Sunday 27 October 2013

Mayoral Inter-faith service at the Cathedral of St. George the Martyr, Cape Town

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, friends from the Western Cape inter religious group, dear people of this beautiful city, dear friends.

It is a great joy to be with you as we celebrate what we have termed the Mayoral Service.

Thank you, Mr. Dean and your staff for hosting this service and for the Western Cape Religious Leaders' Forum for coordinating this together with the city and the Cathedral: to everyone else who is here, who loves this city or who lives in the city or offers services to the city, feel welcomed.

The ancient Greek notion of the city implied that the polis is about citizenship and the body of citizens. In short, how space and resources are organized in service to the people of the city and how the people in turn engage to shape their destiny collaboratively.

So you, we all matter, for without you, we would not have the mayor to organize the affairs of this city, nor the mayor without the citizens.

May I also, on behalf of the Dean and his staff welcome all the other visitors here today.

Madame Mayor, Patricia De Lille: thank you, also for your leadership and presence with us and for your encouraging and challenging words; thank you for your welcome – we feel honored and humbled that you agreed to be here and to grace us with your presence, for without it we could not have a "Mayoral Service" as an inter-faith congregation.

In the Christian sacred text that was read this afternoon, John 10:10, the Johannine Jesus says, "I came so that you may have life and have it in abundance."

What is life in abundance? What is eternal life? It is about the flourishing of all human beings and not only some who are powerful and connected. It is the flourishing of us all or, put differently, it is about the common good or the public good.

The common good, simply put, is ensuring that what is good and beneficial for me, is also good and beneficial for the other who is my neighbour.

Put in a language understood by most religions, this is about doing what I would like done to me (love, respect, care, compassion) done to the other too. Yes, it is about respecting the dignity of each individual as reflecting the humanity of God and the divine in God.

The famous words are from the Christian sacred text, love you neighbor, with all your mind, soul and body, and love the Lord your God with the same mind as you love yourself and neighbor.

Life in abundance is life lived with a mentality of abundance and not a mentality of poverty; life lived mindful that it is not useful to amass riches, thinking that when your end comes, you will take these with you; it is life lived with contentment and generosity, wanting to make profit but not ignoring people or the planet that generates your wealth.

How might this life pan out in our beloved city? Our city is doing relatively well. You only need to look at the Currie Cup final, even though we are sorry the Sharks won. Visitors and tourists to this city bring a lot of revenue.

Or you can look at our status as world design capital or at the film industry, conferences, tertiary education, media, the financial sector, small grassroots enterprises such as B&B’s, NGOs, industry, including thriving and not so thriving small industries, and the large number of companies with head offices in this city. The economy is indeed thriving here in spite of challenges elsewhere, heralded by Minister Pravin Gordhan and his belt-tightening for ministers.

Economically, we are doing relatively well compared to the majority of the other provinces of our country and countries in our continent. For this, we are grateful to our city and mothers for the flourishing of the local economy.

However, as religious leaders, as we give thanks for this flourishing, we need to also ask deeper questions:

-- Who is benefiting from this economic flourishing?

-- Is it serving the common good or benefitting only some who are powerful, politically and economically well connected?

-- Is this result of this flourishing what Jesus envisaged in the passage from John: I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance?

-- Are the people without a voice in the city benefitting as well?

-- Are we reaching out?

-- Does the economic benefit bring joy and benefits to those on the margins, not just trickle to them?

-- Are the dividends of our democracy and freedom benefitting all, and are those who benefit helping others to have access to this boom?

In this past week, I did "huisbesoek" to Auntie Pat Gorvalla* in Durbanville, then licensed a new priest in Christ Church Claremont and visited Mfuleni. I could not help but feel torn by the feeling that this abundant life in our beloved city is still skewed in favour of those of us from a particular race and class and not for all as Jesus wished for, suffered for and died for.

The work is thus enormous. I must confess that we in the religious vocation often overlook these challenges. We are often tempted by the trappings of power, money and proximity to politicians and the potential for personal or denominational gain from such proximity.

Whilst we need to affirm the good that the city does, we equally need to raise critical questions about who benefits from the city’s flourishing, and why spatial apartheid for instance is so stubborn 20 years into our democracy. We need to raise these questions without fear, for ours is not a political mandate but a vocation to serve all in spite of power, status and political affiliation.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, friends from the Western Cape inter religious group, dear people of this beautiful city, dear friends.
Often, we are too aligned, or our mouths are too full of resources, personal or for our churches, that we are afraid to speak out clearly and prophetically for the cause of those marginalized and excluded, and plead their cause in attaining this abundant life in the here and now, and not only in heaven.

We confess our failures today and ask for pardon from God, from the poorest of the poor and all who are marginalized, be it materially, due to their sexual orientation, class or race. We say Lord have mercy on us and pardon us, our sins.

Two weeks ago at the National Church Leaders' Consultation, we confessed this sin of omission, the lack of coherence in our prophetic audibility and our courage to speak. We committed to being part of the solution, especially in education, and resolved to seek an audience urgently with SADTU and other teachers' unions as we look together at ways we can make education the tool of liberation it is supposed to be.

As we confess and acknowledge our own shortcomings in our city too, we should not be navel-gazing and becoming trapped by this sin of omission or our helplessness for not doing and speaking for the cause of the poorest of the poor.

We should equally engage with all for their sake as we plead for respect for their human dignity and for their true freedom. Let us re-commit to taking seriously our God-given mandate to serve others.

We commit to working as a collective with the city , the polis, in serving God's people and in bringing hope; hope that nothing will separate God's people from the love and care of God even in the midst of pain, suffering and squalor.

We commit to the ministry of reconciliation, reconciling communities and different faiths, rich and poor, and we encourage the spirit of generosity and cohesion amongst all people of this city and province.

We commit to walks of witness alongside the people of God to highlight: janitorial services gone wrong; poor school infrastructure; poor conditions of service and remuneration for farm and domestic workers; the need to investigate the effectiveness of policing in our townships; the impact which endemic corruption has on service delivery and social cohesion; as well as the many glaring economic disparities in our city.

We will continue to care for the xenophobically displaced, those trapped by drugs and the impact of gangsterism. We will continue through the Electoral Code of Conduct Observer Commission (ECCOC) to demand that our political leaders behave aptly as we all pray for, and ensure, a free, robust and fair context for electioneering and elections next year and beyond, as well as open the question of who funds political parties and demand transparency in this area.

Returning to the Christian sacred text as I conclude, the Lucan God, in Luke 4, reminds us as people of faith and in this city , that the spirit of the Lord God is upon me, he has anointed me and all of us to proclaim boldly without fear or favour good news to the poor....

Let us dare to do so.

May this mayoral service bring hope and courage to all in the city and a recommitment by us all to bring life in abundance for all especially those in the margins of the city?


Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
27 October 2013

* A leading citizen of Cape Town and former president of the Anglican Women's Federation.