What is needed is for White South Africans to shake themselves out of their complacency, a complacency intensified by the present economic boom built upon racial discrimination. Unless this whole intolerable system is changed radically and rapidly, disaster must follow. Appalling bloodshed and civil war will become inevitable because, as long as there is oppression of a majority, such oppression will be fought with increasing hatred.SACP. “Letter sent by Bram Fischer to his Counsel in February 1965 when he went underground, and read to the court” My goodness! This was written in 1965 and it is still as true for South Africa today (and particularly for me as a white South African) as it was 50 years ago! I spent the morning with Bram Fischer’s daughter and a group of concerned citizens at an AHA (Authentic Hopeful Action) meeting to strategize for a better future for South Africans and South Africa coordinated by my friend Paul Verryn. We must find a way to move forward with change for the common good of all South Africans! How is it possible not to act when we live in a nation where 20 million people go to bed hungry at night?
Entries in justice (43)
The savagery of the last few weeks of xenophobic attacks across the country have reminded me of some the darkest and most painful parts of our national history. I thought back to the violence of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when IFP and ANC supporters butchered one another in KZN and Gauteng. Indeed, these are shameful parts of our national history.
Surely, the events of these past weeks will also be remembered with shame. The attacks on foreign nationals, the withdrawal of hospitality and the destruction of property has shown that South Africa still has some dark and destructive tendencies that need to be engaged and transformed.
In his Business Day Column for today (22 April 2015), Professor Steven Friedman reminded us painfully that in large measure our own response to xenophobia has been the same as those who attack foreigners – we have shifted the blame. We blame others for our falings and in so doing we distance ourselves, we objectify them and exonerate ourselves from any culpability and blame.
Let’s face the truth – we are not good neighbours. I am not talking about ‘them’, I am talking about ‘us’. We have not been welcoming to the strangers in our midst. We have not protected our guests who have sought political or economic refuge within our borders. Sadly, we have to confess that we are not a ‘just’ nation – in face we allow justice to be twisted and manipulated in our presence, and we don’t act. We are a nation that abuses the weak and the powerless. We are that nation. Let’s face it.
I came across this powerful quote from John Howard Yoder that challenges me deeply on this issue:
The political novelty that God brings into the world is a community of those who serve instead of ruling, who suffer instead of inflicting suffering, whose fellowship crosses social lines instead of reinforcing them. The new Christian community in which the walls are broken down not by human idealism or democratic legalism but by the work of Christ is not only a vehicle of the gospel or only a fruit of the gospel; it is the good news. It is not merely the agent of mission or the constituency of a mission agency. This is mission.
- John Howard Yoder, Royal Priesthood, p.91
So I am challenged to repent. This is my nation, both the stranger and the citizen. I am part of this brutal people, and I want it to be different. I want South Africa to be a place of welcome and safety. I want people to feel 'good news' here. And so I say, "not in my name".
I would like to invite you to participate in a conversation on xenophobia in South Africa to be hosted at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University. Friday 8 May 12.30-14.00.
Please find a devotion delivered by Professor John de Gruchy (extraordinary Professory of Systematic Theology at the University of Stellenbosch) on Thursday 12 February 2015.
To find out more about the AHA movement please follow this link.
"Faith without works is dead!"
Pessimists say that the cup is half empty; and optimists, that it is half full. Some people are pessimists by nature. For them the world, the Hermanus town council, and the church are hopelessly falling apart, South Africa is going to the dogs (don't ask me what dogs have to do with it!), the government is totally corrupt, people always let you down, young people have no discipline, tomorrow is going to be worse than today -- even when they hear good news they automatically add a negative comment, "yes, but!". Optimists also seem to be optimists by nature. South Africa is getting better, the dogs don't bite and snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them, people are always so nice, young people are a pleasure, and what a great day it is today despite the heat and south-easter, it could be worse. It is easy to understand why people are pessimists, especially in circumstances such as we see every day on TV. "It is," Bonhoeffer wrote shortly before his arrest, "more sensible to be pessimistic, disappointments are left behind, and one can face people unembarrassed. Hence, the clever frown upon optimism." But then he goes on to praise optimism because it is:
a power of life, a power of hope when others resign, a power to hold our heads high when all seems to come to naught, a power to tolerate setbacks, a power that never abandons the future to the opponent but lays claim to it,
Pessimists may keep our feet on the ground but optimists keep hope alive. But perhaps it would be best if we were all realists who accepted the way things are, for good or ill, and then got off our butts to make things better, neither bemoaning nor turning a blind eye to what is wrong or bad. In the end, does it really matter if the glass is half empty or half full ? What matters is whether we are going to do what needs to be done to fill the cup to the brim. If we are not working to make the world a better place, things will get worse whether we are pessimists or optimists.
