About the Author(s)

Elijah M. Baloyi Email
Department of Philosophy, Practical and Systematic Theology, University of South Africa, South Africa


Baloyi, E.M., 2018, ‘Tribalism: Thorny issue towards reconciliation in South Africa – A practical theological appraisal’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 74(2), 4772. https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v74i2.4772

Note: This article is a product of a reworked paper delivered in a conference entitled ‘Transatlantic Roundtable …’ that was held between 27 and 30 July 2017 in Howard University, Washington DC, United States.

Note: This article is published in the section Practical Theology of the Society for Practical Theology in South Africa.

Original Research

Tribalism: Thorny issue towards reconciliation in South Africa – A practical theological appraisal

Elijah M. Baloyi

Received: 15 Aug. 2017; Accepted: 29 Mar. 2018; Published: 28 June 2018

Copyright: © 2018. 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.


The apartheid regime used various strategies to ensure that South Africans formed a divided nation. It was through the differences between ethnic groups and tribes, among other things, that the government of the time managed to manipulate and entrench hatred and a lack of trust among most black South Africans. Tribalism, which existed even before apartheid, became instrumental in inflicting those divisions as perpetuated by the formation of homelands. The various ethnic groups had been turned against one other, and it had become a norm. Nepotism, which is part and parcel of the South African government, is just an extension of tribalism. It is the objective of this article to uncover how tribalism is still rearing its ugly head. From a practical theological perspective, it is important to deal with tribalism as a tool that plays a part in delaying tribal reconciliation, which was orchestrated by apartheid policies in South Africa.


A newspaper article entitled ‘I am not an African, no, I am 100% Zulu’ did not only help to sell the paper but also sketched a picture of tribalism in South Africa (Khumalo 2016). The slogan of ‘100% Zulu’ was made famous by President Jacob Zuma when he had to face various rape charges. Moloi (2016) indicated that tribalism is not history by saying, ‘The danger of tribalism is at our doorstep. It is so scary that in the current situation it is associated with our previous kings’. It is remarkable that in all research colonialism, among other things, also played a role in inflicting tribal tensions. There are many incidents that evidence that tribalism in South Africa is at work to try and keep the black people separated in accordance with their ethnic or tribal divides. For the sake of this study, I will only mention a few to open the discussion:

  1. It is on record that Senzeni Zokwana was dragged to court by his department’s liaison officer, Renee Thompson, on claims of her being discriminated as a tribalist (Ndenze 2016:2).

  2. Secondly, there is a recorded claim that when SABC Radio station ‘Phalaphala FM’ was moved from Polokwane to Thohoyandou, it was a way of taking it back to its people. This meant the former Venda homeland is where its people are.

  3. Some attribution when the African National Congress (ANC) lost to Democratic Alliance (DA) and EFF coalition in the Tshwane municipality elections in 2016 pointed to tribal contestations in which many Tswana-speaking people in the area declined to support Thoko Didiza as they claimed she does not belong to Tshwane, but to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) (News24Wire June, 23, 2016).

  4. Another tribalism was evidenced during the Malamulele-Vuwani protests in which the inability to speak fluent Venda was a criteria used to turn back people who were crossing to Thohoyandou to do some shopping when their area, Malamulele, was violently in protest to have its own municipality (SABC, Munghana Lonene, 06 February 2015).

These few cases strengthen Boahen’s (1992) argument in which he agrees that the racial and ethnic divides have not only continued to haunt our nation but also affected its rivalry. Baloyi (2016:43) argues that: ‘[O]ne of the pressing issues in the present day South Africa is reconciliation and unification of South Africans across the racial and ethnic divides that were created during apartheid’. This confirms that colonial education ensured that the black ethnic groups did not only undermine one another but also subjugated one another (Ashimolowo 2007:271). Though the slow pace can be blamed on many factors, the continued tribalism plays a special role in ensuring the delay of the reconciliation programmes towards the previously racially and tribally divided South Africa. It is therefore the intention of the researcher to argue that tribalism is still troubling South Africa, despite being 22 years into democracy. It is my articulation that practical theology must have a specific role to play through its church and pastoral services.

Problem statement, relevance and motivation of the study

Memela (2017:14) confirms the disappearance of ubuntu, which has always been used as a tool to unite black people across various cultures, traditions and ethnic divides when stating the following: ‘Well-off blacks lost their sense of ubuntu and have instead bought into the selfishness of white capitalism.’

