The Common Good

South Africa

Anti-Apartheid Action In South Africa and Abroad

Oppressive poverty, like corruption and unfettered crime, is a human condition to be addressed and mitigated by principled choices to alter societal structures. This is particularly illustrated in South Africa with the ongoing historic challenge of the lingering old apartheid effects of legalized separation of races and tribal groups. Attitudes and demographics are still entrenched. The marginalized suffer most. Escalating crime is still in large measure black on black, but all sectors of society live with corruption and hear in the media the drumbeat of violence — and not only when there is a high profile feeding frenzy trial such as for Oscar Pistorius.

In a meeting with Kairos Southern Africa leaders, a senior ANC party executive acknowledged, “We have failed in service delivery and turned a blind eye to corruption … please help us make the changes necessary.” To be true to the liberation pledges, Kairos members are mobilizing civil society to act accordingly, along with an informed electorate and principled politicians, to address the residue of years of oppression both here and abroad.

A public way in which religious leaders from across the theological spectrum participated in this regard was in a solidarity conference called by the South Africa Parliament “portfolio committee” on International Relations and Cooperation. Consensus for action was not automatic on the apartheid-like oppression in Israel and Palestine. But respect for those of differing theological and political understandings was for the most part encouraging and enlightening.

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Citizen Action Making a Vital Difference in South Africa

In the Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, Baphumelele Respite Care Centre and Clinic serves abandoned children as well as ill adults. The staff faces daily the anguish of caring for babies and older children with serious congenital alcohol and drug syndrome or HIV/AIDS complications. A compassionate professional team and scores of volunteers provide education and rehabilitative residential care for countless patients and support to child headed homes.

A nurse friend on the staff gave witness to the disparity between day-to-day realities when faced with the inadequate response by government and societal leaders. It is stunningly the case in South Africa in the post-Mandela era. The clinic was started in 1989 by the local founding-director Rosealia Mashale, “Rosie,” who could not abandon vulnerable children to the trash heap.

Even with more than 25 similar agencies active in the sprawling location of mostly substandard housing and services there are thousands still in need.

Professor Jonathan Jansen, a trusted commentator in South Africa and author of We Need to Act, reminds citizens to leave their comfort zones and contribute to righting the wrongs of society

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Selfie-Gate: Obama, a Funeral Celebration, and a Scapegoat

President Obama’s “selfie” with prime ministers Helle Thorning Schmidt of Denmark and David Cameron of Great Britain has been making the rounds on social media. Many of Obama’s detractors have taken the opportunity to criticize the President’s picture taking prowess, bringing on “Selfie-Gate.” Take John Kass of the Chicago Tribune, for example:

First lady Michelle Obama sits off to the side, somber, dignified, as the world remembers Mandela. Yet next to her like some goofy adolescent who hasn't yet been taught how to behave properly at a memorial service — her husband — is snapping a memorial to himself.

Hold on a minute there, Kass, because South Africa is teaching us a thing or two about how they “behave properly at a memorial service.” Sure they mourn.

But they also dance.

From the video and images that I’ve seen, there was festive atmosphere at Mandela’s memorial service. This leads me to wonder what “proper behavior” at this memorial service looks like.

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Remembering the Greatest Political Leader of the 20th Century: Nelson Mandela

Today I had the great honor of saying a prayer at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the most important political leader of the 20th century. This was an honor, not only because of Mandela’s stature on the world’s stage, but because he was someone I admired very deeply and personally. His fight for justice and reconciliation is one that has inspired me in the work that we do at Sojourners.

There were several highlights of the service today. There were several choirs, two of which brought each mourner to their feet, clapping along to their versions of Shosholoza and Siyahamba. There were many beautiful speeches and recitations, including a reading of Maya Angelou’s poem for Mandela called “His Day is Done.”

But what stood out to me the most was the homily by Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at Christian Theological Seminary, Butler University. As he paid tribute to Mandela’s life and described his “long walk to freedom,” he punctuated his remarks with “it ain’t over, until God says it’s done,” a quote from Maurette Brown-Clark’s song of the same name.

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On Being a Child of the Freedom Struggles

In the fall of 1981 I was a freshman at the University of California, Davis. It didn’t take long for me to step into the “Free South Africa” divestment movement sweeping the U.C. system.

I already had some traction with political protest. My first “demonstration” that I can remember was the 1966. I was 3 years old and it was the United Farm Workers march on the California state capitol in Sacramento. I was — and still am — a child of La Causa.

The University of California system had billions of dollars invested in South Africa — as did many U.S. and international corporations and governments. The aim of the divestment movement was to “drain the swamp of the apartheid regime.” The African National Congress and the South African church movement were calling for divestment and sanctions against the South African apartheid regime — even though it would but additional burdens on ordinary people. Millions around the globe responded.

The divestment movement spread like wildfire through the U.C. system. We had regular noon rallies outside the administration offices. And more than once in my college career we blocked the steps to Sproul Hall and were subsequently arrested by campus police with the Davis city police looking on.

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'A Man Who Has Done His Duty'

When he was asked how he would like to be remembered, former president Nelson Mandela was very clear: “I would like it to be said that, ‘Here lies a man who has done his duty on earth.’ That is all.”

It so happened that I had dinner on Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, Johannesburg, on the night that he died. At the time I was unaware of his death — like most of South Africa I woke up with the news the next morning. The huge statue in the square and the nearby shop selling memorabilia would probably be the furthest removed from how Madiba himself would like to be remembered, but I suppose he realized that this was inevitable for someone who had become a global icon of freedom and justice.

In the famous Rivonia trial where he received a life sentence for his role in fighting the apartheid system, he said the following of democracy: “It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” 

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Desmond Tutu on Gay Rights, the Middle East and Pope Francis

Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his fight against apartheid in South Africa, continues to speak around the globe on justice and peace. Butler University and neighboring Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis announced Thursday that they would name a center for the 81-year-old icon.

Just before the announcement of the new center, Tutu spoke with Religion News Service about faith and justice, Israel and Palestine and Pope Francis’ recent selfie and lifestyle choices. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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On Scripture: From Egypt to South Africa, We Are Each Other’s Keepers

Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa, has been in the hospital for more than two months. Nearly 20 years after his election South Africa remains, despite myriad troubles, a stable, multiracial, and democratic country.

Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt after the world-changing protests in Tahrir Square led to the resignation of former president Hosni Mubarak, has been out of office, by way of military coup, for more than one month. He is now being held by the military under house arrest at an undisclosed location, and the mere mention of his name divides the citizens of Egypt. This division has led to the death of more than five hundred Morsi supporters this week alone. In response, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters have attacked dozens of Coptic Christian Churches.

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