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Apartheid: a History

21 September 2018

Apartheid: A HistoryApartheid: A History by Brian Lapping
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Why should I read a book by a foreign journalist on the history of apartheid?

I lived through apartheid, from beginning to end. I have an honours degree in history. So why read a popular, non-scholarly book about it?

The main reason was that I wanted to refresh my memory on the topic, because of two old lies that have resurfaced and seem to be increasingly circulated on social media nowadays. These two lies were:

  1. That it was “the British”, and not Dr Malan’s National; Party, that had introduced apartheid.
  2. That the Dutch landed at the Cape in 1652 before there were any black people living in what later became South Africa.

These canards have been repeated so often that they seem to be gaining the status of factoids — things that resemble facts, but are not.

The book not a scholarly work. It has no footnotes or citations. It’s short, and tells the bare bones of the story. There is a lot more that could be said, but as a layman’s introduction it really is pretty good.

What were the aims of the apartheid policy and the apartheid laws?

They were basically three:

  1. To ensure white supremacy (baaskap) over nonwhites (blacks, coloureds, Asians)
  2. To ensure white Afrikaner supremacy over other whites
  3. To ensure National Party supremacy over the white Afrikaners.

Those three aims of the National Party remained constant from 1948 to 1990, when they gave up. In that period they sometimes tinkered with the means, but never altered the final goal until in 1990 most of the NP leaders realised that the game was up.

To suggest that “the British” introduced this is absurd, and Brian Lapping pretty clearly explains why.

I found only one significant anachronism in the book. Lapping described one of the effects of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 as a drop in the value of the South African currency, the Rand. But the Rand was only introduced in February 1961, and until 1966 its value was fixed at R2.00 to the British pound. And in 1967 it was the pound, not the Rand, that dropped in value.

Otherwise, the book seemed pretty accurate and informative to me. And it nails both the lies in current circulation.

How did apartheid differ from what had gone before?

Certainly there had been racial discrimination and segregation in South Africa before 1948. Certainly there was racialism, though most whites would think of it mainly in terms of the relations between English- and Afrikaans-speaking whites; they thought of the relations between black and white not in terms of “racialism” but in terms of “the Native Question”.  Racial segregation was mostly a matter of unwritten custom, rather than, as it was after 1948, a matter of law,.

During the 1930s and 1940s the racist and segregationist status quo, which was found not only in South Africa, but in many British colonies and dominions elsewhere in Africa and elsewhere in the world, began to be questioned more and more. The Second World War, in which Nazi Germany’s racist policies came to the fore, led many people throughout the world to become aware of racism, and to question it. Among those who questioned it were many South African soldiers who had fought in the war. But the National Party had opposed South African involvement in the war,  and soldiers who supported them did not fight in the war, but rather sympathised with the Nazis.

National Party Leaders: Hertzog, Malan, Strijdom, Verwoerd

So in the 1940s there was a worldwide reaction against racism, and many saw the need to move away from it. The ruling United Party had appointed the Fagan Commission, which recommended that the presence of black workers in “white” towns needed to be recognised as an irreversible trend, and that provision needed to be made for them to live there with their families. The National Party was determined to resist this trend, and do their best to reverse it, and the word they gave to their resistance was the slogan Apartheid. The trend, however slight, for black and white to come together, must be resisted and reversed.

Apartheid was initially little more than an election slogan, but within a few years it had become a fully-fledged ideology. Just as Ayn Rand gave an ideology to capitalism, so the National Party gave an ideology to racial segregation. Social mixing of black and white, though it may have been rare before, had not generally been illegal. The National Party moved to make it illegal, and passed the Group Areas Act. And to know which people were entitled to live in which area, they passed the Population Registration Act, so that there could be no doubt about which group a person belonged to.

