The Southern African Bishop’s conference met with President Cyril Ramaphosa in January, during which they presented the new pastoral plan in the context of South Africa’s current challenges. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya expresses his hope that the Bishops were successful in using their prophetic voice to urge both the country’s leadership and the faithful to seek new solutions to prevent the total collapse of an already precarious economy.
It was encouraging to read that a SACBC delegation met with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on 23 January.
The report notes that the SACBC and the president spoke about the new pastoral plan in the context of a dwindling economy and the consequences that this holds for unemployment, homelessness, migration, youth, and integrity.
One hopes that this dialogue was more than empty words, which remind me of Jesus’ words: “For as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be with the coming of the Son of Man. In those days, before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and given in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark”.
Speaking against the complacency of the state
This passage in the Gospel of Matthew (24: 37-39) illustrates just how complacent people can be and only wake up when it is too late. In contemporary South Africa, we have a similar problem. We face a potential social deluge as various areas of the state continue to fail.
We have a political leadership and a populace that are happy to believe all is well just because they are not as yet, affected by the pending catastrophe. By the time hyper-inflation, a non-functional state, even higher rates of crime, and public health system collapses, it will be too late to reverse the tide.
Heaven forbid that the prediction of some pundits that social unrest will come when the state runs out of money to pay social grants or when the middle and upper classes feel that their education and money cannot protect them from the effects of a decaying state.
The South African economy has been under severe stress for a few years now. Hardly a week goes by without news of a major industry employer announcing job cuts or closure of businesses. Headline news is when a state-owned business reports a profit and does not need a state bail-out.
Hopefully the Bishops emphasised this fact and that the president’s supposed “long game” might be allowing for things to get worse by day.
For the majority of South Africans, particularly black, the transition from apartheid to democracy did not substantially change their lives. For them, South Africa remains a place of extreme violence, underemployment, exploitative wages set by the state, poverty and ignorance.
The Bishops would hopefully have played their prophetic role in highlighting to the president how these factors are ingredients for a cocktail of destructive fury. It is heartening to see the president reflecting on some of the themes discussed in his meeting with the SACBC in his recent column in the local media.
The faithful also have a responsibility
One hopes too, that the Bishops are also able to play their prophetic role as they guide the faithful through the main areas of the new pastoral plan. The faithful also have to take some responsibility for the state of affairs.
One imagines that those who saw Noah busy building his ark would have declared him a pessimist. He was the fuddy-duddy who just did not like seeing people happy. If Christians are to shake up an indifferent society, they must be prepared to be ridiculed or to lose their place in the table of privilege.
At every level the Church should care about how those in power exercise it. They should care not because they are necessarily interested in party politics but because they care for the people of God who are affected by political decisions.
Foresight is recurring theme of Jesus’ parables.
He spoke against the maidens who ran out of oil while waiting for the groom and of those who built their house on sand. And yes, he also said something about the cost of discipleship in his encounter with the rich young man, whom he urged to sell everything to follow him. It was an invitation to a new way of life.
The future church should not accuse the present one of the same things Jesus said of Noah’s contemporaries. We can already foretell how the story will end for South Africa if there is no change of heart and mind.