THE SOUTH AFRICAN CHALLENGE

 

SA 1993. As the last remaining laws of apartheid are repealed, as warring parties seek common ground, a great uneasiness hangs o’er the land. We are entering the unknown.

 

The time may signal the end of the long wave of decolonisation that has rolled through Africa, the introduction of a bill of rights and a constitution, the emergence into the light of maturity and nationhood, yet there are fears. There are fears of another African disaster. Zimbabwe and Namibia may have stabilised after independence, but will we be able to deal with calls for retribution and affirmative action? How will the economy fare alongside the burgeoning wealth of North America and Europe, while Africa is increasingly marginalized? Will we cope with the onset of AIDS?

 

This uneasiness provides the backdrop to the question "What is the role of the Christian?"

 

Indeed, what is the role of the Christian Worldview Network? Do we learn to speak Australian, or do we grit our teeth and hope for the best? Perhaps we should avoid the issue altogether. We have been guilty of this in the past; choosing - and with the best intentions - to grapple with the truths of the gospel while remaining oblivious to the consequences of their application in the South African context. At times the Christian voice seems to have been barely audible above the actions committed in the interests of apartheid Yes, there has been condemnation from the rest of the world: from a permanent display of protest in the United Nations headquarters, to songs by Jackson Browne and U2, to legal debates drawing comparisons with Nazi Germany. Yet how quiet has been the voice of the community that has prided itself in being called a Christian nation. This calls for some sober reflection. It needs to be dealt with by our own Christian consciences.

 

We find ourselves at a watershed in history, much depending on the actions and attitudes adopted by those of us caught in the process of change and transition. We can of course simply give up on South Africa, relegating it to the list of war-torn and destitute nations which litter this continent, secluding ourselves within a laager of self-protection and self-sufficiency, or we can recognise ourselves as European Africans, Xhosa Africans, Sotho Africans, Zulu Africans, speaking a multitude of languages and following a variety of habits and customs, descended from ancestors separated by thousands of kilometres and holding entirely different worldviews. We are ultimately thrown together to share the same present and future of South Africa. Like it or not, we remain Africans.

 

Nation building is the catchword at the moment and it is to this which we should draw our attention. The role of the Christian, of the Christian Worldview Network, is influenced to a fair extent by the task of rebuilding this nation. At the same time, we ought not to confuse nationalism with the striving for the application of Christian values. Our primary motivation is not a flag, an anthem, a national identity, but rather the preservation of the ideals offered by Christ within a multicultural community of which we find ourselves as integral members. That means recognising and upholding human dignity, being peacemakers in a society stretched taut by hatred, taking light into the darkness where there is no meaning and where there is no hope.

 

It is difficult to define die Christian role more precisely. Although we are united under one banner, we each have our own battlefield; we each have our own fears and weaknesses to conquer, our own techniques in our own work or profession, but we share the freedom and hope that comes from having met with Christ.

 

It is helpful to realise that we may not witness too many results, too many victories. In his autobiography, “Towards the Mountain", Alan Paton remarked that it took him a lifetime to realise that the implementation of Christian ideals is not a matter of winning or losing, but of waging the battle incessantly. That would seem a good thing to bear in mind.

 

The moral initiative lies with Christians. We are supposed to possess the compassion and motivation to proceed with the hefty task of nation building. Certainly, we can acknowledge the contributions of European and American thinkers, their effort to apply Christ’s teachings to society, yet as CWN members in the Cape, in the Transvaal or wherever, we need to realise our African-ness, carrying with it specific circumstances and specific needs. As South Africa struggles into a post-apartheid reality, I believe that a large portion of the leadership role lies with us.

 

Justin Laing

 

Many to Many Issue 3 February 1993

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