South Africa

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No matter how hard I try to fill my heart with the joy of Christmas, it gets harder and harder 

No matter how hard I try to fill my heart with the joy of Christmas, it gets harder and harder 
Illustrative image of broken glass (Source: Pixabay)

The state of our nation and the state of our world render us a confused human race.

Two weeks ago a pro-Palestine protest in East London touched my heart deeply, for a banner carried by marchers drew vivid attention to the many thousands of children reported to have died in the war in Gaza: each one of those children, the banner said, had names and they had dreams. Too many children are no more in the place where Jesus was born, in the land in which he lived and ministered, and the territories through which he journeyed. The parallels between the time of Jesus’ birth and the cruel reality in the Holy Land today are obvious.

We have to face the fact that even as military operations continue in Gaza, vulnerable people are forced to move from one place to another, no place seemingly safer than the last despite the protestations of the Israeli military. The United Nations reports that 1.4 million people have been driven from their homes and now the entire population of about 2,2 million people is suffering crisis or worse levels of food insecurity. We see today a tragic replay of the bitter politics of disruption of two thousand years ago.

Three months ago, would we have believed it if anyone had told us that nearly 25,000 people – more than 20,000 Palestinians but also Israelis – would be dead by Christmas? The American senator, Bernie Sanders, put this in historical perspective this week when he told the US Congress that the destruction in Gaza was now equivalent to that of the German city of Dresden, where – notoriously – two years of bombing during World War II destroyed half of the homes and killed about 25,000 people. Gaza, he said, has matched this in two months.

Eighty years on, the world is supposed to have become a better place in its abhorrence of war. Under the international humanitarian law which has been developed since then, it is said that Winston Churchill would now be deemed a war criminal for the bombing of Dresden. But in the Holy Land, it is as if the military wings of Hamas and Israel have reverted to fighting by the standards of atrocity deployed three-quarters of a century ago. Both sides now stand condemned for breaches of international law in this horrible war. There is little doubt that adherents of both sides, in both Gaza and the West Bank, have committed war crimes. There are leaders on both sides, of Hamas and Israel, who have made declarations and statements which either constitute incitement to genocide or will be interpreted as such by their followers.

I have been asked what message our church was sending a few weeks ago when we allowed Hamas leaders to join a vigil in St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. My reply has been simple, reflecting the words of Desmond Tutu: “If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”

In his case, when the PW Botha government was behaving as an enemy to our people, Archbishop Desmond nevertheless repeatedly talked to Botha. And when he met Botha, he urged him to negotiate with those his government deemed “terrorists” who needed to be “eliminated”.

In the 1990s he urged Madiba to talk to Prince Buthelezi when the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal rejected dialogue on the grounds that the IFP was killing women and children, trying to shoot its way to power. And in Ireland, he angered the British government in 1991 by urging them to talk to the IRA, whom they then regarded as terrorists.

The attitude of many Western countries in their almost unconditional support of Israel, designating Hamas as a terrorist organisation, beyond the pale, is very worrying in its implications. For what will they and Israel do if Palestinians, when finally able to vote in a free and fair election, choose Hamas to represent them?

It is not only Gaza which is engulfed in war. Our world is sick with war, in 40 different places on a recent count. The disruption which characterised the Holy Land at the time of Jesus’ birth, and which we see again today, is replicated in Sudan, where the United Nations tells us that nearly six million people have been forced from their homes. Since two heavily-armed military forces began a civil war nine months ago, more than 9,000 have been killed, and the fighting has helped to drive more than 17 million people into high levels of acute food insecurity.

Just this week, fighting south and east of Khartoum forced the UN’s World Food Programme to suspend deliveries to a state where it was regularly feeding more than three-quarters of a million people. In the face of this horrifying humanitarian catastrophe, the world has been scandalously silent.

At home in South Africa, we hear the cries of those terrorised by gangs whose violence disrupts whole neighbourhoods of our cities and destroys the social fabric stitched together by those who have longed for peace. The cries of the survivors of gender-based violence and the deaths of those killed by intimate partners is a scourge which scars our society.