This was not merely quantitatively different from what had gone before, it was qualitatively different. As an ideology, Apartheid became totalitarian. It was not merely one political policy among others, whose merits one could debate. It became a rigid ideological framework within which all political debate must take place. Any thinking outside that box would mean that one would “come under the attention” of Mr Vorster’s Security Police. Between 1961, when he became Minister of Justice, and 1968, he had turned South Africa into a police state.

One form that the lie takes on social media is that “the British” introduced apartheid, and that in 1948 the National Party abolished it, and substituted  the much more humane policy of “Separate Development”. In fact, Apartheid was Malan’s slogan. His successor, J.G. Strijdom, preferred to speak of Baasskap (bossship, ie white supremacy), and H.F. Verwoerd, who succeeded Strijdom in 1958, preferred to speak of Separate Development.

As the world became aware that these different names referred to the same policy, the National Party tried to come up with more euphemisms, and each new instance of political correctness brought forth a new crop of jokes. So the Department of Native Affairs became the Department of Bantu Administration and Development, and eventually the Department of Plural Relations and Development, which led to jokes about black people being “plurals” and white people being “singulars”.

As for the second lie, that when the Dutch settled on the shores of Table Bay in 1652 there were no black people living in South Africa, records show that a century earlier the Portuguese were trading with black people along the coast of what are now the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, mainly buying ivory, There are also accounts of survivors of shipwrecks along the coast, and further inland archaeological records show that people living there before the 15th century had substantially the same material culture as those who were living in those areas when the Dutch encountered their descendants there in the 18th and 19th centuries.



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A busy weekend

16 September 2018

We’ve had a busy few days.

First we went to the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross at St Nicholas Church in Brixton, Johannesburg. That was at 5:50 am on Friday 14th September. We normally leave home at about 6:00 am to go to TGIF, but getting to Johannesburg means leaving home before 4:30 am. And already the traffic buildup has started.

If you want to know what it sounds like, see here.

Celebrating the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross at St Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Church, Brixton, Johannesburg, 14 September 2018

Such things probably would not seem “busy” to our younger friends, but since we are both retired, going to two events in a day seems really busy.

After the service in Brixton, which ended about 7:30 (in time, it was hoped, for people to get to work) we headed off to my old school, St Stithians College, where Mike Nayler and I had been trying for about a year to organise a class reunion of my matric class, the class of 1958. As far as I am aware, that class has never managed to organise a single reunion in the 60 years since we left school. Other classes seemed to masnage it, but ours didn’t. As it was, there was a fairly large contingent from the Class of ’68, but only two of us from the Class of ’58.

St Stithians Alumni reunion, 14 September 2018. On the left, Steve Hayes and Mike Naylor, the only two from the Class of ’58. The rest are from the Class of 68.

I met Mike Nayler’s grandson, who asked about traditions of the school, and I recalled that on this day 60 years previously we had hauled David de Marrilac out of bed, and dumped him in a cold bath. It was his birthday, and that was our traditional way of celebrating someone’s birthday. So, a happy 70-somethingth birthday to David de Marrilac, wherever he may be.

St Stithians College, class reunions of the Classes of 1958 and 1968.

There was a service in the Boys’ College Chapel — when we watched it being built in 1953 it looked quite big, but now it barely contains the senior boys of the school — presumably the junior boys and girls have their own chapels or use it at different times. I compared it with the “assembly” we had in my time at the school, where we would sing a hymn, someone read a passage from the Bible, chosen by the headmaster Wally Mears, and given to the reader for the week beforehand. There would be a prayer, announcements and we would all go off to class. At this time there was no Bible reading, but there was a violin piece played by one of the boys.

Chapel service at St Stithians College during our class reunion visit.

Then we went to have a look at Mountstephens House, which I had not been in, so |I wasn’t interested in going upstairs and inspecting the dormitories, and we sat in the common room, which, unlike the common rooms of our time, had furniture and nothing more. Presumably the current generation has no need of the books and magazines that filled the common rooms in our day, because they have everything they need or want on their cell phones. We chatted a bit to David Evans — he was one of the 1968 cohort at the school, so I hadn’t known him at school, but we had met when we were both working in the Anglican Diocese of Pretoria in 1984, and he had joined the Roman Catholic Church and is now priest in charge of Benoni, and the only married priest in his diocese.