There were plenty of prophets of doom in the Old Testament. The difference between a true prophet and false one was that whereas the true prophet told the political and religious leaders how bad things were and they had better change their ways, the false prophets always said things were just fine, "peace, peace, when there was no peace." But the true prophets were actually being realists. They were not just saying how bad things were, they were calling on people to change, to change their attitudes, change their hearts and minds, and start doing things differently. The same was true of Jesus, Jesus laid it on the line when speaking truth to power, when castigating the religious hypocrites of his day, and the corrupt rulers in the Temple and the Palaces of Jerusalem and Tiberias. He did not have much faith in their willingness to change. But he saw possibilities for healing and change in seemingly hopeless situation. He saw the good in people rejected as irreligious, isolated because they had contagious diseases, shunned because they were tax-collectors and prostitutes, or simply ignored because they were poor. He did not give up on them. He exuded the power of life, and hope.
The apostle James was clearly a realist. He knew about the great gulf between wealth and poverty in his day but decided to do something about it. To those who said they believed in God but did nothing to help the poor he retorted "faith without works is dead" and went on to say "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith." Sparklekid Theo likewise tells us "Just get on with it!" Yes, politicians are corrupt, the power outages are unacceptable, the conditions in the township are bad, but let's get on and do something to make life better for everyone. That attitude releases the power of life and hope. And there are many such good news stories being told today around South Africa that demonstrate this in big or small ways. Listen to one from the kindergarten across the road from Volmoed:
January 2015 kicked off with great excitement and a school filled with 38 little children, some more happy than others to join our school. Our classes bursting at their seams with small little faces eager to embark on this new exciting path of their lives. From our 38 students 4 are from Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a number from farms in the area and then a host of children from Zwelihle. Two of our 3 teachers will continue their education this year via Klein Karoo and I am so excited to see how quickly they are developing, not only in their teaching abilities but also in their confidence.
Immediately after the conference held in Stellenbosch last September to celebrate my 75th birthday, a group of participants got together and decided to do something about poverty in South Africa. They called the project AHA! which stands for "Authentic, Hopeful Action." They were realists who did not simply want to talk about change but to act in ways that made a real difference to the lives of the poor. I was not at that meeting, but I was made the Patron of AHA. This means that even though my "shelf-life" is coming to an end I can cajole people into doing things that might make a difference in the lives of poor people.
The AHA website has many practical suggestions that could make a difference, some of them we could all do without too much effort. For example if you don't already, you can give R 5 to the garage attendant whenever your car is filled. This won't fundamentally alter the material conditions in poor communities, but if each garage attendant at Engen down the road got R5 from five people a day, he or she would earn at least a R100 extra per week. Multiply that by 10 garage attendants and that would mean a R 1000 would find its way into the life of the township! And then multiply it across the country at every filing station!
The list of possibilities whereby we can help make a difference to the lives of other people through authentic, hopeful action is endless if only we put our minds to it and get on with it. At the very least we could go onto the AHA webpage, or talk to Theo over coffee, to find out what even those of us whose shelf-life is short can do. This is surely better than talking ourselves into a state of despair about the state of the nation! Whether congenitally pessimists or optimists, let us be realists. Poverty is a crime against humanity, especially in a country where there is so much wealth. We don't need a AHA moment or movement to tell us. But we do need to act authentically and hopefully, and maybe. some help to know what we can do, to show by our works what our faith means. Instead of saying AMEN or ALLELUIA today, let us all shout "AHA!"
