Peace and Racial tolerance in Schools and the larger Society
On the National Youth Day, we reach out to all the young people in the country in a message of solidarity and hope, realizing the burdens that many of you carry, especially those burdens that came as a result of the socio-economic effects of Covid-19 and youth unemployment.
Our message of hope is also an invitation to imitate the class of 1976 and confront the challenges that we face as a society, including racism, corruption and violence. Why are we sending you a message of hope today, when we commemorate 16 June 1976? In the words of Vaclav Havel, “I am not an optimist because I am not sure that everything ends well, nor am I a pessimist because I am not sure that everything ends badly. I just carry hope in my heart. Hope is not a feeling of certainty that everything ends well. Hope is just a feeling that life and work has meaning. Hope is not an estimate of the state of the world. It is something you either have or you don’t. Regardless of the state of the world that surrounds you, hope is a dimension of human existence.” Carry hope in your heart that South Africa will come right and that your struggles are worthwhile.
While the class of 1976 fought racism in their own way, the radicalism of the Gospel today challenges you to fight structural racism and economic apartheid with the radical instrument of hope and solidarity. We now live in a society where building bridges is more radical and gives a more expression of the Christian faith than building walls and fomenting hatred. Our appeal to you is therefore to become God’s instruments of hope and racial harmony at home, at school, in universities and on Social Media platforms.
Let us remember the words of Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another because of the color or their skin or their backgrounds, or religions. People must learn to hate – and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for loves comes more naturally to the human hearts than its opposite”.
The racism we experience in our country, is not something new. Racism is present in our society because some of us ignore the fundamental truth that we are all equally made in the image of God, sharing a common origin. The ignorance of the truth leads to prejudice and fear of the other, including hatred. How can we profess to be God’s children by only loving those who share our racial and ethnic backgrounds or place of origin? It’s very embarrassing to witness bold expression of racism by groups as well as individuals in our society. We need a genuine conversion of heart, a dialogue that will compel change, and the reform of our institutions (schools, universities, etc.) and society.
Our society is deeply divided on issues of land, affirmative action, and capital ownership. There are also inequalities in access to quality education and quality health services. Everyone within society should be part of the ongoing conversion and dialogue, to root out the sin of racism. We should address the causes and the injustices racism produces in order for healing to happen. The healing process will contribute towards ‘building and developing relationships of equality, dignity and mutual respect’ where “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female”. (Galatians 3: 28)
We are meant to love God with our whole being, which then overflows into love for our neighbour. “Whoever loves God must love his brother or sister” (1 John 4: 21). By doing that, we will be in a right relationship with God, with one another, and with the rest of God’s creation.
Our invitation to the youth of South Africa, black and white: Let us take the racial tensions we see in our schools and other institutions to expose racism, challenge it, educate people about it and deal with it. We cannot ignore signs and symptoms of racism. We must not tolerate hate speech from any leader or pastor. Racism and hate speech are dangerous. We must work together for a non-racist and a non-sexist South Africa.
What we see in our country is that parents and adults are leading lives of bitterness, anger, frustration and hatred. School children are affected by apartheid because their parents are still carrying the trauma of their ancestors, their anger, prejudices and the feeling that they were sold-out by De Klerk and others. Their parents are always complaining to their children that they have been betrayed, that they have lost political power, social privileges and security. The parents who used to benefit from the oppressive apartheid regime are afraid and they feel insecure. These parents did not get a chance to confess, to repent for the sins of apartheid and to receive forgiveness. This was the whole of purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which many of them ignored and ridiculed.
We invite you as young people, black and white, to work towards reversing the realities of the past so that we can move forward. We need structural transformation in South Africa. We need true equality. We need economic opportunities for young people and racial harmony.
We ask you to commit yourself to Christ, by frequently reciting the prayer of peace given to us by Saint Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
+ Bishop Victor Phalana
Bishop of Klerksdorp and SACBC Liaison Bishop for Justice and Peace