In the face of adversity, poor government and social disorder, just like the Israelites, we often go searching for ‘other gods’. Like the Israelites we forget our inheritance. We may even forget God in the process, feeling perhaps that God has abandoned us. Some, including many not born at the time, may even wax nostalgically for the ‘good old days’ of Apartheid. When faced with the many difficulties in our contemporary democracy, we may forget where we came from – Egypt.
Our Egypt was a war-torn state rooted in inequality that was steadily destroying itself. The economy was collapsing slowly, partly through sanctions but also because no society can grow when it serves the economic interests of a mere 10% of its population. We did not experience much political corruption – unless, as some business leaders have remarked, one was in deep with the elite. There was crime, certainly, but no-one talked about it much. In fact, as I recall, no one talked much about anything of importance – unless of course you were a ‘politico’. And Sundays, of course, were a write off: apart from church and the corner café-bakery nothing was open. Even television was more than usually dull.
Outside of white suburbia resistance was growing everywhere. But South Africans, white South Africa in particular, were ‘protected’ from ourselves by the ever-vigilant (if for many unwelcome) ministrations of the security forces. The growing military machine occupied one country (Namibia) and attacked other neighbouring states in the name of ‘national security’. The security police used torture and murder to keep opposition down and, when they lost control of the townships, they sent in a conscript army to keep ‘order’. For most white South Africans this was the first introduction to ‘race relations’ beyond the omnipresent but invisible domestic servants. Not all the young ‘troopies’ came back alive. All came back affected by what they saw and did. By the 1980s a significant minority decided they’d had enough of being cannon fodder.
Most of the politicians kept their heads in the sand, some burrowing deeper as all evidence pointed conclusively to the political impossibility of Apartheid. Not all, thankfully. Increasingly the more ‘reasonable men’ (and they were mostly men, our politicians in those days) realised the game was up and started the process that led to 1994.
No folks, it was not better in the ‘good old days’. Moses was right, the Israelites were wrong. Thankfully Moses was able to convince God not to give up on his silly people. May we never give up on the graces of our democracy, even as we strive and struggle to make it better!