What we pass on to those who come after us is as important as what we inherit, says Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.
Durban - Along with many people around the world, I am inspired by the social activism of Pope Francis and how he has used his office and stature to lobby for a fairer deal for all those on the margins.
Accordingly, when he called on Catholics to observe September 1 as “World Day of Prayer and Care for the Creation” it struck a chord.
September 1 is spring day in the southern hemisphere and the season in which the most beautiful of creation is on show. As South Africans, we know that September is dedicated to heritage.
Nature or the creation is our common heritage. It is the great leveller.
None of us can claim to be the inventors of the colours that make the butterfly the beautiful creature it is. No amount of cultural snobbishness can explain the song in the bird or the artwork that is the flowers that adorn the hills around Table Mountain at this time of the year.
In accepting that not everybody thinks highly of the pontiff and the institution he heads, nor deems praying as useful or even an intelligent thing to do, I hope that at worst the pope made those of us who do not always reflect on nature and creation to take a moment and see our world with new eyes and ask ourselves some probing questions.
Our connectivity to nature is regardless of whether we regard ourselves as environmentalists or mock those we call tree huggers.
It is amazing how the wine connoisseur savouring the choice fruit of the vine and work of human hands and praising the year it was made; the freshness of the Norwegian salmon on his plate, still does not make the connection between the quality of the beverage and the weather that year, nor ask what the rising sea temperatures mean for future generations’ prospects of enjoying the same delicacy.
It is sad that the fashionista showing off his latest silk tie and the mother making her child wear a cotton vest because it is a little nippy outside do not link the vest to the quality of the soil and availability of rainfall that determine the price of the tie or the cotton that made the vest.
In his famed “I am an African” speech, former president Thabo Mbeki pondered “at times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I should concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and the pestilential mosquito”.
I do not see why the former president should even “fear” to concede this equal citizenship. What makes the rhino and the panda and indeed the pestilential mosquito less citizen of the world than you and I?
What makes human beings so exceptional in the story of creation that their wanton murder and displacement is more important than the extinction of our earthly neighbours such as the quagga and the dodo?
I do not accept that we should limit our heritage to what our great-grandparents wore or ate at the time when the term “being stoned” was a religious duty the righteous carried out against the antisocial.
Heritage is not only what we took from those who came before us. It is also what we will give to those who will come after us.
Appreciation of what is beautiful and worth preserving for future generations is non-partisan and transcends race, class or gender.
I also do not accept as valid the argument by some that because they live in squalor they cannot write poems about daffodils and all things beautiful.
It is precisely because of their awareness of the dullness of their life that they have a duty to themselves to make their own surroundings a little happier and livable and inspire hope.
Can those religiously inclined honestly say whether the commandment to love their neighbour is limited to the man or the woman next door and not to the bird that has its nest in the same yard as them?
Just like the pestilential mosquito stealing Mbeki’s sleep, in more ways than one we must concede good neighbourliness to the bird and its chicks, also to the ant and the lizard.
As I said before, it does not matter much to me whether you marked Spring day by praying as per Pope Francis’s directive.
I do hope that this being Heritage Month, we can all appreciate that, unlike other endowments, one does not need to have deep pockets to play a role in ensuring that one’s own descendants will enjoy the beauty and the utility of creation.
This Heritage Month, let us remember it is less of what we have taken from our forebears that counts but what we will bequeath future generations.
* Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is the editor of The Mercury. Follow him on Twitter @fikelelom