Living Social Justice

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

Archive for the tag “South Africa”

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

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

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.

Hope In An Age Of Hunger

Are we conforming to a culture of comfort at the expense of those in need in our City? Roger Wood shares what he’s personally grappling with post-Live Under The Line.

“So what happens now? Another suitcase in another hall…” These are the lyrics from the chorus of the song sung by Eva, in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, “Don’t cry for me Argentina”.  These words sprang into my mind, as we came to the end of another attempt at Living Under The Line.

At our first attempt three years ago, my wife and I just about managed to keep to the R60 budget but the second year we failed!  This year I’m afraid we modified our target restricting ourselves to a modest breakfast and evening meal only and reflecting on how others cope when they have to manage on this amount daily.  But is it really about surviving the three day target?  If we are thinking this way we’re missing the point.

Prior to Living Under The Line, I had been helping a local NGO evaluate bursary application forms.  One of the requirements was that the applicants must be from a rural area and one of the points to consider was financial need.  Many of the applicants stated that they were living with Grandmother, as their parents had died. In addition there were often a couple of aunts and uncles living in the house as well as the additional siblings.

Grandmother was able to get a state pension of R1260 and child support subsidy for two children. That amounts to a total income of R1860.  If you do the maths, that works out to R10 per person per day.  These stories brought home to me the reality faced daily by so many in our country.

At the same time I had been re-reading the book, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”, written by Ron Sider back in 1978. For me, the challenge of Living Under The Line was more of an opportunity to examine our own lifestyle.  I began to recognise that my wife and I have adopted a lifestyle similar to those in our community. We spend our money on: our home, food, clothes, possessions, entertainment, cars and holidays.

We have a greater affinity with the affluent rather than with the downtrodden and the oppressed. We have accepted a middle-class culture and have ignored Jesus’ radical teaching with regards to money and possessions. We have not even chosen to live simply, so that others may simply live.

People with money can always buy food. Hunger affects only the poor and as they usually live a long way from where we live, we are not always aware of their need.  What a tragic picture! Affluent Christian communities amassing wealth while millions of people hover on the edge of starvation.

Ron Sider sums up the first chapter of his book with these words:

“But if the Christ of the Scripture is our Lord, then we will refuse to be squeezed into the mould of our affluent, sinful culture.  In an Age of Hunger, Christians of necessity must be radical nonconformists.  But nonconformity is painful.  Only if we are thoroughly grounded in the scriptural view of possessions, wealth and poverty will we be capable of living an obedient lifestyle.”

What do you think?

-Roger Wood is a retired educator presently working as a volunteer with Common Good.  He and his wife, Jane, are members of the Common Ground Constantiaberg AM congregation.

P.S. Did you know yesterday was World Food Day? Here are some other interesting reads: “Beyond The Hunger Pangs” and “13 Million Reasons To Do Social Justice”

Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow

What answer will you give when asked by a future generation, “You knew and what did you do?” George Draper shares his post-LUTL reflections with us.

Photo Credit: ºNit Soto via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ºNit Soto via Compfight cc

Have you heard of the ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’ shrub? The plant gets its name because its blooms come out deep purple, fade to lilac, and finally to white before they wilt. Recently, while looking after my grandsons, my thoughts drifted to their future and the future of our country, especially in a post-Mandela scenario. It struck me how this plant is a picture of three generations.

My grandsons represent the fresh generation full of colour and promise with us grandparents at the other, more faded, end. I now see ‘Yesterday’ as my generation – the one which conceived and implemented the apartheid system. ‘Today’ is my children’s generation born into the period of transition but still benefiting from apartheid’s lingering unequal distribution. ‘Tomorrow’ is my grandchildren’s generation born after 1994 with no real understanding of the past.

The freedom of 1994 meant different things to different people. For the ‘have-nots’, freedom meant being equal and the  possibility of ‘having’. For whites who struggled with being part of an unjust society, it was freedom from feeling guilty about being white. And some equated freedom with a ‘take what you can get’ open season.

“Freedom” now is a system badly flawed and certainly not what people sacrificed and died for. The reality is that the struggle isn’t over – it just looks different. The time has come to fan into flame our dormant passion and compassion – and to intentionally do something to make a difference.

My son once asked me about the apartheid era: ‘You knew and what did you do?’ My answer was to serve as a medical doctor working in rural and other underdeveloped areas. It was during this season of our life as a family that I realized that making a real difference would include not only health care but also doing something about poverty, education, income generation, housing and paying a livable wage to those I employed. Always acknowledging and treating people with respect was a given.

