We should look at our country, our ways of doing things and have a different, more challenging conversation, says Thabo Makgoba.
Cape Town - I have an admission to make. When I was asked to become archbishop, I quietly committed myself to taking one month every year to retreat into a physical and emotional place where I could spiritually and intellectually cleanse myself of the chaotic and complex world of southern Africa.
Such a retreat provides a time of deep personal and humbling reflection, where I remind myself how little I know, but how clearly I understand the boundaries of my stupidity.
A personal retreat is a time of deep inner reflection, an opportunity to reboot one’s moral compass.
Sitting silently, I had the stillness needed to witness the thoughts passing before me. No interference, no judgment, just silent witnessing to reach that critically important destination that creates a gap between the witness and the mind.
As someone once said, “Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise – you are not the mind, you are the witness, a watcher.”
I’ve realised that this meditative process of watching and witnessing is the alchemy of real religion. As you become more deeply rooted in the witnessing process, your thoughts start to disappear, your mind empties and illumination and enlightenment are let in.
It is deeply humbling. You become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, free human being. It is possible to find peace and simplicity in each breath taken. Deep personal reflections become clear, understandable and lucid.
One day during my retreat, I asked: “What has happened to Heritage Day?”
According to the government website: “Living heritage plays an important role in promoting cultural diversity, social cohesion, reconciliation, peace and economic development. In every community there are living human treasures who possess a high degree of knowledge… pertaining to different aspects of… heritage.
“It is therefore important for South Africans to reclaim, restore and preserve these aspects of living heritage to… address challenges communities are facing today.”
On reading this, I had to wonder about the message being presented to the country, and its lack of focus on issues and attitudes around diversity, cohesion and inclusivity. The message seemed to concentrate on celebrating the “We-ness” of society, yet basing every decision on “Me”. Unfortunately, the “Me” attitude is also at the heart of corruption in our society.
Corruption is not about “We”, it is only ever about “Me”. Corruption is not about what is in South Africa’s best interests, it’s about what is in the best interests of the corrupter.
Our country’s failure, and in particular our leadership’s failure, to find the moral authority of values-based leadership, has a caustically splintering effect. Our leaders are shattering the oneness of a South Africa where we commit to ending the corrosiveness of the inequality of opportunity.
The result is that Heritage Day, for example, a celebration rooted in rich Zulu tradition, has been trampled on by President Jacob Zuma’s policies, decisions and government inaction on ending inequality.
Perhaps this Heritage Day, we should look at our country, our culture and our ways of doing things and have a different, more challenging conversation. Perhaps we should ask: “Is this the marriage we want for ourselves?”
We have to take this opportunity to ask important and difficult questions: “Where is the leadership that puts the collective interests and needs of South Africa first, before their personal benefit? Where are the leaders who stop talking an anti-corruption message and start acting?”
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how long you spend on Earth, how much money you have accumulated, or how much attention you have received. What is important are the positive ripples you have created by throwing a moral stone into the waters of your life and the lives of others.
On this Heritage Day, my message is that despite the criticism you read about our epidemic of corruption, bureaucratic incompetence and self-interest, it is important to realise you can be responsible for yourself and the decisions you make. Whatever people say about you tells you more about themselves than about you. Talk is cheap, but courage costs.
As a nation, we are becoming increasingly fragile because we are still clinging to a false centre that depends on following other people. We spend a great deal of time trying to boost our ego through our actions. This is simply suicidal, not just for ourselves at a deeply personal level, but for our country.
It’s time for a new conversation to take place. The New Struggle is that conversation.
It asks each of us to take a deep look inside ourselves, to look at who we need to be as people if we are to be part of the solution to end the inequalities that corrode our consciousness.
As we celebrate Heritage Day, reflect on the need for us all to come home to the New Struggle.
* Thabo Makgoba is the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
The Sunday Independent