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Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

in conversation with Prof. Daniel Plaatjies

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Thabo man

1960 Born in Johannesburg

1991 Wits University, BA Honours 1993 Wits M Ed in Educational Psychology

1993 -1996 Lectured part-time at WIts

1994-1998 Chaplain at Wits

1997 Wits HDip in Ed Science

1999 Archdeacon of Sophiatown

2002 Bishop of Queenstown 2004 Diocesan Bishop of Grahamstown

2007 Archbishop of Cape Town

2009 Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, General Theological Seminary, Episcopal Church, NY

2009 University of Cape Town, PhD in Business Administration

2011 Commissioner for the Press Freedom Commission 

2012 Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape

2013 Doctor of Divinity, Jure dignitatis, Huron University College, Ontario


“Truth is the bridge across which we will have to walk if we are to meet with one another again and find common solutions to the ills of our nation… Truth tells us that we need not despair – that we are not condemned to lives of uselessness in a failing society. Truth is the signpost to a better future.” These words were spoken by Arch Bishop Thabo Makgoba at the funeral of Zwelakhe Sisulu in 2012. In celebrating the life of the late anti-apartheid stalwart, at an event graced by prominent dignitaries and South African leaders, Makgoba wasted no time addressing the current state of the nation. He highlighted the problems besetting the nation and pointed to failures in leadership.


Speaking truth to power at every opportunity is a pattern that has characterised Makgoba’s life. He was born in 1960 to the royal Makgoba family in Limpopo. He was raised in Magoebaskloof in Limpopo as well as in Alexandra Township in Johannesburg. He attended Orlando High in Soweto. He joined the church at a very young age, working as a member of the church’s youth group. He was faced with options of either becoming a village chief in Magoebaskloof, joining Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK, the ANC’s military wing), or formally joining the church. He and a group of other young members of the church, went to Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu seeking clarity on a path for their lives. They were motivated by the pain and struggles they were witnessing under the anarchy/shadow of apartheid.


Makgoba has said that observing the order that was inherent in the church and watching his revered Bishop, Desmond Tutu, march during church processions, instilled new hope in him. He envisioned taking the order and integration inherent in the church and making it a reality in the broader South Africa. So rather than take up arms to fight the injustices of the system, Makgoba put on a robe and went into ministry, using the weapons of faith and words to enact the changes needed to create a better society for all South Africans.


Makgoba’s qualifications span way beyond the walls of a seminary. He has a Bachelor of Science degree, and a Masters in Educational Psychology from Wits University, as well as a Ph.D. from the University of Cape Town. In 2007, at the age of 47, he became the youngest Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, stepping into the shoes of his mentor Desmond Tutu, who was the Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 to 1996.

Thabo leader

Be willing to learn, be vulnerable and serve the common good

Key Quality of a Servant Leader

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

South African

Public Servant


Archbishop of Cape Town ​



Chaired the Electoral Code of Conduct Observer


Commission in South Africa’s national election


Awards for his roles as Public Servant

2008 Awarded the Anglican Communion’s Cross of St Augustine

2015 Chancellor's Medal from the University of Pretoria

2016 Honorary doctorate in Literature from the University of the Witwatersrand

Thabo interview

Things You May Not Know About Thabo

These are drawn from the full interview, which for Daniel was from "OneComradeToAnother'. Watch the full interview, here.

ARCH. MAKGOBA copy.jpg



Let others speak about you

"... Who I am, I was raised by my grandmother who used to say: “Child don't speak about yourself. It’s more beautiful if others speak about you.” I first and foremost preach in the church of God and I was raised in Magoebaskloof in Limpopo. I always brag that Magoebaskloof is the most beautiful part of this country, pity we don't have the sea... I was also raised in Alexandra Township in Johannesburg. I come from a family of five, from what they call the royal Makgoba family in Limpopo. Possibly if I wasn't a priest and full time in the church I could be spending most of my time as a chief in the village, ordering the lives and affairs of the people down in Magoebaskloof. I'm married, I’ve got two teenagers and my wife Lungelwa… She’s a full-time mother but has got more interest in food security and care for the environment. She's currently at the United Nations where the Millennium Development Goals are being discussed…"



