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This is an edited version of a letter to President Jacob Zuma from Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba (Church Leaders Consultation), Bishop Joe Seoka (SA Council of Churches), Rev Moss Nthla (The Evangelical Alliance of SA), and the Rev Edwin Arrison (Kairos SA)
We could have opted to remain silent, as we are sometimes urged to be silent in evil times, but our silence at this crucial moment may be interpreted as consent or contentment, and for that reason we now speak.
Is there hope for our democracy? A hundred years ago, when hope was scarce and conditions much worse than they are today, some South Africans gathered in a church near Bloemfontein and prayed for the God of all hope to help bring an end to colonialism and oppression. We believe that God did. And thus began a process of de-tribalisation and a movement towards justice. This process was deepened by the Freedom Charter as well as other movements that affirmed the dignity and unity of all South Africans.
So today, 100 years on, we know something of the faithfulness of God. First, we note there are restless voices in different sectors of our society yearning for change – not for a superficial change of one self-serving political leader for another, or one political party for another, but for a different kind of leadership that can restore hope to the poor. They yearn for a country with life-affirming values.
Second, we thank God that Christian hope frees us from the tyranny of the present to imagine a better tomorrow. We know that, although the dream of a just, non-racial and prospering democracy is temporarily in eclipse – being throttled by the actions (or lack thereof) of a generation of leaders who seem largely to have lost their moral compass.
The people of South Africa are capable of rising to reclaim a future of hope and compassion. We hope it does not take another 100 years, and we are determined to begin that journey forthwith.
Third, the unfinished story of reconciliation means that when many South Africans go to the polls in 2014, they will vote for the future, but largely with the past in mind. We are concerned that, for most of our people, this unfinished story means their choices have become stereotyped into believing that it is as simple as “white” versus “black” parties, and that white for them equals apartheid and racism, while black equals freedom and justice.
Many of our people understand this is not always true, but the continued promotion of this perception by some political leaders (rather than focusing on building a culture of good governance, just reconciliation and greater social cohesion) only contributes to more and more racial alienation and growing cynicism, putting even the small efforts at reconciliation at risk.
It is by God’s grace that we have, through struggle and hardship, come to a place where colonialism and apartheid are largely defeated.
Some political leaders are working hard and doing their best to serve the people, and for this we are grateful. But we believe too many are self-serving and arrogant. We ask you: do you not understand that many of your words and actions are leading many South Africans towards cynicism and away from hope? And do you not understand that you are setting yourselves up against the arc of history, which is always bent towards hope?
Do you also not understand that lack of decisive action, where waste of public resources has been revealed, leads to a culture of impunity and immunity where the poorest once again become the main victims of bad governance? To reverse what is happening, we urge you to recognise the loss of hope and the growth of cynicism and anger, of which Marikana and now De Doorns are massive signals.
We urge you to exercise the authority and power you have with the grace with which it was bestowed on you, addressing and repenting of corruption and self-service. Abuse of power is irresponsible, and you need to know that as people entrusted with power from above, you are held doubly culpable for such abuse.
We urge you to stop the sickening double-talk, which we view as a form of deception and corruption, the wiles of a modern-day fox. You cannot on the one hand say that you are against corruption and on the other hand clearly take part in corruption or turn a blind eye to it. We need integrity in our politics.
We urge you not to settle for mediocrity, but to think deeply about the kind of leaders you appoint as part of a cadre deployment policy and those you elect at your elective conferences. South Africa deserves the best we have. We are alarmed at the growing tendency of putting the interests of the party above those of the nation, even purging talented leaders and government officials simply because they served under a different leader in the same party. This is a practice for which South Africa is paying a high price in moral values, social capital and escalating poverty.
We urge you to stop the compromising and decay of our education system. Instead of adding more plans to those on the table, start implementing the plans we have, especially the National Development Plan. This would begin to create more economic certainty for us all.
If you are not willing to do these things and to imagine a new kind of politics that will bring abundant life to all, please step aside and make way for others who are able to re-imagine what a healthy democracy in South Africa will look like. What happened at Marikana will merely be a first instalment of much worse to come if we do not radically change our ways.
In addressing our economic leaders, trade unions and so on, we ask why, after 18 years of democracy and several years of economic growth, do we have a higher unemployment rate now than when we started our democracy? Why is inequality deepening, so that we are the planet’s most unequal society? What actions have you taken to alleviate this situation? To what extent are you responsible for this?
What are economic leaders doing to share the pain of global trends, instead of continuing with huge salaries in the face of downturns?
Why are you, business leaders, more concerned about maximising profits than about the long-term future of our country, through job creation, job preservation, education and environmentally sustainable practices?
Why, economic leaders, do you not convene a summit to agree on an economic accord to which all South Africans can subscribe? Why wait on government?
As South Africans, we have to consider together what the best options are for us. From what we can see, there seem to be two options: either we break the house down, destroy whatever foundation is there and build on a new foundation, or we reinforce the present structure and ensure it is infinitely better and safer than the first.
The fundamental decision must, however, be made: the house is cracking and something must be done urgently. Delay in doing something will only mean that the crisis and danger grow.
* Cape Argus