Wednesday, April 16, 2014

From Standing for the Truth to Standing Up for Good Governance

Twenty-five years ago, religious leaders gathered regularly in Cape Town for both silent protests on the steps of St George's Cathedral and public processions through the streets of the city to call for an end to apartheid and the beginning of negotiations to bring about democracy.

The protests were conducted under the banner of what the leaders called the “Standing for the Truth Campaign” and they culminated in the more widely-based Defiance Campaign of 1989, in which thousands of people defied apartheid laws in the weeks before President F W de Klerk took power.

Five months later, Nelson Mandela was released and political organisations were unbanned. Negotiations followed soon after, resulting four years later in the inauguration of President Mandela, then two years after that, the adoption of our first democratic Constitution.

Chapter Nine of that founding document of our new nation established a number of state institutions whose purpose is to “strengthen constitutional democracy in the Republic” by promoting good governance. Among them are the office of the Auditor-General, whose jobs include auditing and reporting on the finances of all national and provincial state departments and administrations, and the office of the Public Protector, who is tasked “to investigate any conduct in state affairs, or in the public administration in any sphere of government, that is alleged or suspected to be improper or to result in any impropriety or prejudice...”



Twenty years after our political liberation, it is right to celebrate the gains of democracy: the right to vote for all, our achievements in housing, in some of our infrastructural programmes and in repealing the apartheid laws that demeaned us. But the governing party's responses to recent reports of the Auditor-General and the Public Protector threaten not to strengthen but to undermine constitutional democracy and good government.

Year after year, the Auditor-General reports billions in unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful spending, yet in some government departments nothing seems to happen. And now the African National Congress and its leaders in and out of government have adopted a barely-concealed hostility to the Public Protector's report on the mis-spending of our money on Nkandla.

At the end of March, as part of the church's Lenten observances, I called upon people of faith to return to the steps of St George's Cathedral and once again to join a silent vigil there. We were joined at short notice by an encouraging number as we stood in the footsteps of our predecessors, holding flowers and posters which illustrated the theme of the vigil, “A Flower for Thuli, A Message for the President”, referring of course to the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, and her report on the upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s private country estate. The placards called on the President to respond to the Public Protector’s report, and on the public to defend our Chapter Nine institutions.

After the vigil, I voiced in the cathedral an appeal for the entire faith-based and NGO community to gather, not to defend the Public Protector as an individual but to defend the rights of the public and the integrity of her office; in short to stand up for good governance. Since then, we have been wrestling with how do to this, engaging in the deep reflection which Lent enjoins the Christians among us to engage in.

This led to the call that I and other Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders issued yesterday (Tuesday) to the public of Cape Town to join us in a Procession of Witness at 10 am on Saturday, April 19, walking from District Six to Parliament, to call our leaders to account and to appeal them to live up to the national values established by the Constitution. The call was supported by the full spectrum of the inter-faith community, from the Muslim Judicial Council and the Union of Orthodox Synagogues to the Methodist Church, the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, the Uniting Reformed Church and the Uniting Presbyterian Church.

Our intention is to evoke the spirit of the 1980s, when the faith community intervened to promote and defend democracy. Anyone who shares our objectives, including members of political parties, is free to join our procession, but no political party posters or insignia will be permitted, and it will be led by religious leaders, not by politicians. And your concerns need not be limited to the Public Protector's report – since consulting community leaders on our intentions, the crises brought about in our communities by gangsterism, drug abuse and poor education have also been raised.

In recent conversations with leaders in politics, business, education, civic life, civil society and religion, I have been exploring the issue of what national values should be guiding us by posing questions to them. At the core of these questions is, how can we challenge those in power and governance by pointing them to our national values, their institutional values and even their personal values? How can they serve with these values in mind and use them to transform all into being loving and compassionate interacting and interdependent communities sharing common interests, common goals and shared values? How can they put themselves into the shoes of those at the receiving end of their governing?

In that spirit, I want to ask of ANC leaders and the Cabinet: What do you have to do to bring our country together at this critical point in our democratic history? What do you have to do to create a renaissance in trust?

One of Madiba's greatest characteristics was his ability to revisit his positions and decisions and to change course when it seemed right to do so, not in his own personal interests but in the interests of building and holding the nation together. Our political leaders are challenged now to reset their moral compasses and to follow his example.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

This article was published as an op-ed in the Cape Argus, Cape Town on April 16, 2014

Top Interfaith Leaders Support Procession of Witness [VIDEO]

Leaders of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities have called on their followers to join the "Procession of Witness" from District Six to Parliament on Saturday.

