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Thursday 15 February 2018

Craig Stewart

Choosing #DayOne

Cape Town has been shaken up during the past few months. Our city faces a severe drought and unprecedented water shortage. Capetonians are profoundly aware of a crisis that has been facing us for decades; we are potentially about to have such low water supplies that the taps across the city will be switched off on #DayZero, and the city will be declared a disaster area.

I worked as a research assistant in the Freshwater unit at the University of Cape Town in 1990 and remember the head of the unit repeatedly telling me that Cape Town would run out of water in my lifetime. Now, in 2017, we’re on the brink and the city is filled with fear, anticipation, urgency, anger, confusion and hurt. We’re a divided city with unjust foundations and practices. For many, not having access to water is nothing new, with hundreds of thousands of Capetonians living in informal settlements that do not cater well for sanitation and water access. This crisis has the potential to reveal our deeper selves - will it drive us towards deepening division and injustice, or will we choose another path?
 
Our city has some similar moments in its past. In August 1989 we had been living with generations of colonial oppression and apartheid rule. In order to control the population, we were living under martial law, a state of emergency, and seemed to be sliding towards overt civil war.  In August of 1989 Archbishop Tutu and Rev Boesak led a series of beach protests to highlight the racial segregation on South African beaches, and these were violently broken up by the police. The following month, a protest in the city centre was broken up by the police using water cannons and purple dye in what became known as the “purple rain” march. Cape Town felt like it was on the brink, and though perhaps we didn’t know it then, we faced a choice. Would we cower and withdraw, or would we choose a deeper good? What would the crisis reveal?  In 1989 a choice was made, and tens of thousands of people marched against the Apartheid state over the following week, and within months, political liberation movements had been unbanned and the journey towards a post-apartheid South Africa had begun. A tipping point after years of struggle, preceded by a moment of collective decision.
 
I came to faith in Jesus on a Friday afternoon, early in my Grade 8 year in high school.  My faith journey since then has included multiple other “conversions”, as I’ve had moments which deepened my understanding and renewed my commitment.  Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has invited us to consider the idea of #DayOne rather than #DayZero.  #Dayzero is about a temporary avoidance of a very real crisis for part of the City, whereas #DayOne can be about faithful conversion to a way of living and being that makes #dayzero less likely for all our fellow citizens- especially including those who have lived with #dayzero for their whole lives. 

At the Justice Conference last year, Sivuyile Kotela said that we don’t make a choice when we are standing in front of the fiery furnace, but that this moment reveals the choices we’ve already been making. 
 
Choosing #DayOne does require repentance. Not a moralistic self-flagellation but a genuine willingness to admit that a change is required and turn towards that which is more aligned with the Kingdom of God.  #Dayone will require a few journeys of repentance for us all:

  * A turning from fear to hope. A hope that embraces who we are as a city that is South African and African. A hope that recognises we can be something more than that which the Apartheid and colonial planners of this city intended. A hope that opens us up to all of this city, including its problems. 
  * A turning from selfish consumerism to communal sustainability. A move that overcomes the inertia of being environmental consumers, to the growing urgency to live a life that nurtures and sustains our environment. 
  * A turning from isolation from our neighbours to solidarity with them in all the injustices we, and they face. This requires of us to respond to Jesus’ call in the story of the good Samaritan to expand our notion of neighbour. 
  * A turning from apathy and self-doubt which allow a tolerance of conditions for large numbers of our neighbours that we ourselves would not be willing to live with. A turning to anger and action that no one should live like this.
 
A long-term crisis precipitated by ‘purple rain’ led to bold repentance and action in 1989. Presently, a lack of rain offers a similar invitation. God’s invitation into embracing #Dayone is not simply restricted to avoiding #Dayzero but is an invitation to choose a life shaped by the Kingdom of God and His shalom for all of His beloved creation.

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