Speaking the truth will set our country free

By Cardinal Wilfrid Napier — Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and Archbishop of Durban
Originally published in the Sunday Independent

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier.

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.


  1. Clive van der Riet

    This needs to be repeated over and over until it becomes reality – no more discrimination of any kind against law abiding citizens. However criminals must be discriminated against and punished except if they can demonstrate, in due course, a genuine reform to civil society at which time they will also qualify to not suffer discrimination!

  2. Responding to Afrika Mhlophe’s worthy article, I affirmed that God’s national blessings are CONDITIONAL on earthly governments (to whom God delegated authority, Rom 13) ruling God’s Way: with Kindness, Justice and Righteousness in Humility: KJR in H (Jeremiah 9:23,24). Cardinal Napier models the Value of HUMILITY which pleases God, and which must characterise all who speak to and from Government. He models KINDNESS and JUSTICE in his desire for non-discrimination and an outcry against crime and violence. He models RIGHTEOUSNESS in his plea that we all submit to His Commandments. Thank you, Cardinal, for modeling aspects of the KJR in H that South Africa needs if we are to be a successful nation.

  3. I believe that with the effort of the youth these situations can be avoided.Especially issues that involve discimination,undemocratic elections and all the social problems that face South Africa.

    • lethukuthula Phungula

      I agree with the above article,this is caused by lack of leaders the only solution at this pointis is the youth.Its hard to voice the publics complaints with the same people in office.We the people of South Africa have failed to shout against crime.

  4. I agree with Cardinal Napier,each and everyone of us are responsible for the wellbeing of this cuntry.It is not fair to blame only the government for everything that goes wrong in this cuntry ,we should unite and work together at making this cuntry a better natoin for all.

  5. IT’S MY SOUTH AFRICA! What makes a country? Us or rather people made out of individuals. I agree with the above article If there are fingers to be pointed for our countries failure its ourselves because we all have the power to change our country, make it a better place for all. We all have different roles to play.

  6. I agree with the Cardinal Napier, we always expect great things to happen in our country but we never participate in anything to make it happen.Not only the members of the parliament live in this country, so that means each and every citizen is responsible for making this country a better place. We all must make a stand and take action.

  7. I totally agree with this article but whether what is said in it can be achieved I am not so sure.We as a society are either too afraid or are unwilling to do or say anything about what is going on right under our noses and sadly we more focused on ourselves and what we want. The point on giving God back his place in public life would be great but this would be difficult because not many people believe in alot especially when it comes to religon and faith. I just hope one day we can all stand together and fight for what is right.

  8. I agree with the article,as the citizen of the country we have the big impact in things that goes wrong in South Africa.There nothing wrong with our country,the problem is the people live in.If we have truth as citizens,every thing will be on the right track.It will take many years to get our country in the good condition because many people do things for their own self interest,they don’t think for social interest.We must stick in the truth and God will bless us.

  9. I agree with Cardinal in one thing yes he is what is wrong with this country because he is one of those SA citizens who are very good at complaining,holding our goverment responsible for their lives,how long is gonna take us to understand that we are responsible for our lives.all those people suffering out there its because of their or their parents choices.This government is nt helpng us at any point so go out there make your own stuff live your own life 4gt about Zuma or any leader.REMEMBER EVEN IF YOU CANT CHANGE SOUTH AFRICA U CAN CHANGE YOURSELF.

  10. A very powerful article.I agree we the ones who are wrong about South Africa.We don’t care about other people,we only care about our families.They is rape after rape which leads to a bad image to our youth.The government is trying his best and now its up to us meet him halfway.We are responsible for changing SA to a country of joy,peace,love and care.Lets forget about the past and start a new page.We can’t change this country alone,we need the mighty God to stand by our side as a nation,as human beings.This article got me thinking that IF WE CAN PROTECT OUR FAMILIES,WHY CAN’T THE ENTIRE SOCIETY DO THE SAME.Lets us fight for our dignity

  11. Boitumelo Mofokeng

    Yes a powerful article indeed.I see Cardinal Wilfrid Napier as a brave man to talk such facts either way all he mentioned is true and i also believe that is our responsibility to look after our environment and take actions for against any act above the law,i know know we cannot change the world but we can make the difference.ALL WE NEED TO DO ITS TO HOLD HANDS AND WORK IN MAKING SOUTH AFRICA A BETTER COUNTRY.

  12. Nomathamsanqa Xolile Maphumulo

    Yes i am what is wrong with South Africa today .I agree with Cardinal Wilfrid Napier. we need to work hand in hand to rightify the mistake of the past,by that i mean we should vioce out our thoughts and fight for what it is right.We live in a democratic country .Democracy what is democray?Its voicing out your opinion and having freedom of choice.People should participate and not let leaders do everything by that i mean challenging what they feel is not in the best of interest of the country.We need to work together in order to see what we visioned for South Africa.

  13. A very sencetive and powerful article,I consider Cardinal as the superhero for his brave to raise such topic.In fact country is polluted us,in nowaday,we seem to be unwillingly to take actions in wrong doings that impact negatively on our lives.We want to live above the law;insteady of try and change our lives for the better.WE ARE NOT SUPERHEROES BUT WE CAN TRY CHANGE OUR LIVES AND THOSE NEAR US.

