As I stand here before you, a week before the 18th Anniversary of our induction into active citizenship in our beautiful
So I think it is an appropriate time to reflect, as we all do on our birthdays, on what has been, what could have been, what should be and what is to be done. The question: ‘What is to be done” transforms what would otherwise be ruminations into a sense of activism. Activism is what our country needs now at this critical conjuncture in order to protect our dreams. It is a moment of Kairos. Kairos is such a wonderful term – it’s a Greek word whose meaning is “an opportune moment”; in the biblical sense it stands for “the appointed time in the purpose of God”.
Speaking of dreams, I am reminded of a book that greatly influenced me when I was younger. A book that taught me to look beyond the world of socialized and constructed possibilities. It was a book whose first chapter was titled ‘THE NEED FOR UTOPIAN THINKING’. It was a remarkable book by Richard Turner – a philosopher, political scientist and Trade Unionist- titled The Eye of the Needle. The title was taken from the famous biblical quote: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the
In his call for Utopian thinking Turner focused on the problem of “common-sense thinking” – which is the widespread tendency to view the various social institutions of modern life as necessary, permanent and therefore unalterable. This occurs through a socialisation process where society begins to except certain norms. One such norm is that there is no alternative to a liberal capitalism or a free market driven globalisation – what Francis Fukuyama called ‘ The End of History”. And this is what we are led to believe by today political and economic pundits. The book challenged such thinking and sought to construct an alternative and idealized society that we should aspire towards – a society based on a lack of any form of discrimination whether it be based on race, gender or class. He eschewed consumption and questioned the inevitability of a capitalist economy that seeks production, accumulation and consumption. He also criticized Marxism with its emphasis on merely a different form of ownership and production but the same end-goal of as capitalism –the human model of fulfillment being based on consumption and possession of material goods. For Rick Turner the liberation of society involved changing values and forms of life as well. He envisaged a society that imbued work with meaning that became the expression of human capacities rather than purely for material ends. He saw politics as one characterized by participatory democracy rather than mere representative democracy.
My point is when we envisaged a society that we struggled for in the 70s and 80s we aspired to a society that Rick Turner spoke about. We aspired to a society that shifted the paradigm. A society that challenged existing societies and ideologies – both western and eastern.
We envisaged a new society that changed the relations of power and how power was constituted and employed. We hoped to see leaders as the servants of the people and not lording over them. A society where democracy was not limited to election, but was one of active participation.
We envisaged a society that changed the relations of the economy – where all
We envisaged society which was truly non-racial – where race did not matter or did not exist. Where an individual’s worth was judged by their capacity to contribute and do good. We used the slogan One people! One nation! One Country!
We envisaged a society where each one cared for the other; where each individual had the opportunity to realize their potential unconstrained by finance, resources, access or opportunity.
We envisaged a society of universal education, universal health care, shelter, running water, sanitation, cheap transport and an equitable distribution of land and wealth as well as social welfare for those who fell on hard times.
We envisaged an idealized society.
We may have been foolish and naïve – but we dared to dream of a radically different future. We who lived under the yolk of apartheid had the right to dream. And Rick Turner nurtured that dream.
This brings me to why I am here today. I was invited to reflect on our history and our democracy in the light of wonderful submission by Christian leaders under the banner of Kairos Southern Africa to the ANC – titled Theological and Ethical Reflections on the 2012 Centenary Celebrations of the African National Congress – and endorsed by over a 1000 clergy and lay persons. The Church came forth with the remarkable Kairos document in the 1980s as a stand against apartheid. The Church sees the present as such a critical time, as should we all.
It is a remarkable document in that it traces the history of the church and the ANC from its very founding in 1912 to 1955 to 1976 to 1983 and to 1994 – all milestone years in the liberation movement. The document is also remarkable because it is written in a gracious, non-accusatory tone that reflects a bearing of witness rather than of harsh judgment.
It is also remarkable that while it is written from a very Christian perspective it would find resonance with every religious community in
The document congratulates the ANC for overcoming many obstacles and remaining resilient in the face of huge challenges. It expresses its appreciation and gratitude to the ANC for their vision and foresight and their commitment, in policy at least, to provide for the poor – political freedom, housing, social grants, health care and freedom of expression.
