Hope for South Africa

In the Walter Sisulu National Botanitcal Gardens in Roodepoort, there is a beautiful Mountain Hard-Pear tree. What makes this particular tree unique is that it has been struck by lightning. The tree trunk has been damaged by the lightning, but around the dead wood, new wood has grown. However, because the trunk of the tree can no longer support the tree’s weight, the staff at the Botanical Gardens have put two or three pillars under the tree to support it. So much effort has gone into keeping this tree alive, because the seeds of the Mountain Hard-Pear tree are incredibly hard to germinate.

Like this Mountain Hard-Pear tree, South Africa has dead wood as part of its history. Wounds sustained by our communities during apartheid are still there, and they will take a long time to heal. But also like this hardy tree, South Africa has new wood slowly growing around the damage. The growth is delicate, but it is there. The kindness of strangers reaching across racial barriers, the welcome given by churches to those seeking a place to belong, and hearts open to people from different backgrounds demonstrate new beginnings for South Africa. Also, like our tree in the botanical garden, this new growth in our country is supported by pillars. The vision of a new South Africa included in our Constitution helps to put a foundation to our hopes for this beautiful country. Finally, in the same way that it is difficult for the seeds of the Mountain Hard-Pear to germinate, so too is it difficult for a new vision for a country that has come through apartheid without civil war to grow and take root in the hearts and minds of people.

This past week has been a difficult week for our country. Political battles rocked Parliament and tempers rose. The constitutional provisions ensuring media access to Parliament were challenged, and Parliament’s ability to provide a space to resolve political differences was undermined. And yet, we should not lose hope. There are still signs of new growth in our communities, forming over the dead wood of the past. Importantly, the Second Vatican Council teaches that we all have a role to play in building a better country, and to encouraging this growth. Human rights enshrined in our Constitution are only real if they become lived realities in our daily lives. They will only become lived realities if we treat one another with the dignity that human rights are based on. Christianity teaches that we should reach out to our neighbours, overcoming prejudice and insular attitudes. By the witness of our lives, we can help the new vision of South Africa take shape. We should not despair if this is difficult. It is tough for the seeds of the Mountain Hard-Pear to germinate, just as it is for a new country to turn into something better. But there is so much each one of us can do to help it along!

Rev. Grant Tungay SJ

Fr Grant Tungay SJ is a lawyer by training, he left a career in law to join the Jesuits. He specialised in human rights law and has done volunteer work at the SA Human Rights Commission and also worked as an intern for the Centre of Applied Legal Studies at WITS. He worked at the Jesuit Institute South Africa for a few years in the area of social justice and is interested in the overlap between law, social justice and spirituality.

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