Recently, this took on an unusual form. I was looking after someone’s home and the domestic helper came in while I was there. Having made some plunger coffee I offered her a cup. She accepted and remarked that now she knew what the thing she’d had to wash so many times previously (i.e. the plunger) was actually used for. This simple offer and a chat was a way for me to make her feel ‘seen’ and appreciated.

What does a biblical perspective on this look like? Isaiah 58:6-12 gives an idea.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them…?”

God wants our service to go beyond our own personal spiritual growth to acts of kindness, charity, justice and generosity. True fasting is more than what we don’t eat; it is pleasing God by applying his Word to our society

These were the Scriptures Jesus knew and used. However, he took them to a new level of action. A generation before Jesus, a well-known Rabbi called Hillel was asked to summarize the Law while standing on one leg. His answer? ‘Whatever is hateful to you don’t do to your fellow.’ Jesus was asked a similar question. His answer stood on two legs: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart… The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’”. Hillel came with the minimum requirement. Jesus came with the maximum.

God’s focus on the poor, the widow, the orphaned and the foreigner hasn’t changed. Nor have the needs of this world, if anything they’ve increased. The Live Under The Line challenge was intended to raise our awareness of these issues. In our home we learnt a lot about how people living under the poverty line (‘them’) live in comparison to how we normally live (‘us’). It would be sad, no indeed wrong, if it remained ‘them’ and ‘us’. So what can we do?

It can be daunting to think of the depth of the need and inequality in our country, but a good place to start is by thinking of those people you can reach out to in your everyday space. Remember the biblical principle of gleaning where the one that has much deliberately leaves some for others less fortunate to collect. Why not apply this principle to the people you come into contact with every day?

Remember that one day – ‘tomorrow’ – the question will come in some form or other: ‘You knew and what did you do?’

 – George is a retired medical doctor and serves on the leadership team of the Common Ground Church Rondebosch AM congregation with his wife, Bev.

P.S. Interested in finding out more about the biblical concept of gleaning? We recommend reading, “What is Urban Gleaning?” by Caroline Powell

What have you been grappling with in the weeks since having done the Live Under The Line challenge?

Care For The Teacher

For one afternoon on Thursday, 19 September, we swopped blackboards and marking pens for cupcakes and goodie bags to let the teachers at Garlandale Primary School know just how appreciated they are.

Teachers from Garlandale Primary and volunteers dress up for the photo booth

Teachers from Garlandale Primary and volunteers dress up for the photo booth

Without the teachers who guided us through our formative years, many of us wouldn’t be where we are today. Yet, sadly, teachers in South Africa often don’t get the recognition they deserve for the crucial work that they do, frequently under tough circumstances with limited resources at their disposal.

The teachers at Garlandale Primary School in Athlone, Cape Town, face numerous daily obstacles in educating their students, yet they remain dedicated to their task. With the end of the year approaching, we thought it was high time they took took a moment to relax and be pampered.

So the day before third term break-up, members of the Common Ground Rondebosch AM congregation gave over 20 teachers and governing body members from Garlandale a welcome respite from the admin of report-writing, Annual National Assessments, and general term-end craziness with an afternoon of entertainment and encouragement.


Garlandale teachers enjoying the afternoon

“Seeing two geographically close and yet socially very different groups of people all packed into a room and having a heap of fun together was such a heartwarming and encouraging experience,” said Ryan TerMorshuizen, lead pastor of the Common Ground Rondebosch AM congregation. “I know that the partnership is just starting but this event was a real launching pad for our relationships!”


“Care for the Teacher was an opportunity for our staff to move out of the perceived fear of forming new relationships outside of what you would normally, only to discover that all people are the same.” said Mr Fortune, the Garlandale Primary School principal.

The afternoon included singing by Charne and Kat from the Common Ground worship team, some fun input from Common Ground pastor Brad Anderson, and a message of heartwarming encouragement from Pam Berry.

“It was the most fun I’ve had in ages!” said one Garlandale teacher.

A team of volunteers from Rondebosch AM set up the venue, volunteers baked over 70 cupcakes and the Ladies Bible Study put together goodie bags to make sure that the teachers felt truly spoilt.


Pam Berry, Bev Draper and Delia Groenmeyer from Common Ground Church

“Since Care for the Teacher, coming to Garlandale is different,” said Bev Draper. “When meeting with staff in the corridors there’s a whole new level of connectedness. Now we know one another’s names and faces,”

Thank you to everyone who gave generously of their time and resources to make this event a success!

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