We adjourned to the Higher Ground, the alumni club at the northwest corner of the school grounds, for a beer, which the chairman of the Alumni Association very kindly offered to pay for.

A keg of rather expensive Belgian beer that David Evans (left) sampled. On the right is Mike Nayler, the only other locatable member of the Class of 58.

We left and returned home.

Next morning (Saturday 15th) we went to the English Divine Liturgy at St Sergius Church in Midrand, which didn’t start quite as early at the one at St Nicholas, and then went on to the housewarming party of Ant and Nomtha Gray. We had been to one previously, but that was only a rented house, and this one was the real thing. Nomtha is the daughter of an old friend from student days, Stephen Gawe, who died recently and was given a state funeral.

Among the guests were Tim and Ilse Wilson, whose names sounded familiar, and we seemed to have a lot of friends and acquaintances in common, but we could not recall having met. When I got home I checked and found that I had been present at their farewell party at the Charles Johnson Memorial Hospital in Nqutu, Zululand, in 1972. We talked on the past, and the need to record stories of the past. And then two other guests arrived, whom we had met at Stephen Gawe’s 80th birthday party, back in December, Pinkie Nxumalo and her daughter Sibongile. And on that occasion Pinkie Nxumalo too had been talking of the need to record people’s stories.

Sibongile and Pinkie Nxumalo

So we had quite a busy weekend of meeting old friends, and friends of friends, and family of friends.

And then on Sunday we went to Atteridgeville for the Hours and Readers Service. It was the Afterfeast of Holy Cross Day, which we had celebrated on Friday, so we commemorated it again in the African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville.

The African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville, Tshwane, where we celebrated the AfterFeast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross.

Theocracy, anyone?

29 August 2018

Someone pointed me to an interesting article on theocracy recently Of Course Christians Are Theocrats | Peter J. Leithart | First Things:

In the final analysis, “human affairs” and “things divine” won’t stay put in their neutral corners. This is why I prefer Stanley Hauerwas’s straightforward confession: “I often enjoy making liberal friends, particularly American liberal friends, nervous by acknowledging that I am of course a theocrat.”

That “of course” is the kicker. For Hauerwas, it’s obvious that a Christian must be a theocrat. He’s right. “Theocracy” means “rule of God,” and the Christian gospel is, in a literal sense, a theocratic message: Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God. Against the Roman conviction that “Caesar is lord,” Christians proclaim that “Jesus is Lord.”

I thought it was worth reading, and on the whole I agreed with the sentiments expressed.

I recalled the ending of the account of the Martyrdom of Polycarp;, which I have often quoted, where after listing all the secular rulers and authorities at the time, the author goes on to say “but the reigning monarch was Jesus Christ, who rules for ever and ever.”

That “but” is important.

Yes, it is theocracy in the sense in which Stanley Hauerwas and Peter J. Leithart speak of it, but it is not what most people mean by “theocracy” when they use the word today. The “but” makes a clear distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men, in a way that “theocracy”, in its current English usage, does not.

Now the blessed Polycarp was martyred on the second day of the first part of the month Xanthicus, on the seventh before the calends of March, on a great Sabbath, at the eighth hour. He was apprehended by Herodes, when Philip of Tralles was high priest, in the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus, but in the reign of the Eternal King Jesus Christ. To whom be the glory, honor, greatness, and eternal throne, from generation to generation. Amen.

One cannot determine the meaning of words in current usage solely by etymology, which the First Things article does, So my response to it is both Yes and No, and the No comes from C.S. Lewis, with whom I also agree:

I am a democrat… I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt.[1]

And it is also worth bearing in mind the Grand Inquisitor, from Dostoevsky.

