Remembering IAM’s past, celebrating the people

On 25 November 2020 we take time out to celebrate 25 years of IAM in one of the most challenging years that many people have faced. We are deeply aware that celebration in the space of justice-making always leaves a sense of remembering. We do so here with both gratitude and emotion, recalling the contribution of the extraordinary people that have helped to shape IAM over the past 25 years.

“Our staff is our greatest resource”

These words have echoed through almost two decades, as IAM staff grew from our founding director Pieter Oberholzer and Judith Kotzé, the organisation’s first part-time staffer, into the team that we have today. For this reason, when we remember the past, inevitably this is where we start.

IAM staff work from a place of passion. They have given us their time with family, their stories and so many other sacrifices to the vision of inclusive faith communities on the African continent that affirms and celebrates LGBTIQ+ people. The resilience of Inclusive and Affirming Ministries lies in its people. People who have joined and left. People who are prepared to do the internal work to hold precarious spaces for others to flourish. Here we take a moment to celebrate those who went before us. We hold you dearly in our organisational memory and know that we build on your work and your embodied presence.

Past IAM Staff

Bulelwa Panda, Judith Kotzé, Carel Anthonissen, Corine Sloots, Mirea Raaijmaker, David Russel, Retha Benade, Yvonne Daki, Laurie Gaum, Ingrid Schoonraad, Charlene van der Walt, Lulani Vermeulen, Liesl van der Westhuizen, Erna van der Westhuizen, Fanie Zondagh, Mfanafuthi Mvubu, Motsau Motsau, Madelene Isaacks, Christine van Heerden, Sindiswa Matiwane, Leballo Tjemolane.

Present IAM Staff

Ecclesia de Lange, Michelle Boonzaaier, Hanzline Davids, Thuli Mjwara, Greyson Thela, Marlow Newman-Valentine, Abby Haricomb, Alida Bergman

Founder and directors

Pieter Oberholzer

Responding to his call to ministry, Pieter enrolled as a theological student at Stellenbosch University. Two years before ordination, he revealed to one of his professors that he was gay.  Shocked by this revelation the professor sent him to Stikland Hospital for treatment. Pieter underwent electroshock therapy weekly for two years. In the end the doctors concluded that the treatment did not work, and that Pieter was a “core” homosexual. He was told by the seminary that he could not be ordained. Pieter left for the Netherlands where he was ordained and affirmed as a gay minister in the Protestant Kerk.

Pieter was involved in the struggle against Apartheid before leaving for the Netherlands, and when the South African government changed in 1994 Pieter returned to SA, viewing the liberation of LGBTIQ+ people as justice work that needed to be done as part of the continued struggle. When he returned, he wanted to start a ministry for LGBTIQ+ people, believing wholeheartedly in the power of love and that the church could be changed by it. Pieter slowly started carving a path for LGBTIQ+ communities, giving them a voice and helping to make queer people of faith visible. This laid a solid foundation for IAM to grow and more people to be included. Pieter’s vision for LGBTIQ+ people expanded to include other African countries.

Judith Kotzé

Judith Kotzé was one of the first fully qualified female ordinands in the Dutch Reformed Church in the 1990’s. She is a woman whose greatest passion since childhood has been to serve God and others. Her personal journey towards, integrating her sexuality and her spirituality was a challenging process. She did her master’s degree thesis on dialogue as a method for the church to reach out to lesbians. In her search for reconciliation, she found that her sexual orientation was a wonderful gift from God.

Judith joined Pieter in 2000 on his quest by doing work as a researcher. She undertook a study where 700 clergy were interviewed, leading to the publication of “Correlations between knowledge, exposure, and attitudes towards LGBTI people” in 2001. A second project was initiated, a video production called “Created in the image of God”. Judith’s time at IAM increased when she was appointed as the Dutch Reformed Church Consultant. When Pieter indicated to the board that he was planning to retire, Judith was named as his successor. During her time as director she was elected to serve on the World Council of Churches (WCC) Reference Group on Human Sexuality. Under Judith’s directorship IAM’s work expanded globally.

Board members

Over 25 years, IAM’s board members have been some of our greatest supporters that have joined us on our journey. One of the gifts of the IAM board is that they are aware that transformation for change does not come without taking risks. We have a board that shares the understanding that staff are important and that only secondary to this is the fact that we are an organisation that, although we are growing to maturity, often don’t choose safe options. We celebrate a board that continues to join us in our belief that believing that what is seemingly impossible can happen, is often the only path to transformation, albeit difficult.

