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.
The historic daylong meeting on the floor of Parliament was to receive testimony and make recommendations to undergird suffering people in the Caribbean, Middle East, and Africa, but also in South Africa. One stated purpose was to alert the people of South Africa to common challenges by featuring a strong element of internationalism related to denial of human rights. The purpose was not to debate if action was required but what is the necessary response.
Members of Parliament, ambassadors, and array of representatives attended it from civil society, including the interfaith representatives.
Kairos Leadership Committee Member and Stellenbosch University researcher Ms. Marthie Momberg delivered an electrifying parameters-setting address. It was based on the game-changing South Africa Kairos 1985 and the follow-on 2009 Kairos Palestine documents. Both are concerned with the “the present day struggle between hope and despair, between compassion and human connection versus the imposition of power over powerlessness,” in the words of author Mark Braverman, in A Wall in Jerusalem. Both documents express a similar perspective on the redemptive vision of Jesus in his and other oppressive societies.
View the Kairos Southern Africa statement by Ms. Momberg HERE and the comprehensive Resolutions and Recommendations, which will lead to a Parliamentary Plan of Action HERE. In the former apartheid era, Kairos called the church of South Africa to account for its complicity in repression. Now Kairos 2009 and its international affiliates appeal similarly to the world church to mobilize to help bring the impact of legalized separation to an end, particularly in Israel/Palestine, but also in other places “while not forgetting the ‘Palestinians’ (marginalized Africans) in our own back yards.”
As an American observer, the interesting, even occasionally emotive and ideological, debates especially in the hallways of this commendable first ever gathering, were rather typical of those around the globe. Unsubstantiated charges of anti-Semitism were familiar against those who even lovingly expressed concern for Israel’s self-destructive laws. In the end only four votes in a gathering of more than 100 were against the resolutions.
A conservative Christian news blog, “Gateway,” respondent characterized the event by writing, “I was reliably informed that the Democratic Alliance representatives were there wearing headscarves in solidarity with the Palestinian cause [which was not the case]. In any event according to the Bible (God’s Word) the land belongs to the Jewish (Israeli) people. The ‘so called Palestinians’ were never there in the first place.”
The parallels are clear as the present-day Kairos campaigners’ cry of pain and hope is based on prophetic biblical literature and the challenge by Nelson Mandela when he declared “none of us will be free until Palestinians are free.” And upon Desmond Tutu’s 1989 challenge, “if you want to prove your bone fides in terms of human rights turn your eyes to the Palestinians.”
It makes perfect sense, now that legalized South African apartheid has been dismantled, to find civil society here making the direct application for ongoing transformation to the other systems of discrimination based on religion or color of skin. It has become a growing international campaign.
An illustration of this mobilization is the concurrent announcement of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). The appeal is in keeping with the United Nations Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People for wide partnership “for peaceful resolution of the protracted conflict.” It called on all SA churches to participate in Anti-Apartheid Week.
All of us, wherever we are in the world, can be alert in our own communities to opportunities available to participate personally in Anti-Apartheid week activities and help hasten the day when Israelis and Palestinians will live in peace and security working together for a better life for their children…just as it is occurring in South Africa.
Especially this is appropriate with the “Secretary Kerry initiative” for peace in Israel and Palestine moving rapidly toward decision (Kairos) time.
Tom Getman and his spouse Karen have traveled frequently over the last 30 years in South Africa. They are associated in a special way this year working in partnership with Sojourners and Kairos Southern Africa. He serves on the boards of each organization.