This is a Kairos moment

2012-12-16 10:00

The ANC enters its 53rd conference 1.2 million members strong.

As a liberation movement, it has never had such a gargantuan formal membership.

But neither has its social consensus been as small as it is. The ANC has been a force in the world and in South Africa, precisely because it is a movement.

As the liberator, it managed to organise both locally and internationally across lines that brought together interests, ideologies, races and classes in its broad church. It may have been numerically weaker, but it was larger in moral consensus than it is now.

This old identity of the broad church has given the ANC its unique position in South Africa and a reputation globally.

Using this character, the movement successfully fought and vanquished apartheid.

South Africa’s ANC-led transition to democracy is still heralded as a highlight of the late 20th century, a wonderful moment of the triumph of right over might.

But will the party use its conference to take stock of whether it is still a movement of right; will it use the moment to return the party of Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Charlotte Maxeke, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, and Helen Joseph to its high standing and dignity, as its son and scholar, Pallo Jordan, has asked repeatedly?

State of our nation

Two major actors of society this week expressed public concern at the state of our nation: young CEOs and four major churches. This is almost unprecedented in South Africa’s recent history.

It marks the fraying of the social contract that has given the ANC such an overwhelming right

to govern.

Yet the party has swatted at these initiatives, as if dealing with pesky flies on a hot summer’s day.

With this response, the ANC has revealed how it has grown bigger, but also smaller.

Bigger in numbers, but smaller in consciousness.

Bigger in numbers, but smaller in ideas. Bigger in numbers, but smaller in leaders.

As its public faces, both its president, Jacob Zuma, and its secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, have tainted the image of a party that once stood high and proud.

Mantashe is more bulldog than leader.

In his response to a heartfelt appeal by the churches, the communist leader basically told them to bugger off and leave the ANC alone.

He forgot of course that the ANC was born in a church in Mangaung, where the party will gather this week.

In its call to action, 33 powerful young CEOs offered their service.

Highlighting the country’s huge potential and recalling our peaceful transition, they wrote: “There is a strong sense we have lost momentum. Poverty, unemployment, pervasive corruption, and failures in our education system and the rule of law remain serious challenges.”

Opportune moment

A day later, the churches issued a 10-page sermon for the nation.

It is, they said, a “Kairos moment”, which references in religious terms: “God speaking to us in particularly urgent tones, a moment that requires transformational leadership and action.”

Kairos, in Greek, means a right or opportune moment.

The last time the churches came out this strongly was in the 1980s when late apartheid repression was at its worst and the Kairos Document movement started.

The churches are serious. What about?

Decrying their own silence, as if in confessional, the people of the cloth set out in 10 painstaking pages what the pain of South Africa is right now: “There are restless voices in different parts and sectors of our society, again yearning for change, not for 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.”

Party vs national interest

And then for six pages, the religious leaders address the “self-serving and arrogant” leaders of South Africa, both in politics and business.

“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 yourself up against the arc of history, which is and will always be bent towards hope?”

They rail against corruption and the government’s party-based focus over the national interest, and challenge business too.

How is it, they implore, that unemployment is higher and inequality deeper than it was under apartheid?

Together, the open letter of business and the church’s new Kairos Document reinforce each other.

They recognise where the country stands and what must happen now.

Both raise corruption, unemployment, poverty and government inefficiency as the challenges of the moment. Is anybody in Mangaung listening?

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