Diverse People Unite!
Last week in our Bulletin piece, Fr. Anthony Egan spoke of the need to avoid monopolisation of power in politics. Without a good opposition party, there is the risk of ‘complacency, corruption and the attitude that governance is its right’. Diversity of political opinion makes for a strong democracy through accountability, checks and balances and drawing upon the richness of varied approaches to social challenges.
South Africa is still reeling from the aftermath of xenophobic attacks. We are still coming to grips with the reasons behind the attacks, trying to assess why our country would make war on foreigners. This soul searching may force us to face some difficult realisations about our country. One realisation could be that social transformation is not happening fast enough, and that the separation between the haves and the have nots is not being healed but actually getting bigger. Another could be that the wounds inflicted by our past history lie very deep indeed under the thin skin of our citizenry, and that prejudice and distrust between different races and cultures remains alive and active in our world views. However, a further important realisation could be that this rainbow nation may actually be intolerant of diversity. All these wounds need healing, but the latter wound may be especially hard to deal with considering that diversity in our rainbow nation is one of our greatest strengths and riches.
Catholic tradition celebrates the richness of diversity. St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica presents a truly breath-taking view of creation, whereby all of creation displays the glory of God. He argues that since the glory of God cannot be adequately represented by one creature alone, God created ‘many and diverse creatures’ (ST Ia.47.1) Through this infinite variety of people, the goodness of God can be represented in the same way as a mirror reflects whatever stands in front of it. Humanity, taken as a whole, thus reflects God’s glory much better than one person alone could. One can say from this understanding of creation that our richness as human beings lies in our differences, since we individually reflect the many different aspects of the goodness of God. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
South Africa is made up of so many different peoples and cultures. Moreover, South Africa is host to not only diverse local peoples and cultures, but also peoples and cultures from all over Africa. Our intolerance of diversity is a failure to recognise goodness not only in our own cultures and traditions, but in the traditions and cultures of others. This intolerance may be a very serious wound indeed, considering that the diversity of our nation is one of the many aspects of South Africa which make this country great. By failing to confront and heal this intolerance, we are missing the wood for the trees. And it is a beautiful wood.