Monday 31 March 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.

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,