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A recognition for women who refuse to be defined and confined by patriarchy

Unisa conferred the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Theology (Honoris Causa) on Bishop Nomthandazo Purity Malinga, the 100th Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA). Malinga is the first woman to take on the role in the MCSA. The honorary doctorate was bestowed during a graduation ceremony held at the Muckleneuk Campus in Pretoria on Thursday 11 April 2024.


Dr Benni Lekubu, Bishop Nomthandazo Malinga, Prof Puleng LenkaBula and Prof Moloko Sepota

Through her leadership, Malinga has contributed immensely to society's transformation, especially in gender equality and the recognition of young people. Through the various positions she has held within the MCSA and in society in general, she has challenged patriarchy and male domination, often at a significant cost to herself.


Presenting Malinga's biography, Prof Mokhele Madise from the Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology said: "Malinga was raised in the MCSA from a young age. Her family attended services at Webbstown Methodist Society, and her mother and grandmother were members of the women's manyano (or women's auxiliary). She attended the Indaleni Methodist Institution, where she studied education and was trained as a schoolteacher." After graduating in 1976, she returned to Ixopo, where she taught for five years at the Siyakhona Primary School.

With encouragement from a local pastor, Reverend Raymond Kumalo, Malinga decided to pursue ordained ministry in the Methodist Church. Women had recently been allowed to present themselves as candidates for ordination. In 1981, she was accepted as a provisional candidate. From 1982 to 1983, she served as a minister-in-training in KaBhokweni.

From 1983 to 1986, she studied at the Federal Theological Seminary of Southern Africa, known as FEDSEM. The institution was an ecumenical seminary that prepared students, primarily from anglican, congregationalist, methodist and presbyterian churches, for the ministry. During the apartheid era, education in South Africa was widely segregated by race, and black students formed the majority of the student body at FEDSEM. At the time that Malinga attended, there were few female students, all from the MCSA.

In 1988, she was ordained, becoming the fourth woman to be ordained in the MCSA. In 1999, she was elected bishop, becoming the first woman to hold the role in the MCSA. She served as the bishop for Natal Coastal Region for nine years, stepping down in 2008. She later served as director of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa's Education for Ministry and Mission Unit for three years. In May 2019, she was elected the 100th Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

A day that the Lord has made

Taking the podium to accept her honorary doctorate, Malinga said to a reverberating applause: "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." She added: "On this special day of celebrating and recognising the hard work of everyone graduating today, I am honoured to receive this outstanding recognition. I consider it a special privilege to be recognised by Unisa, a globally acclaimed African university, which has, for more than 150 years, provided access to learning opportunities to countless people from various  margins."


Bishop Nomthandazo Malinga

Malinga continued to express gratitude to people who recognised her contribution and nominated her for the honour, as well as her family and everyone who has helped in her journey. Furthermore, she said: "I also want to thank the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, my spiritual home. The home that made me and enabled my positive contribution to church and society." Malinga says the Methodist ethos inspires her advocacy for the marginalised.

She stressed: "Methodism knows the God who has no favourites, but God who created all, irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, etc. Methodism stands against all forms of injustice and discrimination." Malinga explained that the Methodist Church encourages its members to live lives that promote God's love for the world and encourages its members to participate actively in the healing and transformation of society. "I have committed to live by these teachings and have encouraged others to do the same. I thank the Methodist Church for contributing to making who I am and who I have become," she said.

Patriarchy does not have the last word

Sharing what the recognition means for her, Malinga said: "To me, this recognition in one sentence means patriarchy does not have the last word. I do not consider this recognition to be about me as an individual. I consider it a recognition of many women throughout the ages. Women of faith and women of no faith. Women who refuse to be defined and confined by patriarchy. It is for women who live as directed by their maker."

To another resounding applause, Malinga continued: "It is a fact that male chauvinism remains entrenched in all spheres of society, including in religious spheres, if not especially in religious spheres. Women's contributions are undermined in almost all institutions and spaces, including religious spaces. Leadership is understood to be male. The leadership of women is mostly not allowed. Where it is allowed, it is not trusted but tolerated for political experience."

She added: "When women lead, all efforts are made to frustrate and discredit them. However, despite all the efforts to deny, suppress and undermine women, they rise and continue to contribute to the well-being of society as led by God." Malinga got another applause and continued: "I, therefore, dedicate this recognition to women here and women everywhere. I dedicate this recognition to young women and older women. To young girls, rise. Let nothing and no one define your role and contribution to life but your creator." As part of reclaiming Africa's intellectual future, Unisa draws inspiration from women and men whose societal contribution has transformative value.


Prof Puleng LenkaBula

In her remarks, the Principal and Vice-Chancellor (VC) of Unisa, Prof Puleng LenkaBula, congratulated the graduands and expressed that their hard work earned them recognition as part of Unisa's illustrious alumni, which includes Presidents Nelson Mandela, Dr Thabo Mbeki, and the current President, Cyril Ramaphosa. She said: "You are walking in the footsteps of iconic leaders of our country, the continent and the global arena." The day also marked a momentous ceremony for the VC, whose mother was amongst the audience to witness her officiating graduations for the first time.  

To watch the graduation ceremony, click here

* By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Editor: Internal Communication, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2024/04/12

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