This country came off to a false start. At first the new plane seemed to soar into the sky beautifully, but then it crashed. Why? I think our crew had no idea where it wanted to fly. There was no chart.
GUEST COLUMNIST Fr OSKAR WERMTER SJ
How were they selected? According to their war credentials. No one asked them if they had a pilot’s licence. Now the old crew is tired and worn-out. They have had their day. Let them rest.
Crowds of equally unqualified crash pilots are surrounding the grounded flying machine, trying to get it off the ground — for another crash?
We must not allow those worn-out veterans to anoint their successors. The current system allows the party hierarchy to select candidates and impose them on the voting public. That perpetuates the rotten system.
That gang at the top gives us selfish jobseekers. Instead we have to work from the ground up with a new “fire brigade”, men and women ready to risk life and limb for the sake of the nation as whole.
So many shun “politics” as a dirty game and refuse to get involved. We do not just need a new type of leader, we need new citizens. Only citizens with a sense of responsibility for public affairs can choose one of their own as a leader. People who deny they have a public duty should not be surprised if the crooks take over.
“Responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation” (Pope Francis). Put bluntly: If you have a child in school, you cannot leave her at the mercy of the Minister of Education. If you are a caring person you must have a voice where the decisions are made. Just making a little cross on a ballot paper once in four years will not make a difference if the candidates on offer are self-serving careerists, not servants of the people.
A true citizen has a wide horizon. He looks at the country as a whole. If he sees a woman selling tomatoes on the street he says: “She is my sister. Why is she reduced to such a state?” A caring citizen has a vision for the nation as a whole, not just for his class, party, tribe or clan.
A citizen takes pride in his country and has self-confidence. He is not a defeatist excusing himself: “There is nothing I can do, I won’t make a difference anyhow.” Such timidity makes it easy for the professional power-seekers to take over and be in control.
They try to restrict freedom of assembly so the voice of the citizen is not heard. But there are many assembly points and market places where thinking citizens can articulate themselves and their voice can be heard. Citizens never allow themselves to be gagged or silenced by propaganda. They think for themselves and are not spoon-fed by nannies doing the thinking and talking for them.
Only if the voters are citizens of quality will we also get leaders of quality. Only if fathers and mothers, workers and professionals, farmers and engineers, nurses and doctors, teachers and pastors stand up and show that they care about the future of their children will we get better leaders.
Only if the citizens show moral courage and insist on their constitutional rights to speak up despite police harassment, will there be another liberation.
Such self-confident, daring citizens will eventually produce leaders who have the moral courage to challenge the powerful by speaking up for their powerless, voiceless brothers and sisters.
Leaders of moral courage will challenge even their own voters and supporters on behalf of those members of society who do not seem to count, but possess human dignity nevertheless. They will risk their career by throwing in their lot with the unborn and the dying, prisoners and prostitutes, immigrants and outcasts, the handicapped and the unemployed, considered a nuisance and disreputable, but human beings of the same divine origin nevertheless.
Religion can easily be abused in politics. Certain leaders like to give themselves a divine aura. They are not serious. But what responsible citizens and their chosen leaders should be serious about is the well-being of everyone without discrimination. They will have to answer for their decisions and give an account of their doings. The one asking has a definite bias towards those in the shadows of society.
We have accepted religious tolerance. There is freedom of religion, and the State does not identify with a particular faith. And yet, the State needs some glue for citizens to stick together and not slaughter each other, women need to be protected from abuse and wholesale rape, life must be sacred, the family is vital for the existence of the State as its basic building block. This glue is normally called morality. We have to accept the way we were made and our given nature.
The Christian Church, having the largest following, needs to talk about good citizenship and inspiring leadership. Just hymn singing is not good enough. Not that the Church should identify with particular parties.
It should keep out of political strife.
But through the ages it has seen nations rise and fall, flourish and decay, so it has a role to play as a consultant, an adviser, even at times a referee. Needless to say, it has to improve on its own leadership, too, at all levels.
The Church needs to talk to other faiths. In our African situation, first of all to the heirs of tradition who honour the ancestors, then to Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, and to secularists who are not without morality and values either. Any tradition with reverence for the Creator and/or positive community values needs to be respected by the State as a constructive force.
We need honest leaders, men and women who “do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with their God” (Micah 6:8). This will show up in their deeds, not in dressing up in church uniforms. Only citizens happy to serve in a lowly position will give us leaders who remain humble even when they have reached the top.