We are the sum total of the choices we make. What we do defines us. It is how we are remembered.
Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo could have remained attorneys all their lives, living relatively comfortably without the stresses of prison or exile. Beyers Naudé and Bram Fischer could have conformed to the then demands of their community and advanced to the highest positions in the land. But, out of principle, all four chose resistance and have become icons of our new democracy.
Sadly since 1994 it sometimes looks as if a different vision is emerging. Instead of standing under the banner of the common good, many have gone over to the standard of self-enrichment. Using rationalisations (patriotic capitalism, with the claim that this will trickle down to the poor) and self-justifications (“I never fought the Struggle to be poor”), former revolutionaries use their political connections to get rich.
The issue is not primarily that they have become rich or successful. It is rather that in many cases this success is achieved at the cost of others, the poor for whom democracy was so hard fought. When political connections are marketable, when political parties are means to personal enrichment, when public policy is made that benefits a few at the cost of many – the idea of democracy is tainted.
Where do we stand? Do we stand with Christ? Do we stand with the values of Christianity and other great faiths that all call for compassion and sacrifice, for the common good? Or do we stand, let me put it subtly, ‘somewhere else’?
Let us not forget: We are the sum total of the choices we make. What we do defines us. It is how we are remembered.