By Thembelani Mkhize
It’s one of the most read publications in history, but I’ve always battled to relate to the Bible. With most of the stories I could relate to the events, but never the people.
After an interview with Dr Thabani Ngcungama, however, I found myself relating to a story I’d heard for years but could never really make complete sense of – that of “The prodigal son”.
Dr Ngcungama holds a PhD in Theology from Great Commission Bible College in the UK and is currently doing his Masters in Education at UKZN, Pietermaritzburg. He has a pretty unique take on the Bible and religion in general, and his book Decolonizing Christianity in the South African Context has been described by some as “the South African Bible”.
Bringing the show
I met the good doctor at a live music session hosted by 95 photography in Pelham and, at first glance, he appeared to be more of an aspiring Kasi rapper (going by the name YellowSA). He kept on “bringing the show” and soon enough had the whole crowd singing “sewufunani emakamereni” (directly translated, “what are you doing in the bedroom[s]?”).
The people wanted more, so they chanted his name until he went back on stage and freestyled the song again.
After quite a process I got an interview with Ngcungama. At 25 years old he has already lived quite a life, from being a young pastor with a following of more than 200 people, to a distinguished academic career that is still moving like a Japanese bullet train. I had to go through a PA to get to him, but it was all pretty efficient.
Ngcungama describes himself as a true believer in the African child and says his book is dedicated to the youth of generation 2000, whom he feels has more hope of becoming a great generation if given the right information about their origins.
Ngcungama critically analyses Bible stories and tries to find ways to make the reader, particularly younger readers, relate to the story. He will adapt and modernise them in this cause.
One of his favourite stories is about when he wrote a play for a local church about the prodigal son. The traditional take on this story is of a man who is given his inheritance and leaves home, only to return dirt poor and at his father’s mercy.
Ngcungama’s story, though, was a little different. He modernised the story and added a mother and a will. This struck a chord with the youth, the elders of the church recognised Ngcungama’s talent and asked him to lead and impart his skills and knowledge.
The young doctor believes in expressing himself and not being ashamed of who he is. He says, “Being a pastor and drinking and smoking cannabis is always viewed as a sin, but why? Why it is a sin to do the things that make me feel good?”. He encourages one and all to express themselves, especially artists.
He recently registered a publishing company called “I write what I Like”, which encourages young aspiring writers. He also runs a programme in rural areas such as Impendle, to get the locals to grow and harvest their own food. They use his packaging company to load the harvest and sell produce at markets and townships.
Ngcungama says his only challenge, with all this hard work, is making sure he keeps his positive mindset… after giving up WhatsApp, and spending less time on his phone in general, he was better able to focus on his goals.
Find out more about Dr Thabani Ngcungama on Facebook: search for the page, “Decolonizing Christianity in the South African Context”.
Main picture, top: Wikimedia Commons