Christ with Emperor Constantine and Empress Zoe

In the days when Roman Emperors were pagan, there was less of a problem. There could be a clear distinction of church and state, between eternity and time. It was easy to be theocrats in the Hauerwas sense. But when Christian kings and emperors came along, a notion of Christian kingship.developed, which has never really worked out in practice.

We pray:

  • hallowed be thy name…  on earth as it is in heaven
  • thy kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven
  • thy will be done… on earth as it is in heaven

So Christian rulers have a responsibility to God and not for him. They are to make their rule an icon, an image, of the kingdom of God and God’s justice. It is when Christian rulers think that they have a responsibility for God, and not to him, that things go horribly wrong. All too often they fail. And it is the failure to recognise the failure that, as C.S. Lewis points out, is the greatest failure of all.

The Bolsheviks thought they recognised the failure, but were trapped by precisely the same thing. They thought they could build the kingdom of heaven on earth,  without God (ie astheistically), Call it, if you will, as Philip Pullman did, the Republic of Heaven. But they too failed to recognise their failure, and thought that anyone who pointed out the failure and failed to recognise the Bolshevik earthly paradise must be mad, so they locked dissidents away in lunatic asylums. Even an atheist theocracy remains a theocracy, subject to all the weaknesses C.S. Lewis points out.

Beware the politician who thinks he knows the will of God, or, in the absence of God, substitutes his own will.

On balance I think I agree with C.S. Lewis: theocracy is the worst form of government.

Notes & References

[1] Lewis, C.S. 1966. Of other worlds: essays and stories. London: Geoffrey Bles; p 81.

For more on this and related topics see also:


Theophania and the church in her house

26 August 2018

Today we went, as we do on alternate Sundays, to Mamelodi East where we join Theophania and the church in her house for the Hours and Readers Service. We used to meet in a school classroom, until they put the rent up, and then we began meeting in the houses of members, usually the oldest and most infirm. Theophania Malahlela has difficulty in walking, so we meet in her house.

Today is the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, and the Epistle reading seemed especially appropriate for a house church — the closing slautation of St Paul’s first letter to the Corintians (I Cor 16:13-24).:

I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men. The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

Shabi and Kamo Malahlela with their new books. Behind them is their great grandmother Theophania.

And so as the church that used to meet in the house of Aquila and Priscilla greeted the church in Corinth, so the church that meets in the house of Theophania greets Holy Transfiguration Church in Georgia, USA.
About a month ago we had a visitor from that churcfh, Carlie Frederick, who came with us to Divine Liturgy at St Sergius of Radonezh in Midrand, and bought us a gift of some books written by their deacon, Fr Deacon Stephen Muse.

This morning we gave the books to the youngest members of the church that meets in Theo9phania’s house, her great grandchildre4n, Shabi and Kamo Malahlela. We hope they enjoy reading them.

So thanks to Deacon Stephen Muse for sending the books, and Theophania and the Church that meets in her house send greetings.

More on the Mamelodi Church here

Islands, missiology and literature

23 August 2018

Old saints on millstones float with cats
To islands out at sea
Whereon no female pelvis can
threaten their agape.

So wrote W.H. Auden in a poem called to mind by re-reading

The Coral IslandThe Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think I read this some time in my childhood, but had lost my copy long ago, and when I saw a copy on the toss-out counter of a church bookshop I picked it up and re-read it, mainly in order to compare it with Lord of the Flies, whose plot I do remember, though I first read it a long time ago too.

I had often heard it said that Lord of the Flies was a kind of realistic retelling of the story of The Coral Island, but it was only on re-reading the latter that I realised that the two main characters had the same names. And I also realised how much I had forgotten of the story. Virtually the only thing I recalled was my mental picture of the island on which they landed, and I had a vague recollection that the boys in The Coral Island were a bit older.

