Johannesburg - Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu extended a heartfelt prayer to South Africa on Sunday, pleading that citizens must remember that we are part of one "human' family".
Tutu's message was broadcast at Sunday’s national day of prayer held at Soweto’s FNB Stadium, where thousands of people from more than 30 faith-based organisations and churches from across the country held an all-day prayer session.
The Motsepe Foundation sponsored the event, which was aimed at getting people to pray for unity and a better South Africa.
Tutu said that Walter Sisulu, Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela (among others) have lead us 'out of our bondage' but a lot needs to be done to fix the current condition.
"We have not done as well as your children have. Many remain in the bondage of poverty, squalor, living in shacks in filthy conditions. We have broken your heart. You are weeping over us."
Zion Christian Church (ZCC) leader Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane and other church principals also a passionate plea for the government to fight poverty, unemployment, sexual abuse, and the political killings in KwaZulu-Natal.
Lekganyane said the country was in turmoil because of violence, social ills and the sliding economic climate. He said government leaders needed to take a strong stand in tackling political killings, cannibalism in Limpopo’s Vhembe district, the killing of police and racism.
“As ZCC, we pray that those in power can fight all these things, and we also pray that those supporting the current status quo repent and see the light.
"In recent months we have seen an increase of racial tensions, and it shows that there are still people who think they can do as they please. We are all equal before the eyes of the Lord,” he said to thunderous applause from the crowd.
Reverend Dr Ephraim Fuzani of the Bantu Church of Christ in the Eastern Cape said politicians were too preoccupied to care for the people. “There is a lot of woman and child abuse, political infighting and political murder in this country.
"It seems the politicians have forgotten about the very people who put them in power,” Fuzani said.
Rhema’s Pastor Ray McCauley said the country needed non-discriminatory economic transformation. “I pray for the economy to transform for everybody and not only for the few. I pray for our leaders to lead our people with wisdom and gentleness."
The event and the church leaders’ plea for job creation comes in the wake of S&P Global Ratings downgrading South Africa's long-term currency rating to BB+, while Moody’s placed the country on review to be downgraded. The review period is expected to be concluded by February.
Earlier this year, S&P and Fitch downgraded the country, which carried dire investor confidence implications for the country and the currency.
Lekganyane did not mince his words when he said the government should not shift blame about the deaths of 143 Life Esidimeni psychiatric patients who perished because of lack of care at ill-equipped NGOs.
The matter is being heard at arbitration hearings, where last week former Gauteng director of mental health Makgabo Manamela refused to take responsibility for giving licence to the NGOs.
“Government should take responsibility for their actions in the Life Esidimeni matter and also apologise. We also pray for the families to find closure and rebuild their lives,” said Lekganyane.
Archbishop Buti Tlhagale said the gathering should be celebrated as it got people from various religious persuasions together to pray for the country. “We must stand up against corruption in the government and against poverty. It should not only end here with a prayer, we must also take action for a better South Africa,” Tlhagale urged.
The event also featured music by gospel artists Rebecca Malope and Winnie Mashaba.
Vendors took advantage of the occasion by selling food, church regalia and other wares at the venue.
Siphokazi Kama, a 30-year-old mother-of-two, made R2 000 from selling fat cakes and other fast foods across the road from the stadium.
“I came here at 7am and there were already other vendors.
"The money is good and there was enough security for all the people who attended the event,” said Kama.
Several roads around the stadium were closed to traffic.