The procession was announced formally at a news conference by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town, supported by Maulana Abdul-Khaliq Allie, secretary-general of the Muslim Judicial Council, and Christian leaders including the national moderator of the Uniting Reforming Church of Southern Africa and president of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Mary-Anne Plaatjies-van Huffel. The Union of Orthodox Synagogues also sent a message of support, as did the Western Cape moderator of the Ned Geref Kerk, Dr. Braam Hanekom.

The procession will begin at 10 am on Saturday at Keizersgracht, District Six.

The Cape Town newspaper, Die Burger, published the following video news report of the news conference today. The church leaders' comments are in English, the reporting which links them is in Afrikaans:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Religious leaders announce 'Procession of Witness' from District Six to Parliament

Leaders of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities have called on their followers to join a "Procession of Witness" from District Six to Parliament on Saturday in defence of the role of the Public Protector and to express their concern over other issues affecting Cape Town communities.

The procession was announced formally at a news conference by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town, supported by Maulana Abdul-Khaliq Allie, secretary-general of the Muslim Judicial Council, and Christian leaders including the national moderator of the Uniting Reforming Church of Southern Africa and president of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Mary-Anne Plaatjies-van Huffel.

The Union of Orthodox Synagogues also sent a message of support, as did the Western Cape moderator of the Ned Geref Kerk, Dr. Braam Hanekom.

The procession will begin at 10 am on Saturday at Keizersgracht, District Six.

Archbishop Makgoba said that "while the Procession is open to all, including members of political parties, it will be led by religious leaders and no party political banners will be permitted."

He added that the procession was being held to demand:

"A change in the practice and behaviour of all parliamentarians, captains of industry and commerce; and

"That all those, in all sectors of society, who have influence and power, return to Nelson Mandela’s way of governance and leadership: governance that was not threatened by healthy social discourse; governance that was always mindful of the plight of the poor and the marginalized; governance that took seriously its responsibility to all people who have given leaders their trust."

Other Christian leaders who joined the call included Bishop Michel Hansrod, head of the Cape district of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa; Bishop Margaret Vertue of the Anglican Diocese of False Bay; the Revd Lucas Plaatjie, moderator of the Cape synod of the Uniting Reforming Church; the Revd Michael Muller, moderator of the Presbytery of the Western Cape of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa; and Dr Johan Botha, scribe of the Uniting Reformed Church.


The full text of Archbishop Makgoba's statement follows:

Some weeks ago, a number of us gathered on the steps of St George’s Cathedral where our predecessors stood during the apartheid era. There we stood in silence under the banner, “A Flower for Thuli, A Message for the President”, referring to the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, and her report on the upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s private residence at Nkandla.

Our placards called on the president to respond to the Public Protector’s report and on the public to defend our “Chapter Nine” institutions – the independent institutions set up under the South African Constitution to guard our democracy.

Speaking in the Cathedral afterwards, I voiced my yearning for the entire faith-based and NGO community to come together not so much to defend the Public Protector as an individual as to defend the rights of the public and the integrity of her office, which appears to be under assault from forces including many members of Parliament.

After wider consultations led by the Dean, we have decided to pluck up the courage that the times demand of us and to invite the people of Cape Town to join us on a Procession of Witness from District Six to Parliament, with the aim of calling upon our leaders to live up to the national values established by the Constitution.

Although this is primarily a response to the crisis in government presented by the worrying developments surrounding the Chapter Nine institutions and especially those concerning the Office of the Public Protector, we are also responding to the plight of communities ravaged by gangsterism, drug abuse and poor education.

And while the Procession is open to all, including members of political parties, it will be led by religious leaders and no party political banners will be permitted.

We, the faith community, confess our silence over many years, and our failure to respond compassionately to God's cry in the lives of the people of our land -- especially those who are poor, naked and those denied their daily bread.

Our Procession is now being held to demand:

• A change in the practice and behaviour of all parliamentarians, captains of industry and commerce;

• That all those, in all sectors of society, who have influence and power, return to Nelson Mandela’s way of governance and leadership: governance that was not threatened by healthy social discourse; governance that was always mindful of the plight of the poor and the marginalized; governance that took seriously its responsibility to all people who have given leaders their trust.

We invite you to gather with us on Saturday, 9 April 2014 at 10am on Kaizergracht Street, District Six (below St. Mark’s Church) for our Procession of Witness to Parliament.

Monday, March 31, 2014

To the Laos – To the People of God, March 2014

Dear People of God

I am writing this letter after a prayer vigil on the steps of St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, where a number of clergy, laity and bishops, including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, retired Bishop Geoff Quinlan and Bishop Garth Counsell of Table Bay, joined us for a memorable occasion.

