The past six months has seen major upheavals in South African society as a new generation of leaders have begun to find their voice.
After 21 years in the wilderness, after our national miracle liberation from captivity in 1994, a Joshua generation is rising up ready to take us over the Jordan and into the Promised Land to fulfil the dreams of their forefathers.
For the first time in a generation we are seeing courageous leadership rise from a number of sectors of society, whilst many long-trusted institutions and structures have continued to slide towards death or irrelevance.
The combination of the death and decline of our Moses/Mandela generation and the rise of a new and uncontrolled force amongst the young has made the last 6 months in particular extremely uncertain and worrying for many, whilst they have been exciting and thrilling for others.
We have dealt with economic uncertainty, political infighting, the rise of social unrest and the emergence of the #UniteAgainstCorruption, #FeesMustFall and #ZumaMustFall movements.
Is there hope for our nation in the midst of all of this? What should the church be doing?
A moment of transition
“Moses my servant is dead” Joshua 1:2
South Africa is facing a political and social transition as or more important than the rollercoaster ‘90’s. Our great Moses generation who led us so brilliantly in our sea crossing moment out of Egypt are dying out. We lost Mandela two long years ago. Yet only now are we seeing younger people pick up the mantle of leadership as was encouraged by Bishop Ivan Abrahams at the FNB stadium memorial service for Mandela in 2013.
This new generation is separated from their elders by two of the greatest social revolutions in recent history. The fall of apartheid and the digital revolution. The emerging youth see the world very differently and have the tools to collaborate and reshape the world if they decide to do so! The institutions and ideologies that served us so well in the 80’s and 90’s are dying and older leaders are expending energy trying to shore up eroding power bases whilst the country itself remains in limbo.
In this context transformative leadership can only come from the youth – and in October with #feesmustfall we started to see evidence of what that might look like. Mobilising as one on-mass, un-addicted and not reliant on egocentric leaders, the youth achieved their short term goals without too much of a problem. But the second stage of liberation, which will come after this Jordan-crossing transition we are living now, will require considerable fortitude and perseverance over a generation. It will be a long-term struggle.
At the core of what will be needed for this broad-based and long-term engagement will be leaders of great character. In the absence of simple answers and hierarchical super-leaders, each leader must be able to lead themselves and hear God as to the path they must tread. This generation will be influential at a young age and so to ensure accelerated character development, it’s essential that older leaders engage the youth. Not to control or direct them, but to mentor them and guide them in the ways of God and the law (Joshua 1: 7-8).
A moment of mobilisation
“Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan… into the land that I am giving [you].” Joshua 1:2
Those leaders who have been called and prepared by God during the wilderness years, whether they know it was God or not, have over the past couple of years or so been gradually moved out of a space of rest and frustration and catapulted into increasing action. The days of conversation and analysis, prayer and reflection are morphing into moments of practical engagement. We are seeing a shift in gears – a stepping forward in faith. The change in the personal circumstances of many of these new leaders in being reflected in the rise in energy in the broader nation. Leaders are waking. The country is waking up! This is energy with a purpose – leaders want to see dreams long forgotten fulfilled.
Commitment to consecration
“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Joshua 3:5
September this year saw a particular focus amongst a number of churches on repentance. This aligned with the beginning of the Jewish year of jubilee when debts are forgiven and captives freed. Consecration can be defined as repentance for a purpose. Making oneself holy in order to fulfil a calling. It was the preparation required by the Israelites before the new generation crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. Whilst the churches prayed in repentance the Unite against Corruption marches at the end of September called on the nation to reject corruption and ensure that we all have clean hands whilst holding one another accountable. Church leaders engaged in their numbers, alongside Unionists, NGO’s and artists, and helped, along with partners like Unashamedly Ethical, to focus the nation on our own culpability in the problems the nation faces and the necessity to repent from corruption.
Only when we allow God to cleanse our hearts and give us clean lips can we be ready to take up the calling he has for us in the Promised Land. This is most publicly visible in the scaled up public battle against corruption. God is shaking our nation and our institutions and will only be satisfied once we have allowed him to make us holy!
A time for courage
“Be strong and courageous” Joshua 1: 6 -9
For a while many South Africans have known what to do. What we have lacked has been people willing to make personal sacrifices to lead. We have lacked courage. Courage begets courage. Thuli Madonsela’s stand for truth inspired the Unite against Corruption marches in September. These arguably opened the door for the #feesmustfall movement to activate a few weeks later, which in turn led to the #ZumaMustFall movement.
We are seeing a new voice coming from the churches. Some unionists are standing on principle. Even the middle classes have mobilised towards the end of December around #ZumaMustFall. Yet it is mainly young people who are leading the way. Young people are being courageous. We still see excuses and cowardice from big business. Many in government and politics have yet to take a stand on issues of principle. It is one thing to talk or write but quite another to risk embarrassment, danger or loss of earning with courageous action.
