Gathered around the hearth

Posted on June 18, 2024

This year, the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria has launched Iziko, a formation programme for students considering careers in ministry and missions, outreach and activism after graduation, through which they can transform their communities, while at the same time adding immense value to the broader South African social context.

Originally, the term ‘iziko’ comes from the isiXhosa language, which roughly translates as ‘hearth’. The hearth is traditionally and symbolically the social centre of the home, a place associated with warmth, kinship and the spirit of the ancestors.  As such, an ‘iziko’ is a space to gather, nourish body and soul, and share stories and the knowledge passed from one generation to the next.

Led by Prof Stephan de Beer and Mr Lance Thomas, Iziko as a programme at the University of Pretoria will include a number of engagement and growth opportunities for its first cohort of students in 2024, some twenty to twenty-five young adults who will launch into such a formative experience this July while on retreat in Marakele, a nature reserve north of Pretoria.  One participant, Masego Shongoane, shared her hopes and expectations for the months ahead:


T&R: Masego, tell us what attracted you to Iziko?

Masego: Due to its all-encompassing approach to theological study, the Iziko formational programme has ignited my curiosity in participation. I value the focus on combining academic studies with community involvement, real-world ministry experience, and spiritual development. Such an approach, in my opinion, is crucial to producing theologians who are not just intellectually rigorous, but also possess caring hearts and servant leadership traits. In addition, I am pleased with the resources and directors of this programme, namely Prof Stephan de Beer and Mr Lance Thomas. I'm excited to pick up knowledge from esteemed academics in the field and have in-depth conversations with participants from different origins and beliefs. I have no doubt that the formational programme will provide me the chance to widen my horizons, strengthen my faith, and acquire the abilities required to effectively impact positive change in my community and beyond.


T&R: What value do you think Iziko will add to your study of theology and religion at UP?

Masego: As someone who is fervently committed to comprehending and resolving the multifaceted social, cultural, and spiritual concerns that exist in our communities, I think this programme provides exceptional chances for development and hands-on involvement that are precisely in line with my academic and personal goals. First off, by giving me a real-world setting in which to put my theoretical knowledge to use, the Iziko programme's emphasis on experiential learning and community engagement will enhance my study of theology.

The lived experiences of individuals and societies are intricately entwined with the fields of theology and religion, rendering them more than just academic pursuits. Iziko will provide me the opportunity to take part in community-based projects and activities, giving me a personal look at how religious practices and beliefs affect people's lives. My comprehension of the social aspects of theology will be strengthened by this practical experience, which will also provide me with the tools I need to interact with a variety of communities effectively.

In addition, the programme's emphasis on interdisciplinary methods fits nicely with my curiosity about how theology interacts with other disciplines like psychology, sociology, and environmental studies. Our current complex problems, which range from environmental deterioration to social injustice, need multidisciplinary solutions that are comprehensive. I will be able to incorporate ideas from different disciplines into my theological reflections thanks to Iziko's interdisciplinary framework, which will promote a more thorough and nuanced approach to current problems.

Developing creative and successful community engagement and social transformation methods requires an inclusive viewpoint. I particularly like Iziko's emphasis on spiritual and personal development. Studying theology is a path of spiritual and personal development in addition to an intellectual pursuit. Through the programme's formational activities – which include retreats, mentorship, and reflective practices – I will be able to examine my own spiritual path and strengthen my faith in a safe and encouraging setting.

In addition to improving my academic performance, these experiences will help me feel more purposeful and vocation-driven as I get ready for a career in ministry or community leadership.


T&R: Do you have any career plans which will use your academic training and ministry formation after graduation?

Masego: Yes, after I graduate, I want to use my academic background and ministry formation to further my career goals. My ultimate objective is to launch a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that will focus on using religious values and community involvement to address urgent social challenges. My academic journey has been driven by my passion for social justice and community development, and I am confident that the combination of my formational experiences from the Iziko programme and my training in theology and religion at the University of Pretoria will provide me with the knowledge and abilities I need to make a big difference.

My vision for the NGO is to provide a forum that strengthens underprivileged groups, with a special emphasis on problems like environmental sustainability, gender equality, and poverty reduction. To overcome these obstacles, I firmly believe that religious understanding must be combined with useful strategies. I intend to use my academic knowledge to create programmes that support community development and transformation over the long run in addition to offering short-term relief.

The NGO intends to prioritise education and advocacy in order to increase community members' awareness of social injustices and inspire them to take action. I have a strong grasp of the moral and ethical requirements that spur social change because of my theological academic background, and I plan to integrate these ideas into the organisation's main goals. Through the cultivation of community members' agency and empowerment, the non-governmental organisation aims to establish long-lasting transformation and advance a fairer and more balanced society.

In addition, my training in ministry has taught me the value of empathy, compassion, and servant leadership. These principles will guide the NGO's strategy, guaranteeing that our initiatives are not only successful but also based on sincere concern and respect for the people and communities we assist. By forming alliances with nearby churches, schools, and other institutions, I want to create a network of support that increases our influence and encourages teamwork in the fight against social injustice.


Beyond the successful completion of its pilot year, Prof De Beer and Mr Thomas hope Iziko will become a cornerstone of the investment leaders make in the lives of the young adults that belong to the Faculty of Theology and Religion at UP, taking their development beyond the classroom and into the real life context of relationships – relationships shared between humans, as well as between the masses of humanity and the vastness of divinity.



- Author Dana Mahan

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