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The ‘New Struggle’: An alliance of high-calibre leaders is needed to craft a better future for SA

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Thabo Makgoba is the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

It is my hope that, in 2023, civil society in South Africa will take the lead in wrestling with the question of how we can put aside personal greed and self-advancement, and work together with others to pursue, with vigour, that which will help us to become part of something bigger than ourselves.

I am referring to what I call the “New Struggle” in South Africa, as distinct from the old struggle against apartheid: a new struggle for a new society, a society of compassion and caring, a society in which we end inequality of opportunity and improve the lives of the poorest of the poor.

The pursuit of such a struggle has the potential to establish a new basis for our spiritual, economic, political and social lives, a morally virtuous framework that could and should unleash a sustainable wave of real change or — as some describe it — a movement of transformative improvement and a reprioritisation of the needs of our diverse communities.

To express the hope for such a movement is not wishful thinking.

Hope, as I have said before, is not a nebulous, pie-in-the-sky concept. No, hope is the driving force which motivates our determination to name our problems, to identify solutions to them and to mobilise people to overcome them.

Hope must be what drives us to work to fulfil our Constitution’s promise of a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

In recent days, the sad, racist attack on black children at the Maselspoort holiday resort outside Bloemfontein once again brought home the urgency of dealing with the hate and prejudice which still pervades South Africa.

Just as urgent is the need for civil society, including the churches and other faith communities, to refuse to surrender the human rights of the most marginalised: shack dwellers, refugees and economic migrants from other parts of Africa, and the LGBTQI community.

When I was in Ukraine just before Christmas, the Jewish community was celebrating Hanukkah, the eight-day festival which commemorates the miracle of olive oil which was supposed to burn in a lamp for only one day, but actually staying alight for eight days.

Similarly, in so many ways — by so many means and at so many times in our recent history — civil society has kept alight candles of hope to lighten the darkness in our societies in southern Africa.

We need also to light candles of hope for our Palestinian sisters and brothers, that they too may share the freedom, security, peace and justice we desire for all those who live in the Holy Basin.

In South Africa, civil society has been at the core of the New Struggle, a major contributing factor which prevented the dismembering of democracy as our Constitution came under assault in recent years.

Now we are facing profound new challenges in South Africa.

As we’ve seen others ask, “How do you shame a shameless government and political parties into being movements of the people, committed to the common good rather than existing for their own and their families’ self-advancement?”

How can we say that the voices of the people are being heard and acted upon when we see our political leaders living the high life while claiming there is no money for service delivery, basic education and healthcare?

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Where does this societal deafness and social arrogance come from?

Ukraine reminded me that it is possible to have key leaders who are capable, authentic champions of civil society; leaders who can create an infrastructure that will not allow populism, public violence and violent extremism to define 2023 and the years beyond.

In South Africa we need leaders who can fulfil their constitutional obligations, ensuring that social problems are addressed and ensuring that the new era of African democracy becomes a reality in South Africa too.

Such leaders will recognise that our future is not just in the hands of politicians, but that all the country’s economic and social formations must be brought into the narrative so that everyone, including the poor, is listened to for their ideas, insights and solutions.

Sadly, we are coming to the collective realisation that if our current government is incapable of self-correction, then a new coalition of forces is essential. Here are the realities that such a coalition will have to face up to:

  1. Poverty is not by accident, it is by design — lower-income, less educated, voiceless people are so much easier to control.
  2. In the social context, South Africa has the highest unemployment rate in the world — with 66.5% youth unemployment,
  3. In the Human Development Index compiled by the United Nations Development Programme, South Africa ranks in the second-lowest quartile. Half of the adult population lives below the poverty line and 19 million of our 60 million people are dependent on social grants. No less than 47% of households ran out of food during Covid-19 lockdowns.
  4. With the highest Gini coefficient globally, South Africa is the most unequal nation in the world. The richest 10% hold 71% of the wealth and the poorest 60% hold 7% of the wealth.
  5. People in sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing acute food insecurity.
  6. In the larger context, the world is moving away from financial stability, predictable financial markets, low interest rates and low inflation. The world is now characterised by unpredictable external shocks and increased volatility brought on by climate change, worsened by the Covid pandemic, and now amplified by Russia’s unprovoked, unwarranted and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.

We must come together to address these realities. A plethora of independent movements is not enough. Whether under the umbrella of the New Struggle — or some other vehicle that embraces all voices, from the poor, to the spiritual leaders of our country, to the leaders of business and labour — we need an alliance of leaders and forces to say: “Enough is enough!”

Your futures, our country’s future, is in our hands.

It is time to heal our political polarisations, to recognise that the chasms between rich and poor cannot be tolerated and that overcoming inequality of opportunity is the solution to unemployment.

We are so blessed to be living here in this century. It’s in our hands to shape the future and to give our children and grandchildren their best possible futures.

In 2023, how will we leave behind personal greed to become part of something bigger than ourselves? The answer: the New Struggle. DM

This is an edited version of his message for the church season of Epiphany, which is observed by the Orthodox churches of Russia and Ukraine as the main celebration of the birth of Christ.

