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Beyond the rubbish

2 September 2017

Yesterday morning at TGIF we had a strange discussion on the future South Africa we would like to see.

Most of those present were white Christians. I don’t know how representative the group was of white Christians in South Africa as a whole but the response of this group was rather discouraging.

The mandate for the group discussion was:

At last week’s TGIF, Mahlatse Mashua used the thought-provoking metaphor of a smelly overflowing dustbin in his analogy of the South African household. Often our conversation is stuck in arguing with each other about who was responsible for putting what rubbish into the bin or who should be carrying it out. This Friday, we’ll invest some time imagining what a South Africa without the overflowing bin could look like.

Usually, we are good at identifying what it is that we do not want, what is evil, what needs to be removed. The challenge is to see beyond the absence of the negative and to envisage the presence of the positive. What would a just, moral and restituted South Africa look like in practical ways? How would everyday life experiences change? Are we able to dream a little about “overcoming evil with good”? Join facilitator-coach Vera Marbach as she leads this discussion and be prepared for interaction.

We discussed this in pairs, and I tried to take the mandate seriously, to “see beyond the absence of the negative and to envisage the presence of the positive. What would a just, moral and restituted South Africa look like in practical ways?”

So, thinking of the school classrooms we worship in in Mamelodi and Soshanguve, I said I would like to see every child in South Africa have the opportunity to go to a well equipped well-maintained school with competent teachers.

I hoped that others would come up with other examples and that we could build up a picture of the kind of South Africa we would like to see.

But it seemed to me, from the things that people reported from the discussion, that nobody else even tried to take the mandate seriously. Most of the things came up with were

  1. negative — ie the absence of things we don’t like
  2. abstract — ie not “practical ways”

People spoke of things like “no guilt”, which emphasises the negative, or “a sense of accountability”, which is abstract rather than practical.

By saying that I tried to think of something practical and concrete (as we were asked to do), I’m not trying to set myself apart from the rest of the people taking part in the discussion and to say that the others didn’t get the point and I did. If you look at other posts in this blog you will find plenty of negative thinking, and complaints about things that I don’t like about the way things are and the way things were, and the overflowing rubbish bin of South African society that Mahlatse Mashua spoke about it.

And when we were asked to envisage the kind of South Africa we would like to see, without the rubbish, I found it hard to do. My first thought, on reading the mandate in the e-mail a couple of days before, was that it was too hard for me, and I would simply go along and listen to everyone else’s vision of a new and improved South Africa, and draw inspiration from that.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18), and we in South Africa seem to have lost our vision and lost our way.

When looking at present problems in the country, in which the ANC and the country as a whole seem to have been captured by the greedy and the corrupt, some like to point out that the ANC was never perfect, and that is true. No political organisation 9r party is perfect, in either its leaders, members or policies. But there were those heady days just before and after 1994 when there was vision, when anything seemed possible, when people were asked what kind of society they would like to see, and shared ideas. In those days, whatever else there was, there was vision and there was hope.

But yesterday’s TGIF seems to indicate that it is not just the ANC that has lost its vision and its way, but ordinary white Christians as well. We all, black and white, Christian and non-Christian, seem to have lost not just our vision, but even our capacity for envisaging a better future.

When there is no vision, we simply react to negative stimuli (no guilt). We want an absence of things that make us uncomfortable rather than the presence of things that contribute to “a better life for all” (as the ANC’s 1994 election slogan put it).



2 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 September 2017 3:48 pm

    I hear you. And this is so sad. I sense the hopelessness too. Maybe we dare not dream or hope anymore because our futures seem to be captured too. We’ve given up/been stripped of the ‘privilege’ of vision.


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