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Oblivious to the obvious signs of our times

The signs of our times seem to be calling us to a greater openness to migrants, climate change and with members of different faith groups. But Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya discovers this is not as obvious to some as it may seem to others.

“I don’t understand why Pope Francis is busy with things like climate when there are souls to be won. It is always about the migrants and Laudato Si. The earth is the Lord’s. He will take care of it Himself. We don’t need to”, she said.

She describes herself, and others who know her will agree, as a devout Catholic.

 “He is busy with Muslims when the faith is dying in Europe”, she added as we talked.

Our conversation took place at a time when many communities around KwaZulu-Natal and parts of the Eastern Cape are still coming to terms with the devastation caused by mega floods. And, it got me more than just a little worried.

What exactly still needs to be done, for our society to start taking climate change seriously, as an existential threat? How is the secularisation of Europe supposed to suspend taking care of our common home?

Whereas the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in Southern Africa, and later by Fani in India, is recognised and named squarely to be a consequence of climate change, the South African floods appear to be reduced to a bout of “bad luck”.

By 3 May 2019, 71 people had been reported dead in the Durban area. More than 1,400 were displaced.

The damage to property in KwaZulu-Natal alone was estimated at around R1.1 billion. Cyclone Idai, one of the worst to have affected Africa and the southern hemisphere, is understood to have claimed over 1000 “souls”. Thousands more are still missing, feared or presumed dead.

Social media has been awash with videos of homes on the east coast of South Africa collapsing and vehicles subsumed by water. Working class and poor areas on the margins of the city have borne the brunt of the devastation.

It says something about the attention climate change gets in South Africa. Even with days to the general elections, it is not high on the agenda of political parties crisscrossing the province canvassing for votes.

It is perhaps for this reason that even political parties, like our Catholic friend, place “the poor” in a special category of those who will benefit from their (political party) policies if elected.

This attitude fails to recognise just how the poor are often the worst affected by climate change, as in Mozambique, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. But it has struck the urban and the rural with equal force.

At least one of the consequences of climate change will probably annoy our Catholic friend even more — the search for greener pastures elsewhere. Some of those who lost everything in Mozambique will look elsewhere for better life prospects. As a regional economic superpower, South Africa becomes an attractive option for these hungry “souls”.

The hostility to people of other faiths — even when secularism is on the rise in Europe — has shown itself to be as deadly as the floods in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the two South African provinces.

On Easter Sunday, 253 people were killed when Islamic fundamentalists attacked three Christian churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital Colombo.

Fundamentalist Islamic group, Isis has made uncorroborated claims that it was behind the Sri Lanka attack and further claimed that this was in retaliation to the killings by Christian fanatic and white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, who killed 49 people in terror attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March this year.

Whether Isis’ is, in fact, responsible for the attacks, there can be no denying that attacks on religious communities create unhealthy and unnecessary tensions between members of the various faith communities.

Ordinarily, these episodes happening so close to one another should make our approach to climate change, migration and tolerance for religious differences an obvious prophetic mission of our times.

It is apparent from this conversation with my Catholic friend that Christ’s optimism, that “when you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does” unhappily does not apply to some of us because we are unable to read even the most obvious signs of the times. Even when they are staring glaringly at us.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

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Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya
Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury, The Witness and Sowetan and a senior journalist at many other mainstream South African newspapers.

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