is undeniably genocidal today.


Spatial justice, as Tiyo Soga remembered what his mother told him about his date of birth, evokes not only geo-political questions but also temporal questions in a history marred with genocide, epistemicide and spiritualicide. The memory of the poor and marginalised for the erection of the city, the polis in post 1994, must be inserted lest the skill of a ‘westerner’ remains an instrument of injustice. Ambivalence in the discourse of spatial justice questions the texts associated with Western knowledge and treats the Bible as troublesome, let alone the forms of killing associated with this foreign civilisation. This we can do if we celebrate Tiyo Soga. Jwara!


Competing interests

The author declares that he has no financial or personal relationships, which may have inappropriately influenced him in writing this article.


Boff, L., 2014, Toward and eco-spirituality, transl. R. Hopke, Crossroad Publishing Company, Bologna.

Chalmers, J.A., 1877, Tiyo Soga: A page of South African mission work, Hodder and Stoughton, London.

Duncan, G.A., 2003, Lovedale: Coercive agency, Cluster, Pietermaritzburg.

Khabela, G., 1996, Tiyo Soga. The struggle of the gods. A study in Christianity and the African culture, Lovedale, Alice, TX.

Lemert, C., 2010, Social theory: The multicultural and classic readings, Westview Press, Philadelphia, PA.

Mbeki, T. 2011. ‘A Pioneer Modern African Intellectual who died in 1871’ address by Thabo Meki at the Unveiling of the Tiyo Soga Memorial, 9 September 2011.

Njeza, M.M., 2000, ‘Subversive subservience: A comparative study of the responses of Tiyo Soga and Mpambani Mzimba to the Scottish missionary enterprise’, Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cape Town.

Storey, W.K., 2008, Guns, race, and power in colonial South Africa, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Vellem, V.S., 2002, ‘The quest for Ikhaya: The African concept of home in public life’, Unpublished master’s dissertation, University of Cape Town.

Vellem, V.S., 2014a, ‘Black urban public theology’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 70(3), 6. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v70i3.2728

Vellem, V.S., 2014b, ‘Spirituality of liberation: A conversation with African religiosity’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 70(1), Art. #2752, xx pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v70i1.2752

Vellem, V.S., 2015, ‘Black theology of liberation and the economy of life’, The Ecumenical Review 67(2), 177–186.

Wells, J.C., 2012, The return of Makhanda: Exploring the legend, UKZN Press, Scottsville, VA.

Williams, D. (ed.), 1983, The journal and selected writings of the Rev Tiyo Soga, A. A. Balkema, Cape Town.


1. A detailed explanation of the implications of the concept of ikhaya is developed in Vellem (2002).

2. One still has a vivid memory of how the late Chris Hani sang this hymn by heart in one of the rallies in KZN, in the late nineties.

3. The relationship between modernity and racism is not necessarily a new insight. See also Vellem (2015).


Crossref Citations

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