Eight years ago, when we marched in a Walk of Witness to Parliament, I deplored the lack of trust between political leaders and the people of our country. In my speech, I asked: “Doesn’t the distrust we feel in today’s leaders feel more or less like the distrust we felt during the days of apartheid?”

Last week, I was deeply disturbed to read the results of a new survey by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation showing that decline in people’s trust. In 2013, two out of every 10 South Africans said they found it difficult to trust that our leaders would do the right thing. A decade later, the figure has quadrupled – in 2023 eight out of every 10 people agree that leaders are untrustworthy.

So now let us finally admit to one of the saddest lessons of history: if you have been lied to long enough, you tend to ignore any evidence of the lies, no matter how negatively they impact our lives day in and day out. It is  frightening to realise that as a society we’ve become so worn down by lies, corruption and incompetence that we’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. We’ve been captured by lies.

Meanwhile, as politicians begin to realise they may not be in power after the next election, their deception, scams and fraud grow more blatant by the day as they grow hungrier and hungrier for the ill-gotten proceeds of power. They walk shamelessly and brazenly with their dirty feet through every aspect of our South African lives. Adding to this crisis is the revelation in the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement that 55,000 public servants now earn more than a million rand a year. Fifty-five thousand! This when eight-and-a-half million desperate people receive a social grant of R350 a month.

The political class, including the socialists among them, got bigger and bigger. They produce nothing, create nothing and maintain very little, if anything. Everything they touch seems to fall apart, while they consume more and more and the entrepreneurial class gets smaller and the number of listed companies shrinks every year.

The working class faces a tougher environment with less growth and fewer jobs as politician’s leech the economy and stay in power basically by drugging the working class, making them  believe they’re getting all this free stuff. But at the end of the day, everyone, including the poor, pays for it through higher inflation and other economic ailments.

Nevertheless, this Christmas we must refuse to be overwhelmed by despair. Christmas is the feast that underlines that no one is excluded from places of blessing, from spiritual growth and inspiration. No one is excluded, no one is unworthy.  Every barrier dissolves. There is no place for distinction, discrimination or injustice. All are welcome across class, race, sexual orientation, migration status, religion and every other divisive distinction.

Even with the challenges the world faces in the Holy Land, Sudan and other places of conflict, and in our own communities, the Christmas hope for peace and goodwill toward all cannot be dismissed as a pious dream. If we are to have peace in the world, we must all embrace the affirmation that ends and means must cohere. There have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, but we will never have peace or harmony in the world until everyone everywhere recognises that ends are not severed from means. Ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because means represent the seed, and the ends represent the tree.

The Christmas story and message is: Don’t fear standing up to those who make war; don’t fear those who abuse power, whether in public life or our neighbourhoods and homes. Have hope, because we have overcome in the past and we will overcome in the future. DM

Thabo Makgoba is Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. This is adapted from his Christmas sermon, delivered in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town.

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  • Maria Magdalena (Marie) Van der Walt says:

    Hitting the nail on the head with everything said. Well done speaking the hearts and minds of all the honest people. We will still rejoice in the Lord, today and every day.
    Thank You

  • Shaun Slayer says:

    Ok, so after reading Maria’s comment I will not read what made the headlines as I am here to wish EVERYONE a merry X-Mas and may those deer not get lost in the rain 😉 Have a good one peeps.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Thanks Archbishop for this important message.

    Will Ramaphosa and his henchmen read it?

  • Richard Bryant says:

    Let me quote from the Christmas carol “It Came Across the Midnight Clear”.

    Yet with the woes of sin and strife
    The World has suffered long
    Beneath the angel-strain has rolled
    Two thousand years of wrong.
    And man, at war with man, hears not
    The love song which they bring
    O hush the noise, ye men of strife
    And hear the angels sing!

    O hush ye men of strife! Christmas reminds us of our humanity. Of love and joy and family. Distinct from the joke that is the greed and power of politicians the world over.

  • Dee Bee says:

    Beautifully written, absolutely hit the nail on the head. And Merry Christmas to you all!

  • Bill Gild says:

    Hamas is a designated terrorist organization. Why didn’t the Archbishop of Cape Town invite representatives of ISIS, the leader of the Sudanese factions currently slaughtering thousands of their countrymen, women and children, representatives of the various factions still fighting in the DRC,a representative of the Houthies, or Hezbollah, to name but a few other entities that have in recent years, slaughtered millions, caused mass starvation, raped and pillaged their way through war-torn countries?

