In today’s readings (Jeremiah 7:23-28 and Luke 11:14-23), and echoed in this passage from the Qur’an, we see how the message of prophets gets rejected by those who refuse to listen. Jesus’ warning of a kingdom divided against itself is a particularly strong call to us in South Africa to consider our ‘state of the nation’, and the degree to which these divisions can be overcome.
When Nelson Mandela became president in 1994, the emphasis was on reconciliation. His presidency was marked by an attempt to construct a new South African identity. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was one tool to achieve this. In their own way, Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment programmes were also an attempt to achieve economic reconciliation, to narrow the gap between the rich (who were overwhelmingly white in 1994) and the poor (overwhelmingly black).
A new black middle class has grown dramatically – from 341 000 in 1993 to over 3 million in 2012 and to nearly 6 million in 2017. If we consider this number in terms of the black population of South Africa as a whole, we see a rise from 1% (1993) to 7% (2012) and 14% (2017). This is a considerable jump – but nowhere near what we need if we are to move into a more equal society.
Consider the unemployment statistics for the fourth quarter of 2018: 27.1% (the official statistic) to 37% (adjusted to include those who have given up trying to find a job). Add to this the fact that South African literacy and numeracy is extremely poor (and grade inflation does not help this), and we can see that many of the unemployed are probably unemployable. We have among us another lost generation who will eke out an existence on welfare and maintain the growing gap between richest and poorest in South Africa.
Furthermore, political actions focusing on equalization through more taxes or simplistic redistribution of wealth, including land, is plainly economically unrealistic and counterproductive. It may appeal to the anger of the socially disenfranchised, may even be a vote-grabber, but its implementation would set the country on a downward spiral to a failed state. No one in their right minds will keep their assets in South Africa; nor will anyone invest.
Of course if you say this out loud, you are unpatriotic, and undermining national reconciliation. Shame on you! (Did someone just mention a prophet’s reward?) But sometimes we have to be harsh out of love, so that we do not create a false reconciliation, a short term ‘feel good’ response or immediate gratification at the cost of greater long term harm.