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Unequal South Africa must close its wealth gap, says Archbishop of Cape Town

30 July 2021

Alamy

A member of a hazardous-waste clean-up crew prepares to clean a Durban warehouse, burned during the disorder that followed the imprisonment of the former South African President Jacob Zuma

A member of a hazardous-waste clean-up crew prepares to clean a Durban warehouse, burned during the disorder that followed the imprisonment of the for...

CHURCHES need to find ways of “leveraging power to shift the needle” of the compass in the pandemic and in a divided South Africa, the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, said on Thursday of last week. He was addressing a virtual meeting of his diocesan synod.

In his “Charge”, he spoke about corruption, looting, and vaccine nationalism, and conceded that the challenge might be daunting.

“Now is a time when the pandemic — and the last week’s events — have brought new perspectives to old fissures, exposed new wounds, and highlighted unresolved tensions. In the light of these signs of the times, we have to engage again, and with an even greater urgency.”

The Archbishop was referring to the violence and looting in the South African provinces of KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng, after the arrest of the former President, Jacob Zuma, on 8 July (News, 16 July).

“We have seen unmitigated corruption and looting from the public purse: corruption which amounts to theft from those who are most vulnerable; looting which has so damaged the credibility of politicians that last week’s appeals to the ‘have-nots’ to stop looting from the ‘haves’ were but a cruel joke,” he said.

He continued: “We need to reflect deeply on what our country has become. We cannot go on as we are. We need to reset our compasses and choose a different direction.”

Referring to the Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, who died after torture in police detention in 1977, he said, “In the spirit of Steve Biko, let us take up our crosses daily, and mobilise together across barriers in society to fight the evils we have experienced during the pandemic, and the greed which is destabilising our society.

“Let us emulate the courage of those in South Africa, in the United States, and elsewhere, who have taken up the struggle for recognition that Black Lives Do Matter, and that we need to build a society and an economy in which that is fully reflected.”

Quoting the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, Dr Makgoba said: “The pandemic brings home to us that we are always ‘in a situation of shared failure and shared insecurity’. The hope is to be found when we recognise this shared reality, and take the opportunity to open our hearts to one another.”

He called on the G7 countries and the global North to “end their vaccine nationalism, and move speedily to help the rest of the world get vaccinated at the same rate in every country” (News, 5 February).

He continued: “Those wedded to a capitalist model have to acknowledge that our current financial and economic systems are not serving the common good; they are creating joblessness and inequality, to the extent that unemployment is running at 32.6 per cent, youth unemployment is 46.3 per cent, and the World Bank says we are the most unequal country on earth. We have to recommit to closing the gap between the excessively rich and the debilitatingly poor.”

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