Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

Archive for the tag “Nelson Mandela”

Christ, Madiba and Reconciliation

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.

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

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A Man Who Wasn’t Afraid To Shake Things Up

How will we remember Madiba when the media is no longer reminding us? By Sam Rawson
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It’s been a sad couple of days as we’ve mourned the passing of one of the greatest gifts God has given us as a nation – Nelson Mandela – a man who exemplified Christ-likeness in his servant-hearted leadership, his unprecedented forgiveness and his humility. But as we pay tribute to these rare qualities, we may be at risk of forgetting the revolutionary, the rebel, the man who shook things up.

In so many ways Mandela resisted the status quo, holding up a different vision of the future – a future he wasn’t afraid to overturn a few proverbial tables to fight for. This version of Mandela is maybe one we’re not so comfortable with. We’re much more at ease with the image of him gently swaying side-to-side in a Springbok jersey, just as we often prefer a view of Jesus as the ‘meek and mild’ shepherd, as opposed to the revolutionary who went up against an evil system to fight for our eternal freedom.

The aim of this post isn’t to compare Madiba with Jesus – how could we even try to do that? – but rather to show that the man we’re honouring today and the Saviour we serve as Christ-followers were both ultimately committed to justice and were even willing to suffer and die for it.

Yes, Madiba was a champion for peace, yes, he was a great leader, yes, he showed immense forgiveness – all of these are important things to remember about him, but we should never forget that his goal was not peace and harmony for its own sake.  No, his goal was always justice.

One story which sticks out as an example of this is when, in 1985, P.W. Botha offered to release Mandela if he ‘unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon’. Mandela responded in a statement saying, “Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. I cannot, and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.” He wasn’t willing to negotiate conditions for a freedom which should be his (and all South Africans’) as a matter of justice, even if those conditions would guarantee his immediate release.

The justice Mandela stood for was a big picture justice. It was bigger than political freedom.  It resembled a biblical view of justice, which includes not only the righting of wrongs, but also “generosity and social concern, especially toward the poor and vulnerable.” (Timothy Keller, Generous Justice)

After gaining the things he’d fought so hard for, and becoming South Africa’s first democratically-elected president, you would’ve almost excused Madiba if, after 27 years in prison, he’d decided to live out the rest of his days comfortably afloat this legacy. After all, hadn’t he earned some time out? No, Madiba’s life’s mission was big picture justice – and on that score, there was so much more to be done. His view of justice was small enough to show compassion to an orphaned child, but big enough to change policies to ensure effective treatment for all with HIV/Aids.

In Mark Gevisser’s obituary for Mandela in the Mail & Guardian, he tells the story of when, as heritage curator at Constitution Hill, he was responsible for showing Mandela the Old Fort prison cell in which he was held. He describes how Mandela looked a bit bored – and that he only lit up and started asking questions when someone mentioned that there was a new treatment and research centre for Aids across the road.  Big picture justice.

On Sunday, 15 December, Madiba’s body will finally be laid to rest after 10 days of public mourning. And in the days, weeks, and months that follow the media tributes, the TV shows and the adoring Facebook updates dedicated to our Tata will start to turn to other world events and news of other public figures. We will forget – even while he was alive we forgot – exactly what it was he fought so hard to see realised in his lifetime.

We will forget that justice was his mission.  Big picture justice.  And that big picture justice should be part of our life’s mission too – not because Madiba cared about it, but because Christ does.  We give thanks for Madiba, but we need not look beyond ourselves to see what God has entrusted to us and the many ways we can bring His kind of big picture justice to the people around us.

It might mean paying generous wages or building friendships across comfort zones.  It could be as small as a visit to someone in need or as big as a campaign for a cause you care about. Our opportunities to bring God’s justice into the world come in all shapes and sizes.  The only constant is that they rely on us.

Our country still has a long way to go on its path towards justice for all, social reconciliation and equality. The work is not yet done. Jesus wants to use us, as he used Madiba, to be part of restoring the world. So are we prepared to shake things up, in honour of Madiba, in the name of justice and, ultimately, in the name of Jesus?

Rest in peace Tata. Thank you for your example. We are so incredibly grateful.

To Braai Or Not To Braai

How are you celebrating Heritage Day today? Have we lost the essence of what this day was really meant to be about?

