Time to adjust our values and stop worshipping our stuff

2014-01-15 00:00

WHY are we so afraid of Julius Malema? Perhaps it’s because he has an excellent point. The gap between the rich and the poor is unjust; our country’s resources should be shared.

Economic imbalance is one of the biggest issues in the world today.

N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, likens it to the slavery issue of two centuries ago. When William Wilberforce and the abolitionists argued against slavery, the political powers collectively replied: “We know how the world works; don’t bother us with moral arguments.”

Malema is bothering us with moral arguments. And he’s so charismatic and gutsy that people are starting to listen.

At the same time, we do know how the world works. Unbridled capitalism creates wealth gaps, but communism births poverty and privatisation hinders development. So what possible solution is there?

In past centuries, political debates weren’t conducted in a moral void. The argument against slavery, and its political resolution, were moral issues.

We don’t have to agree with Malema’s solution, but we could agree with his articulation of the problem: capitalism has become a monster in South Africa, and that monster is fed by our consumerism and our materialism.

A number of British and Australian friends have commented that the South Africans living in their countries are far more materialistic than any of the other immigrants.

Our country specialises in this. At the root is our South African value system. We love money, we love the stuff money can buy, we love the glamorous lifestyle, we love glitz, we love bling.

Perhaps one factor fueling the public outcry against Nkandla is because we are envious. We all want our own Nkandla. We believe we deserve it. Black and white, we are materialists.

We have believed the lie that the good life is a life with goods. And we want this good life for all.

One reason the current ANC government fears Malema is that it has promised this materialistic life for all and hasn’t delivered it. It has perpetuated a consumerist approach to governing, appearing to largely benefit the party and its affiliates. It has failed to make headway in serving the people of this country, particularly its poorest.

But even so, is it realistic to have promised this materialistic life for all in the first place?

And is it realistic to think that we could all have this life, even if we did redistribute everyone’s land?

Isn’t it more realistic to adjust our values?

What about a new goal, a new value, a new slogan: land for all so that everyone can learn to work hard and provide for themselves and be content with what they have.

Then perhaps we would all be less afraid of Malema — less afraid that he’s going to take our country down, or more importantly, take our comfortable lives down.

The media have accented Malema’s revolutionary rhetoric and used it as a means to sow fear.

As hardened materialists we have bought into that. We see him as stupid and hypocritical; we see him as a white hater.

But maybe we’re just scared he’s going to take our stuff. And our stuff is our god. We South Africans get very angry when you mess with our god.

• Sam Groves is pastor of Church on the Ridge, which meets on the campus of UKZN.

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