The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, attracted much media attention at the Unite against Corruption March on 30 September in Cape Town when he called for courage above all else if we are going to see our nation change.
There is a reason why God told Joshua three times in Joshua 1 to be strong and courageous! The work of building a just and peaceful nation will require much courage. And courage will inspire others to follow us into the battles that must be fought to make that justice a reality.
I believe that the courage of the students has meant that as a nation we have passed over the metaphorical and spiritual Jordan. We are no longer standing in the wilderness! A new generation has announced itself and the people recognize that God is with them as he was with Moses!
An understanding of identity
“So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel…” Joshua 5: 1-9
As the new generation of Israelites celebrated their entering into the Promised Land they were circumcised as a sign of their identity as Jews. Once this was done they were able to begin the battles to take the land. Once this was done the reproach of Egypt was removed from them as a nation.
Raging around South Africa young people in particular are engaging around identity, most particularly in terms of what it means to be African and how they can decolonize institutions, culture and learning. Sankara, Fanon and Biko are quoted. There is a new emphasis on race, the old rainbow nation concept of Mandela and Tutu long rejected.
Without the rainbow nation narrative we no longer have a common understanding of what it means to be South African, who gets to be in or out and what roles they will be allowed to play. You just have to watch the way black and white young leaders played different roles in the #feesmustfall moments to get a small glimpse into the increasingly complicated race and identity space.
Right now these identity discussions are elitist, being held by the young educated elite. Whilst it’s likely the youth will lead the nation in policy and implementation in the future, our national identity is one area in which all generations, race groups and socioeconomic groups have an essential leadership role to play. The next phase of our transition is mediating who we are – and everyone needs to contribute to ensure that our values and past positively links to our future.
Whilst we are likely to move forward incrementally as a nation, the reality is that without a common understanding of who we are we will never be able to shake the reproach of Apartheid. Without an identity we will not be able to dream, plan and fight together in unity as we build our nation. We may have crossed the Jordan but the battle for identity is the major challenge we must face today!
Walls must fall – a taking of walled cities
“See I have given Jericho into your hand…” Joshua 6
The entering into the Promised Land brings a transition in every area of life. The idle days of wandering in the wilderness are past and instead they are replaced by sowing and reaping to sustain the people and disciplined warfare to take the cities.
What we have seen around us over the past months has the potential to lead to a disciplined tackling of the major social problems of the nation. This generation, given the right opportunities, and making good decisions, could be the ones who tackle the huge issues of poverty, lack of education, inequality and joblessness. They may be the ones that take the walled cities preventing us from inheriting our Promised Land. As they look at the seemingly impenetrable walls of Jericho they will do so in faith knowing that the God who delivered their forefathers from captivity and took their own generation across the Jordan will also be with them as they take the walled cities that inhabit the land of promise. They will be armed with cellphones rather than trumpets and Joshua’s army will be tweeting – #WallsMustFall. In that moment God will act and he will be glorified.
Building of glory
The whole purpose of Israel moving into the Promised Land was not just for their comfort, but to establish and communicate the glory of God to the nations around them. South Africa has often been described as a miracle nation and its first successful transition in the 1990’s spawned many testimonies of the goodness of God. I don’t believe that we have come so far to fail and am eagerly awaiting similar testimonies of God’s glory to emerge out of this second transition.
Whilst there are many giants and walled cities in the Promised Land that will need to be taken in the process, we need to be intently focused on the end goal of shalom, kingdom and God’s glory. #WallsMustFall – but ultimately a positive vision must develop so that #SouthAfricawillrise. This should be a generational vision – one that will require sustained leadership over several decades before we begin to see the results we pray for.
This is clearly a project too huge for mere man, but somehow God trusts us to partner with him as he builds his Kingdom. All around us we are seeing leaders rising up and courageously leading, it is essential that the church is amongst them as salt, yeast and light.
The South African Council of Churches is focusing on discerning the key areas and strategies for engagement as part of their ‘the South Africa we Pray for’ project. Taking this one step further SACLI has partnered with the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) to plan ways in which the church can mediate a national conversation around a shared vision and plan to grow jobs and economic prosperity.
Beyond a shared vision the churches will need to engage with the day-to-day implementation of being salt and light at every level of society. In the lead-up to the 2016 local government election, SACLI will be focusing on missional citizenship – helping every Christian to engage in a strategic way in our democracy with the aim of serving the people of our nation.
Initiatives like the Nehemiah Vision coming out of the Transformation Christian Network in Nelson Mandela Bay may give Christians the tools and spaces to express this missional citizenship and begin to see a strategic and long-term engagement that will bring Kingdom to our cities.
The church is the most trusted institution in the nation and so there is no one better than the people of God to facilitate the discernment of a national dream so that #SouthAfricawillrise! The church is the largest grassroots organisation in the nation and so there is no one better that the people of God to lead the implementation of developmental initiatives in towns and cities around the nation!
Together we can have faith that over this next generation his Kingdom will come, His will be done and that He will receive the glory!