This research is situated in the discipline of practical theology. There is a considerable amount of evidence that besides other sociological disciplines, practical theology has not done much as far as fighting for the reduction or elimination of tribalism is concerned. This is an acknowledgement that sociology is doing well in this regard, but the gap for practical theology needs to be occupied too. Dlanjwa (2015:5) makes the following statement: ‘Tribalism is visible in almost all government departments, and especially in South African police stations.’ This statement supports Dlanjwa’s argument that 21 years after the first elections, tribalism is back with a vengeance. One of the effects of tribalism is that some government departments are seen as representatives of certain tribes; hence, the equity act that our constitution expects is biased. This is becoming a playground for civil war and genocide. In his report entitled ‘Tribalism is eating South Africa alive’, Bevhula (2017:10) hits the nail on the head. One of the popular pastors and preachers, Billy Graham, was quoted as (Sanou 2015:96) saying that racial and ethnic resentment is the number one social problem that churches worldwide are faced with.

As part of the injustices of the past, tribalism is playing a crucial role in delaying the reconciliation and unification of society, which has been fragmented for long time now. I share the sentiments of Lyborn Rikhotso (2016:12) that ‘tribal remarks must be condemned because they are as bad as racist remarks’. This argument resulted from some people trying to judge the performance of Johannesburg Mayor, Herman Mashaba on the basis of him being either a Mozambican or Tsonga. For me it is a theological concern that factionalism continues to characterise this nation. It is for this reason that if theology cannot reach people in the immediate situation, it is not only irrelevant but also ceased to exist. The truth is that some lives and properties have been destroyed and lost because of tribal allegations and tensions in South Africa.

On reconciliation and tribalism

There is enough evidence that South Africa had been and is still a divided country, not only along racial lines but even on tribal or ethnic groupings. For apartheid regime to succeed, tribalism was a tool that ensured that black people were divided and placed in tribal zones. This became a fertile ground for racism, which ensured that South Africans are really divided and blacks were subjected. The tribalism that was evidenced by tensions between Tsongas and Vendas in the Vuwani-Malamulele municipality protests (As in Baloyi 2016:50) potentially works against the project of uniting a divided South Africa. The fact that racism used tribalism, among other instruments, to ensure that South Africans were divided so that subjection of one race by the other could take place, demands that tribalism is also addressed when the bigger picture of racial division is to be overcome. The fact that tribalism became an effective tool for divide and rule policies implemented by the apartheid regime indicates that tribalism cannot be innocent if we want reconciliation in South Africa. The parting shot is that if racism and past divisions are to be eradicated, the tools among which tribalism is evidenced must be part of the project towards reconciliation.

Why practical theology?

Practical theology concerns itself with ending human suffering, fostering well-being and seeking human liberation, freedom and equality. This is what Morris (2014:22–23) refers to when arguing about a theology that should be on the side of the poor and those who struggle for human emancipation. It is for this reason that Graham Walton (in Morris 2014:23) insists that liberation theology helped to shape practical theology towards what we call ‘theology in action: praxis’. Besides being a discipline that just interprets and employs the thoughts of other disciplines, it could also be a critical conversation that converses with the real world in its own context (Pattison 2000:135–145). When looking at Osmer’s (2008:57) view, it makes sense to say that the unity between the thoughts above gives us a discipline that engages with the real challenges and problems and affects people with its methodologies. It is for this reason that I see practical theology as a relevant discipline that involves itself in dealing with issues related to the challenges contemporary people are faced with; tribalism in this instance. It is a pastoral paradigm to see the church actively engaged in the public sphere, the focus being on providing material and spiritual care to God’s people (Carney 2008:2).

Historical background

The definition of tribalism is important for the discussion. According to Nothwehr (2008:5), tribalism is the attitude and practice of harbouring such a strong feeling of loyalty or bonds to one’s tribe that one excludes or even demonises other tribes that do not belong to that group. In the book entitled The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa, Leroy Vail (1989) included a large collection of essays from various scholars who exposed how tribalism engulfed the Southern region.

Although Mackenzie (1989:72) holds the opinion that without denying that tribalism existed before racism, it can still be argued that the forceful removals which targeted the formation of bantustans in the late 1960s played a role in ensuring that organised tribalism becomes a brand that will exist for as long as people are still separated. Lonsdale (2014:2) agrees that scholars believed that precolonial Africa had been a land of tribes, each united by language, modes of subsistence, kingship and religious and cultural practices which separated each tribe from its neighbours.