  14. The truth is bitter but surely sets us free.So indeed speaking the truth will set our country fee.If we were true inough we wouldn’t be having the problems we have in our country.Problems of pasters who preach but not practice what they preach.Pasters who have the nerve to rape their own children and still be hidden.We wouldn’t be having problems of people who murder other people and be bailed because they value money to much that it is important even more than a persons life.There is no justice in our country and mostly there is no truth ,that is why we are not free because only truth will set us free.

  15. Mr Napier could not have said it any better. I believe we as the citizens of south africa are what is wrong with it because we make up this country and so there is no one else to blame except ourselves.We dont have the best past so why not unite and live positively to whats ahead of us.The one mistake we make is thinking that it is up to certian leaders to make this country a better place forgetting that its up to each and every one of us!

  16. Thanks to Mr Napier for the article and for those inspiring words.What ican say is that the word truth does not exist;if you can think about South Africa prior 1994 there was Apartheid and blacks;indians and colourds where abused physically and emotional;now there is freedom everyone is free but apartheid still exist im saying that because lots of the laws are now favouring blacks laws like:BEE;land redistribution and RDP.That chase away whites;lead to fraud(fronting)and leave us hating;blaming and pointing fingers at one another.South Africa is still having a long way to go interms of truth talking but awise man once said a JOURNEY OF A THUSAND MILES BEGIN WITH ONLY ONE STEP.so changing our selves and those little things we do may lead to the whole country doing better.

  17. Thanks to Mr Napier for his words with wisdom.However idont agree with him;I think the problem is that as people we dont want to stand up for ourselves and do things that will benefit us instead we wait for government to do things for us and then at the end of the day complain and point fingers at them saying they are not satisfyng us;there is no service delivery and they are misbehaving.We must remember that no one is perfect in this world we all have mistakes and we must stop complaining;during the apartheid we were complaining and now there is freedom but still we are complaining.We must bare in mind that nothing will ever be the best for everyone but it up to us;the power to make this world a better place is right in our hands.

  18. What a powerful article, if only evryone could read this article. The big problem is that people blame our government for everything that wrong going on. He his also a human being he also make wrong choice but or people sit back and agree to everything he says. If we start to care about others and help them, lots of things would change. The big problem in our country is rape and crime but this sane people would get a bail and go and do it again. This things kills our youth because they are the ones who do such things like things. Nothing will set us free only the truth guys.

  19. I agree with MR NAPIER because our leaders they dont care for the other people they care for their families when they get what they want the vote to people and ignore them.I think we must stap up together to make our country be better.

  20. I agree with this article. In my opinion, majority of the South African population has become ‘lazy’. We have given up on what we believe in and have certainly made it easier to be descriminated against. Nelson Mandela had fought for equality and freedom but this has somehow become distorted along the way. I strongly believe that it is us, the youth of South Africa who should step up and make a change for a better future.

  21. The most thing i like is that “discrimination it remains a discrimination whether its white or black”. Most of the blacks including sime of their leaders are abusing freedom and democracy. Together as citezens of south africa we can handle this by forgeting about what happened in the past (during aparitheid) and move on. we have to forget what happened yesterday and focus on what is happening today. Smuth african government must follow Mandelas procesure which was governed without aparitheid and they should stand up against any type of discrimination. We must fight against poverty, crimr, violence and drugs rather than discriminating others

  22. I agree with cardinal wilfrid hapier.But they is no one to be blamed here nether the government,because we all responsible for our country.if they was something wrong we should have came out and done something about it.we should work together in order to make our country a better place.

  23. Powerful article.As people who agree he is bringing back apartheid indirectly we are to blame for not taking a stand when we were given a chance to fight against in a small form. We should include God in decisions made by government for our people because a lot of people are God fearing and would act more responsibly out of the fear of “how will God punish them.” This will lead to us having a semi-safe nation filled with peace and love. The power of faith is stronger than anything, strong enough to change a nation.The youth could play a huge role in fighting against discrimination.

  24. I’m sure most of us who’ve read the article agree with what Cardinal Wilfred Napier points out, I acknowledge his courage for stating the things that we sometimes look at but don’t worry ourselves about. It really is the ordinary south African’s fault why the nation’s political system is being manipulated easily, people need to realise that they are the ones with power as tax payers, and stop hiding and depending on the next person to stand up for them. We should be all participating in making the nation great, not just the odd few standing out and everyone else being a number.

  25. How could one sell the poison on his or her mind to Gods people?

    We are what is wrong with our country for so many reasons,we dont stop ourselves from doing wrong things and from telling lies.
    We are all South Africans or human beings but if one is seeking for help from us we dont help even one of them help seekers because we think that we are better than them though we are not.
    If we are not what is wrong in our country we should have help those who cannot help themselves,e.g helping stop poverty so that the crime rate could decrease.

    I agree with the author of this article also with the article.

  26. Mbalenhle Mgobhozi

    I agree with this article because here in South africa we still live under certain issues including discrimination which disturb our well-beings and freedom.Nelson Mandela fought for our freedom and equality but people still don’t consider it as enough.Crime rates and poverty go up rapidly every day and our citizen don’t stand up for these isues as they are increasing ,if only we lived as one country and unite we can fight every issue in South Africa.

  27. I agree with the article above.South Africa is a democratic country but issues like discrimination still take place.We as citizens must assure that we treat each other equally.Crime rates and poverty have overcome our country.We should stand together and raise our voices in one so that we can be one nation.