Saturday, 14 November 2015


I’ve skipped a week in my postings. Partly because I had to fly to Jo'burg for a church committee meeting.

Mostly because I have been doing some serious soul searching.

In my previous post, I recounted how the heady ‘New South Africa/’Rainbow Nation’ era had coincided with my ordination and a ministry in Soweto. Yet, even as I was recording those happy times, our University of Cape Town students were forcing their way into the parliamentary precinct and were being fired on by police stun guns. They and other students across the country were demonstrating against proposed fee hikes. 

There was a point at which I wondered if I shouldn’t stop writing the blog post and hare across the mountain to join those kids. Would they accept a granny activist priest in their midst?

SA in demo mode
I couldn’t put this to the test. 

Our nearest township was also on the march, protesting against the arrest of a community leader who has campaigned incessantly for better policing. Our village road to Cape Town was blocked. Just as it would be a few days later when Anglicans staged a silent vigil outside St George’s Cathedral.

South Africa is in permanent demo mode. Once again we speak of end times.

Among the non-partisan university students arrested outside Parliament was our Archbishop Thabo Makgoba’s son, Nyakallo.

Kgotsi Chikane was another. His dad Frank is President of the Apostolic Faith Mission International and a former Director General of the presidency of South Africa. 

Notably both the high profile clergy fathers support the protests and are proud of their sons.

 Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (right) comforts  Archbishop Thabo
Archbishop Thabo commented, “As parents we find it difficult to hold back our tears. This is a hard one… they are kids. We had a wonderful conversation with him and I told him welcome to adulthood, and I have to be strong for him,” 

He added, “I told him be strong, and not forget dad wants you to have a social conscience and equally to pass.”

A matter of principle
Yes, he worried about Nyakallo and the other kids being injured, “but otherwise they made a choice for a principle… this is a principled position and it is not about him or an ability to pay, it’s about the rest of people who are poor and have to pay.”

The following week-end our State President lambasted church leaders for their involvement. 

This confirmed my suspicion that some of the kids who were arrested while Parliament did a ‘Marie Antoinette’ and carried on with a budget speech had been cherry picked for arrest.

On social media the dominant hashtag was #FeesMustFall. Our State President announced that the proposed increase for 2016 would be put on hold. As the situation escalated government was promising to consider free tertiary education. The big question being how to fund this.

Corruption has left our state coffers very low. But deep down in my soul I know that this is about so much more than university fees.

Where were we?
Where were we adults as government steadily reduced its subsidies for tertiary institutions to the point that they have been forced to raise fees dramatically in order to survive? Why didn’t we protest?

Where were we when black students, two decades after Nelson Mandela was sworn in, were being made to feel like second class citizens on their campus?

Where were we when our politicians slurped at the trough of excess?

What did we, white and black parents, do to correct racist remarks at the dinner table. How many priests, pastors, imams and rabbis have preached on racism or corruption in recent years?

What have I done to stem corruption other than to post remarks on social media? In fact, to my eternal shame, I’ve contributed to our system of bribes.

My corruption
I own two semi-detached student houses and two cottages behind the University of Johannesburg and one Friday afternoon several years ago I was called by my house manager. The City Power guys were there to disconnect the electricity. I’d forgotten to pay the bill. The accounts office was closed so there was no way she could rush there and pay.

I explained to the disconnection guy that I had 17 students who needed to cook, bath, study and watch TV that week-end. That I was in Cape Town. He was sympathetic and had a solution. For R600 he would postpone the disconnection until the Monday afternoon which would give us time to sort the problem out.

It took a few minutes to call a hardware store proprietor a block or two from the student houses and he was happy to lend us R600. Problem solved. All was well.

Not quite.

No right to cast stones

I hadn’t hesitated to do what I had preached and pontificated against. I was no better than the guys who had strategically timed their visit to the student houses. Only a lousy steward would have forgotten to pay the bill. My own value system had been corrupted.

It was a humbling and deeply troubling experience.

An architect friend used to speak about God being in the detail of a design. I believe it is equally true of our lives and of our national well-being.

Stepping off my soap box
Okay, I’ll get off my soap box but I must share that I have since my previous blog post experienced real pain. 

How did I allow the cocoon of self-interest to be spun? At my age do I still have time to make a difference? Or do I sit back and pray that our youth will do better than I did?

I don’t have an answer but I do know that I am increasingly proud to see the Anglican Church in Southern Africa don the mantle of prophetic ministry.

It seems that Archbishops are tempered by the challenges they face – Desmond Tutu by apartheid, Njongo Ndungane by Third World Debt and HIV/AIDS, Thabo Makgoba by our education crisis and corruption.

I am reminded of the folly of denying that Church and politics are first cousins, perhaps even more intimately related. It is when we allow politics to drive religion that the wheels fall off.

To quote Archbishop Thabo: “Covenant is entirely ubuntu-shaped – we find our humanity through the humanity of others – we flourish through promoting the flourishing of others. SePedi has a proverb for this: Mphiri o tee ga o lle – one bangle makes no sound. But working in harmony can create a beautiful symphony!"

The challenge is to identify our roles and to play our part.

Addressing a protesting crowd outside Parliament in September Archbishop Thabo said, "We need to stop marching against corruption. Yes, you heard me right. We need to stop debating and discussing anti-corruption. We need to start being pro-courage." 

He reminded that courage is not the absence of fear but the conquering of it. 

I assure myself that if we could overcome apartheid the struggle against corruption can also be won. And methinks its time to re-read some Liberation Theology.

Audio links you may find interesting:
In April Archbishop Desmond Tutu issued  a stern warning to Government

Archbishop Thabo speaks to radio host Tim Modise about courage:

Nyakallo Makgoba speaks to AM Live about being arrested

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