Some of us might try to fight it but there is something psychologically compelling about the somewhat arbitrary changing of the calendar year that resonates with our desire for change. Amidst all the new gym memberships, course enrollments, and best intentions here are five relatively simple ways in which you might take some steps towards living more justly in 2018.
As with most resolutions that actually stick, it is usually because there is both a very definite plan and some level of accountability. As a result, you will notice that in the list below there is included at least one practical step for each suggestion.
For greater accountability, though, don’t keep your resolution to yourself – share with someone the steps you are committing yourself to this year. Better yet find yourself a partner who will join with you in pursuing living more justly in 2018.
1. Learn an African language:
Language is a powerful element not only for communication, but equally for identity formation. When we take the time to learn and communicate with someone in their home language we are doing more than aiding communication, we are affirming their identity and value. In a context like ours learning an African language can go a long way to building bridges of reconciliation.
If you are in Cape Town Xhosa Fundis comes highly recommended for their beginner’s courses. As a supplement to a more formal course of study I have found the Memrise App extremely useful for learning vocabulary. The app currently offers a number of vocabulary options for both isiXhosa and isiZulu.
2. Listen to the story of someone different to you:
As the very name itself suggests, one of the cornerstones of Apartheid policy was to keep us separate from each other and therefore, ignorant of the very different realities within which we were forced to live. This ignorance is perpetuated today through the continuing legacy of apartheid spatial planning. For many of us seeing our city, our history, our church or our childhood through the eyes of another can be a significant moment of understanding or awakening on the journey to living more justly.
Consider attending one of our Story Telling Across the Railway Lines events this year or inviting us to run one at your church, small group or organisation. Alternatively attend one of the Community Dinners run by St Peter’s Church “where people from all walks of life come and sit down in a safe space and enjoy the company of others over dinner.”
3. Pay a Living Wage:
What would it take for a family to live comfortably without having to struggle for their basic needs to be met in South Africa today? It may surprise you to discover that figure is estimated to be more than double the minimum wage. Paying a living wage rather than merely what everyone else is paying or what is legally required can go a long way to breaking the cycle of poverty for particular families.
A living wage can assist families in not failing prey to predatory debt, as well allow as opening up better options in terms of education and nutrition. This surely must be what James has in mind when he writes that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” Seeking fair and equitable treatment for the most vulnerable among us is the measure of the gospel at work in us.
This video clip from Common Good is a great place to begin to explore this idea further.
Read Nigel Branken’s story: How we Came to Pay a Living Wage
You might also find this Living Wage calculator useful.
4. Learn more about the history of our country:
The apartheid education system was designed to tell us only one story or at best only one part of a story of our country. As a result, many of us simply do not know the full history of our country. In order to live justly within our context, without causing further harm, we need to further educate ourselves as to the full history of our country and the terrible extent of both colonialism and apartheid.
As Christians it is crucial we understand more comprehensively the complex and inconsistent history of the church in South Africa. On the one hand engaging in silent acquiescence or worse entrenching and legitimizing racial division and economic inequality, and on the other hand providing the seeds of liberation and equality.
Visit a museum: If you are in Cape Town the District Six Museum (pay a bit extra and get an ex-resident to show you around), Robben Island Museum and the Slave Lodge are well worth a visit. You may also want to consider a visit to the Gugulethu Seven or the Trojan Horse Memorial sites.
If you are in Johannesburg visit the Apartheid Musuem (be prepared to take the whole day if needed) and the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Musuem, commemorating the 1976 student uprisings are both excellent.
Read: Antjie Krog’s brilliant narrative of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “Country of My Skull”; Steve Biko’s “I Write What I Like”; Benjamin Pogrund’s biography of Robert Sobukwe “How Can Man Die Better.”
If you want to learn more about the history of the church in South Africa read either John de Gruchy’s classic “The Church Struggle in South Africa” or Richard Elphick’s “The Equality of Believers: Protestant Missionaries and the Racial Politics of South Africa“
5. Start a Restitution Fund:
South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world and there are suggestions that this gap rather than closing may actually be increasing. This inequality, though, is no accident, it is the result of an all-encompassing, systematic and intentional political, social and economic programme designed to create wealth among certain racial groups and leave others impoverished.
It is clear that there needs to be some kind of redistribution of wealth in South Africa. Whilst there are very necessary conversations which need to happen at a national level, each of us, who have benefited from apartheid need to consider what restitution could look like for us at an individual, family, church or community level.
Why not consider staring a restitution fund within your extended family, at your church or among a group of friends? You could use this money to consider tangible ways to break the cycle of poverty and put the means of wealth creation into the hands of black families or community organisations. Think bursaries, teacher’s salaries, rent free living while studying, buying a house or even sharing your inheritance.
Start a reading group to work through Sharlene Schwartz’s excellent book “Another Country: Everyday Social Restitution.” As a group commit yourself to not merely reading and discussion but to at least one concrete act of group implementation based off your study together.