It is wet, windy and chilly in Cape Town. The staff is at the weekly Mass and we are joined by two other visitors who have come to consult with me for varied reasons. The lessons that we read are about hope, not as a painkiller, but as what we have been gifted with as humans by our God, even though it has still to be attained. The final lesson speaks almost of retribution and restoration and the former lesson in Corinthians of the need for each of us to become the very embodiment of God’s will and of the change that we seek.
The cold and the lessons as well as the visitors take me back to my trip last December to Ukraine. These prayers are appropriate at the moment when African leaders attempt to forge ahead with peace efforts in Ukraine and Russia this weekend.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February last year, we have been transfixed by events in that country. Overwhelmingly, however, we have invariably spent more time talking about the ghastly effects of war rather than the means to deliver peace.
Yet most wars end by negotiation, not by military victory.
The search for a common ground is, though, a most difficult task, particularly when and where there is injury, injustice and hurt. But finding the grounds and achieving a method for peace is both imperative and God’s work. The value of Ubuntu urges us to be relational even in politics, and in business, to build a humane society. This is also a biblical mandate from the scriptures referred to above .
The conflict in Ukraine is counter-intuitive to Ubuntu, and to our search for the common good. It has now raged for nearly 500 days, costing as many as 200,000 military casualties. Additionally, about 23,000 Ukrainian civilians are dead and wounded, including thousands murdered and buried in mass graves in Izyum and Bucha, where I visited last December.
Yes, there are political disagreements as to whether you once were or are now pro-Nato or pro-Russia. But these are dead debates for God’s sake, when God’s people are dying .
We now need to place pressure on all parties. They must sit down at the negotiating table in good faith. They must restore the order of territorial integrity and the rules on which global security has depended since 1945.
To do so, we need to choose action over inaction, deeds over words and good over evil. To paraphrase Desmond Tutu’s prayer, love is stronger than hatred, good than evil and victory is ours when we are for the Prince of peace.
As we pray and ponder on Ukraine, there are critiques which ask: What about under your nose Archbishop, in South Africa?
Politics has failed South Africa
The same guidelines must apply to South Africa, where more than 27,000 people were murdered from April 2022 to March 2023, or 45 per 100,000 people. This amounts to no fewer than 75 people per day across the country. In the Eastern Cape, for example, the projection for the province over this period is no fewer than 75 murders per 100,000, making it not only the murder capital of South Africa, but the murder capital of the world. In the same vein, South Africa experienced 692 protest and riot incidents in the first quarter alone this year, up from 456 the previous year. This tells us that citizens are taking matters into their own hands, and that politics has failed South Africans.
These statistics are sad and disheartening, and make talking about hope and peace seem idealistic.
Measured in this way, for civilians, South Africa is more dangerous than Ukraine. Yet we appear numbed in our outrage and reactions. We need to search and achieve safety in our society, for our own common ground – the common good.
Peace is, of course, not only about the absence of war. It is about equal justice, the fair creation of opportunity, and the rights of all. And there is a strong moral component here too. In today’s Psalm 85, the psalmist teaches us that “Righteousness and peace kiss each other”.
The need for respect
It is our duty as global citizens, and as southern Africans, to not only help those in need, but also to act in a manner that creates and encourages the respect for law and order. We need to fundamentally respect each other, which underpins this order. Just as our government seeks peace in Ukraine, it must pay at least similar attention to the tasks of delivering policing, facilitating jobs, and thereby creating social harmony and peace in South Africa.
Such choices lend themselves to solving this problem. We need to make these choices wisely and allow ourselves to be guided by our values and spiritual teachings. There should be no moral space for war and resorting to violence. From Ukraine to South Africa, this is our common ground.DM
Thabo Makgoba is the Archbishop of Cape Town.