14 March, 2019

Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.

~ Matthew 7:12 ~

The exhortation of Jesus in today’s Gospel is rightly famous. Versions of this are seen as foundational to all three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and most other great faith traditions, and also as the foundation of modern Western law and government. But the way we live it is, to say the least, complex.

If we look at the dynamics of action and response that are implied in this teaching we see a cycle: my action causes your response, which in turn leads me to react to you in turn and then, in reply to my response…etc. And, usually, the actions of each side escalate. The only way out is to courageously break the cycle.

Looking historically at the South African past we can see how this worked: colonialism and discrimination were met by nonviolent resistance; nonviolent resistance by state violence and political repression; and state violence and repression by increasingly violent armed resistance…etc, etc, etc. In 1990 we tried to break the cycle of repression and violent resistance, culminating in the 1994 Election. But did we learn the lesson? Did we break the cycle?

Twenty-five years on, the answer may sound noncommittal: Yes and No. Yes, we broke out of the spiral pulling us towards civil war. Yes, we have created a new way of thinking rooted in democracy, political equality and human rights. But – no, we are no nearer social equality and new dynamics of power are emerging that privilege self-interest over the common good.

We are far from a more equal society and most ideas that seek it are at best naïve, at worst ultimately self-destructive. In a global competitive capitalist economy talk of redistribution, land restitution and socialism – no matter how attractive or instinctively right it may feel – is the high road to poverty. Education (and the creation of a middle class through the jobs education brings) is blocked by mismanaged education policies, corruption, bad teachers backed by powerful unions, an elite resorting to private schools and so ignoring the plight of public education, and a general lack of desire to study among youth who feel they have no future anyway.

The cycle – poor schools creating few work-ready youth, who then give up and indirectly influence the next generation – is compounded by a wider cycle: political patronage and corruption, which creates an attitude of corruption that feeds the power addiction of political patronage. It is not surprising that rage bubbles beneath the surface. What is needed is for South Africans, after twenty-five years of freedom in a political wilderness, to say “No more!”: it is time to break the spirals of despair and dependency.



guide us

in how we

respond to our


As once we did,

so let us once

again break out

of the spiral

of failure.

Let us


how we want

to be treated


treat our



Let us

use our



to elect


who will

bring us

onto a

spiral of




Catholic Parliamentary

Liaison Office

Jesuit Institute
South Africa

Reflection prepared by and

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Whilst working at the Institute, Matthew managed the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and was involved in the Spirituality work, completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and the Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and was also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. He is currently the Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, Zambia.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
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