What I had completely forgotten was the extent to which The Coral Island deals with Christian mission and missionaries, especially in the second part, and that links with a current project of mine, on missiology in fiction, which was sparked off by reading Things fall apart | Notes from underground about a month ago.

The main difference between the two island books, it seems to me, is the age of the characters — teenagers in The Coral Island, doing resourceful teenage things that could have come out of Scouting for Boys, if the latter had been published by then. Lord of the Flies has pre-teen children, less resourceful, more easily distracted. And where The Coral Island has savages becoming civilised, thanks to the influence of missionaries, Lord of the Flies has the civilised becoming savages, in the absence of such influences.

The comparison is quite interesting, but I said no more in my review on GoodReads, lest I introduce spoilers, so if you haven’t read any of the books mentioned here, and intend to, stop reading now.

It would be interesting to read those two one after the other, and to follow both up with A High Wind in Jamaica, which starts on an island, but ends on the mainland, at least if you can call the island of Great Britain a mainland.

I also recently acquired a secondhand copy of Pears Cyclopaedia, 1968 edition. That makes it about my vintage, 1968 was my last year as a full-time student. In the Literary Companion section it described Lord of the Flies as an allegory of the fall. I felt rather vindicated by that, as I had said as much in an English I essay, on whether Lord of the Flies was an optimistic or a pessimistic book. The lecturer wrote some sarky comments about approaching books with preconceived notions, which struck me as a bit silly and unfair. If you approach books as a tabula rasa, with no ideas and no experience, what on earth can they say to you?

And both Lord of the Rings and The Coral Island deal with the Fall of Man, though in very different ways. In The Coral Island the island where the boys are marooned is an idyllic paradise, and evil comes to it from the outside, in the form of savages and pirates. The island, protected by its coral reef, is paradise, and evil comes from out there. And the contrast is drawn sharply. The pirates and savages are almost pure evil, with no redeeming features, until the missionaries get hold of the savages. Then the transformation is as instantaneous as it is miraculous. Within two days of the missionary’s preaching, people who were deceitful, treacherous and violent become honest, gentle and peaceful, without exception. I believe R.M. Ballantyne was a Presbyterian, and the total depravity shines through.

In Lord of the Flies the ones who are marooned are schoolboys from a choir school. They to find themselves in a kind of paradise, but in this case the evil does not intrude from outside, but, as in the biblical paradise, it arises unaccountably from within. And it is salvation, not evil, that comes from outside in the end.

In A high wind in Jamaica there are pre-teen children who are captured by pirates, but the pirates are not the pure evil villains of The Coral Island. Instead they are rather shocked by the callousness and sometimes unconsciously evil behaviour of the children. It shows good and evil mingled in all the characters, and often misinterpreted because of cultural differences. Children and adults live in different cultural worlds, as do pirates and respectable citizens of London, and the media.

So there’s another aspect of missiology where I found A High wind in Jamaica very useful: different cultures and different cultural perceptions, but that’s a bit different from the fall. I’ve written about that in Notions of a white or black culture in SA are pure bollocks | Notes from underground.

Does Satanism pre-date Christianity?

12 August 2018

Someone asked this on Quora — Does Satanism predate Christianity?

And my reply on Quora:

Probably not.

According to the Christian mythos, Satan is the villain of the piece (the “piece” being life, the universe and everything). It was only after Satan had been established as the villain that some people decided they wanted to follow him.

And as far as I am aware Satanism only appeared as a phenomenon at the time of the Renaissance, about 1500 years after Christianity started, and that was because of certain changes in Christian theology in Western Europe in the preceding centuries.

These changes had to do with the notion of witchcraft.

When Christianity began, people in the surrounding pagan world feared witchcraft (as do many people in Africa today). Christians thought it was wrong to fear witchcraft (maleficium), because they thought Christ had more power than human malice. Therefore for Christians to believe that witches had any real power to harm was superstition. Christians often put an end to the pagan practice of burning suspected witches, and discouraged accusations of witchcraft.

