2021 is more than a new year: it presents us with a new dawn. The introduction of Covid-19 vaccines will help return our country to a base of normalcy that will allow us to address the inequality of equality and the inequality of opportunities. But even before that, 2021 gives us the breathing room to reflect on the lessons we need to remember about the year we’ld like to forget, 2020.
For a start, life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving unless we make the effort to become morally and emotionally stronger and mentally more resilient. At Christmas, I said that if nothing else, we need to stop and reflect seriously on “What have we learned about ourselves during this Covid-19 crisis?”
Firstly, I believe that we learnt that no one has proved tougher than South Africans. Sadness is often the result of thinking in one context and acting in another. During the pandemic, we learned that it is essential to acknowledge your thoughts, emotions, and circumstances for what they are, as they are, not as you wish them to be. We learnt about the importance of emotional resilience – as young people’s T-shirts say: “Stay Calm.”
We learned to tolerate uncomfortable feelings; to remember the importance of being authentic and true to yourself; that it’s okay to express what you feel and to ask for help. Announcing the Level Three lockdown, President Ramaphosa expressed his anguish for South Africa publicly and we are grateful for his gift of tears.
We also learned the need to be realistic, that bad things happen and although they are setbacks, they create the opportunity for comebacks. Comebacks happen when you don’t allow a crisis to steal your calm.
Lastly, despite what we faced, we learned always to feel gratitude. Jesus was always thankful and we can follow his example by focussing on what we have, not what we’ve lost. If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than when we went in, we must let ourselves be touched by others’ pain.
Opening the door to 2021 gives us a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act in our daily lives to realise what we dream of. God asks us to dare to create something new. We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. They have not fulfilled their promises. We need a New Struggle that gives to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life, to land, lodging and labour. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives. We need to slow down, take stock and design better ways of living together on this earth.
To come out of this crisis better, we must remember an essential truth, that as a people we have a shared destination. We all have scars from our Covid-19 experiences. Scars remind us where we’ve been. They don’t have to dictate where we are going because you never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice. My father always used to say to me, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” We are a nation of resilient souls. We have had to be, to get this far.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you to go on in spite of all. And so today, I still have a dream.”
My prayer for 2021 is to see a South Africa where the horrors of Covid-19 and the lessons we have learned about ourselves become the genesis of a realisation that we are all children of God, and begin to enjoy historic levels of the equality of equality and the equality of opportunity.
A closing thought: 2021 should be the dawning of a decade of trust. It is up to each of us to hold those we elect to public office accountable, able to demonstrate that they acknowledge that 2020 has closed a decade of distrust. Despite the hardships of this past year and past decade, 2021 demands that we stop focussing on self-preservation (the ME) and ask, “What can I do for my neighbour? What can I do for my community? What can I do for my country? How can I contribute to the benefit of the WE?”
The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba
Archbishop of Cape Town.