    • John P says:

      Bill you read that entire article full of meaningful statements about war in the Holy land, war in general and the behaviour of politicians and more and some whataboutism to support the Netanyahu agenda is all you had to offer in response?

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        ‘They’ are not interested in “meaningful statements” … but in showing how ‘clever’ they are … by ignoring the meaning .. and putting forward their bigotry parading as ‘learned’. An example of how minds can be occupied by propaganda .

      • LLOYD MACKLIN says:

        John P, you hit the nail on the head. Very good balanced sermon by the Archbishop.

    • Paul T says:

      Give up on the whataboutism, this man has spoken the objective truth on the state of the world. Find a way to help fix it rather than defending the indefensible.

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        Whataboutism is the standard reflex of occupied minds ! They did exactly the same when Tutu after visiting Palestine … described it as an ‘open air prison’. Having to deal with or admit any truth is hard.

  • Jan Vos says:

    Ja, Archbishop Thabo, your pro-Palestine leaning is clearly obvious. Please spend your Chrismas with that other old Hamas moegoe, Ronny Kasrils. Thank God I’m an atheist.

    • John P says:

      Where do you see a pro Palestinian leaning in this, I see only a desire for peace from the Archbishop?

      • Bill Gild says:

        Good for you! I, too, see a desire for peace from the Archbishop, but much (if not most) of his statement is dedicated to vilifying Israel. Again, why no invitations to other terrorist groups? I believe that the answer is obvious….

        • Lil Mars says:

          Clearly anti-Israel. I’m glad though that he mentions the Sudan war where civilians have been slaughtered in their thousands and millions have had to flee their homes. Not enough outrage from the world on that and other atrocities.

          • Kanu Sukha says:

            So what ? It is after all the product of the incest between the UK and US (which they sometimes dress it up a ‘special relationship’) … as was the founding of Pakistan at the same time !

  • Klaus Muller says:

    Electorate votes for the government they deserve? Not so? Selling your vote for a garment?

  • Peter Holmes says:

    I won’t comment on the Archbishop’s sentiments per se. The fact is, as a Christian, his perspective of the Israel-Hamas war is founded on New Testament beliefs and values where the ends in war (he mentions the Dresden fire bombing) do not justify the means (or, at least, there is agonising over the means such as the USA’s use of the atomic bomb). I’d suggest that, for both Hamas and Israel, these niceties do not hold.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      I suggest a closer look at the next as it does NOT define it as a war between Israel/Hamas .. but Israel/Palestine. Clearly the daily IDF incursions into the west bank and the atrocities there, should make that clear. Occupation and humiliation is not limited to Gaza … though getting us to separate the two, makes the task of subjugation easier .

      • Peter Holmes says:

        I’m not sure what you mean by “the next” and why their definition of Israel’s adversary in this war is the defining one. However, I don’t want to get into a debate on this. There is (to many, an unpalatable fact), no state of “Palestine”; Palestinians yes, and their representatives in the form of Hamas (Gaza) and the Palestinian Authority (West Bank).

  • Johan Buys says:

    Arch : let’s bring it closer to home.

    How often in the last 15y has your church preached from the pulpit that a vote for our corrupt incompetent government is an affront to your church’s values?

    Do you regard yourself complicit?

    I would like to hear a rational response please because our churches have absconded

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      The audaciousness of your question about “complicit” to the archbishop is astounding …but not surprising ! Were you part of the group of people who kept our apartheid government in power … since you and your ilk were the only ones with a vote ? Wake up .. and please keep your indignation to yourself!

      • Johan Buys says:

        I ask the question exactly because the churches we could rely on to call foul on the prior regime are so obvious now by their silent approval.

        Don’t assume you can classify me.

        Please explain the church’s silence if you can?

        What would Desmond Tutu have to say about our current regime?

    • Citizen X says:

      What have you done?

      • Johan Buys says:

        I do what I can each day in my interactions. I am not the leader of a church of millions, with the related obligation to guide those millions.

        Tutu spoke up : this government is as bad as the white regime.

        Why are all our churches quiet?

