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Opinionista

The church must restore faith in the ‘rainbow nation’ that has been torn apart by unrest

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Dr Nqobile Zulu is a research manager specialising in poverty and inequality in South Africa. He is also a member of a faith-based collective called Resolute Men, which aims to improve the leadership skills of men in society.

The events of the chaotic week in July, when mayhem was visited upon the country, with the looting of malls in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the closing of a major port of entry, the loss of lives in the stampedes and the backlash that followed, reminded all of us of the fragility of South Africa’s democracy.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

A number of commentators have made their opinions known about the riots that engulfed the two provinces. Amid all the hullabaloo, what has been missing is a reflection on what this means for the country, particularly the moral standpoint of a democracy founded on the principles of equality, and the much-touted gains of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its lessons on reconciliation, forgiveness and healing. How does SA move on from this shock to the system’s belly?

In the early stages of South Africa’s democratic government, the state addressed the structural issue of poverty by embarking on the Reconstruction and Development Programme, for example, to provide housing for a majority urban population. Is it time now for the implementation of the basic income grant as a much-needed stimulus package for the majority poor?

The biggest problem with South Africa currently is the high unemployment rate for the youth, with little prospects for the future, or ever achieving a decent standard of living. This is compounded by the violent nature of South African society, where the state seems to listen only when people are protesting and destroying infrastructure.  The detachment of the state makes it an entity that’s foreign, that can be attacked at any moment of dispute. This anger is the reason why politicians and instigators, for lack of a better word, have easy pickings among the disaffected masses who are ready for leadership, even if it’s the wrong type.

This gap is where civil society organisations with strong community grassroots connections should step in to offer hope and leadership.

Their role would be to teach accountability for actions to our leaders and the masses. A symbolic starting point could be the huge Eskom debt of Soweto residents. What message should Soweto residents be given regarding this debt that is crippling not only Eskom but also the electricity generation and capacity of the entity?

The counternarrative would be that the political elites and connected leaders have looted state resources with impunity. Where is civil society to offer guidance and hope, grace and dignity for ordinary citizens in this equation?

During apartheid, the black majority looked for a saviour from white oppression and domination. It is the same today, with inequality and poverty being the albatross around the necks of the majority of those previously disadvantaged, except that the script of how apartheid was defeated is the template that’s being used in this fight.

For some, the ANC has lost its moral compass, as has the nation at large. The church needs to stand in the gap and be John the Baptist, warning SA about the impending doom that some of its citizens have visited upon themselves and the majority.

SA can’t afford to go the way of Zimbabwe or Rwanda, where power and state security are concentrated in the hands of the few. Who guards the best interests of the citizenry in this case? Surely not the powerful politicians backed by the army and security organs who control state resources, and thus can dish out benevolence as they so wish!

Our leaders are neither saints, nor are they in the mould of Mandela. State power can’t be concentrated in the hands of elites who can and have abused it, shown by apartheid atrocities and reflected in the post-apartheid corruption and impunity that followed.

The church has a moral obligation, as it did during the fight to end apartheid and colonialism, to speak truth to power in a fair but firm way to the governing party. It should also be a place of refuge for those most vulnerable. It should stay true to Jesus’s example by healing the sick, loving the rejected, offering hope to the disaffected. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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  • Take colour out of South Africa and we have hope as together we can be a beacon in Africa of how non racial policy brings a better future for all