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On Safety and Security

Within the Steering Committee of the Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA) we have come to value the opportunity of having a space for ongoing reflection regarding our common desire of being faithful disciples of Jesus in the South African context. We share with you some of our thoughts and reflections that are being provoked by our context. Do these reflections resonate with you? We welcome your thoughts and reflections as we journey together.

The president’s home gets upgraded for close to R250 million. The group of ministers gathering around to protect the decision to upgrade the president’s home is called the “security cluster”, and the main problem with the public protector insisting on reporting on this upgrade is that her actions constitute a security risk.

A young white female volunteer from North America is connected with a local NGO and a family in a predominantly black neighbourhood. She will be working at the NGO and living with this family for the coming year. However, a white pastor involved with the NGO refuses, even after being told of the ways in which such volunteers are orientated to their new context and the ways in which they are supported, to allow such irresponsible behaviour: the security of the volunteer would be at risk by staying in such an area.

South Africa is a society obsessed with security. With a police force of 150000 officers, 1 for every 300 South Africans, and another 400000 security guards, more than the police and army combined, security is obviously seen as a priority.

On the surface we try to make it seem as though we are concerned with crime rather than security. But there is something deeper taking place in our constant quest to be “safe and secure.” We can justify anything, from excessive state spending to our latent racism, by drawing on our rich repertoire of talk on safety and security. No, government upgrades are not lavish, they are needed for security. No, we are not racist by refusing to allow a white woman to stay with a black family, we are concerned about her safety.

In church we have other words for speaking about safety and security. We speak about being safe, or even saved. We speak about being liberated from that which threatens to take away our lives. We speak about life—life in abundance. We speak about salvation. And salvation and security is not that far apart. And this highlights the point – are we not allowing the security cluster and security industry to determine our soteriology? Put another way, are we upholding the security industry as that which truly saves us? I lift my eyes up to the mountains and wonder from where will my help will come? The way we have structured society and the way we think a safe and secure society must be shaped continues to assume that help, even salvation, comes from the security experts who build walls between people, who keep people apart so that I can be safe.

What we perceive to threaten security further illustrates this. What has become of society when the public protector is charged with threatening the security of the country? What is this thing we call democracy when an insistence on transparency is labelled a risk? And where are we heading when the choice of a 19 year old volunteer to immerse herself into a context which is different from her own, to learn from others and to insist that reconciliation is possible, is labelled a risk?

We have to wonder whether we really care about people when we try to stop their “risky behaviour.” What tends to happen is that we project our fears on to those who are in fact courageous enough to live as though the walls that have been constructed, which are meant to divide, are no longer present. Such actions then, instead of being a risk to themselves, becomes a risk to security; it is a risk to the security of a white community (or any community of privilege) which continues to believe that their salvation will be found in segregated communities, using walls, whether real or perceived, to continue a life in the saved white space if needed.

You see, the risk is that she might live her life in this predominantly black community. She might build relations, learn to navigate the public transport, have a good time, and find meaning in this new community. She might just enjoy herself, and witness to being transformed. And where would that leave those who insist that such actions are irresponsible? Would it not be one more voice challenging the way in which we continue to use security to justify our segregated existence?

But we are a people who confess that our help comes from the Lord, Creator of heaven and earth. This is not to be naïve, rejecting any advice about our actions or the context. But this does mean that we know that salvation is only salvation if it is salvation for all. Putting our trust in God means that we know that being saved is inherently tied up with staring into the eyes of those who are different from ourselves. The only responsible action in this country is to reject the continuing segregation of black and white South Africans, to reject the way in which we make scapegoats of foreign citizens living among us, and to reject the way in which we continue to build a society defined by the security around mansions and the appalling living conditions of the poor. To believe in God is to resist this ongoing pursuit towards safety and security; and this resistance brings hope!

In listening to the debates about Nkandla, we have to wonder whether there is really that big a difference between Nkandla and the many gated communities – some still racially based, but others increasingly built on class – arising from the ashes of apartheid. Is this not just different manifestations of how we can justify our actions which continue to solidify a society based on power and inequality by drawing on our common language on the primary importance of safety and security?

By Linda Martindale

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