The document makes some other interesting points in relation of the church to the ANC and politics in general for us to consider. Some of these are historical and others current but they serve an honest and open reflection of the role of the church in the last 100 years.
10. The church now calls for a revision of its initial calls – instead of or in addition to a ‘critical solidarity with government there has to be solidarity with the poorest or the poor and the marginalized in society. This is also the Prophetic theology of our day.
11. Furthermore, in addition to ‘speaking truth to power’, we must be ‘speaking truth to the people’ and become involved in organizations of the people since power rarely responds to such calls on its own.
12. The role of the church in the second century of the ANC will be one of a constructive critical voice within civil society serving to protect the revolutionary objectives of the ANC.
13. The document rejects the notion of a dualism where there is separation of faith and spiritual life from the rest of our lives.
In the final instance the document expresses its caution and concerns over a number of critical issues facing the country currently:
1. Factionalism within the ANC:
The authors express their concern about factionalism with the ANC and the way in which such internal battles are being public conducted. In particular it raises concerns regarding the disrespectful and shameful tones as well as the potential for violence that affects innocent people. More importantly it raises the concern about the impact of such factionalism on leadership, governance and service delivery, especially to the poorest communities.
2. Addressing poverty and closing the gap between rich and poor
It calls for a national dialogue on this issue and warns against the temptation of some to hold onto their economic privilege. It urges those who have “said sorry” to begin to implement initiatives to give effect to this, to also begin to “do sorry”. It calls us to give particularly where we have much more than we need in order to close the poverty gap.
3. The third concern relates to the security and intelligence forces and the maintenance of a proper order and structure within these forces – the lack of which results in increased criminality. It warns against using these institutions for political ends. It bodes poorly for the future when our last Police Commissioner is in jail; the current one under investigation; and the potential future one accused of murder!
It labels the “arms deal” as the new
- Corruption diverts our attention, our energy, our time and our resources away from focusing on the poorest of the poor.
- Corruption negatively impacts on the psyche and morality of our people, particularly that of the youth (who now believe that this was the only way to make quick money without much effort).
- Corruption seems to have now spread into party political activities where corrupt means of campaigning/contestation for power are used, thus compromising the leadership before they even go into government.
5. It calls for maintaining a real social cohesion in the country as espoused by President Mandela, so that we can honour expectations expressed towards us by the rest of
6. It bemoans the unsustainability of an opulent “American dream” lifestyle that has become the South African aspiration but also its nightmare. To achieve it individuals engage in self-enrichment and quick enrichment at the expense of the poorest and at the expense of the environment.
7. Against the backdrop of the relatively poor standards of education for the vast majority of the poor in our land, it calls for relevant and effective education for intellectual and industrial productivity in a competitive world. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” in the words of Nelson Mandela.
8. As a key part of our international relations it calls for solidarity with the oppressed across world. The document states: People across the world, especially those in
9. Last but certainly not least it calls for respect for our constitution which is hailed as one of the best in the world. It requests that the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Constitutional court and the decisions emanating from it, be held in the highest regard by us all as a healthy democracy needs checks and balances, and even though this may be frustrating at times. This is important in the light the ANC’s recent attack on the judiciary.
Brothers and sisters, while this document emanates from Church elders, I am sure that we all find resonance in it, in keeping with our own values. Thus we require a broad coalition of religious communities to hold the ANC and government to account in a critically supportive way. We as a Muslim community require our own reflections to add to this sterling work done by church leaders.
More importantly however it requires each and every one of us to become activists in order to protect the gains of our democracy. We need to become activists in whatever way we can …. A passive citizenry is the catalyst to dictatorship and abuse of power.
In conclusion I quote Jann Turner, daughter of Richard Turner, writing in a tribute to her father and reflecting on what he would have done in the current situation: ‘Reason and imagination. Critical and visionary thinking. Those are the forces he would have deployed. Powerful forces that need to be nurtured and safeguarded. Forces that are eroding and will fade if we let them. It would be the most fitting memorial to him if we were to resuscitate those forces in our daily conversation and activity and in the wider politics of our country’.
Richard Turner. The Eye of the Needle – Towards Participatory Democracy in
Tony Fluxman, Peter Vale. Re-reading Rick Turner in the New