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2020: The year of the Orange Jumpsuit

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Thabo Makgoba is the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

Tonight, as we enter a new decade, it is night for so many in our land, for many around the world, for those who hunger and thirst for food and water, and curl up at night hungry. It is night for those who hunger and thirst for some kind of peace in places of deadly conflict, who hunger and thirst for justice in places where human rights are either ignored or abused. 

It is night for those who have been victims of violence and so horribly of gender-based violence. It is night for the 26 million refugees and 41 million people displaced from their homes in their own countries who face untold dangers. It is night for all of them.

But Christmas is always essentially about something new, something unthought of, unheard of, that comes to offer a new dawn. As we enter this new decade, the words “Twenty-twenty” have such a landmark ring to them, marking the beginning of a new decade which invites us to think bigger thoughts, to dream bigger dreams and to scale up our ambitions for what we can achieve, for ourselves, our communities and our society in the next 10 years. 

What is for certain is that 2020 will not be short of drama. Many see it as a year of judgment. Certainly in the United States, the world is in for a roller-coaster year as Americans go back to the polls to pass judgement on President Trump. Brexit in the UK will be resolved, one way or the other – or will it? Whatever happens, it is likely to leave that country divided, damaged and diminished.

Here in South Africa, we hope it is “the year of the orange jump-suit”, a year of reckoning for those whose greed has driven the country to the brink of disaster. On this night, of all nights, I don’t want to appear vindictive. Nor do I want to join the ranks of those who would put undue pressure on prosecutors to rush their work. Shamila Batohi, Hermione Cronje and their teams at the National Prosecuting Authority need to be given the space to do their jobs properly and to prepare watertight cases which secure convictions. Botched prosecutions and widespread acquittals would be a disaster, sending the wrong signals to the corrupt and plunging the country into despair. But there must be consequences for corruption, both for those in the private sector who facilitate it and those in the public sector who take advantage of it. The justice, the peace, the reconciliation and the abundant life which a flourishing democracy promises will be achieved only if those who threaten to subvert it are held accountable. So I pray that our hope is not misplaced. 

The leaders of our government have had nearly two years to get their act together, rebuild national and international trust and begin to keep the many promises they’ve made to us. Much as I respect our President, and have said he can’t bring about change with a magic wand, it remains true that he, his Cabinet and Parliament are excellent talkers, good enough to talk a dog down from a meat truck. But when it comes to improving service delivery, delivering basic healthcare and bringing our education system up to global standards to ensure equality of opportunity for all our children, their words are empty and actionless. As Freddie Mercury of Queen once sang:

All we hear is radio ga ga
Radio goo goo
Radio ga ga
All we hear is radio ga ga
Radio blah blah
Radio, what’s new? 

We need to believe we can do better. We need to believe we must do better. We need to believe we will do better. And let us start by examining ourselves: instead of complaining about what the government hasn’t done for us, ask what it is that you can do for your neighbour. 

Looking ahead to the next decade, I hope we will abandon old shibboleths and begin to make economically rational decisions about our country. Not only in South Africa, but internationally, the last decade has shown that neither unbridled capitalism and globalisation, nor a centralised command economy will produce the growth and the jobs we need. Across the world, the economic ordering of society and the question of how we develop our material resources is central to the crises that afflict us. In South Africa, I have said that the old economic order must go. But inequality is not confined to South Africa, or Brazil, or the United States – it affects us all – and I am a strong supporter of an initiative by the international faith community to advocate a new form of global governance and a new economic framework, one which would transform the market economy from a self-serving mechanism for elites to one which is less exploitative and both serves our environment and distributes resources and income more equitably.

Despite our challenges, as we close out one decade and open the door to another, I am hopeful. Not because, to quote the eminent South African feminist theologian, Denise Ackermann, I have a “blithe sense that all will end well (or alles sal regkom) because human progress is guaranteed.” No, I am hopeful because to hope is to be determined to name our problems and highlight our differences, precisely in order to mobilise people to overcome them. As Denise adds: “To live out my hope is to try to make that which I hope for come about – sooner rather than later.”

We believe and trust in a God of hope. So let us reflect that in our personal lives, in our Church’s life and in the life of the country as we enter the twenty-twenties. DM

Thabo Makgoba is the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. This is an edited excerpt from his Christmas sermon.

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