How far are we from realising Madiba’s dream of a reconciled nation? According to the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, we’re further from it than we may think. Sindiso Mnisi Weeks shares her heartbreak and her hope.
Last week I cried numerous times. It started on Thursday morning when news of the latest Institute for Justice and Reconciliation‘s (IJR) reconciliation survey results were publicised reflecting devastating findings amidst some hopeful ones.
What really got me was the finding that, of the white people surveyed, 40% disagreed with the declaration that “The Apartheid government wrongly oppressed the majority of South Africans.”
I wept just as I weep through every movie about slavery, colonialism and apartheid, wondering how it is possible for the humanity of black people to have ever been worth so little to some and when the suffering of people of colour in this world will end.
Though I’ve seen many distressingly ahistorical comments made by (white) people on News24 and other such sites, I’ve tried to comfort myself that, firstly, it’s people with radically unfavourable views who are more likely to comment on any news site and, secondly, they’re really the minority. This survey says that they are likely a significant minority and that’s scary and extremely sad to me. How, almost 20 years after the sheer brutality of apartheid officially ended, could some South Africans still think that it was not wrong?
While my heart was still bleeding from this news, I learned with shock that Nelson Mandela had died … uTata was gone! I could not suppress the uncontrollable tears as my mind registered the irony in Madiba – who had suffered and defied some of apartheid’s worst injustices – dying on the same day that the IJR reported that some among us thought it wasn’t a bad thing.
Madiba was dead. And the IJR reported that reconciliation in South Africa was, in some ways, a failure. After all, as the IJR reported, at this time, more South Africans have little or no contact with people of different races in their day-to-day lives than do have such contact on a regular or constant basis.
With most black South Africans still being poor and confined to impoverished townships and rural areas and more than 73% of white people living in the two highest economic brackets (according to the living standards measure), there isn’t much intermingling. Therefore, the ability of improvements in class to simultaneously increase interracial interaction is unable to work its necessary magic.
And, as if that weren’t bad enough, tragically, only 27% of white people (compared with much higher proportions of other race groups) reported that they were interested in learning more about the cultures of other groups, and only 11.7% of white people (again, the lowest of all race groups) said they desired more interaction with people of other races.
So, you see, connecting the IJR report and Madiba’s death, I could not help but weep. Madiba was our primary, national symbol of reconciliation. Did that mean that South Africa’s hope of succeeding at this evidently near-impossible task was dead?
Previously, I blogged about how I came to marry my ‘umlungu’. What is glaringly absent from that account as we remember Nelson Mandela is the fact that Madiba and his comrades were a large part of making that happen. Were it not for Madiba’s unrelenting commitment to my freedom as a black person in South Africa, I could not have matriculated from a good enough school to enable me to then later study in the UK where I met my ‘mlungu’, Dan and I could not have been married in South Africa and we certainly could not have lived there together, freely, and openly these last two years. The Immorality Act would have rendered our love a crime.
Regardless of how grateful I am to uTata, however, our hope as South Africans is not in Madiba – not by a long shot. Though he lived a life that reflected God’s forgiveness, grace, commitment to justice and love, as his many, self-professed mistakes and death at the ripe old age of 95 remind us, he too was a mortal man.
As Christians – and the whole world – our hope is in Christ. He is ultimately the only one who can reconcile us. And he is committed to doing so, if only we will allow Him.
As Ephesians 2: 14-16 tells us, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
Galatians 3: 26-28 also says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
A silver lining can be pointed to in that, as the IJR survey reports, over 67% of South Africans of all creeds place great confidence in religious institutions. Thus, though the Church is made up of fallible human beings, it is God’s primary, chosen vehicle for delivering hope to an otherwise hopeless world and there is room for it to do so in South Africa.
The IJR concludes that what is needed to remedy our ‘unreconciledness’ is ‘radical reconciliation’. What can be more radical than this message of reconciliation in the Bible?!
We desperately need Christ’s reconciliation to come to South Africa, a place that needs it in many ways more than any other. Particularly during this period of remembering Madiba’s sacrifice, which coincides with the season in which we remember Christ’s even greater sacrifice, I think that South African Christ followers need to speak that message loud and clear – in words and in deeds.
– Sindiso Mnisi Weeks is a senior researcher at the Centre for Law and Society at UCT. She and her husband, Daniel, were members of the Common Ground Church Rondebosch AM congregation until recently relocating to the USA.
P.S. Related read: A Man Who Wasn’t Afraid to Shake Things Up