You do not belong

“... The dompas was a very demeaning tool of influx control, of entrenching apartheid and racial discrimination. We were given funny categories that you are black African from the homelands so you don’t belong there. You got section 18.1b where you’re allowed to come into Johannesburg and work, but you have to return home... Women initially didn’t have to carry the dompas then they had to carry dompas around and white people didn’t have to carry the dompas and then they started saying okay let's take it to the so-called coloured people and for others … Chinese Indian, coloureds blacks, Zimbabweans everybody. When the dompas was introduced, it just created unnecessary divisions among the people that used to live together... That is why we really appreciated even before us, the struggle of the women that walked to parliament (The Union Buildings) Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Suzman and those that went and burnt the passes. But if you burn the passes you’re really challenging the State because it was a state machinery of maiming and killing our ambitions and aspirations as black people…”



Veiled threats for speaking truth

“... I met one senior politician who said: “Archbishop you know the stuff that you say we don’t like. And you see you’re not wearing a helmet on your head. We from our movement, we will stone you.” I know it's a joke but those are some of the things.. Some write openly and I wrote in the Sunday Independent criticising the way the country is headed and criticising in particular the President and the ruling party. Some of them are gracious enough, when they disagree they come here, we sit down, they unpack the differences. We agree to disagree... We are open, we get criticised. We don’t take things personally and then as you know sociologists, say from... (Jürgen) Habermas say: “If you enter into the public space and you criticise others when they criticise you back don’t be a cry baby...”


A call to action for  business to play its role selflessly

“... Business South Africa used to be so involved, so engaged. I know we don’t recognise them as much as we need to. After all, they benefited, and some people say their intentions were also profit-motivated. But business South Africa organised themselves during apartheid. A few Afrikaans business leaders, and a number of others, went to Lusaka and they met the ANC in Lusaka. They said: “Apartheid is just too costly, this thing is just not working out, and what are some of the things that we could quietly negotiate on…” My call is for business South Africa to be organised… It is numb, it is dumb, it is not being heard, it is quiet. Business where were you when the democratic process created inequality? When democratic process maimed and made a number of South Africans to be hungry? So I’m calling the voice of business to speak up, and act up. And I hope these courageous conversations that would start up in the mining houses, and spill into the other sectors and that business would find its voice again and hold the government accountable. Because at the moment I think business South Africa is happy to quietly be co-opted. They are so scared, and are ineffective. All they do is they throw in a lot of money into Corporate Social Responsibility and they wash their hands. They've put, as you know, a lot of money into education trusts to support schools. It is lots of millions… Money is being collected in the name of business, has any cents been used? Zero. It is their money. They need to speak up and act out when it comes to civil society…”


Please note this is a word-for-word transcript from Daniel and Thabo's conversation. 


Senzeni Na

“... We were courageous, which is really what I hoped the new generation, and our generation, could continue to be, courageous. In challenging any inequality, in challenging unemployment, in challenging anything that is before us...Not only in South Africa but the world over. Courage was embodied by the likes of Oliver Tambo, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. I was part of the Release Mandela Campaign, and some of the missions and the things that we did were stupid if I may say so. But they also built on courage. And then the second one is hope, we sang struggle songs, about how we shall overcome. And one day deep in our hearts, we do believe that one day… the American spiritual songs we used to sing, very deeply spiritual songs, “Senzeni Na? What have we done?” We met and organised ourselves into street committees. And so that sense of hope was rekindled… It was not only ourselves at the Release Mandela Campaign, artists abroad supported our cause, churches abroad and mosques. Our struggle didn’t just become an internal South African thing. ..The international focus was there, the church in Sweden, the South African Council of Churches were there. … We fear so much. We fear our political leaders, we fear our business leaders, we fear our chiefs, well that fear is not really without foundations, because nowadays those that are courageous - they get punished and sidelined. But even in those days these three had an amazing sense of and, that courage moved them to contribute to something greater than themselves. They were selfless, you could call it selfless courage so to speak…”



