Thursday 10 August 2023

Interfaith Noon Prayer Service on Taxi Strike

Interfaith Noon Prayer Service on Taxi Strike
The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba
Archbishop of Cape Town
St George's Cathedral, Cape Town
Women's Day, August 9, 2023

Colleagues, friends, Mr Dean, Mr Mayor, the representatives of Santaco, fellow South Africans, especially those from the household of faith, and my colleagues here on the stage: Greetings.

I have been asked to deliver a sermon based on the Gospel that was read from the Christian sacred text (Matthew 5: 1-10) today. That that text speaks to all of us today, and however you summarise it – it's normally known as the Beatitudes – the Beatitudes say to us you are “there” when you do this; all will go well with you when you do this. 

Perhaps this afternoon, on Women's Day, as we are further reminded of the stark issues that the women of this country face, the question is. Are we “there”, is it going well with us in the treatment of women and children? In terms of our country, the Beatitudes are poignant because we come from a history of violence, and we know that violence begets violence, that we are not there – it will not go well with us – if we resolve the tensions in which we find ourselves using violence. 

We have mechanisms as part of strengthening democracy and investing in it, and those mechanisms oblige each one of us to find ways of strengthening all that makes us to be there, all that makes us to be well, and all that makes our country and city to be well. It will not go well with us if there is greed, if there is violence, if there is the tyranny of lawlessness in a democracy. To use today's scripture, those are the enemies of blessedness within democratic processes. For the Beatitudes say we are there if our end goal is justice. For as Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, the ultimate weakness of violence is that is descends into a spiral, thus begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy; instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.

So today I want to speak to us as people of faith, I want to speak to our democratically elected leaders, particularly at a time when government institutions and public authorities in the country, in terms of the polls, are said to have lost much credibility as a result in some instances of corruption and self-dealing: Please, Mr Mayor, please, taxi drivers, taxi operators, please, faith leaders, the impasse at the moment is very worrying. We have beget violence, we live in violence, and we know that if it is not arrested, the implications are dire.

As the South African Council of Churches has said, those who are suffering the most in instances like this – and as Dr Allan Boesak beautifully spelled it out – are the poorest of the poor in the city. One image that remains with me is of yesterday going to the airport (I had a pastoral duty at a Durban hospital) and seeing an old man on a crutch on the other side of the N2 freeway, holding a plastic bag. I could see that he was saying, “come what may I have to go to hospital.” He was trying to hike but motorists were panicky and no one was stopping. I felt like that story in the Bible where the Levites and the priests just went by, and left someone suffering, because I was going the other way and hurrying to catch a plane. The current impasse affects the young who need to get to school, it affects the elderly who need to shop and get to clinics, and who suffer because they rely on safe and secure public transport. Are we there; have we arrived, Matthew is asking us?

Are we there when on this Women's Day, women face the particular dangers they always face and now, over and above, they also worry about their children? The second image I want to leave you with, again on the same N2 freeway, driving to the airport, there were three ladies walking towards the city. You could see they were not used to walking there, and it was such a struggle for them, but they were determined to go work, to arrive, whatever they faced, so they could make a living for their children.

Dear friends, in the last few days, as you have heard in the various speeches, we have seen violence in the city, we have seen unfortunately a number of deaths as well as looting, the destruction of property and the blocking of roads, when opportunistic people take advantage of the breakdown of law and exploit trouble in the city. And so as we gather as the faith community here, we light our candles, candles that symbolise for us the ultimate faith that indeed, even in darkness, we will ask God to give the city, to give the taxi operators, to give the people of the city a light and a path that will lead to a possible solution. 

We need as Cape Town society, particularly in the household of faith, to act to prevent this city from descending into the kind of rioting we saw in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng a few years ago. We cannot afford to do that. Hence the faith groups and community-based organisations, convened under the Western Cape Transport Crisis Action Group, are committed to do whatever they can to help bring a peaceful resolution and the resumption of normal life. 

I must say – and this is an appeal from deep down in my heart – I was really distressed yesterday to watch elected officials publicly trading accusations against one another in such a volatile situation. I went to my chapel and I prayed, because when you do this you run the risk of feeding confrontation rather than than promoting negotiations. And so please, public leaders – in the city, Mr Mayor, Cabinet ministers, provincial and national public servants, we in humility pray that you will meet one another and work through your differences in person-to-person talks, and not in public spats. Please meet in a spirit of responsible cooperation to find a solution which balances both the economic interests of responsible taxi operators and the safety of the public.

We in the churches don't believe that either Santaco or the governments of the Western Cape and Cape Town want the dispute to escalate further. So let me once again echo the call by the South African Council of Churches and my colleagues here:
    • We ask all parties, please engage with one another, and have in mind the impact of this impasse on the poorest of the poor;
    • Violence, the looting and the destruction of property must end;
    • No more blood must be spilled in the name of this protest. We are created beautifully in the image of God, and we need to uphold the sanctity of each one of you, and we pray for the souls of those who have departed through this violence;
    • Every effort must be made to calm existing tensions in our communities, and even if you forget everything that I've said I want you to remember: let us give peace a chance as we explore honest ways of dealing with this impasse. 

Lastly, as St Matthew has asked us, we are there, we have arrived, we are blessed, when we call on people of faith, or of no faith, that through their different traditions, they will pray for our country, and especially the City of Cape Town, as it goes through this crisis.

God loves you, God loves this city, God loves this country, and so do I.

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