Past IAM board members

1995-1999

Margriet Knaap, Ramsay Davids, Rowan Smith, Margaret Fourie, Tyna Webb, Judith Kotzé, Greg Cawcutt, Ann Oglethorpe, Peter Fox, Clayton Wakeford, Hans van Heukelum, Pieter Fourie, Shirlane Douglas, Carel Antonissen, Colette van Niftrik

2000-2004

David Russel, Greg Andrews, Marlow Valentine, Christopher Clohessy, Mike Croclett, Gordon Oliver, Pat Oliver, Jean du Plessis, Gertrude Fester, Alna van der Merwe

2005-2009

Liezl van der Westhuizen, Stefan Hippler, Michelle Boonzaaier

2010-2014

Phumzile Mabizela, Elsa Steyn, Elizabeth Pietersen, Mbuyiselo Stemela, Igor Boonzaaier

Present IAM board members

Alan Story, Phumzile Mabizela, Sarojini Nadar, Vandy Fourie, Siyabulela Gidi, Deon Snyman, Tashwill Esterhuizen

Faith partners

Since Pieter’s journey with the Dutch Reformed Church began, and his ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco recognised in 1996, IAM’s work has always been aimed at dialogue and building relationships with mainline faith communities. Over the 25 years our faith partnerships have grown to include participation on the World Council of Churches (WCC) reference group for human sexuality and other interfaith partnerships.

We believe that through these partnerships we have been shaped and trust that we have equally shaped the affirming spaces within various denominations in South Africa and on the rest of the continent using our dialogue methodology and theory of change.

Mainline faith partners

Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), Uniting Reformed Church (URCSA), Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA), Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA), Presbyterian, Moravian, Unitarians,

Global and Interfaith partners

World Council of Churches (WCC), Global Interfaith Network (GIN-SOGIE), International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA), Pan African-ILGA, Inner Circle, Al Fitra, Good Hope Metropolitan Community Church (GHMCC)

We would like to honour the following faith leaders that have passed on and have played a significant role either in IAM and/or within the ever-changing landscape of their respective denominations.

Bishop David Russel for being a public theologian of note, whose words and life reflected what he believed.

Rev Rowan Smith, Dean of St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town for sharing his life journey with both IAM as an organisation and individual IAM staff.

Prof. Mary-Anne Plaaitjies-van Huffel who played a significant role in the Uniting Reformed Church (URCSA) and the WCC, highlighting the role of the intersectional struggle of gender identity and sexual orientation within church structures.

Civil society partners

The struggle towards inclusion of LGBTIQ+ people in faith communities is an intersectional one. It cannot be fought alone. Over the years we have found in civil society spaces partners who are activists and people of faith who strive for transformation to happen in all sectors of society.

Civil society partners

Free Gender, Triangle Project, Pride Shelter, Doctors without borders, Queers without borders, ACT Ubumbano, INERELA, Intersex South Africa, Gender Dynamix (GDX),

Academic partners

The academics and students that we work with at various theological institutions have become important collaborators that help us to critically reflect on the work that we do.

Academic partners

University of Stellenbosch (US), University of the Western Cape (UWC), University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN), College of the Transfiguration (CoTT) and Seth Mokhatimi Methodist Seminary (SMMS)

Funding partners

Funding is always an important component of our work and as we are present in an ever-changing funding landscape, we have funders that have joined us in navigating human rights terrain.

Past funding partners

ICCO, Hirschfeld-Eddy Stiftung, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Norwegian Church Aid, Extra Ordinary Lutheran Ministries, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Present funding partners

Open Society (OSISA), Heinrich Boll Foundation, Robert Carr Network Fund (RCNF), Stichting Bijzonder Pastoraat Kaapstad (SBPK), The Other Foundation, Kerk in Aksie (KIA), St Francis, Heinrich Böll Stiftung,

Regional Partners

Regional partners have joined us in ways that not only gave us a footprint on the rest of the continent but has also transformed IAM to be a more inclusive and open space as well. We have collaborated in such a way that we learn from each other and are able to contextualise our theory of change in spaces beyond faith communities.

Regional partners

Zimbabwe Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS; Zambia Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS; Centre For The Development Of People (CEDEP)in Malawi; Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO); People’s Matrix Association in Lesotho;  Tulinam in Namibia, Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa (IDNOWA), Southern African Christian Initiative (SACHI);  Nyanza, Rift Valley and Western Kenya (NYARWEK); Saint Paul’s Reconciliation and Equality Centre (SPREC) in Uganda

This is the road less travelled, conquered by exceptional individuals.  We thank all those who have walked this road with IAM for their commitment and resilience, and we are honoured to be part of IAM’s story and legacy.