Rise up for the New Struggle
The festive season should be enjoyed with news of great joy for all South Africans. Instead, it is marred by the pervasive smell of the rot that is being spread by the moral pollution of our public life
After the events of the past few weeks, we must ensure that the sacrifices we and our forebears made for our liberation will not be squandered at the altar of greed and corruption, and in the pursuit of false gods. It is not easy to bring news of great joy or say, without inhibition: Happy Christmas. Many are asking: Where is the joy? How can we put aside our daily cares to celebrate the birth of Christ? Growing, deepening discontent is palpable in South Africa, a discontent that is causing even the most beautiful days to be marred by the pervasive smell of the rot that is being spread by the moral pollution of our public life.
The #FeesMustFall campaign reflected the dark clouds of unhappiness, frustration and rebellion against the increasing inequalities that contaminate our daily lives. But whether or not you agree with the government’s response to that, at least it was rational.
The sheer recklessness of the firing of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and the failure to consider the needs of the nation, especially the needs of the poor, were staggering. Since then, we have read shocking revelations in City Press of how corrupt leaders and members of teachers’ union Sadtu have captured large parts of our education system for personal gain at the expense of our children’s welfare.
Frighteningly, our nation’s moral pollution has spread to sections of our government in epidemic proportions. If not purposefully and vigorously addressed, it will disorient us, engulf us and eventually overwhelm us, and will deny us the possibility of achieving our unique potential as a nation.
It sometimes feels as if some of our leaders stopped their fight for a new South Africa to the point where they joined the ranks of the corrupt who immorally amassed wealth under colonialism and apartheid.
Our struggle now should not be for the new, multiracial middle class to live the way the white elite lived under apartheid; it should be for a new society, a more equal society, a society of equality of opportunity, in which the wealth that comes from new economic growth is shared among all.
Let us not make the mistake of thinking that the solution to our problems lies in replacing one leader with another. The new struggle is about values and institutions, not about personalities, which is why, when church leaders went to see President Jacob Zuma recently, we said we would work with the presidency to restore trust in government.
Working with the presidency means working with the institution, no matter who the incumbent is. We know that the abuse of our institutions for political reasons did not begin with President Zuma’s incumbency, so whether or not he is replaced before his term ends, we need to build strong systems and institutions that cannot be undermined by one party or one person’s whim.
Some of our readings for this season allude to frightening signs and apocalyptic visions – signs and visions that have seduced many followers through the centuries into strange doctrines, unusual expectations and relentless fear. Yet a close reading of the scriptures reveals a comforting truth: that no matter what the circumstances, no matter how dismal the outlook or how bleak the diagnosis, we are heirs to the unshakeable promise that God is always with us.
In the midst of our trials and tribulations, God is waiting to be born, or waiting to be discovered again, no matter where we are in our lives.
So as we face 2016 with its uncertainties, its governance challenges and its threats to our wellbeing as a nation, we must hold on to the belief that we can overcome them.
Then we must act on that belief: join together, organise, lobby and embark on what I call the New Struggle, the struggle to ensure that the sacrifices so many made for our liberation are not wasted; the struggle against greed, corruption and nepotism; the struggle for true justice, including economic justice, and the peace from God that flows from justice.
The New Struggle began in 2015, when we saw a national mobilisation of young and old against the failures of leaders who are allowing the corruption epidemic to rob the people of South Africa of the fruits of their hard-won freedom, gained over many decades by the old struggle against apartheid.
We must use our words and actions against those who put their personal interests ahead of those of the people, promoting a culture of Me instead of a culture of We.
We must oppose those who take and don’t give, who use hateful, racist and xenophobic language, who ignore the needs of our students, our neighbours and communities. We must rise up against all of this. If we learnt anything from the courage of our students, who said “enough is enough”, it is that we can create a society that is rooted in human love and in God’s care for us and people everywhere.
In that spirit, let us light the candles of hope across the country, mindful that there are those who cannot even afford a candle.
This festive season, let us recognise that if we are to be the signallers of the dawn of a new kingdom, it will involve us leaving things that blind us to the suffering and misery of others, from inherited forms of privilege and wealth, and from a world-view that is comfortable with excluding from the world’s resources those who are different to us. It will involve a commitment to working for justice and peace, building relationships that are gentle and nurturing, and doing that which the angels did – bringing news of great joy for all people.
Makgoba is the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. This is an edited excerpt from a sermon he delivered at
St George’s Cathedral on Christmas Eve