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 12 February 2015
A good friend of mine, Sanda Fata, posted a quote on his timeline last week that caused me to reflect and think very deeply. I respect Sanda and so trust his perspective. Here is the status that Sanda posted:
Most white South Africans don't want to be part of South Africa, but all they want is huge stake of South Africa (Nkosivumile Gola) uvuthiwe mntanam.
I am convinced that the issue at stake in South Africa is not a race issue (race classification and the empowerment of one race and denigration of another is the cause of our problems, and so it cannot be our solution). As I prayed, and thought about this issue I wrote the following response to Sanda.
Comrade Sanda Fata - thanks for sharing this. It caused me to think deeply. I agree with part of the statement of Comrade Nkosivumile Gola. Indeed there are certain South Africans who want a larger stake of the nation at the expense of others, and I am afraid that in large measure they are white South Africans. However, I think that it is a mistake to tie the struggle for emancipation and transformation to race. It is a mistake because it is wrong and so in the long run it will be futile. We cannot base our struggle on something that people cannot choose or change. The core of the issue here is not whiteness, it is something more powerful, something about which people can make choices and can actually choose to change. Apartheid ideology did its best to problematise blackness. We can see how wrong that was. I contend that it is a mistake to judge persons based on something they did not choose and cannot change. So, what should we do? In my view our struggle should be a class struggle. There are South Africans of a certain class that subjugate others through their choices, their consumption of resources, their desire for power and wealth at all costs, their denial of human dignity (and so also human rights). These South Africans are white, but they are also brown and black. It is their choices around class that are problematic (hence I contend that a class struggle is necessary, and not a race struggle). A class struggle emerges when there are competing social and economic interests between people in society (such as access to health care, education, dignified work, a living wage, the right to flourish). These choices can be changed by the classes who hold wealth and power, and so I feel we need to spend our energy, time, and creativity addressing the class issue rather than the race issue. History has shown that race struggles are based on prejudice (about something that people cannot choose or change) and so they never succeed. Persons who appeal only to race do so because it is very easy to blame the 'other' who is different from ourselves, but it is a mistake since there are poor whites, poor brown people, as well as wealthy black people, powerful black people etc., I would encourage you to look at this great book by my friend Joerg Rieger We hope to have him visit South Africa again soon: Rieger, Joerg ed. 2013 Religion, Theology, and Class: Fresh Engagements after Long Silence New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan http://www.amazon.com/Religion-Theology-Class-Engagements-Approaches/dp/113735142X
At the core of my argument is that South Africans need one another. Our diversity is a gift. I am convinced that we need each other in order to forge a better future for all, we cannot attempt to make things better by once again polarising persons along the lines of race. Moreover, I am convinced that social and economic issues are central to the struggle that we face in South Africa today - indeed, suffering is still almost entirely a reality among our black sisters and brothers. However, it is not their race which causes this suffering, it is our economic and political choices. Inequality is a class issue, not a race issue.
I would love to hear your perspective.
This topic has generated some wonderful, and very challenging, conversation. Below are two very thoughtful comments from my colleague, Cobus van Wyngaard (from the University of South Africa).
Dion, I really struggle to follow.
"I think that it is a mistake to tie the struggle for emancipation and transformation to race. It is a mistake because it is wrong and so in the long run it will be futile." - it is a mistake because it is wrong? But why is it wrong?
The idea that whiteness is something "merely biological" that "cannot be changed" isn't true. The history of whiteness is full of whiteness changing, and changing who is considered part of those called "white".
Would you suggest we also stop problematizing oppressive masculinities? I cannot change my gender, but does that mean women may no longer point out how I participate in an oppressive structure, regardless of whether I choose to do so or not?
"History has shown that race struggles are based on prejudice (about something that people cannot choose or change) and so they never
succeed." - I'm like, what? Civil rights. Anti-apartheid. To name just the most prominent ones. Race based? Without a doubt. Successful? I'll leave that to history to decide.
