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National Reconciliation: Lack-thereof, the big elephant in the room

Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana

SACC Secretary General, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana

Ah, but your land is beautiful! This title of Alan Paton’s novel proclaims what we all believe, for South Africa is a great country with great possibilities for the best of life for its citizens. But the book, set in the 1950s, reflects on the human cost of sustaining and standing up to a racially divided society.

Today, 21 years into Nelson Mandela’s promised “united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society” we are less clear about what mires the waters we’re swimming in to cross from the past to the future of promise.

A study commissioned by South African Council of Churches (SACC) says: “Over the past twenty years the country has sought to dismantle not only apartheid institutions but also to reconcile and heal the traumatic effects South Africa’s history had on many of its people”. We’ve done pretty well in dismantling the institutions of apartheid, but not so well in reconciling and healing the apartheid effects on our socio-economic architecture and national psyche. National Reconciliation remains the big elephant in the room!

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) came and went and we remain a polarized nation – spatially, socially, economically, and politically. The integration we enjoyed during the 2010 FIFA World Cup was isolated.  Life’s realities and the education pathways to economic opportunities are racially lopsided. Family fabric is disintegrating.  The cost to poor communities, of corruption and maladministration is immense. How can we be reconciled if we continue to battle these challenges?

Reconciliation is often seen as simply referring to racial reconciliation – as in the reconciliation between blacks and whites. The SACC advances a thicker and more holistic interpretation of reconciliation where we have to:

  • Reverse poverty and inequality in order to reconcile the lot of marginalized poor people with the fortunes of the country.
  • Deal with economic transformation and identify the trade-offs necessary to address the fundamentals that result in a reconciled economic dispensation.
  • Face up to the tattered family fabric, in order to nestle a reconciled existence for future generations.
  • In the face of corruption, maladministration and the decline of public trust, reconcile the disheartened, with the viability of democracy for the common good, through cultivating a democratic ethic, promoting transparency, accountability by public representatives and officials; and thus nurture and anchor democracy.

This week the SACC’s annual Central Committee meeting considers the call by church leaders to “soak the country in prayer”, and act for the post-apartheid promise of a just, reconciled and equitable society, free of racial, tribal, xenophobic and gender prejudices, free of corruption and deprivation, and with enough food and shelter for every citizen; and for each child born to grow to their God-given potential.

But, James 2:17 reminds us that faith without works is dead. Therefore the church leaders’ call to prayer for the promise of a reconciled and prosperous society must be supported by action. Anchored on the essential platform of active engagement in healing and reconciliation, the SACC is calling for congregations to play an active part in dealing with poverty and inequality, economic transformation, the challenge of family life and the declining public trust in State institutions. We have committed to the War on Poverty – one family at a time in each ward, for each ward has no less than 15 churches to work together to heal and to address social ills.

We live in the days of #somethingmustfall.

Let us decide constructively what must fall, for the common good of South Africa.