We stood in silence for 30 minutes, the clergy among us wearing our cassocks, holding flowers and posters. This was because the Cathedral had advertised the vigil under the banner, “A Flower for Thuli, A Message for the President”, referring to the South African Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, and her recently-released report on the upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s private residence at Nkandla.

Our placards called on the President to respond to the Public Protector’s report, and on the public to defend our “Chapter 9” institutions, the independent institutions set up under the South African Constitution to guard democracy.

Following this quiet demonstration, we all went into the cathedral to pray. This is what I shared with those gathered in the Cathedral:

Ladies and gentleman, bishops here present, including Emeritus Arch and clergy from the dioceses of the Western Cape,

We have gathered again on the steps of St George’s Cathedral in the footsteps of our predecessors who stood here in the apartheid era. We gather to say that some things are pulling us apart as a nation and we are pained.

In my letter of invitation to come to this prayer vigil, I said let us gather as Church in its broadest sense for a vigil, to pray that the Public Protector be herself protected by all progressives in the religious and NGO sectors and by all freedom-loving citizens; and also that the President, Parliament and the executive should implement in full all the steps which Adv. Madonsela has recommended in her report.

I requested that we gather in vigil and prayer to ask – in the spirit of Lent, in deep prayer and reflective concern – for the President and Parliament to report in full to the nation on precisely how they will give effect to the Public Protector’s recommendations.

Now as we reflect in vigil and prayer, I want to aid your reflections and actions by posing just a few questions instead of a long speech,especially as it is lunch time and some of you need to go back to work:

1. Acknowledging all the political, social and moral conversations and judgments that have taken place inside and outside the country, what can we as a society in South Africa learn from the Public Protector’s courage?

2. How has the Public Protector’s report helped ring a bell to the importance of our national values?

3. Since our values should guide every decision made by our Government leaders, and our historic Constitution clearly articulates our national values, what can our Government leaders learn from the flawed decisions that apparently didn’t consider our national values?

4. And lastly, when so many in our communities around our country are asking me, “Archbishop, what should the President do?” I tell them that our President must ask himself, “From the perspective of the 50 million South Africans that I lead, what do our national values suggest for me? What have I learned from the Public Protector’s exceptionally thorough and historic work? How can I more effectively model the values-based decisions that our Constitution clearly and unmistakably tells us?”

The President must do what is in our nation’s best interests.

As a spiritual leader, putting my hand on President Zuma’s shoulder, I say, “What do you have to do to bring our country together at this critical point in our democratic history? What do you have to do to create a renaissance in trust?”

So, dear friends, we have seen the swimming pool, the amphitheatre, chicken runs and cattle culvert – now my appeal is that those that surround the President, as a collective, must take responsibility and tell us they will lead us to the truth.

Also my yearning is for a more concerted effort by the entire faith-based and non-governmental organization community not so much to defend the Public Protector as an individual as to defend the rights of the public – which rights are in fact being protected by the Public Protector – and the integrity of the office of the Public Protector.

Furthermore, South Africans cannot be hoaxed into believing that a Government which erred so seriously can investigate itself. Let us then have the moral courage required at this moment to rise up and support the call for the public’s right to know and take responsibility for making our democracy work.

In that spirit and with renewed courage, I now pray:

Lord, God of Hope,
Restore our brokenness and torn fabric
Heal our divisions and our land
But please begin with me.
Amen



Turning to other matters this month,
our Province’s Media Committee has reported that the number of subscriptions to our colour magazine, Southern Anglican, is down, raising the gloomy prospect of having to close the publication if we cannot reverse this trend. I encourage all Anglicans to subscribe to the magazine, which – as a place for sharing news and views – is the only general print publication we still have which reflects our identity as a Province.

And now let me end this letter to you by thanking Bishop Dinis Sengulane of Lebombo for his ministry in our Province and Communion, over 38 years as a bishop and 40 as a priest. Bishop Dinis epitomizes the moral courage and great humility that is missing in most of our leaders. May you have a blessed retirement, Bishop Dinis, and be freed to do the things which you would love to do most in service to the world and your country, Mozambique. Thank you for your courage and belief that God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is always ahead of us, whatever we face. May this message resonate in all our faithful this Easter and for evermore.

As we continue to be conduits of peace with justice, I pray that the Risen Lord, whose passion, death and resurrection we will celebrate at this time and always, will renew our strength and make us fly on wings like an eagle even as we offer ourselves in service for the common good.

I send you all season’s greetings, proclaiming that we can move from the passion of an Nkandla to the glorious resurrection of Easter by declaring: Christ is Risen!

God bless you,

+Thabo