It was the forceful removal of black ethnic groups that also paved the way for the whites to have a land designed only for their exclusive use (Kgatla 2013:120), something the EFF is trying to voice out today.

One of the important things for colonialists in South Africa was to deepen the differences between Zulus and Xhosas, Ndebele and Vendas, Tswana and Qwaqwa and so forth. Also, those of mixed race were segregated from the white groups by means of culture, residence, occupation and status. These differences benefited the elite because it caused conflict. New York times reporter has this to say:

The South African conflict involved the Zulus and the Xhosas, African National Congress supporters in the KwaZulu-Natal homeland. Few physical conflicts occurred between the dominant minority white groups and the black majority ethnic groups. This was partly because of the government strategy of segregation, which distanced black homelands from white cities. However, there was a high level of violent conflict between black ethnic groups in the homelands. In Natal alone, well-over 1,147 people were killed during the first months of 1992. (The New York Times, 18 November 1992: A6)

The inception of democracy has seen the new government battling to reverse the issue of those removals by compensating those who were unjustly removed from their ancestral land in the form of money or even by building them new houses. Even though this kind of compensation was made, it did not attempt to undo the damage and effects of tribalism (Hampton 2014). Dlanjwa (2015) argues as follows:

Prior to the ANC conference in Mangaung and afterwards, for the first time in the history of South Africa, delegates were seen wearing ANC T-shirts bearing 100% Zulu slogan in a public domain. This tribal lobbying yielded a positive outcome for President Jacob Zuma as he defeated Kgalema Motlanthe. (p. 5)

It is a fact that KwaZulu-Natal, where Zulus come from, is the biggest region for the ANC with regards to the party’s internal elections, and hence winning that region would ensure winning ANC elections. Therefore, Zuma knew that if he gets the support of that region by any means, including tribal slogans, it would not be difficult for him to defeat his opponent, Motlanthe, who is Sotho speaking. On the other hand, even other people from other tribes, who were mislead to think that the courts are being used against Zuma because of his being Zulu, had compassion to support him.

It is usually difficult to define the thin line that exists between tribalism and ethnicity. According to Irobi (2005), the most probable causes of ethnic or tribal divisions in countries like South Africa and Nigeria are that:

  • Ethnic communities violently compete for property, rights, jobs, education, language, social amenities and good healthcare facilities. Okwudiba Nnoli (1980) published empirical examples relevant to socio-economic factors of ethnic factions in Nigeria that look more or less the same as the problems between Malamulele and Vuwani in South Africa. The Xhosas, Zulus and Afrikaners mobilise to compete for resources in South Africa.
  • The second cause of ethnic divide and conflict is psychology; specifically the fear and insecurity of ethnic groups during transition (Irobi 2005). This is a reminder of the pre-1994 incident where all the governments of the former Venda claimed their pensions before coming to the new democratic South Africa out of fear that they may lose their investments if they allow their pension schemes to be joined to those of South Africa.

However, there is evidence that the ANC, during inception of Freedom Charter in 1955, also voiced its opposition to tribalism and made the following remark:

While we do not encourage tribal pride – in fact we denounce it – we are far from being indifferent to traditions, languages, and culture of individual ethnic groups; we do not propagate ethnic nihilism. Our reality is multi-ethnic society, we respect and strive to develop all local languages and cultures and this help us to combat all forms of reactionary nationalism, chauvinism and ethno-centricity. It also helps us to improve inter-ethnic relations, thus facilitating the drive towards national and social emancipation. (Shivambu 2005)

After the democratic elections, one of the main tasks of the ANC-led government was to reverse all forms of discrimination and segregation, including tribal divides that were formed through the homelands system. This was all targeted at having one nation with equality across race, gender, language and so forth. This dream was evidenced with the adoption of 11 languages as official languages of the republic. Unfortunately, tribalism is fast becoming one of the biggest problems and hindrances towards reconciliation and equality.

