An activist Church is required for an activist society
Just after the general elections – on 8 May – the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to form a government that would have as one of its chief aims “to arrest the collapse of the economy and the looting of the state resources”.
With the announcement of the cabinet this week, it is fair to say that not everyone will feel President Ramaphosa has met that expectation.
Many of those who served in former president Jacob Zuma’s cabinet are out. The likes of former speaker of parliament Baleka Mbethe, former Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane and minister of several portfolios, former Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, announced their unavailability to serve as MPs.
Still, there remains in cabinet or as deputy ministers, a sprinkling of Zuma loyalists. There are those, like Deputy President David Mabuza, one can never be too sure of.
With hindsight, this ought to have been expected. President Ramaphosa is a politician and a leader of a fractious party. He had to accommodate individuals he might have preferred to not have on his team.
The expectation that this team, “put the country first and work collectively to develop effective measures to arrest the collapse of the economy and the looting of the state resources, and to spur economic growth so that it creates jobs,” as the bishops said in their statement, holds.
It would however be naïve to expect politicians to deliver on this just because the “men of God” said so. Bishops would do well to remember that they have no say over politicians – even those who swear by the same God as they do.
If there is anything that we have learned over time, including the choices made around this cabinet, it is that politicians will always make political decisions which may or may not be the best for the country.
An activist church is required for an activist society. Our times demand “a church that provokes a crisis, preaches a gospel that unsettles and proclaims the word of God that gets under anyone’s skin; a word of God that touches the real sin of the society it is proclaimed,” to paraphrase St Oscar Romero, the slain Archbishop of San Salvador.
After 25 years of post-apartheid rule, it is anti-poor and therefore anti-Christian to expect the poorest and most marginalised to listen to grand speeches and promises that do not change their lives.
Church leaders must not limit themselves to issuing periodical statements. The pulpit needs to be site of the struggle for social and economic justice. The church and faith community must become a “faction” – and a loud one at it, on the side of whoever uses their political power for the greater good and therefore for the greater Glory of God.