23 April 2015
Our country will be celebrating 21 years of freedom this year. We look forward to that joyous occasion. We continue to thank the Lord for blessing us with a country as beautiful as ours. It is to be remembered that God’s creation is always ‘good; for He was so satisfied when He created it. We have been placed as stewards of His world. It is our belief that there is not a single human being who is on earth by mistake. All of us are in this world to enjoy it and praise God for all He has provided us with. We decided to demarcate and .pretend to own the world ourselves; resulting in all the wars and hatred we have seen over ages.
We are suffering the consequences of those actions now because when people conquer they destroy everything that reminds them of the past and erect new symbols that will remind them of their victory. This is found in many places, South Africa is no exception. Our country had an option of destroying all symbols of oppression when we gained freedom but chose not to. The road chosen was that of systematically transforming our country and landscape. Radical change has its advantages and disadvantages.
Gradual change will be accepted by some and rejected by others. The gradual manner in which South Africa has dealt with transformation could be perceived by some as deserting or delaying the broader transformation agenda. The challenge our country faces is that the African National Congress is also a ruling party. She has to take into consideration all the people of this country when moving forward.
The government put into place structures to deal with the transformation of our landscape viz. National Heritage Council, South African Heritage Resource Agency and the National Geographical Name Change Council. These structures are supposed to have implemented the programme of educating, consulting and advocating for a common approach when it comes to matters of heritage. We have seen very little movement when it came to the matter of symbols like statues. It seems as if the route chosen was to allow the old symbols to stand, and add new ones. What we see now is the emergence of a group of people who have adopted a different approach, that of acting independently of the structures and even without consultation. Government, I dare say, was caught napping.
Anything that will be done now would be reactive because of failure by the above- mentioned structures to fulfil their responsibilities. It is possible that they can argue their own cases as to why they have failed to act when it was still quiet.
We need to keep reminding ourselves that the response of people to symbols differs depending on which side you are. Before 1994 we would remember that Black people saw government buildings, schools etc as symbolizing the repressive government that was in power at that time. These buildings became targets during times of uprising. What is happening now is reminiscent of that time. Most probably some of our people destroy buildings because they remind them of a government that has failed to meet their needs. We have imported tools and methods that we used to destroy apartheid into the new and democratic dispensation. What we think is lacking is a strategy to harness and channel this energy towards constructive activities as Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said in his statement: “We must harness the energy being poured into protests into rigorous self- examination and action to expand the current campaigns into a creative, society-wide drive for real transformation.”
As a Diocese we understand and relate to people who feel that certain symbols have no place in the new dispensation. We also understand that these statues are part of our heritage and they are works of art, Our view is that government should establish a civil society commission to engage all stakeholders and forge an approach that will be inclusive and sensitive to the feelings of those affected. These sessions will help to prevent retaliatory actions by those who feel that even the symbols 01′ statues of the new dispensation are not inclusive. We do not support the destruction and defacing of these symbols.
Our main concern is now that (ominous clouds are gathering over our country’ we need leadership that will help dispel all the imminent threat to our country by staying close to people and heeding their call. We would like to ask our government to choose a reconciliatory approach in dealing with these matters. As a church we shall continue to focus people on Christ, and not allow the devil an opportunity to divide our people.
Christ’s message was a message of hope, salvation and reconciliation. Let us not allow ourselves to be divided by these issues. We pray that God provides our leaders with courage and wisdom to confront these matters and stamp out all violence and hatred perpetrated by people who want to reverse the gains we have made in these 21 years of freedom,
We call upon all Anglicans in this Diocese to desist from any action that seeks to divide the people of God. We should participate in dialogue, colloquiums, seminars that seek to find a lasting solution to this challenge.
May God bless you with courage to stand up and be counted, standing on the side of justice, peace and love as Christ’s disciples.
Yours in the service of the Shepherd of shepherds
BISHOP of GRAHAMSTOWN