4 April, 2019

Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, and how you swore to them by your own self, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’

~ Exodus 32:13 ~

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!


You, Lord, are always in the ‘now’. You are always waiting to draw us more deeply into the mystery of life, which we can only do if we grapple with the realities of today, rather than nostalgically living for some imagined past. Grant us the grace to live with integrity in the present, so that it may become a past for which future generations are grateful. Amen.


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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