According to Dlanjwa (2015), former Mozambican freedom stalwart, Samora Machel, was quoted saying about Zimbabwe: ‘To ensure national unity, there must be no Shonas in Zimbabwe, there must be no Ndebele’s in Zimbabwe, there must be Zimbabweans.’ This was a speech given by Machel to Zimbabweans, who were still teetering and grappling with the task of building a solid nation state in early 1980, just 6 years before his death. He went on to argue that some people are proud of their tribalism, but he called tribalists reactionary agents of the enemy (Mataire 2017). This was his impassioned plea for the continental unity, which would obviously not be addressed before the tribal divisions were addressed. On the other end, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, a former Zambian president, in his attempts to unite the country introduced the motto of ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ with some policies that deliberately transferred the newly employed young civil servant from working in their home districts or provinces as a way to avoid tribalism (Goez 2015:2). These attempts by the leaders from the Southern African region are just a direct opposite of what President Zuma was attempting to do by trying to secure support by using tribal utterances. As a leader of the nation, it was expected of him to embrace everyone regardless of tribal barriers as well as trying to avoid promoting tribalism by his statement. It should be mentioned that most of the Zulu-speaking people who heard this, interpreted it as if the president was being dragged to courts as a way of victimising him as a Zulu, not as a suspect of a particular crime committed.

The practical effects of tribalism on current transformational agenda

Although tribalism is not the only problem that delays the reconciliation process in this country, there is no doubt that tribalism has been one of the main issues that keeps democracy and transformation of people’s lives at a very slow pace. Goez (2015:5) emphasises that tribalism is indeed a major stumbling block to democracy. It is, for instance, difficult to imagine how service delivery in the Thulamela municipality, which is based in Thohoyandou, catered for the former Venda areas at the expense of the Tsonga towns and villages. Dlanjwa (2015) is correct when saying that tribal politics continue to derail development and frustrate reconciliation and reconstruction in many African countries. This links up very well with what Oneale (2015) means when arguing that tribalism is a threat to democracy:

There is no other practice that has such devastating effects on the democracy of South Africa than the evils, extremes and venom of tribalism. The practice and tendencies of tribalism are implemented by people who represent the highest position of the liberation struggle and who profess to be custodians of the majority.

The current state of affairs in South Africa is typified among other things by tribalism that manifests itself in greed and egotism. There is evidently an increase of clear class divisions in the black community, and the false bonds of black solidarity and unity are shattered (Memela 2017:14).

Besides being a hindrance to the democratic agenda of transformation, there is also no doubt that the current political landscape of South Africa is characterised by the economic exclusion of some people and the economic inclusion of others. President Zuma and his cronies, including his children and family, had benefited from all the corrupt deeds that we read and hear about in the media on a daily basis. This view can be understood in the context of what former President, Thabo Mbeki, said when addressing Unisa’s College of Human Sciences (Makhubu 2014). Mbeki was quoted saying that:

When a minister comes from a certain region, so will the officials in that department. They conspire in one language, and this is one of the challenges we need to address. When the ANC was formed 102 years ago part of its mandate was to bury the demon of tribalism. But 102 years later tribalism is showing its ugly head.

The truth is that in South Africa there is a very wide disparity in access to income and wealth as a result of tribalism. The report by Olifant (2016) entitled ‘Zuma Dynasty; Now entering the province of KwaZuma-Natal’ clearly indicates how Zuma and his family employs a tribal strategy to keep the province under their control. The reporter went on to say:

But the Zuma family influence has become quite clear in KwaZulu-Natal where the president’s relatives from provincial ANC secretary Super Zuma to businessman and Zuma Nephew Deebo Mzobe wield enormous influence.

The reporter indicated that Super and his nephews are said to be at the forefront of the campaign for Dlamini-Zuma to take over as ANC president from their uncle in December 2017. With this in mind, one can start to understand why it will be difficult to win the fight against corruption issues surrounding the president. It also tells how long the country will continue to experience the corrupt connections of the Zuma clan even after his retirement. Tribal ideology is bad, but this is how the tribal connections keep on feeding corruption. This confirms what Smith (2008) reported when she said:

Tribalism is another form of that old political favourite. In South Africa, Jacob Zuma has built KwaZulu-Natal as the strongest ANC region; previously it was the Xhosa Eastern Cape. He now wanders around in skins and does tribal dances. Perhaps we need to ask: Is this charming or potentially dangerous? In South Africa, the Zulu are seen as a brave warrior tribe – but the Sotho, Tswana and others also had heroic warriors.