But around the 11th or 12th centuries this began to change. Witchcraft accusations began to appear in Western Europe, and eventually were encouraged instead of being punished as in earlier centuries. An elaborate conspiracy theory grew up, to the effect that witches had made a pact with the devil and were out to destroy the Christian faith, and the Great European Witch Hunt got under way. People often speak of witch hunts as “medieval” but they weren’t, they were Early Modern and were a product of modernity. Witch hunts are increasing in frequency in Africa as Africa modernises.

The notion that witches had made a pact with the devil was a new one in Christianity, and a false one — most of the suspected “witches” had done no such thing. But the thought that one could make a pact with the devil was what gave rise to Satanism, which was sometimes linked to other Renaissance phenomena like ritual magic and alchemy, though not identical with them.

For more, see here

More comments
I thought this was an interesting question and worth discussing, and hoped to share it with the Missiology group on Facebook, but Facebook blocked it, perhaps because it didn’t have a picture of cats in it, so I’ll add the obligatory cat picture here in the hope that Facebook might let it be shared..

This picture has nothing to do with the notion that witches had black cats. It’s here because having a picture of a cat might make is shareable on Facebook. When I tried to post a link to this stuff without a cat picture, Facebook censored it.

I think the question whether Satanism predated Christianity might be linked to another peculiar Christian view — that good and evil are not equal and opposite forces. In the Christian view, God created the world and said that it was good. Evil came along afterwards.

In the Christian view evil has no independent existence. Evil can only exist by twisting a pre-existing good. You cannot have counterfeit money without good money. You cannot have forged cheques without a system of good cheques. Evil is always subsequent to good and is parasitic on it. So Satanism cannot precede Christianity.

The process I described — of how Christian doctrine got so twisted that whereas before accusations of witchcraft were punished as much as the act, by the 15th century in Western Europe accusations were being encouraged.

The Great Witch Hunt in Europe was essentially satanic (it is important to distinguish between what is satanic and what is satanistic). Satan means “accuser”. The satan was the prosecutor in the heavenly court, and there was rejoicing there when “the accuser of our brethren was cast down” (Rev 12:10). There is nothing more satanic than the making of accusations, and the Great European Witch Hunt encouraged and rewarded the making of accusations,

As Charles Williams describes it, the 16th-century witch trials ordered by the Malleus Maleficarum differed from earlier ones in that they did not punish false accusations. “The secular governments of centuries earlier had been wiser; they had penalized the talk as much as the act. The new effort did not do so; it encouraged the talk against the act.” And they even, in some cases, punished those who failed to accuse their neighbours. Thus the accusers were far more satanic than the accused.

I mentioned above that ritual magic was associated with Satanism at the time of the Renaissance, and even though Satanism did not predate Christianity, magic did predate Christianity. As Charles Williams says in his history of witchcraft,

Before Christendom began, magic, with its lower accompaniment of witchcraft, preoccupied the whole Roman Empire; we have forgotten the darkness out of which we came. It was as popular as it was perilous. It was certainly regarded by the authorities as a public danger, but, on the whole, action against it was taken only by private persons in lawsuits or by the government in suspicion of treason (Williams 1959:305).

So though there is no necessary link between Satanism and witchcraft, in the sense that Satanists are not necessarily witches (and vice versa), it was the peculiar inversion and twisting of Christian theology that popularised the notion that it was possible to make a pact with the devil. Many were falsely accused of doing such a thing, but Satanists were the ones who came to think that it was a good thing to do.

.In the 20th century a bloke called Anton LaVey started the “Church of Satan”, perhaps as a kind of joke, but he certainly didn’t invent Satanism. The Church of Satan is something that Satanism did predate.

