What hope is there for South Africa after twenty years of freedom?

Today we thank God for the political freedom achieved in South Africa in 1994. It came after many of us went to prison, many died, many sacrificed so much so that everyone has the right to vote and to live as equals and in dignity. Some people described this as a “miracle”, something which God ordained for South Africa, as an answer to many years of prayer and action by many in South Africa and the rest of the world.

Certainly, this is a moment to once again say another big THANK YOU to brothers and sisters across the world who sacrificed so much so that South Africa’s people may be free. As South Africans, we ask that this solidarity now be passed on to the people of Palestine so that they may also be free. In South Africa, we were convinced that the freedom of white people and black people were inextricably linked to each other, and today we are again convinced that the freedom of the people of Palestine and Israel are also inextricably linked to each other.

This celebration also happens during the Easter season of hope. As Christians and people of faith, we have to answer the question: What about our national life, what about our country, gives us hope? Is there any reason to hope? This is not a question about optimism, but about a deep and abiding hope.

PEOPLE: Certainly, the one person who has just made it to TIME magazine’s Top 100 most influential people in the world, deserves a special mention as a sign of hope not only for South Africa, but also for the rest of Africa. Too many of our African countries are subjected to corrupt governance and mismanagement, and every African country needs an effective Public Protector such as Thuli Madonsela. She will probably not be re-appointed when her term ends (bar another miracle happening) so it will be interesting to see what she will do after her life as Public Protector. Many South African women are doing remarkable work internationally, but the question needs to be asked why the space has been closed for them to do that work in South Africa.

Now that Nelson Mandela is no longer physically with us, the person who is most respected as our second Nelson Mandela is none other than Archbishop-emeritus Desmond Tutu. He remains a sign of hope for our country. There are not many countries that can boast a Nelson Mandela and a Desmond Tutu in one country…. South Africa is a society that has been blessed with good leaders, despite the bad ones we are often also saddled with.

There are signs that the church is slowly re-awakening to its prophetic role in society, and this is being led by a dynamic leader, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. He has been described as part of the ‘enemy’ by those who are in political power, and while this is disturbing, this is a tremendous feather in his cap as he has displayed more courage than most church leaders in South Africa, and he has done this with a sense of gravitas and dignity. One of his strengths is that he works very closely together with other leaders in the faith community and civil society.

Many more names can be mentioned, such as the cartoonist Zapiro, our “national puppet” Chester Missing and others. People such as Zapiro and Tutu have been with us for a long time now and have consistently raised their voices and pens for justice, not only in South Africa but for people across the world.

CIVIL SOCIETY, INDIVIDUALS, etc: The leaders mentioned above have their role to play in highlighting these matters of national concern, but it is important that the rest of civil society continues to organise around these matters in the SAME way that we were able to organise against apartheid. Individuals can also make a tremendous difference if the correct strategies and tactics are applied. I can tell of one example where I was invited to a school in a township close to my home, and I was told of all their challenges (lack of textbooks, no tables and chairs in the staffroom, not enough desks in the classrooms….the complaints were legion). Within a short space of time I was able to write an article and get it published in a magazine of a top golf resort called Arabella (I am chairperson of a Community Trust there) and I was able to engage with municipal officials to help with some of the challenges at the school. I am happy to say that within a short space of time all these problems were dealt with. I am telling this story to say that I know what is possible, but there are thousands of these stories happening across South Africa every day. A friend of mine has been involved with one particular family in the Johannesburg area, trying to get the children registered with the Department of Home Affairs, getting them a grant, etc. Even though top officials in that department initially passed this on from one person to the next, they eventually responded positively and today those children are registered and are receiving grants. My friend remains involved in their lives and she is an inspiration to me and many others.

ORGANISATION-BUILDING: Other people are painstakingly building or rebuilding organisations so that people can work together to resolve various challenges. This and what I mentioned above is the only way forward towards an even more hopeful South Africa. We have to stop impunity, corruption and mismanagement in its tracks before we go the way of other countries. We must be careful that our democracy does not go the way of the USA, where special interests and money determines the direction of the politicians and hence the polis. Money in politics needs a constant spotlight, and this would be one of the challenges of our next parliament.

We need to continuously ask: What hope is there for women who continue to be subjected to tremendous violence in South Africa? What hope is there for the many that live in shacks? What hope is there for those who are under-educated on a daily basis in some of our poorest schools, where corruption also flourishes? Individuals need to continue to speak out and act and civil society needs to continually organise to both say no to negative factors in our society and yes to positive factors in our society.