The challenge is that the very same ANC, including its leaders, are reviving the tribalism used to accuse the Inkatha Freedom Party of being tribalist (Lonsdale 2014:133). Still on the issue of feeding corruption, tribalism promotes bad governance and a lack of accountability. This is evident when people cannot question wrong governance by their own tribesman or kinsman (Goez 2015:5). This is also becoming evident in South Africa where some leaders continue to loot from the state while those who have the powers to stop it are quiet because they cannot oppose one of their own. Socio-economic development is blocked; meanwhile, leaders are still concentrating on their pockets while they are protected by their own people who hold high positions in the government and state-owned companies.

Tribalism can be a potential assert for civil war and genocide

Any kind of exclusion is possible in the existence of tribalism. This is why one of the biggest problems in South Africa is that negative terms are used when thinking and speaking about ‘other’. There is a considerable number of testimonies to the fact that many incidents of genocide that occurred originated from tribal and ethnic divides. Hintjens (1999:248) articulates that from the inception of genocide in April 1994 in Rwanda, the international media indicated that it stemmed from ethical tension. Paglia (2007) in her article entitled, ‘Ethnicity and tribalism: are these the root causes of the Sudanese civil conflicts?’ is in agreement that in the Sudanese context, tribalism and ethnicity played a role to stir up civil conflicts.

According to Mwakikagile (in Shivambu 2005):

The Nigerian civil war reminds us in a very gruesome way that African countries cannot continue to survive and function as stable political entities if some of their tribes are not guaranteed equal protection and opportunity enjoyed, and some even taken for granted by members of other ethnic groups.

Though the author agrees with Shivambu on the issue of having tribalism as our problem, we differ on his opinion that we are still far from concluding that South Africa is under threat and menace of tribal confrontations and conflicts. The Tshwane and Vuwani incidents are just the evidence that we are already starting to reap the fruits of tribal tensions. According to Shorter (1996), the Rwandan genocides, which also destroyed the work of evangelism, were rooted among others in tribalism and ethnicity.

The potential of tribalism to destroy the church cannot be ignored. The church is always affected by the socio-economical political issues that are raised by the specific community from which it operates. There is no doubt that tribalism, regardless of whether it starts outside the church, will end up affecting the church. Mudenda’s (2011) MA research thesis entitled ‘Tribalism in the Presbytery of Zimbabwe’ indicates and argues how the foundations of the unity in the Presbytery were destroyed by tribal opinions of the church leaders. Onyalla (2005) understands and explains the effects of tribalism on the church by saying:

Tribalism creates discord among members of the same congregation, community and society. this malaise is spiritually, emotionally and socially crippling religious communities, hence making them unspiritual, unhappy, unloving and unfruitful, leave alone making them lead unfulfilled lives in the church. Such people’s original inspiration and admiration of religious life, at the time when they joined it, has been tragically lost, leaving them spiritually dry, unproductive and bitter towards themselves and others. (p. 163)

The fact that churches operate in a particular society makes it difficult, if not impossible, to avert the consequences of tribalism. While some churches deteriorated, others were completely destroyed. Okullu (2001) is in agreement that tribalism has many negative effects on the church. It is just unfortunate that Christianity, which stands a good chance of initiating reconciliation and healing, got introduced to sub-Saharan Africa through slave traders and colonial masters; hence, we are stuck with tribal challenges (Tanye 2010:2).

Pastoral interventions

Katongole (2005:69) blames the Rwandan genocide on the church because of its ignorance to provide moral and spiritual guidance. This is because he noted with regret that numerous priests, pastors, nuns, brothers, catechists and Catholic and Protestant lay leaders supported and participated in helping to organise the genocidal killings. He argues that the church could have integrated the Gospel with all other aspects of life. The author’s understanding in this context is that the church needs to be contextual in order to deal with people’s immediate challenges. This is why the author is convinced that the church can play its role in averting tribalism and its intended and unintended consequences in South Africa.

One of the ways in which Jesus demonstrated a break from tribalism was his love and selection of the disciples. His disciples came from various backgrounds (Mt 12:46–50). This is why, if we want to curb the tribal divisions, as Christians we should not ignore Jesus’ words in John 13:34–35:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (NIV)

It is advisable to read this command in the light of how Jesus responded in Matthew 22:39 when he said: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ According to Sanou (2015:101), the church needs to teach and help its members to humble themselves, pray and seek God’s face and turn from their wicked ways. By teaching the members they will be able to confront and deal with the demons of racial and ethnical prejudice.