Never be afraid to speak uncomfortable truths to power

“... I preached at Mrs Sisulu’s funeral at Orlando Stadium and President Zuma and his cabinet were on stage. Mrs Sisulu is an Anglican and she expressed that she really wanted some form of a church service. But she was accorded a semi-state funeral so the State was involved. The State didn’t know what to do with these church people. We dug our heels in, and said you will have your time and the church will have its say. Then there was a question of who speaks first, the President of the country? or the Archbishop? So we said: “No this is a church service, even though it may be in the stadium, the Archbishop will speak last.” So the president spoke and I spoke. And of course what I said was not palatable. Julius Malema then was still the radical youth within the ANC, and I was booed in the public… They were saying: “Hey Archbishop.” It's because they didn’t want to hear what I was saying and I dug in my heels. I had to say what I had to say and I finished…”



And still, truth speaks, unafraid

“... If you look at both of them (Zwelakhe Sisulu) and (Ma Sisulu) … They were people of integrity and they were accountable during the struggle. They really exemplified the fact that accountable democracy should characterise who we are. We can’t just fluff things and cheat because we belong to the ruling party, or we belong to a particular business or we are chiefs. Stealing is stealing and it's time that we name it. It's unpalatable but we have to name it. They were selfless… they were parishioners, they were Anglicans raised to understand the church’s social teaching of always trying to serve the common good. And in that message, I was really being a mirror to myself, a mirror to the family, and a mirror to the political heirs... They both belonged to the ANC they knew that they were held in high regard and that the President was going to be there, and the cabinet was going to be there, and hopefully, they would hear the message. But interesting enough they were more angry at Zwelakhe’s (Sisulu) funeral than at Ma Sisulu’s... Maybe there was no Julius Malema to say: “Change! Change!” And even Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who was in defense then, passed a little comment to say: “Hey Archbishop today you were boiling flames”. But we have to say it because it’s not really about me, it’s about holding the country accountable, being a mirror, showing that courageous leadership is not about just talk, it's about also walking the talk…”



A message to the youth

“... My humble message and urging to the youth of our country, is never cease to be a lifelong learner, never cease or tire from bettering yourself, and equipping yourself. That is for me very foundational… We’re planting schools, we’re supporting schools, opening bursaries for schools… It can’t just be education for its own sake… Gather the requisite skills so that you can be part of the solution to the challenges that we are facing today. Don’t fold your arms and expect somebody to do it for yourself, get yourself involved, get your hands dirty, make the little change. If you’re unemployed, start a small business, pick up that rubble, recycle it, go and sell it. And if you need education, congregate in your mosques... churches. Invite those that are doing it to come and mentor you so that you can move forward… Africa is beautiful, and as (Former President) Thabo Mbeki says: “I’m an African, and I wouldn't be anywhere else”. I see it when I travel abroad occasionally, when I cross into Africa, particularly when we fly over the equator. I feel that pull that brings me home. So be grounded, love your country, love your continent, be vigilant, don’t underestimate yourselves…”




The appeal of a priest versus a soldier

“... The choice of getting into the priesthood initially was between whether I go into the priesthood or I join uMkhonto we Sizwe… A number of my friends then were taking up arms, skipping the country, bringing about a democratic South Africa via the military route. So those were the tensions. And so when the tensions came, the choice of going back home within the traditional leadership system became very pale… A number of uMkhonto we Sizwe people hid in Limpopo, which was not far from Mozambique… Most of them hid in the forest in Makgobaskloof. So home was dangerous to go back to. And so as an Anglican whose leader was father Desmond Tutu before he became famous. His leadership style, his courage were much more appealing to us. And you will recall that Oliver Tambo is an Anglican. He went to an Anglican school, he was an Anglican teacher at St Peter’s. So within the Anglican church, there were these strong political leaders who embodied their faith. So that appealed more than any other thing then…”


