We need a new way forward

2018-07-11 06:01

I WRITE this note without mandate or position except out of love for South Africa and a desire to see this nation move towards increasing justice and peace.

We are in trouble as a country. No, this is not a fearful letter. Our country is quite simply on its knees at the systemic level.

I know that you already understand this, but between community protests driven by sheer desperation, economic and fiscal stagnation and political fracture, the centre is at risk of coming apart. Some erroneously dream of a revolutionary transformation; a dramatic break from the status quo that resettles the power and the privileges enjoyed by some more equitably in the hands of many more.

History has taught us that revolution always has an opportunity cost — much is lost in the process, after which the scraps are usually fought over by those of low conscience.

There is an alternative to revolution — the painstaking establishment of restorative justice and meaningful reconciliation.

However, this high road is more difficult to traverse than revolution. Restorative justice is not driven by anger and resentment, but by the meek and dogged pursuit of servant leadership for the common good.

As a Christian, I see this in the Via Dolorosa, the road to the cross. Meaningful reconciliation, that touches the material welfare of those reconciled, requires sacrifice and patience.

Our people are running out of patience, I fear. In the absence of examples of patient and sacrificial reconciliation, our communities will follow those who believe we can stone and burn and hate our way out of systemic exclusion.

We must now build.

South Africa is the richest economy in Africa, with the most advanced infrastructure and diversified economy.

But our rapid birth rate has meant that relative economic development has not kept pace with the expansion of our population.

Add to this the devastating legacies of colonialism and apartheid and we have a massive cohort of young, poorly educated and unemployed citizens.

To accommodate them we have to build a bigger economic home. We need more avenues for young people to go from school, to work, to financial independence and a dignified quality of life for their young families.

This process of human and socioeconomic development has not been the core business of the faith communities for a long time.

The faith communities have, at times in history, built schools and hospices, but we have not built a nation.

If we do not, we are left to survive on the islands that will remain of our churches, mosques, synagogues and temples, as the political and business elite negotiate a deal that serves their usually competing interests. The 2020s and 2030s have to be the decades of construction of a better table of inclusion at which to seat our nation.

I am of the view that the faith communities have a role to play in setting this table.

To open the gates of justice will require of faith communities not only leaders, but a new prophetic activism.

The question is: Where will the inspiration come from to look beyond the precipice of populism and the self-defeating pursuit of self-interest? It must come from among the people.

It must come from a prophetic activism that models the way to a better future through honesty and responsibility; the bedrock of a functional society.

I know that many faith leaders are overburdened so I do not naively believe we can add this call to the many calls to which they have already responded.

No, I am suggesting something much more radical than that.

May this call to prophetic activism become our summa theologica. Peace cannot be bought by an afterthought. — Daily Maverick.

• Marius Oosthuizen is programme co-
ordinator at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science.

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