The biblical concepts of truth, mercy, peace and justice play a pivotal role in fostering unity and reconciliation for a previously fragmented society. The prophetic voice of the church towards the government and the citizens of the country should not ignore the power that these concepts have. It is for this reason the author is in agreement with Lederach (1998:30), who advocates that the four concepts mentioned above must be a meeting point for reconciliation to take place. The church, through its pastoral services, should be vocal about making reconciliation a reality for all South Africans.

Mercer (1996:87) is correct to allude that the Christian perspective towards the problem of racism and tribalism should begin with an understanding of the basic Bible doctrines and teachings about man and God. Therefore, the implications of doctrines of creation, discipleship, salvation and the church’s image in the New Testament must be explored and interpreted as responsive ways towards tribal and race-related issues. McGarry (2001:194–195) argues that to be a Christian also implies to live up to the richness of one’s ethnic origin, culture, education and at the same time experience an even deeper unity with those of other races, tribes and cultures in the Christian calling of being disciples. It is advisable for pastors to retain trust for the church to be a neutral arbiter. The church’s voice must be seen as non-partisan as it interacts with politicians. The author is in full agreement with Goez (2015:6) that the tendencies of some churches to invite and align themselves with some political parties may undermine and compromise the church’s voice. This is because some statements are tribally biased and can alienate other tribes. Such practices subject the church to criticism – to be seen as siding or supporting a certain tribe. The church needs to exhibit a counter-cultural faith, a faith that will rise above the tides of ethnic and tribal divisions. It is this counter-cultural church which, according to Tarus and Gathogo (2016:14), will exhibit a different way of being human.

The church must not shy away from highlighting the negative effects of tribalism in its teachings. This opinion is also held by Gitari (2014) who advocates that the church should be at the forefront when it comes to discouraging tribalism. When we read Exodus 18:21–22, God instructed Moses saying:

But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.

There were 12 tribes from which Moses was supposed to choose, but he was not instructed to choose from one tribe of his favour. Gitari (2014) discovered that it is unfortunate that tribalism finds its way even to churches today and in selecting leaders like Bishops and so forth where you find people wanting to select only people from their own tribes. In John 4, Jesus Christ broke the tribal barrier that even took his own disciples by surprise when he was found speaking to a ‘Samaritan’ woman (Jn 4:27). There was both gender and tribal tension in that episode.

It is the calling of the church to ensure that unity, peace and justice is fought for. No church should turn a blind eye when injustice is being fuelled either by racism or tribalism. In Baloyi’s (2011) article ‘Church Unity and Justice in the Gereformeerde Kerke in South Africa’, there is a clear discussion which deals with the way in which injustice and disunity creep into the life of the church and the community when issues of racism and tribalism are ignored. Lastly, it is important to note that the language of ‘being responsible’ for one another is not only biblical but also African. This is what the spirit of Ubuntu is all about. Mkhwanazi, (2013) in his research topic ‘To be human is to be responsible for the other’, clarified very well that through the study of Levinus, we can understand that we need to be available for one another. Let me close this section by quoting Mkhwanazi (2012) as he said:

Conversely, in the African traditional system, emphasis is on solidarity and reciprocity and co-operation and sharing, whose undermining can breed the following: Nepotism, corruption and lack of sympathy for the other. (p. 25)

All these can be a result of tribalism, which selfishly teaches people not to think of the other in positive terms. ‘It is the African sense of belonging that can conquer fears and uncertainty which can be brought by tribal tensions’ (Tanye 2010:112). The church needs to be mindful of the unity in diversity in which the values of various cultures and traditions blend effectively to enrich the universal church.


Although tribalism is not only a South African problem but also a worldwide challenge, it becomes impossible to deny that tribalism is an enemy of democracy, particularly in South Africa. Again, it is undeniable that South Africa is faced with a big challenge of this practice despite the principles and constitution. As a result, democratic transformational agendas like reconciliation, equality and others are finding it difficult to penetrate the lives of people. Although corruption and hatred among tribes and a lack of service delivery become the order of the day, tribalism is also playing its bad role in dividing people. It is therefore Practical theology, among other disciplines, which must take responsibility not only to voice the dangers posed by tribalism but also to suggest and give guidelines as to how this can be eliminated. It is part of the church’s role and calling that there should be stability, peace, unity and justice in the societies from which it operates. Practical theology, practical theologians and pastoral caregivers cannot afford to watch how this kind of inequality continues to hurt the nation.


Competing interests

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


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