The order and integration began in the Church

“... When we went to college to be formed as priests, some people will tell their story that, “I felt God grab me by the scruff of my neck”. Some would say, “I saw lightning,” and some would say, “I saw a snake,” or “I nearly died.” You know very dramatic things. I used to feel bad at college because I didn't have a dramatic story. And they used to say: “How did you respond,” … I told them that I just enjoyed the procession in church when I saw Desmond Tutu wearing his church clothes, the procession... beautiful music. I just enjoyed the order within the Anglican church… A deeper thing was that if I could take this order and go and live it out in South Africa… The Anglican church then was beginning to have integrated parishes particularly St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg. … I said this is the non-racial South Africa that we want… When I was the president of the Anglican student federation, I was arrested on the border of Lesotho and detained in Ladybrand the whole day, and then released in the middle of nowhere to go. And I didn't know whether the border was left or home was right. I was completely disoriented… When I had to approach my bishop I looked at it and said, “I think there's the hand of God somewhere, not dramatic but I could have died. I could have been arrested. I could have vanished, I could have joined uMkhonto we Sizwe but I have not…"



When constitutional democracy fails

“... Constitutional democracy enables us to elect a president. And from a constitutional process and a democratic process, the public purse is used to fund his private home. And through the democratic processes, his party can vote and just veto the consequences of that. So you can see that we still need to understand the values and the imperatives of that constitutional democracy… We had covenanted with each other that we will never do the atrocities of, and the injustices, of the past. But those things continue because people have been elected and they think they have the rights and the votes to steal the people’s money to create inequality to deploy cadres and to be self-serving. So the practice of constitutional democracy is not yielding the hope, the dividends, that we thought that we would get. Abundant life for all, bridging inequality. But constitutional democracy is not wrong in itself, but we just need to make it work. At the moment it isn’t taking full root... the price of corruption. I wrote an email to the youth of our church, parishioners in our church and I asked them to say what are the issues that you’re dealing with right now. For the last six months, people have been expressing their concerns about corruption. They’re saying life is moving so fast and I can’t believe that they’re not living in it, and the price of corruption is causing inequality. Yesterday I led that anti-corruption march where speaker after speaker quantified what corruption is doing. How many billions are being lost due to corruption since our democratic South Africa. Former President Mbeki completed that study on how much illegal money leaves the continent annually due to corruption. So youth unemployment and corruption are the key issues that people normally discuss about and the unintended consequence is inequality of opportunity…”


Full Interview 

Thabo Full Interview
Thabo lesson

Servant Leaders must be willing to learn, be vulnerable and serve the common good

ARCH. MAKGOBA copy.jpg

"...  They need to able to open themselves to learning, they need to be vulnerable, but they need to be selfless, they need to contribute far beyond what would benefit them directly. It's basically what we call the common good in the church, what we call if I may narrow it down to Biblical values, in John 10: 10, we say Christ came so that we may have life in abundance...  if there are corrupt activities happening and worse so committed by them or in their name, I will say the leadership of the country has lost its moral compass. and how do they reset their moral compass? you can’t reset it if you’ve strayed. the people of the country need to speak up and demand the truth, demand accountability demand that they be respected, and reset the compass themselves to say hey let's just use 1, 2 that has put you into that office maybe not religious, not some other thing, let's use the constitutional values that have put you in that place. The constitutional values are very clear that you’ve been put by people and you will account you’ll respect and ensure that those are the poorest the neediest those that are able their social-economic rights are met, so in whatever decisions that you’ve made on nuclear power, on any other dealings on Nkanla[UN] on whatever, what constitutional values have you considered? what have you based your moral direction on and decisions and so you’re right, if there’s cancerous corruption, the leaders have lost their moral compass and we’re letting them do that, and we need to speak up..."

Daniel in conversation with

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba




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