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19 December 2012

A nation divided cannot stand

A nation divided cannot stand

Ask anyone about South Africa and their first association is likely to be Nelson Mandela. Reconciliation. A miracle nation.

Yet right now, even as South Africans honour Mandela with the new bank notes bearing his image, parts of the nation are worried about tarnishing his legacy while others claim that he was not a reconciler, but a sell-out. 

A nation divided cannot stand – yet is it possible for South Africa to be a miracle nation for a second time in a generation? 

Present day South Africa is very different from the country of my youth – then we were educated in racially-segregated schools and could be arrested for interracial marriages. Yet after Mandela was released in 1990, and apartheid was repealed in 1991, the country started to change rapidly day-by-day. Those were scary and exhilarating times. One day we thought we were all going to die and the next we thought we were the greatest nation on earth.

In all the chaos, the Church played a significant role. At the heart of the struggle was a group of clerics and committed Christians who lived the Christian values of peace, justice and reconciliation. My own organisation African Enterprise, led by Michael Cassidy, played a key role behind the scenes reconciling political enemies so that negotiations could proceed, while at the same time mobilising prayer to save the nation. 

In the end a negotiated settlement was won and the new nation was born from the reconciliation lived and preached by President Mandela, the people’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many other unsung Christian heroes. The economy was growing and buoyed by Mandela Magic we thought that we were unstoppable. And for a time we were. 

The reality was; the reconciliation we had experienced was a happy, huggy reconciliation. We had moved from a state of war to tolerance – an amazing victory - but we soon realised that wasn’t enough. Desmond Tutu called us the Rainbow Nation, he also presided over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which for the first time forced all South Africans, especially whites, to confront the real brutalities of our history. Black South Africans extended grace to white South Africans, but white South Africans largely accepted this forgiveness without a major change in their behaviour. For many it was a slap in the face. Reparations and restitution recommended by the TRC and various councils of the Church never extended beyond the occasional rare example.  

Almost 20 years later, white people still control the majority of the wealth and hold the best positions in business and industry (despite Black Economic Empowerment). Economic inequality increases and a new generation of born-free young people are agitating for a second revolution – a revolution for economic freedom. Government is struggling with corruption and poor service delivery; and vision for the future has taken second place to internal party politics and self-enrichment. 

In this context South Africa faces a significant crisis. Society is starting to wake up. Shocked by an apartheid-era-style police shooting of 34 striking miners in Marikana in August, voices previously silent are starting to speak. Church leaders who had long retreated after the struggle was won, are coming together to look for a vision for the nation greater than just self-enrichment. 

The future 

I believe that reconciliation will again play a role in securing our future. While we tolerate one another, lessons from Zimbabwe, London and the Middle East show just how fast rising feelings of disempowerment can spill over into violence. 

The nation is in a Kairos moment. There is a changing of generation, and a leadership gap must be filled with the right leaders to move us forward. It is only the Church that has the ability to lead in this area – only Christians are mad enough to make the necessary sacrifices for reconciliation. Only Christ has modelled the counter-cultural servant leadership so lacking in South Africa. 

So where can we start? 

A major component of the reconciliation process needs to be healing from the effects and memories of apartheid. All South Africans have been traumatised in varying degrees and this makes us one of the most violent societies on earth. The Church, with the Holy Spirit, is the only institution with the capacity to bring healing on a large scale to the nation and there are many groups working towards developing models that can effectively start all South Africans on a healing journey. It’s especially important that the Church starts by allowing Christ to heal us first so that we can lead the nation in God’s direction and not ours. 

It is essential for a new generation of godly leaders to be connected to one another across the racial divide to ensure that the Church is able to discern a long-term united godly vision for the nation. The Church is almost as divided as the nation. Without deep reconciliation, any vision for the nation will remain a racial or cultural vision. When our leaders are listening to God and listening to one another they will together be able to hold a truly united godly vision. 

I am part of such a process in the city of Pietermaritzburg. Senior white and black pastors don’t know one another and therefore cannot work together on a combined mission to the city. It’s been a hard road yet the bond of Christ between these leaders has ensured that they have walked a six-month journey to the place where they may be ready to start building real working relationships. The hope is that shared vision for the city will start to emerge as they delve deeper into their reconciliation. 

It is essential that the vision, which emerges from the reconciliation processes between leaders and sectors, is captured to create a covenant for the nation. The covenant will be successful over and above a mere contract precisely because of the depth of relationship entered into in developing ideas, which should then also ensure a long-term commitment from all parties. 

During the apartheid days God raised up a number of prophetic voices to bring His truth to the government through the media and direct action. I believe that God will raise up a million prophets in this generation - each one of them reconciled deeply to leaders across society, earning them the right to speak the word of the Lord into the ear of leaders at every level in every sector of society.

Miles GiljamReconciliation in South Africa may be the hardest thing to get right. But if as a nation we can become truly reconciled, then perhaps the second South African miracle will become a reality. 

Miles Giljam is team leader of African Enterprise South Africa and former head of communications at the Evangelical Alliance.

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