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Photo Credit: Blyzz via Compfight cc

For the last couple of years, there’s been a debate raging over how we as South Africans should celebrate Heritage Day.  For many, it’s an opportunity to partake of that widespread South African tradition, the braai, ukhosa, or chisa nyama, but for others this seems like a cop out.  For these South Africans, honouring this public holiday by slapping some meat on the braai is the equivalent to celebrating Christmas by wrapping some tinsel around a tree.  It lacks substance, depth, and meaning.

But how do we as South Africans celebrate a joint ‘Heritage Day’ when our heritage can look so widely different depending on our cultural upbringing? 

Maybe we should start by going back to the roots of this public holiday.  Did you know that today, 24 September, was formerly celebrated as Shaka Day in Kwa-Zulu, in memory of the legendary King Shaka Zulu?

Initially, the proposed Public Holidays Bill presented to the new Parliament of South Africa omitted Shaka Day, but it was later decided to make this day National Heritage Day where all South Africans could celebrate the diversity of cultures, beliefs and traditions that make up our country.  So even from its inception this public holiday was a topic of contention.

In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, former President Nelson Mandela stated:

“When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”

The Heritage Day ‘pot’ was stirred even further though when in 2007, Jan Scannell (or Jan Braai, as he’s come to be known) came up with the idea to create a Heritage Day initiative that would unite all South Africans in a common cultural activity – the act of cooking meat over an open fire.  And ‘Braai Day’ was introduced as a way in which all South Africans could celebrate Heritage Day together.

This idea has grown in popularity to the extent that many people now refer to Heritage Day as Braai Day.  Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu has given his endorsement by becoming the National Braai Day patron.

He was quoted saying, “… what Jan Scannell had in mind with the Braai Day initiative… is nurturing and embracing a common South African culture, which is shared across all races and genders. Not one South African person can tell you that they have never witnessed a braai.  Even in rural areas they light a fire and put their meat on it to cook.” (The Times, 12/09/2008)

This debate is likely to simmer on for years to come, but perhaps it’s not so much about what we do on this day but about how we behave towards our fellow South Africans during the other 364 days of the year.  Are we interested in learning about other cultures?  Asking questions and listening to the stories of how other South Africans celebrate their heritage?  Maybe if we did this, when Heritage Day rolled around we’d have a more diverse group of friends around our braai to celebrate it with.

What do you think?

6 Ideas for Mandela Day

For those of you who haven’t checked your calendar recently, this Thursday, 18 July, is Mandela Day! Haven’t yet thought of how you’re going to spend your 67 minutes? Don’t panic…

What are you doing this Thursday?

What are you doing this Thursday?

On the 18th of July every year, thousands of people celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday by giving 67 minutes of their time to do something that will help make the world a better place in honour of the man who dedicated his life to fighting for human rights.

Ideas range from fixing potholes in your street, to helping someone with their CV so they can apply for a job, to spending time with the kids at a children’s home.There really is no end to the number of things you can do to be a part of this day. But if you’re stuck for ideas, we’d love to help you out!

Here’s a list we’ve put together of some ways you can get in on the action in Cape Town:

1. Lend a hand at Newkidz’s Siviwe House Revamp in Woodstock

2. Team with Living Hope and clear alien invasive plants!

From 10am to 3pm on 18 July, help clear alien invasive plants from a property so that it can be used for agriculture, training and empowerment in the future! This will be happening at Living Hope’s head office in Sun Valley. Contact Mario on 073 279 9190 for more info.

3. Join Stop Hunger Now’s food packing event at Canal Walk

4. Get gardening and help renovate a playground at Westlake United Church Trust

A group is needed of around 5-8 people to help reseal playground equipment and do some general garden maintenance at WUCT in Westlake. The sealer and brushes will be provided, but you’ll need to bring your own gardening equipment. Email us if you’re interested.

5. Help out at U-turn

U-turn has a number of volunteer opportunities available, from helping sort clothing for their second-hand store to, if you’re keen for some heavy lifting, moving filing cabinets! You could also drop off soup or stew in disposable containers, or get a team together to help chop vegetables for the soup kitchen. For more info, email U-turn.

6. Join the Mandela Day Human Chain!

On Thurs, 18th July, between 1-2pm, a group of people will be joining hands along Klipfontein Road to form a human chain to symbolize Nelson Mandela’s dream of a unified, non-racial South Africa.  The Human Chain will span between Rondebosch – Athlone – Gugulethu. For more info, visit their Facebook page.

And if you’re still needing help, read our list of 67 ideas for Mandela Day from last year!

So what are you planning on doing? We’d love to hear 🙂

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