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A disturber of the status quo

A South African friend shared the text below on Facebook. He kindly agreed for us to share it here.  

 

"There is no improving the future without disturbing the present.” Catherine Moore, co-founder of the Salvation Army

It's a big day in South Africa as we face the reality of life without Nelson Mandela's presence in our nation. And rightly, we celebrate his life and that which he brought to us as a nation and also to the world. But in this process I think we risk having him dressed up and made comfortable for us, a nice grandfatherly figure who made us feel warm and fuzzy rather than a willing and courageous disturber of the present in the fight for an improved future. 

As I cycled to work this morning I thought of the Nelson Mandela I grew up with in South Africa. The "terrorist", the man who threatened the status quo of white privilege so profoundly that everything about him was banned - his image, his words and his family. He was a fighter who made those in power feel threatened because he profoundly threatened their present. And since we benefited from this power the vast majority of us did not question this perception. We do no favour to ourselves, those of us born into wealth and power anywhere in the world, to forget that we fought against his legacy. We, in South Africa and in other parts of the western world, saw him as someone who threatened our hegemony and so we labelled him and isolated him. We were on the wrong side of the arc of history that Martin Luther King told us bends towards justice and we dare not forget or be imprisoned by that reality. 

In thinking about this I am grateful for Denise Ackerman's wisdom:

"A painful history can cripple human memory in two ways: you can either forget the past or be imprisoned by it. I wish neither on you. Your understanding of your past will enable you to deal with your future. Understanding the past will also help you to recognise - both in yourselves and in those who will govern you - the inclination to harm and destroy...

If, on the one hand, you believe yourselves to be immune to the evils perpetrated by previous generations you will be more vulnerable to evil. If, on the other hand, you believe yourselves to to be the victims of history, you will forgo the opportunity to emerge from self exoneration into the more turbulent but rewarding waters of self-knowledge...So my prayer for you both is that you will not shirk the clamour of history, while at the same time you will not be burdened by it to the extent that you feel helpless to act." 

I live in a country that once again stands on the brink, not because Madiba has died but because we have not been sufficiently willing or able to disturb our present lives in the fight for an improved future. We live with a state that is increasingly enjoying power for its own sake and seems more interested in preserving that power than it is in serving a nation. We live in a country and world increasingly dominated by an economic elite that is willing to destroy millions of lives to increase its wealth and power even whilst paying lip service to development or transformation. 

So today, as I mourn a man, who helped create a future I am able to participate in, I hope for the courage and determination to find myself willing to sufficiently disturb the present in the belief of an envisioned future. 

Hamba Kahle Tata   [Go well, father]

 

Craig Stewart


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