I can’t COPE any more

7 August 2018

I was beginning to think that if I survived to vote in the 2019 general election, the only party that might be left that one could vote for with a good conscience was COPE, the Congress of the People Party. It seemed to be one of the very few parties that still took the Freedom Charter seriously.[1]

But then I heard this story DignitySA and COPE to bring advance directives Bill to Parliament, which inclines me to cross COPE off the list:

In a secular state, people should of course be free to exercise their religious commitments if those commitments don’t violate the law.

But citizens should also not be forced to adhere to laws that are motivated by non-secular considerations, such as the idea that life is granted and taken away by a metaphysical being, and where humans (who possess the property of existing!) having no say in when and how they die.

The good news is that we are about to inch a little closer to securing personal agency in end-of-life decisions, thanks to Deirdre Carter (of COPE) having lodged a notice of intent to introduce a Private Member’s Bill on advance directives to Parliament. This follows extensive consultation with DignitySA, who have played a key role in getting things this far.

If that is the attitude of COPE, then I couldn’t think of voting for it. For one thing, it disingenuously obscures the distinction between a secular state (one that does not adhere to a religious ideology) and a secularist state (one that adheres to an irreligious ideology). It is very disturbing that COPE should associate itself with an irreligious ideology or militant secularism.

Perhaps the only party left will be the ACDP (African Christian Democratic Party). I’ve never voted for them before for the same reason that I’m crossing COPE off my list — they have always stated that they were in favour of capital punishment.

While it is not the only criterion for deciding which party to vote for, I m reluctant to support political parties that endorse the culture of death — which includes the promotion of war, abortion, capital punishment and physician-assisted suicide. I certainly have theological reasons for objecting to such things, but there are others who object to them on purely secular grounds, contrary to the misleading statements by COPE and DignitySA. Other instances can be found here and here. .

So I have two reasons for crossing COPE off my list of possible parties to vote for.

1. Its pro-death stance

2. Its association  with militant and bigoted anti-religious statements like the one quoted above, which is reminiscent of the kind of rhetoric common in Bolshevik Russia and Enver Xhoxha’s Albania.

Actually I don’t have a big problem with what they are proposing immediately — respect for living wills, and not taking extraordinary measures to resuscitate people. That kind of behaviour is actually far more secular than religious — playing God with advanced medical technology. By all means resuscitate people if there is a good chance that they will recover, but keeping people alive indefinitely by artificial technical means is not a religious goal, at least not for Orthodox Christians, as far as I can tell.

So it’s not the immediate goal that I object to so much as the long-term one expressed in the same article, of promoting physician-assisted suicide, and the militantly anti-religious tone of the article.

Also, what is not included in the statement above, but was said by someone speaking about it on TV yesterday, was the idea that we should get rid of all religion and morality in public life. Well, that would certainly give carte blanche for bribery and corruption, which many see as a big problem in South Africa, but the militant secularists of COPE and DignitySA, in their desire to get rid of morals, apparently do not.

But even if those organisations think that it is desirable to be amoral, many South Africans, like people in other countries, do not, and would have reservations about having an amoral code of morality forced upon them by the State. See, for example, this article: Lethal Injection and Physicians: State Law vs Medical Ethics. It may be argued that there is an ethical difference, since in the case of “assisted dying” it is voluntary, while in the case of capital punishment it is involuntary, but for many medical doctors it is governed by the same ethical considerations. I wonder how many people would be happy if only the amoral were allowed to enter the medical professions, which seems to be what Cope and DignitySA are asking for?

For Orthodox Christians there is a good discussion of these issues here: Euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and the pursuit of death with dignity, It is ironic that for most English-speaking people nowadays euthanasia, which means “good death”, has become synonymous with physician-assisted suicide (PAS), yet Orthodox Christians pray for a good death at every Divine Liturgy, A Christian ending to our life: painless, blameless and peaceful; and a good defence before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask of the Lord. And the people respond: Lord have mercy.  That is true euthanasia.



[1] The Freedom Charter is still on the ANC’s web site, but I’m not sure that the ANC takes it seriously any more.