To reduce either race to class or class to race become problematic. Modern capitalism was and continue to be racist, regardless of the diversity of those who participate in it. Of course we need a class struggle, and I am convinced that we won't end racism without attending to oppressive capitalism, but the flip side is that racism also assist in keeping capitalism in place (for one thing, by keeping a permanent underclass of people in place who's living areas can be used as environmental dumping grounds, or who can be used by capitalism as cheap labor). There seem to be a clear pattern that these people are of darker complexion than me and you. To say that "it is not their race which causes this suffering, it is our economic and political choices" ignore 500 years of racial history.
I think my core difference is with your idea about some fixed notion of whiteness which people have a choice about. Even if true, we would still have to struggle against how this whiteness participates in an oppressive structure, but I don't think it is true. I think whiteness continually change, and we choose how we participate in this.
I'm not convinced that your friend Rieger would agree that we should stop struggleds concerning race either.
We MIGHT still argue about what is primary (although I have problems with this kind of argument as well), but to merely say that "hence I contend that a class struggle is necessary, and not a race struggle" really ignore what people of colour all over the world is teaching those of us who look like me.
Here is my response to Cobus:
Thanks for your very thoughtful comment Cobus - would you mind posting it on my website (or allowing me to post it on your behalf)? It is very helpful for taking the conversation forward.
I like the distinction that you make between being white (or black, or brown) and the manner in which we choose to live into that identity.
However, I continue to maintain that there is a difference between being white or black (which is not something that one chooses), and whiteness or blackness. You used the very good example of gender concerns – gender and biological sex are not the same thing. How we are ‘gendered’ could lead to us adopting, or being quite different, from the dominant stereotypes of those of the same sex. In my argument this applies to race as well.
It is a mistake to think that all white people (or black persons for that matter) will behave in a certain way, and make similar choices to all other white persons (or black persons), by virtue of their race.
Within the context of this discussion, however, that is precisely the point that I wanted to make - we make a mistake when we say that it is 'being white' that is a problem in South Africa. Perhaps one could say that there are certain types of ‘whiteness’ (or blackness, or brown-ness) that are problematic in the context of the common good. In this sense what we are engaging at the problematic aspects that are attached to a race group, rather than problematizing people based on their race.
Hence the point that the class struggle (which is social and economic in most societies) is at the heart of what is problematic in South Africa. If we get stuck on the point that ‘whites’ are the problem we make the mistake of prejudicing persons based on their race. Doing so could also mean that we miss one of the very important (perhaps even central) problems we face – social and economic inequality and consequences that stem from that.
The ‘Occupy’ movements showed us an important sociological fact – namely, that class is often much more telling in terms of solidarity and difference than race is. For example, in the USA the average ‘white’ working American has much more in common with African American counterparts than with Bill Gates (or African Americans have much more in common with their white working class counterparts than with their African American President, Mr Obama). In South Africa the same argument could hold for the inequality between the majority of white South Africans and the super-elite (or the black majority and black super-elite). Simply lumping all white South Africans in one binary and all black South Africans in the other binary is neither helpful nor true.
So yes, race is important, in fact it is critical, but is it the leading issue in the problem that we face? I would say no. Black and white South Africans have the some problem (and it is not each other), it is a system which perpetuates inequality and then encourages us to spend our energy fighting one another rather than creatively and effectively engaging wealth and power. Of course our experience of this problem of inequality is an expression of the inequality itself - white South Africans certainly don't have the same trauma and violence associated with their experience of our unequal society. However, a time will come (as has been seen in many other contexts of inequality) where the same violence will be visited upon them if they cannot or will not change. I also agree that Joerg Rieger (if I read him correctly) is not saying that matters of race, gender, geography etc. do not matter. They matter a great deal. But to deal with them we must be careful not to get caught in misunderstanding the problems that give rise to abuse gender roles, or abusive race identities etc.
Cobus posted the following comment as a follow up:
Dion, perhaps we are closer together. The different ways we use words make conversations difficult, but perhaps for that reason important.
