While one can expect to find dirt on individuals and organisations in politics, Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya has drawn a parallel with the alarming fact that some churches have their own garbage cans full.
The article in Daily Maverick on how members or leaders of South African leftist opposition party – the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – lived a high life in Cape Town, has excited public opinion.
The excitement emanates from the party styling itself as pro-poor, where its members wear overalls, hard hats and domestic worker uniforms to emphasise their allegiance to the most vulnerable and exploited workers in South Africa.
Another reason for the excitement is the method used by the publication to arrive at what it called “Revolutionary trash sometimes requires revolutionary trash journalism, literally”. The publication’s journalist went through the trash from the rented apartment of some EFF members..
The trash bin revealed used condoms, bank slips, 37 empty bottles of expensive alcohol and price tags from clothing stores.
Not everyone was surprised, especially with regard to those EFF leaders who were previously in the leadership of the governing ANC’s youth league.
Consequently, very few people would be surprised to hear that even in their reincarnation as EFF leaders, they are still partial to the finer things in life. They may wear overalls in parliament, but they do so while walking in Louboutin shoes where a pair of flip-flop sandals can go for as much as R7,000 (about $495).
EFF leader Julius Malema’s wife rents a multi-million rand property in one of Johannesburg’s most exclusive estates and she is a member at one of the city’s exclusive country clubs.
Malema has been at pains to say that his wife is her own person, a businesswoman, and is therefore entitled to make personal choices about the kind of life she leads.
She has no obligation to live her husband’s politics. But Malema happens to stay in the house his wife rents and as a spouse, derives benefits from Mrs Malema’s membership of the rich people’s club.
Malema’s argument, stripped of the political verbosity amounts to: it is not my fault that I am a beneficiary of privilege and I should not have to apologise for it.
Ironically, this is the same argument from white South Africans who say that while they are personally anti-racist, it is not their fault that they are beneficiaries of the privileges that come (note the present tense) with being white in South Africa.
The article in Daily Maverick told us what very few, if any of those who follow South African politics, did not know.
If anything it underscored the tone deafness of those who lead society, not just in politics, but even in the church. Opulence has become so commonplace that even those who claim to be pro-poor have no problem showing off from time to time.
We could lambast the EFF for the high life, but if we make it about their opulence without linking this to the rest of society, we might miss seeing the wood for the trees.
The highlight of the country’s horse racing calendar, the Durban July, will show just how opulence is always in vogue.
For a country where the majority self-identifies as Christian, yet where society is one of the most unequal on earth, we do not seem to have taken Christ to heart when he said “…learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart” (Mt 11: 29).
Humility is seen as failure and conspicuous consumption as proof of how “blessed” one is — and that is not just among the preachers of the so-called Prosperity Gospel practitioners.
Pope Francis said after his election that he wanted “a poor church for the poor”, which he followed-up by opting to live in a two-bedroom suite instead of the papal palace like his predecessors had for most of the 20th century.
Despite this, many in the Catholic hierarchy across the world continue to live the high life.
For example, in June, The Washington Post broke the story of Bishop Michael Bransfield’s alleged spending habits and lavish lifestyle as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia.
The publication reported that an investigation conducted by five lay people and overseen by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Bransfield spent $1,000 a month on liquor and $100 a day on fresh flowers for the chancery, gave gifts totalling $350,000 to other clergy, and spent $4.6 million renovating the bishop’s residence after there had been a fire in one of the bathrooms.”
This is just one of many examples of an opulent lifestyle by those in the church leadership.
Hopefully, what we find in there will embarrass us enough to nudge us back to a life worthy of following He who famously told us that “foxes have dens, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Mt 8:20).
The church must, along with society, take a moment to reflect on its own trash cans. When it does, it will find that the dirt found in the EFF’s garbage is ours too, regardless of what we preach.
Building a poor church for the poor starts with us.