The Book of Revelation is truly remarkable. Amidst a great persecution, its author – assumed to be the disciple John – sets out a glorious vision for the faithful: the promise that the apparent imminent destruction of the Christian community will pass because God is ultimately in control.
It seems appropriate to reflect on this in the aftermath of our General Election.
The genius of John’s vision lies in the fact that he is both utterly realistic about the present times (which are pretty ghastly) and yet filled with a vision of faith and hope in God’s victory. He does not resort to telling people that their suffering is an illusion – that would be false hope and highly irresponsible. Rather he acknowledges that their struggle is real. But he reminds them that God is with them and that in the end the power of God will prevail.
If we think of our present situation – a country struggling with inequality, corruption, economic woes and the ever-present issue of racism and prejudice – we may be tempted to ask: what was the point of the Election? A shift in power has occurred in national and provincial assemblies – but can it make a difference? Will anything change? There is a temptation to despair.
In the light of John’s vision, let me suggest a few things.
We live in the tension between the vision of what we want to become – a more equal, non-racist, non-sexist democracy where all are protected by rights and share freely in the duties of citizenship – and what we are now. In short, we live in the in-between times.
Our task is to do what we can realistically to improve the situation while holding to the vision of a more perfect society we aspire to, that vision enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. In the words of the African American civil rights movement’s song, we must keep our “eyes on the prize” as we work to improve South Africa.
A new Election has produced a new government. In the midst of conflict and strife it must work together to renew the country. With the shifts in parliamentary demographics we must rethink our assumptions about government. We can no longer imagine that government rests simply with the ruling party: all parties and persons elected last week must share in the process of governing South Africa.
Faced with the prospect of disaster, we need to remember that cynical but true old adage: “We must all hang together – or be hanged separately”. There is a cost to this: we cannot afford political grandstanding and ideological point-scoring.
In the absence of the eschaton we must be realistic in discerning what is good for the country. We must clean away the dross of the past and work together to improve South Africa.