I would however push back by saying that you cannot entirely separate "white bodies" from whiteness either. While I may struggle against oppressive whiteness as a white person (and indeed I should), this doesn't take away that a racialised society would still treat me as white, and being able to identify and describe (problematize?) where this happen remain important. In that sense I cannot "quit" race by mere opposition to racism. In that sense, "white people" is indeed a problem as well, although white people might be *more* than a mere problem, they might simultaneously be part of a struggle against racism (although I would argue that recognizing and continuously how our own actions and assumptions contribute to the problem is a prerequisite for participating in this struggle).
Class struggles that ignore race easily perpetuate certain problems. Most visible is the examples of how Solidarity might actually address class struggles in certain communities (and while there analysis isn't always correct, it's not always wrong either) but they will remain unable to actually address the broader problem, because they cannot see how their class struggle is waged by keeping certain racial structures in place. Historically similar problems was seen in the way race was used to break the class struggle around the South African mines in the early 20th century, by separating black and white workers. Insisting that we ignore race for the moment in order to fight capitalism has been shown to perpetuate problems. Sometimes we do it as a pragmatic move (like black women under apartheid that made decisions to postpone gender issues in order to find solidarity in a struggle against racism), but I think that a better solution is to work for ways in which we can keep all of these on the table simultaneously (without arguing that everything is simply different manifestations for a class struggle, or simply different manifestations of a struggle against patriarchy - which has also been argued at times - or anything else). I'm more convinced of the argument that the way in which oppressions intersect should remind us that we actually need the various struggles if we want to successfully, work on that which concern us most. If it is the struggle against capitalism, then anti-racists should be considered potential allies, even with a slightly different focus, same for the struggles against patriarchy, white supremacy, mass environmental pollution and various other systems of domination. To call for some kind of pragmatic alliance where we focus on the "actual issues" seem to me to actually work against a joint struggle.
As for the blog, I don't mind if it's posted anywhere, but having multiple conversations on multiple platforms doesn't help. If our dialogue produce something helpful, then perhaps its best to publish the dialogue together.
My final comment was the following:
Cobus, another very thoughtful and challenging comment. Yes, I think we need to work on a conversation that we can publish together. Please can you PM me your email address? Let's see if we can make that work out. It would be worthwhile. I have a Masters student doing some excellent work on this topic - perhaps we could invite him into the conversation as well. I will copy your two comments from above as a follow up to the original post on the website. At some point I need to figure out how to incorporate Facebook comments into my site.
So please watch this space - it is likely that Cobus and I will work on formalising our conversation in a published article (perhaps with one other colleague, if he is interested and has the time while completed his Masters degree). I am grateful to Sanda who started the conversation, and to all of the persons who commented via Facebook and twitter (and via emails and direct messages) on this topic.
I have been reading some of the work of Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston in the last few weeks. I don't know too much biographical information about him, other than that he is an Episcopal priest and a Native American. I also know that he writes (and thinks) beautifully. Here is a beautiful excerpt from one of his prayers. I call it a prayer for peace:
God drive back the dark days of war, place your angels between innocent lives and the tread of advancing tanks, cool the political fires that burn for power and greed, let wisdom prevail and compassion increase….
- Bishop Steven Charleston
This week I have been in Sao Leopoldo in Brazil at Faculdades EST for the bi-annual conference (this year focussing on religion and the media). It forms part of the South South partnership that exists between Faculdades EST and some Universities in South Africa (these include the University where I teach, Stellenbosch University, as well as UNISA, UKZN and even a colleauge from the University of Cape Town).
South Africa and Brazil share a number of similar aspects in our social, political and economic history and current reality. Both have suffered under oppressive regimes. In both instances the Church and religious organisations played a significant role in helping to end the oppression. Liberation theologies, public theologies and post colonial theologies are common discourses in both settings. Of course they are not the same - there are many obvious, and some less obvious, differences in the two contexts. However, there are great opportunities for mutual enrichment and support.
Thus far the partnership has involved the exchange of academic staff, exchange of Masters and PhD students, and projects which have resulted in publications (such as the book that will be launched tomorrow evening, and the set of publications in English that will go into the Journal of Theology for South Africa JTSA). Language is something of a barrier, since we only have one colleague from South Africa who speaks Portuguese, and only a few colleagues from Brazil that speak English. I have committed to try and learn Portuguese in the years ahead so that we can serve the partnership better from our side.
