Take a look around

Fr. Russell Pollitt SJ last week in our bulletin piece spoke about Operation Fiela and suggested that this focus by the Government on immigrants as the root of the problem of xenophobia is misplaced. Fr Pollitt suggested that xenophobia has its roots in the fact ‘that many people in this country are angry, frustrated and hopeless because each day brings a new struggle to survive.’ If people in South Africa are angry, frustrated and helpless, and many are struggling to survive, how do we Christians respond to this crisis? What invitation is Christ extending to us here, in South Africa?

A significant part of the anger, frustration and helplessness in South Africa must surely come from the massive income inequality amongst South Africans. We hear the statistics so often, that South Africa has one of the highest gini coefficients in the world. This is a measure of how unequal a society is based on the distribution of income. The most recent World Bank statistics note that South Africa rates a 65 on the gini coefficient, where 0 represents perfect equality in income and 100 represents perfect inequality. The sad part is that, although levels of absolute poverty in South Africa have decreased since 1994, our income inequality remains extremely high. But Christians may hear or read these statistics and ask the all important question: “What can I do in my life to help? What can God expect me, in my life, with my own problems, to do for others who are angry, frustrated and feeling as helpless as I am?”

Perhaps an important step that God asks of us in our own context is a conversion of outlook. Would I be able to ask God for the grace to be more aware of the struggles of others? Pope Francis calls out to us in his apostolic exhortation Evangeli Gaudium to look around us and see what our culture of consumerism is doing to us. He calls us to recognise the crisis of indifference in society. Indifference to the plight of others which is supported by an ‘economy of exclusion and inequality’. He bemoans the fact that there is no news coverage of a homeless person who dies of exposure, but the movements of the stock market are always news-worthy.

Solidarity with others can be quite a challenge, especially when my own issues seem so pressing, so urgent. We are in desperate need for God’s grace to enable us, for however long we can manage, to lay down the challenges of our lives and to feel with as much empathy as we can the anger, frustration and helplessness of others. If God can help us to learn what life is like for those of us who are marginalised and in need, maybe His next step would be to motivate us to action?

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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