By Cardinal Wilfrid Napier — Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and Archbishop of Durban
Originally published in the Sunday Independent
If I were a true Christian my answer to the question: What is wrong with South Africa, would be: I am. Yes, I am what is wrong with South Africa because I have not always thought, said or done what was needed, when it was needed, and the way it was needed.
Second, I am what is wrong because I have not come out in support of the one or two, or dozens of South Africans who have spoken out or taken action when the occasion demanded.
Third, I am what is wrong because I have not challenged those in leadership when they’ve behaved like rulers who decide for the people what is good for them, rather than like governors who do all they can to implement what the people say they need to live a decent human life.
Fourth, I am what is wrong because I have not taken the opportunities offered to stand up for the truth, when it was being abused and violated by those who will use any means to make themselves look good, or justify the moral short cuts they are taking.
Now, let’s look at some of the wrongs that have plagued us during the past year, and the one before, which I have not acted to put right:
We have a leader who speaks and behaves as if he no longer sees himself as president of all in the country. More often than not we are uncertain if being president of his party, of his tribal group, of his family, comes before being president of all South Africans regardless of race, colour, creed or social class, including the poor.
Unpresidential behaviour and speeches leave many disappointed, disillusioned and downright ashamed of having trusted him or even given him the benefit of the doubt with regard to his moral lapses, financial mismanagement of his own family and personal affairs, let alone the Nkandla debacle.
Most of all I am disappointed that I have not spoken out after voicing my doubts about his suitability to represent the country from a moral and ethical point of view right at the beginning. Now that he’s been elected leader of the ANC, is the country to suffer another whole decade of mediocrity, dishonesty, pretence, even to the point of reverse apartheid?
Today many, including myself, are upset about being victims of a new race classification which is passed off and applied as “justifiable discrimination” because it is meant to benefit the “previously disadvantaged”. It is a moot question whether discrimination can ever be justified.
Whether it is white discrimination or black discrimination, it remains discrimination. And our constitution says there should be no discrimination. And Nelson Mandela said he would stand up against any type of discrimination.
Race discrimination re-introduced by sleight of hand. Who are the “previously disadvantaged”? Are they all people who are black, all coloured, all Indian? What?
Since the Race Classification Act was one of the first to be removed from the Statute Books post apratheid, what criteria are used to classify citizens today? Do the “previously disadvantaged” automatically include the descendents of the Matanzimas, Selebes, Mangopes and Mphephus?
God save us from a similar fate under our governing party.
The crime against humanity in South Africa is the total and utter disregard and disrespect for the life and limb of the human. Nothing has brought this to the fore more graphically than the stark contrast between South Africa’s muted reaction to crime and violence, and the furore in India over the assault, rape and murder of a student. There ordinary people spontaneously, but vigorously and unequivocally, rose in protest, saying with one voice: Enough is Enough.
Oh, if only we would imitate the Indians.
At present, we cannot, but at least let us begin by sitting down to do serious introspection into the root causes of our shameful contempt for human life. Then perhaps meaningful actions may follow.
Are we capable of changing? I believe we are, but only if we do two things.
First, we must give God back His proper place in public life as acknowledged in our constitution. There we ask Him to bless us and our country.
As any believer, of whatever faith, will readily affirm, you cannot ask for and expect to receive God’s blessing unless you are willing and committed to submit to His will; in particular as it is expressed in His Commandments.
The second thing we need to do, is to take his Commandments seriously to heart especially the fifth: “Thou shall not kill”.
Then there is the “undemocratic” manner of electing the State President.
After two decades of experience, we clearly need a more democratic way of electing the leader who is to preside over us as a nation.
It is neither just nor fair to have an “elite” group of a couple of hundred members of Parliament elect one who ought to represent the whole population of 50 million.
A second question regarding democratic representation concerns the “party list system”.
The principal problem with the list system is that candidates chosen to represent the electorate are failing in their task because they are beholden to the party which can promote or demote them at will and without reference to their performance in the eyes of those they are supposed to serve.
It is high time the findings of the Slabbert Commission were dusted off, studied, debated and put into practice.
These are just some of the reasons why I am what is wrong with South Africa and why I am responsible.
My dream and prayer is that during this year God will bless each and every South African with the wisdom, compassion, justice and love that will enable us to come together again to consider the changes needed to give our country the best chance of being the winning nation in Africa, and indeed in the world.