    • David van der Want says:

      I suggest you research arch b tutus comments on corruption in the ANC

  • G. Strauss says:

    ‘Last week, I was deeply disturbed to read the results of a new survey by the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation showing that decline in people’s trust. In 2013, two out of every 10 South Africans said they found it difficult to trust that our leaders would do the right thing. A decade later, the figure has quadrupled – in 2023 eight out of every 10 people agree that leaders are untrustworthy.’ This country is so far down the pan, one has to have serious doubts about the feasibility of dragging it back up. Zuma was the clown everybody laughed and knew what he was doing. Ramaphosa is the real danger because corruption has increased hand-over-hand since he took over. People must believe that their vote can make a difference and go out and vote for a better SA for everybody.

  • David van der Want says:

    Well said the bishop! Clear as a church bell. Amen. Shalom. As-salamu alaykum

  • Chris Herselman says:

    Thank you for your honest reflection on the ills of the world and our country Archbishop Thabo. One of these ills, the Palestine / Israel conflict, is highly emotive, no wonder that some readers seem to read and quote very selectively from your text. I sense your genuine care for peace, fairness and morality in the world, and that I value.

  • Martin Smith says:

    As Jesus said, the world will be filled with tribulation until He comes a second time in glory to judge the world. That is why we cry Veni Veni Emmanuel.

  • Andre Swart says:

    Oh get off your high (Arabian) horse Bishop Makgoba and save the starving Xhosa children in the Eastern cape.

    Rather save your breath for the 27 000 murders right under your nose … here in South Africa.

    Because morality, as does charity, starts a home?

    • Dee Bee says:

      So you only read the first bit of his piece? Or even worse, read the whole article bur decided to focus on only one part? Maybe try and read the entire article and absorb it all.

  • Andre Swart says:

    If Bishop Makgoba and his fellow Christian ‘comrades’ had done their moral duty, they would have forced the undelayed prosecution of Jacob Zuma for his offences in the corrupt arms deals of 1994.

    If the Christian believers under the leadership of Bishop Makgoba had done their duty at that time, Zuma would have been in jail and the SA state would still have been functioning.

    For the sake of the starving and the poor ….

    But the Christians rather ‘feasted’ on the ill begotten extravancies together with their communist , atheist comrades!

    Shame on you!

    • Citizen X says:

      And what have you done, please enlighten us? Active citizenry is required by all. But we so used complaining and have become complacent.

      • Andre Swart says:

        I have been struggling to survive the onslaught against WAMS (white Afrikaner males) through 116 new racist laws designed by the ANC of Bishop Makgoba, directed at the eradication of Afrikaners.

        Those racist BEE and AA laws of the ANC compelled us WAMS to emigrate or perish.

        Makgoba and his followers are ‘grandstanding’ (seek attention) on the world moral stage but they are rotten on the inside!

        They pretend to care for Palestinian children in Gaza but they ignores the starving Xhosa children in the Eastern Cape.

        And YOU defend him!

        DISGRACE !

    • Dee Bee says:

      Maybe read the whole article instead of picking and choosing the bits that suit your narrative?

  • Citizen X says:

    Thanks Bishop, your message may give some hope and point of reflection but some may still be lost by their hateful tendencies.

  • There is unquestionable merit in maintaining as sound as possible communications with ones ” enemy ” to minimise conflict aswell as to better understand their strategy and have positive influence. There comes a point when in the face of extremism , this alone fails.
    Consider the negotiations with the Nazi extremists in the late 30’s . In the end Military force was the only way to halt the tirade and to some degree an earlier military intervention could have seen less horror unfolding .
    Israel today , may be at that very point in the face of the Horrific and senseless Ocober 7 Attack by Hamas on even Children .
    Today’s over simplified Democracy of an unqualified franchise has too often failed in many Societies because it empowers even the ill informed and unqualified . Improper leadership can too easily become the result .

    • dexter m says:

      Would you include the Jewish National Front ( Formed by follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane ,but with the same ideology of the Kahane movement – Ben Gvir ) amongst the extremist and unqualified franchise.

  • Trenton Carr says:

    Religious nutjobs, are the source of all this hate and death. There will be no end to it, ever.

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