Our role in the wake of the elections
Twenty years ago we voted for the first time as a free country and ushered in a new stage in South African politics. Even if this recent election feels a long way from the hopes of 1994, the same possibility of a new vision is still with us. It exists within our human potential for conversion and redemption. As our newly-elected government prepares to take up their responsibilities, we Christians can pray for their ongoing conversion and renewal of heart. But we also, as free citizens, have responsibilities.
It is all too easy in the ‘new South Africa’ to allow our civic duty to be exercised once every 5 years on a ballot sheet. Yet we are the people, we are the country. We have a responsibility to exercise our freedom and to express our needs, our grievances and our desires.
Furthermore, as Christians we have a moral responsibility to care not only for our own wants, but also for the needs of the most vulnerable, for the marginalized and the silenced. If we are unhappy with service delivery, then we need to make a noise about it. We need to hold our leaders accountable for their choices. We need to remember (and help them to remember) that they have offered themselves as servants of the people. They rule because we gave them our votes and they are paid for by our taxes.
I am struck by these words from the Catholic Church’s document ‘Joy & Hope’. It describes the modern world as ‘keenly aware of its unity and of mutual interdependence and solidarity, but at the same time split into bitterly opposing camps.’
This description seems to me to fit our country exactly. On the one hand, we are mutually interdependent. On the other, we are still a profoundly divided people. We cannot hope for government alone to heal our land, or to adequately meet the needs of all our people. We have, together, a responsibility for nation building.
At a basic level we need to push for subsidiarity: for decision-making and power to be passed down to as low a level as possible. This means that in our communities, in our schools and in our clinics, we need to be on guard against corruption and poor delivery. We need to be more vocal and to use the various platforms available to us to hold our leaders accountable. We need to be informed and to choose the often hard path of taking action.
We no longer have an ‘evil state’ against which we take up arms, but rather we have the problems of freedom. The Church challenges us to be active citizens, to engage in and with the world and to use our faith in Jesus as the measure by which we judge what is good. God is inviting each one of us to be fully alive. Part of being fully alive is to claim a personal sense of responsibility for the task of nation building.