by Chris Chatteris SJ
It is my almost obsessive prayer in this time of wars and rumours of wars. And when our problems at home cast me down, I give thanks for the grace of peace here. “At least we aren’t at war”, I say to myself.
Indeed, the likelihood is low. We are blessed with a geographic location which is of relatively minimal strategic geopolitical importance. Our maritime, riverine and desert-bound borders are easily defensible, and our neighbours are non-threatening. We are not like Gaza, Yemen or Eastern Congo, regions perennially in the eye of the storms of human conflict.
Furthermore, while many countries in Europe and Asia race to re-arm because war is back, here on the southern end of Africa, we are fortunate enough to be in a position to capitalise on the ‘peace dividend’ and to continue to invest more in our development than our defence.
The Israeli thinker Yuval Harari recently pointed out that the return of war to Europe means that the benefits of the post-WW2 peace in Europe are now over. Much of the money the West used to spend on education, health, research and economic development will now be devoured by the procurement of immensely costly armaments to fight a possible widening of the war in Ukraine or to construct a new Iron Curtain to deter a defeated but vengeful Russia. A potential conflict with China over Taiwan is now routinely included in the US’s geopolitical calculus.
Not that conflicts elsewhere do not affect us. Marshalling international diplomatic forces is more important than ever in a globalised world in which there is still a UN. South Africans will be called upon to declare where we stand. However, with sensible foreign policies, we can at least avoid being pulled into an actual military conflict.
The threat to our peace, then, is less external than internal. The spectre of war for South Africa is a civil war, not an invasion. There are, of course, already existing internal conflicts – violent crime and gender-based violence, for example.
The historic faultlines of our society are apparent. That they have endured and even sometimes deepened since 1994 is a cause of great sadness and disappointment. We have not healed the wounds of the past sufficiently. We have political but not economic equality among us. The notion of a government dedicated to nation-building by ending poverty, unemployment and unconscionable levels of inequality has been badly damaged by its fall from grace into cronyism and stupefying levels of corruption. We have let ourselves down badly by letting our leaders let us down.
It is time for a new beginning. We must stop taking the gift of 1994 for granted. The fact that we are not Sudan, Ukraine or Syria should fill us with gratitude and renewed energy to spur us on to build up those things which make for greater justice and social harmony. Let us not squander the gift of peace.