It has been wonderful to hear the debates and inputs on public theology, liberation theologies, and a variety of contextual and post-collonial theologies.
On Thursday evening for fly back to Sao Paulo to have a meeting with the Vice Rector of International Affairs at USP. USP and Stellenbosch have an institutional agreement that is now being developed into a South South partnership between the two Universities. USP is one of the largest, and most prestigious, Universities in South America.
This post contains a few photographs taken on the trip. One is of me and one of my former students, Ndikho Mtshiselwa. It was great to see him here. Among the other colleauges were Prof Nico Koopman, Prof Rothney Tshaka, Prof Rudolf von Sinner, Prof Reggie Nel, Dr Pieter Grove, and Dr Elaine Nogueira-Godsey.
I spent most of this morning interviewing Rev Prof Peter Storey about his role in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa.
He was Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe's chaplain on Robben Island. His life and ministry are a strong witness to courage, peaceable, work for God's Kingdom on earth.
His deep faith in Christ the motivation for his tireless work for justice, transformation and reconciliation in South Africa, frequently at great personal cost and threat to his safety.
It was inspiring listening to his life's story and ministry. He indicated that his ministry was shaped by the question 'What would it mean to be faithful to Christ in this situation?' The courage to ask that question, answer it honestly, and live the answer, is a spiritual discipline that will surely result in justice being served and God being honoured.
Today I give thanks for the life and ministry of Brother Roger today. The establishment of the Taizé community is a continuing gift of renewal and missional blessing to the Church across the world.
It reminds me that simple courage and constant obedience can often be used by God to bring about transformation, healing and renewal.
In 1940, despite the spread of war in Europe, Roger Schütz crossed the border from Switzerland into France to pursue a community life characterized by simplicity and the fellowship described in the gospels. From early on in his life, Brother Roger knew that such a life together could be a sign of reconciliation for Christians from different denominations.After settling in a French village called Taizé, Brother Roger was caught for hiding Jewish refugees and had to leave France after two years. When he returned after World War II had ended, he was accompanied by a few men who became the first brothers of the Taize community, which grew into an ecumenical community with brothers on all continents, bearing witness to what brother Roger came to talk about as a “parable of community.”On August 16 2005, during evening prayer in the Church of reconciliation at Taizé, Brother Roger was stabbed to death by a mentally ill woman.
The last two weeks have been another whirlwind! I arrived back form an amazing trip to Lagos in Nigeria where we had the most amazing opportunities to meet beautiful people doing truly wonderful work in the Church and the broader community! While there I had the change to speak at a number of events and meet with some wonderful Church leaders and Christians in business. There is a strong commitment to the societal transformation and there was great support for the Alpha Course - a most amazing tool for evangelism. We also had great support for 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' and the work of 'Unashamedly Ethical'.
This morning I flew to Johannesburg to speak at the FastForward leadership conference at the wonderful Gracepoint Church! This is a most remarkable Christian community that holds personal holiness and social holiness in equal esteem. Indeed, one can only honour God when one is right with God and in right standing with God's will in the world. Gary and Jacqui Rivas are doing amazing work here. I am thankful for them, their ministry and our friendship. Truly amazing people in an amazing community of faith.
I promised to upload my slides from my talk at the conference today - however, my internet access is a little sketchy, so please do check back in a day or so when I get home I will upload my slides and the videos that I used at the conference. If you are interested in an earlier post I did on the subject of the Church and its growth and change please follow this link for some thoughts and ideas that I had back in 2009.
Tomorrow I will be speaking on justice and partnership at their morning services in a message entitled 'A partnership between the pavement and the pew'. This morning I was inspired by this beautiful quote in my morning devotions. Perhaps it will challenge, inspire and encourage you on your journey of loving service?
People may come to our communities because they want to serve the poor; they will only stay once they have discovered that they themselves are the poor.
Jean Vanier (founder of the L'Arche communities)