Looking at South Africa today through the lenses of worship, witness and service, what have we witnessed, and what are we witnessing today? Can we be called witnesses to the truth? And how best can we be of service to God in South Africa today, remembering again that our struggle is against the principalities of this world?
Travelling the length and breadth of South Africa – traversing Mpumalanga, KwaZulu/ Natal and Limpopo – as well as recently returning from trips to North and South America and Europe, I am sad to report that confidence in our future is eroding everywhere.
Inside South Africa, civil society has lost trust in our society's ability – reflected in government, business and labour – to emerge from our country's crisis of distrust. Abroad, the world is losing patience with the promise that South Africa offered two decades ago when we took a new path. Of course when I say the world is losing patience with us, I talk of our friends who know the complexity of the issues we face, not of presidents who know nothing about us or about Africa and whose idea of leadership is to send tweets.
While the darkest night we have experienced since liberation in 1994 has ended, it is becoming clear that the new dawn promised by the new administration is not yet visible on the horizon. The government is working hard and deserves as much support as it can garner, but the improvements it promises are hard to achieve while corruption still envelopes our country.
I have in recent years been promoting the idea of a New Struggle to replace the old struggle against apartheid – a struggle to end economic inequities, to revisit the distribution and use of our land, to end the inequalities of service delivery, health care and education, and most of all to bring about equality of opportunity.
Now that we have taken the first step back on the road we set out upon when we adopted our new Constitution, the time has come to ask how we fulfill the dream, unique to us, that we had then. How do we arise from the ashes of pervasive corruption and return to South Africans the billions stolen from the public purse?
I don’t want to preempt the outcome of the Zondo Commission on State Capture, but how do we explain why no one has been convicted – or even arrested – for the crimes committed against us, our children and our grandchildren? Is it really the case that our law enforcement agencies are so corrupted or incompetent that the perpetrators will never be brought to justice?
By some estimates former President Zuma and his crooked cronies stole more than 100 billion rands from us. Added to what was stolen from South Africa's people under apartheid, the figures are mindboggling. If only the 100 billion is returned, this is what it means:
• Every student graduating from high school who is qualified could attend university free for the next decade;
• Rampant youth unemployment could be radically reduced by providing free practical technical training for artisans;
• Every home and school in every township could have modern bathroom facilities;
• We could have free health care for those who cannot afford it.
In John's Gospel, we are promised abundant life to all: not to some, as is the case in South Africa at present. And Jesus doesn't mince his words when he names those who would deny us abundant life: he calls them thieves and robbers who come only to steal and kill and destroy. From another religious tradition, Gandhi teaches us that “It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one's acts.”
South Africa has suffered from a pervasive abuse of power and position by those who allowed their consciences to decay as a result of greed. We allowed to rise to power leaders who compromised our national values as articulated in the Constitution. Justice must be done and they must return what they stole. Looking back to the past, no efforts will ever be enough to repair the harm done; yet, looking ahead to the future, we must spare no effort to create a culture in which such abuses will never occur again.
Historically, South Africans have achieved most when we have realised that if one member of society suffers, if one family suffers, if one community suffers, we all suffer. We succeed when we focus on what we can create together, when we allow hope to flourish and don't stress over what we cannot control.
If we are committed to embrace the New Struggle, my prayer is that we will now make the following choices:
• We will open our eyes and our hearts to the indignities and suffering which our fellow South Africans undergo;
• We will overcome the thirst for power and possession that are so often the roots of these evils; and
• We must say “never again” to the inequalities our society has experienced and work unceasingly to end them.
It is at turning points such as the one we now face that our destiny is shaped. Destiny is a matter of choice, not of chance. I call on all South Africans to embrace our New Struggle, to awaken their consciences and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of values-based decision making and care for one another. In that way we can be of good service to our schools, our families and our beautiful country.
By Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
Bishop of Cape Town.