I want all of us South Africans, every woman, man and child, to look at ourselves, and to examine our own behaviour and that of the institutions we work most closely with. Isn’t it time for all of us, working in our own areas of influence, to write our own story? We are on the cusp of 2019, and to me that means, while we know that embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, it is not nearly as dangerous as giving up on being part of something bigger than ourselves.
There are many entry points I can use to highlight the need for illumination in South Africa. Let me focus on the one that worries me the most: the high levels of aggression we see in many areas of our society. I am going to talk tonight about three of those areas.
Firstly, many of you know that one of the sectors that is closest to my heart is the mining industry, where I have taken a very active role over the last three years in creating a safe space for all those involved – management, unions, government, local mining communities and civil society and faith-based organisations in those communities – to meet on an equal footing to voice divergent thinking, to address the challenges the industry faces and to seek opportunities for collaboration and resolution.
But what particularly worries me is the violent intimidation we have seen during strikes in recent weeks, not only in mining but in the plastics industry. To date three people have been killed and others injured in the strike at the Sibanye-Stillwater mines, and a security guard has died after being doused with petrol and set alight at an East Rand plastics company.
Secondly, I am alarmed at the levels of aggression we are seeing in our schools, with learners attacking one another and even their teachers. During this past year, there have been scores of cases in which learners have assaulted their teachers in classrooms in the Western Cape. In other parts of the country, we have seen shocking videos of learners attacking their teachers. In one school in Gauteng a learner pulled a gun and threatened to shoot a teacher. In another in North West, a learner is alleged to have stabbed a teacher to death in a classroom.
Similarly, service delivery protests are rarely free of violence and the destruction of government property such as libraries, schools and clinics – the very facilities that are there to serve the communities that are inflicting this damage. And at the same time, as highly contested elections loom next year, we are seeing a spike in threats of violence, as well as the ongoing killings of political opponents in some parts of the country.
We welcome the changes in government since last Christmas, when I called for the replacement of the president at the time. We welcome those steps taken to clean up government and to root out corruption in the public and private sectors. But how far will good, clean government take us when people are being killed on picket lines, stabbed in our schools, beaten up in service delivery protests and assassinated in disputes over who will hold public office?
We are a nation that has grown up believing that outcomes are achieved only through violence. Our leaders, whether in government, business, organised labour, education and politics, have a significant responsibility to provide the moral leadership to redefine how we disagree, how we find consensus and create the society that we all strive for. But the solution lies ultimately in our own hands. The historical context of the interrelationship between protest and violence does not justify this psyche and behaviour. We will not be able to say that the quality of life for ordinary South Africans has been improved by our liberation from oppression until we are also liberated from our instinct to solve problems through violence, whether in schools, in workplaces or in political campaigning. This is a critical issue for our country, one that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. The flames of darkness associated with violence need to be extinguished forever. We owe no less to the Prince of Peace.
So we have much to work through in our hearts, much to be grateful for and much to contend with in the days ahead.
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba