Diverse collective galvanises vision for South Africa

Present: Andre Naidoo, Sam Sipango, Bishop Thembekile Gqwaka, Imam Dr Rashid Omar, Nic Paton, Cecil Plaatjies, Chief Ishsaqua Sabodien, Deon Abrahams, Pastor Gerhardus de Vries Bock.

Absent – too many to be listed, we consciously included all our concerned others and communities in our conversation, especially women it must be noted. There are several organisations and online groups that form this larger Community, The Cape Flats Interfaith Declaration, Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum, SAFCEI, United Religions Initiative, and Reconciliation Day Interfaith Walk in District Six among them.

Fittingly, we met in open nature under a tree on the banks of the Liesbeek River in Observatory, Cape Town.

The meeting was convened as a response to deeply felt sentiments expressed by both Bishop Gqwaka and Imam Omar in recent events and conversations. Each person was allowed to say what their presence meant.

Bishop Gqwaka laid down the gauntlet with this online message:

I am a member of the ANC and I will never join any party in this country, but now the masses of our country need to stand up and defend what’s ours and stop thieves of stealing our resources, NEC having a meeting this weekend nothing will come out of it that will deal with lawlessness in our country, us Religious leaders needs to stand up and be counted, what brought down the National Party government down to their knees is Religious leaders the likes of Rev Dr Khoza Mgojo, Rev Dr Mvume Dandala, Rev Frank Chikane; Rev Dr Peter Storey; Bishop Desmond Tutu, Rev Bongani Finca; Rev Lulamile Ntshingwa, Rev Russels, Rev Dr Stanley Mogoba, Rev Dr Nkatazo Baartman the list is endless they formed what we used to call Mass Democratic Movement, we can still save our country as Religious Leaders and bring back our country without political parties as members of our society, we can’t standby watching our country goes to drain whilst we can salvage situation. “Cry the beloved Country” Alan Paton.

He went on to express the urgent need for accountability in South African Leadership, specifically with regards to former president Jacob Zuma. He made the point that gender based violence rose steadily from the point where Zuma had been acquitted on rape charges over a decade ago.

Dr Rashid Omar followed by saying that the time for us to look UP to government for solutions to social and moral ills was over. We should rather look DOWN to us the people, and the land, organising locally to reclaim civil society. We should support the Zondo commission.

Secondly, we should be holding the government accountable regarding covid vaccines for all, and support the likes of the Peoples Vaccination Campaign.

Thirdly, and with great prophetic insight, he urged us to awake to the strategies of Chinese Imperialism, a neo -colonial force that has manifested in Tibet, by blocking the Dalia Lama from visiting South Africa at the invitation of Bishop Desmond Tutu, and recently in vicious sanctioned campaigns against the Uighurs.

Andre Naidoo, Khoisan activist, observed that South Africa might have changed, but the “Monopoly Board” remained the same. He challenged us to question and change the structural imbalances that our privatised materialist worldview has created and start to once again imagine a new world. He spoke of the Khoekhoegowab word for Peace, #khi, being a strong focus for an invigorated peace activism against the structural violence of the colonial strategy.

Cecil Plaatjes, Andre Naidoo, Nic Paton, Chief Ishsaqua Sabodien, Pastor Bock

Pastor Gerhardus de Vries Bock passionately asked “What is the God of Surprizes up to now?”. He said that many bridges had been built, but not many crossed. He asked whether we could embody the heart of the Good Samaritan …  He saw us as a nation and planet, being still on the Jericho Road where people were wounded, confused and estranged.

Bock reminded us in Cape Town of dearly departed interfaith unionists Wilfred Alcock and Danny Swartz, who birthed the Cape Flats Interfaith Declaration in 2019, and due to their loss and covid restrictions, was in need of fresh vigor. While we had lost Wilfred and Danny, we now needed to set eyes on the “glory beyond the grave”; while we suffered loss we did not count our losses.

Chief Ishsaqua Sabodien of the Gorachouqua Khoe drew us into the wonder of a meeting of such diversity, and Deon Abrahams of the need for us to “inhale, research, and think”, echoing Pastor Bock’s ideas.

Cecil Plaatjies of the Daihatsu Nichiren Buddhist Community focussed us on the sanctity of simply meeting together, and specifically the sacred symbol of meeting around a tree. He also expressed his awareness of the threat of Chinese neo-colonialism, and undertook to partner with Nic Paton a critique of Chinese political strategies from with the Buddhist and Taoist traditions themselves.

Could this be a “kairos” moment when a new prophetic voice starts to find and assert itself in South Africa? Without any delusions of grandeur, we sincerely hope so, that out of genuine relationship and ubuntu-centered service across religious, class, racial and cultural divides, we forge a new way of belonging that moves us forward out of the mires of corruption, inertia, ignorance, and individualism.

Human Rights Day will be celebrated on Sunday 21st March 2021. Watch this space!