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  • Theart Korsten says:

    Dear Arch,
    Indeed.
    Unfortunately South Africa’s moral compass is off kilter. The corrupt nihilists are winning and it seems there is no change in the near future. The dye has been cast and those few of us who want change are grossly outnumbered. There needs to be a overwhelming desire to clean up out act. Across the board. As your fellow countryman I see no real desire by the most powerful for the culprits to come clean. POSA and his ANC hoodlums are living large. Unless the purge is coming. We live in hope as you have put it. Awê!

  • Gordon Bentley says:

    I 100% Agree with these generalised, yet wise sentiments by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.

  • Paddy Ross says:

    The media has a duty to publish the publically available policies of the current political parties. Democracy can not function as it should when so many of the electorate are politically uneducated.

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    Thank you very much, Archbishop Makgoba, for your eloquent and important call to action by civil society, which is indeed about the only hope for the country to get out of the crisis that it is in.

  • Craig Terblanche says:

    My latest article on LinkedIn below asks whether we have got to the point where each of us will claim agency, take accountability and unite with a common purpose to build South Africa for common purpose, transforming livelihoods in and creating opportunities for prosperity at scale.

    Will you join us to establish a Massive Transformative Purpose for South Africa?

  • John Smythe says:

    You’re spot on, Archbishop Thabo. But the vast majority of South Africans already know where the problems lie. We aren’t stupid. But SA is going nowhere but down while the ANC can win hearts and votes by pulling cheap race cards and refer to the terrible past. That’s all they have in their arsenal. But the vast majority of the country’s voters can’t see beyond that and make up their own minds about their own and their children’s future because they are so easily “played” by ruling party. We needn’t wait until 2024. We’ve seen it as recently as at the local government elections where Pennywises were once again voted into so many positions of too much power. We can hope all we like. But we need people like you and business and honest people (as you say) to do more than start a New Struggle (because it may also take 90 odd years). It needs a stronger whip to make South Africans aware that their 2024 vote is the ultimate pivot point for SA! It’s either up or down (our current trajectory). The ANC will never ever be able to fix itself. We all know that. We aren’t stupid.
    This isn’t the time for hoping. It’s time for doing. It needs people like you and big business to stand up against our corrupt government and be counted!! We need you out on the streets. Not in a rectory or a high-rise building somewhere.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    One thinks this is a good idea but ideas alone are not sufficient without some mobilisation around them. Whilst the issue of the calibre of leadership is very much important, it is institutions of the country that are important to its future development. At the heart of a country is its institutional framework and the integrity of those who lead it. The criminal justice is very crucial to ensure that the rule of law holds and the criminal justice system is important to ensure fair and speedy dispensing of justice and we need a legislature that holds the executive to account but not to overlook. We need a military that respects the Constitution and protects the territorial integrity of the country. We need a functional public service that has the necessary skills to discharge their functions and as well as with ethics. Whilst our civil society has been playing a very important role in ensuring that those who are in power do what is expected of them and are paid to do, we have a long way to go. The New Struggle must not only to find leadership with ethics and values but to strengthen our state institutions so that they can work to fulfill their mandate rather than to undermine the very mandate given to these institutions by our constitution.
    The first institution that requires attention is parliament.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    Well written. However it is not true that hate and prejudice pervades SA. Politicians would like us to believe that, but independent surveys show that this is not a major issue.
    The ANC feeding frenzy can only be stopped by business and civil society challenging them head on.

  • Sam van Coller says:

    Faith groups guided by Gift of the Givers could show the way to a caring society by jointly establishing a fund to eliminate malnutrition and hunger in South Africa in five years. If successful, other mass initiatives will follow and demonstrate what the people can do. The political arena promises to be a mess for years to come and is unlikely to deliver some ‘dream’ solution. Those currently dominating the formal political arena wont go down without a fight. The Archbishop should lead by converting his words to action. The faith groups have substantial support and infrastructure.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    It is true. And it is not just the ANC that is keeping this as it is – most of the other opposition politicians do the same. It is interesting though that in some of the social democratic Scandinavian countries the rich (those who earn millions of dollars per year) pay a lot more tax than here, but they can afford it, so they stay there, and as a result the inequality and instability there has virtually disappeared as far as I know. But currently the richest 0.2% of people in most countries earn almost half of all the income, so contrary to popular belief, to tax only those who earn say more than R50 million per year can provide 100’s of billions of rands more for a government that really wants to address poverty. And my information is that those who are really rich are willing to part with their money, because they can afford it and only need a small part of their income for the keeping of themselves and their families, contrary to the average person who has to turn every cent over. But for them to be willing to part with this extra money, they would want positive results that are clearly visible, such as an efficient state bureaucracy, safe and clean streets, efficient service delivery, justice delivered in months rather than decades. They would want to see this money well-spent. I would say that they must be giving influence, not in the sense of what the Guptas had, but to advise government in the interest of the greater community.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    The answer: the New Struggle. At last, the Arch speaketh. More, more and more, please.

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