OUR CONSTITUTION: The one thing we as South Africans (except the small fringe who does not support the constitution) are very proud of is our constitution. But it is only words on paper and as South Africans we need to actualise it and strengthen the constitution, and many people have begun to do just that. Some people wish to merely use the constitution to maintain the status quo, but the constitution was intended for us to work towards unity despite our diversity. Some groups and individuals would sometimes want to ignore the constitution, but we need to constantly remind them that this new South Africa is governed by a constitution and they all need to abide by it. We therefore need to find appropriate and responsible strategies and tactics that would serve the common good before it is too late, since new demagogic leaders could emerge that would take us in the opposite direction of what was intended in the Constitution.

OUR ELECTIONS ON 7 MAY: We now look forward to our next election on 7 May. If 20 million people turn up at the voting stations on 7 May and 12 million (60%) people vote for the current governing party, this will also mean that 8 million active citizens will have voted for smaller parties, a considerable number in a country of just over 50 million people. Those who did not turn up would be another 3 million potential voters and those who could have but did not register would be about another 6 million people. All in all this would mean that 17 million active and potential voters DID NOT vote for the governing party and this figure represents a tremendous opportunity for civil society to mobilise and organise to keep on holding the governing party to account. Government, for their own good and for the common good, MUST be held accountable by an organised and active civil society. Hopefully these figures would be a warning to them to move away from corruption, impunity and arrogance to more effective service delivery for our people, and for them to work towards greater economic participation for all those who are economically marginalised at the moment.

South Africans, who gave birth to our dynamic democracy and who still dream about a non-racial and non-sexist society, have been very vocal when things have gone wrong in our democracy, and this too is a sign of hope. This should not stop but should increase and intensify until we build the South Africa that Madiba would have been proud of. In the meantime we can celebrate and thank God for the South Africa we live in and build our solidarity with the poor in our midst and with others in other parts of Africa, in Palestine and in the rest of the globe.

Amandla Ngawethu! Power to the people…

Aluta continue! The struggle continues…

Rev Edwin Arrison (Kairos SA General Secretary and Chairperson of the Centre for Christian Spirituality)

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by capadnig@yahoo.com on April 27, 2014 at 11:04 am

    This is very interesting and factual. I see it in the light of Nigeria situation and beginning to think that we need a discussion on Nigeria and South Africa democracy -the influence of USA democracy. Kolade
    Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device from MTN

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  2. Posted by Undule Mwakasungula on April 27, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    South Africa is the pillar of Africa in all aspects . The positive future and progress of South Africa and it’s leadership will determine the direction of the entire African continent in Governance , economic progress , leadership , resource management, human rights etc . South Africa must set these Bench Marks for the good of entire African people and it’s development . Viva South Africa Viva South Africa !

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    • Thank you Undule. Many people across the continent and across the world are very worried that South Africa might go the same way that some other countries on the continent has gone, and also see South Africa as Africa’s last hope. There are other good examples on the continent as well…Ghana comes to mind…and we must approach this with a degree of humility….. this is one of the reasons why prominent individuals and civil society organisations (including the church) must constantly hold our democracy up to the light to ensure it remains disinfected….

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  3. Posted by pooben naidoo on April 27, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    True we can be and should be thankful for the freedom and democracy we enjoy.
    True we are in a period of rebuilding both in society and in the ANC.
    The millions of South Africans who still earn a pittance and millions of others who live below the poverty line are looking to all of us, and with due respect despite the doomsayers and those who see the ANC as the ‘enemy’ in a free and democratic country, it is these very people who understand and respect President Zuma and the ANC as the bearers of truth and love and freedom since the time of Rev.Dube, OR Tambo and Mandela.
    Indeed it is the churches role to bear witness and act prophetically with the ideal of a just and holy peace in its lectern as it is the role of civil society, and is the view of millions of South Africans who daily struggle with the ‘resurrection’ of their own humanity for which Jesus had come to proclaim.

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    • Thanks Pooben. I do not see signs of the ANC rebuilding. What I see (and the choice of members of this Nkandla parliamentary committee have revealed it again) is that former tricameral parliament people and former homeland and IFP people have begun to infiltrate the ANC and have skewed its values and how it operates. So it is no longer the ANC of Dube, Tambo and Mandela. Most people who turn up at the polls will probably still vote for the ANC, but one can only hope that the ANC reads the signals and begin to self-correct. Even senior ANC people are asking them to do this so this is not news. Many of us will watch the space and see what happens but what we see at the moment is not very positive….

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