Tuesday 22 September 2015

Caroline Powell

Unite against Corruption - An opportunity for White South Africans to Confess, Repent and Change

[This blog post is one in a series of personal viewpoints of Warehouse Staff members on the Unite Against Corruption March]

Colonialism and Apartheid were two of the most extreme forms of institutionalised corruption that the world has ever seen.

For the benefit of a small minority of people, corruption was entrenched into every department of the government and every sphere of civil society during Apartheid South Africa. There has not been any part of our society, identity, history or political life that has been free from the grip of colonial and Apartheid corruption for over 350 years.

Families, school, the military, the police force, hospitals, public spaces, businesses and places of worship were all corrupted by the laws that governed the country and the ideologies that fed them.

The law of Apartheid was finally dismantled in 1994, heralding the end of the colonial era for South Africa, but the spirit of social and economic Apartheid lives on.

On the 30 September, all South Africans are being called to “Unite Against Corruption” and take to the streets in a peaceful and decisive stand against all forms of corruption that threaten our land. As in the worst days of Apartheid, Christian South Africans and churches across the country have a choice in how to stand together with fellow South Africans of all races and creeds.

As I, a white, Christian member of South African society, consider the critical moment that we now face in our country’s history, and as I consider whether to join the “Unite Against Corruption” march and movement, I confess the following:

- I have material wealth,
- I have social capital,
- I have a wide range of access to job opportunities,
- I have freedom of choice,
- I have access to exclusive education,
- I have access to immediate healthcare,
- I have homes in neighbourhoods that receive proper sanitation, electricity, waste removal services, police and security responses
- I have leisure, rest and time away with my family and friends
- I have freedom of movement without being looked upon with suspicion

I have, while the majority of black South Africans in this country do not, because of the corruption of colonialism and Apartheid in South Africa.

I have enjoyed the freedom of conscience, friendship, acceptance and forgiveness that the dawning of the new South Africa afforded me and my family while failing to ask what words and actions of repentance and apology would contribute to healing the nation.

I have reveled in the national pride that came with being from a country that negotiated a peaceful resolution instead of a bloody revolution, while failing to support the new government in any tangible way.

I have rejoiced with the world for the life of Nelson Mandela while failing to turn from deeply held, racist attitudes towards the current government.

I have been relieved to see the oppressed set free from the binding laws of Apartheid but failed to recognise how those same laws dehumanised me, and hence have failed to be set free of the marred identity that Apartheid formed in me. I have also failed to recognise what I lost in the form of relationships and normal human connection with people of all colours while growing up during Apartheid, and thus have struggled to see this redeemed in my current social reality.

I have asked to be considered an African in my own right while failing to learn an African language, and while harbouring suspicion towards African customs.

I have failed to act in ways that put right and gave back what had been stolen during the years of colonial and Apartheid rule in South Africa.

I have lamented the policies of BBBEE and affirmative action and called them reverse racism, without asking what actions of material restitution were required of me and my family in the enormous task of nation building.

Add your own confession statements here:
(try to be as personal to your own life as possible: e.g if you are a business owner and know that your business was built on the corrupt laws of Apartheid, providing poor wages to people of colour etc then confess this; or if you are a church leader and your church has failed to publicly name Apartheid a sin and turn from its effects during congregational life, then confess this)

I therefore confess that, while I join with my fellow South Africans in speaking out against the corruption that threatens to derail the stability of our country, I do so with a commitment to rooting out the corruption of colonialism and Apartheid that remains in my own life by:

naming the policies of Apartheid as a sin before God and repenting of all past and ongoing choices in my life that perpetuate a state of social and economic Apartheid in South Africa

renouncing the deeply embedded attitudes of a colonial era lifestyle that manifest in living a life of careless ease towards the plight of the oppressed and materially poor while partaking in the     systems that maintain oppression and material poverty in order to secure my comfort and lifestyle

naming greed, the love of money and fear of the future as sins before God

seeking opportunities to speak out repentance for the wrongs of the past and present

listening to the hurt and hardship of South Africans that still live with the dehumanising effects of social and economic Apartheid, and racist attitudes and actions

seeking restitution like Zacchaeus did – practical acts of giving back that go beyond charity and move towards economic equality * (examples to be given at the end of this paper)

seeking genuine social connection and friendship across the spectrum of South African society

seeking church and worship life that reflects the diversity of South African society

getting rid of all forms of economic exploitation of others in all business and domestic employment that I am involved in

joining in advocacy and civil action with the materially poor and currently oppressed

searching my heart with God and others regarding racism and fear of others that I harbour

