Original Research - Special Collection: COVID-19 from a Theological Perspective

Homelessness and Covid-19 in the City of Tshwane: Doing liberation theology undercover – A conversation with Ivan Petrella

Stephan F. de Beer
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 1 | a6209 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i1.6209 | © 2020 Stephan F. de Beer | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 June 2020 | Published: 01 December 2020

About the author(s)

Stephan F. de Beer, Department of Practical Theology, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Ivan Petrella argues that the goals of liberation theology can sometimes be better served by doing it undercover. This article reflects on responses to homelessness during Covid-19 in the City of Tshwane, describing and reflecting upon it from the perspective of a researcher-theologian as well as activist-urbanist. It employed two lenses in its reflection: Petrella’s notion of the ‘undercover liberation theologian’, as well as what is known as deliberative public administration theory, as possibly complementary approaches. It traces ways in which people of faith/theologians participated in the City of Tshwane through means other than explicit theological discourse. It implies that such engagement was not less theological but perhaps more strategic, describing that task of the undercover liberation theologian as that of making space, making plans, making known and making change. Ultimately, it calls for a subversion of suspect models of theological education, suggesting that it is in losing ourselves in the messiness of public processes and multiple solidarities with the poor, that the unfree might experience freedom, and liberation theological goals might find concrete expression.

Contribution: This article reflects on responses in the City of Tshwane to street homelessness during Covid-19. It unpacks the notion and role of the ‘undercover’ liberation theologian in local political processes, and how losing ourselves in public processes and multiple solidarities with the urban poor, might help gain freedom for the unfree.


street homelessness; undercover liberation theologian; deliberative public administration; making space; making plans; making known; making change


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