/ 7 October 2008

Tutu says South Africans, churches have lost their way

Most South Africans were still in the equivalent of the biblical wilderness, Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said on Tuesday, his 77th birthday.

And those who had ”crossed the Jordan” had forgotten the ones left behind, he told an audience gathered in Cape Town for the annual Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture.

Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former primate of the Anglican church in Southern Africa, said the paradigm of the biblical Exodus was important for South Africans to remember.

Even after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, it took 40 years of wandering in the wilderness before they reached the promised land.

”And in the 40 years there were some who were longing to go back, saying it was much, much better [before],” he said.

He said he sympathised with the younger generation and its demands for a better life.

”We are travelling through a wilderness,” Tutu said.

”Some have reached the Jordan and crossed over. And having crossed over they have forgotten the ones who are still in the wilderness.”

Tutu also said the church had in many ways lost its way in post-apartheid South Africa.

It was a great deal easier to fight ”against” something, such as apartheid, than ”for” something.

”The church has found it very difficult to change from the ‘against’ mode to the ‘for’ mode,” he said.

”What are you for? Well, you might say ‘I am for, umm, er, poverty eradication’.

”The government says ‘I’m also for poverty eradication’. There are many, many offerings in the marketplace.

”When we were against [aparthied], we were about the only thing that was available.”

Younger churchmen in many ways had a tougher job than the veterans of the apartheid era.

Vuyani Vellem, deputy secretary general of the South African Council of Churches, who delivered the lecture, said the SACC recognised that churches had made the mistake in the first decade of freedom of adopting a notion of ”critical solidarity” with the state.

”The SACC is now preaching a departure from that understanding, that we must now be critically engaged not only with the state, but with the spheres of economics and participation in the transformation and expansion of civil society,” he said.

He said the SACC intended to develop a manifesto, a vision of the aspirations of ”the people”.

”We want to believe that the substantive promises of democracy must shape the character of leadership that we put in public office. That is our dream.”

He said the document would encapsulate what people expected democracy to offer, and what they expected of their leaders.

The SACC hoped to complete this before the general election in 2009.

”The intention really is to say … democracy should be about participation, the restoration of the dignity of the people of South Africa.” – Sapa