Add your own commitments here:
(again, try to be as personal and specific as you can be, making actual, measurable, time-bound commitments to change e.g. I commit to meeting with the board of directors of my organisation to do a full review of all remuneration policies for implementation of change in the 2016/17 tax year; I will gather a group of people in my church in the next month who have different historical and present experiences of Apartheid South Africa to listen to their stories, repent, ask for forgiveness and prayerfully initiate a truth, reconciliation and restitution process for the whole church by the end of 2015; I will meet with my accountant, investment banker and family lawyer to adjust my use of money, to initiate family-based restitution projects and to amend my will such as to include victims of injustice of Apartheid, past and present)

Please note: the October newsletter will focus on biblical restitution - including practical examples of what it entails and unpacking the difference between charity and restitution. We would love your contributions and comments towards this.

Other blogposts in this series:

If you March as the Church:

In this short and snappy post, Brian Koela reminds us about who we march as and what that looks like on the day.

Where Justice, Love and Mercy meet:

Colleen Saunders believes that the march itself goes against what she and others have been hearing from God around His heart for our country at this time. In this rich piece, she shows us other ways for us to engage with government and other people and institutions of influence.

What are the Times?:

Craig Stewart writes that at any time and place it is one of the tasks of those who follow Christ to be discerning what the time is and how would God have me act in response to that?

How Marching will Destroy the Church’s Integrity:

Nkosivumile Gola, our new intern at the Warehouse, weighs in the debate. He is strongly opposed to the march. In this piece, he calls the Church to be acting with integrity in the more important conversations he feels should be happening.

Why Personal Views?

On Wednesday, 30 September, marches will be taking place in at least Pretoria and Cape Town as part of the “Unite Against Corruption” Campaign. Since the public announcement of a march was made, the Warehouse staff have wrestled with God and each other around what opportunities and risks the march avails to the work of the Kingdom of God. We have friends of the Warehouse who are actively involved in mobilising churches for the march, and many people have asked us what the Warehouse’s stance on the march and messaging around it is.

Through some hard, and often painful, reflections and conversations, we have identified that we hold a variety of different views regarding how the church should be involved in addressing the insidious nature of corruption at all levels of society (from individual hearts, to family, church, civil, business and political structures). We have also recognised that we hold a variety of different, and sometimes opposite, views regarding whether churches should be involved in this particular moment of civil action or not. We have felt that the reasons for these views are of deep importance and value in helping us as individual Christians, churches and church structures to be reflective, repentant and active at this time. So, in answer to the question, “what is the Warehouse’s view on the march?”, we offer you a mosaic of different individual’s views as we make up the Warehouse, and hope this will be of help.

Where we are not necessarily in agreement around the march, we are certainly still in deep unity with each other – and particularly with regard to two important starting points on any discussion around corruption:

1. We believe it is critical that, when we as churches define corruption, we do so with a theological and practical understanding that corruption starts in every human heart – and therefore that the first act in fighting corruption is one of humility and repentance – as we ask God to search our hearts and shine a light on anything which is not aligned to His heart, and turn from those thoughts, attitudes and actions.

2. We believe that it is critical that, when we as churches frame discussions on corruption in our country, that we acknowledge that corruption has been overtly present in South African society, with devastating social consequences for the original people of the region since the advent of colonialism 350 years ago, and through the corrupt laws and action of the Apartheid state, and that much work still has to be done to tear down strongholds of power and privilege in our country, and to repair, restitute and restore all that has been lost.

To see more details on what the Church is being called to specifically by the march organisers, go to:


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