St Joseph's Day (May 1, 2002) - Ekubonakalisweni Parish
Osizweni, Newcastle

I consider it a privilege to spend the morning with my brothers in Christ, to draw inspiration from our fellowship and to also have the opportunity to speak about what is in my own heart. The occasion of the celebration of Labour Day, and what to us as Christians is St Joseph's Day, is particularly significant for the churches of our country. We must pause and reflect on the connection between the evangelic message and today’s celebration. There is an important role for churches to play in the making of South Africa which calls for all of them to work together right across all denominations. As you all know, throughout my life I have supported and championed all efforts made to promote greater ecumenism and I firmly believe in the need for denominational cross-pollination and the necessity for all churches to work together. There are many churches, but only one flock. Occasions such as these show that we can come together as children of God, irrespective of denomination.

The celebrations of Labour Day impress on me the importance of the evangelic message which spells out the importance and nobility of work. Christ, our Saviour, could have chosen to come amongst us as the son of a great king. Instead, He came as the son of a carpenter, St Joseph. Young Jesus himself worked with St Joseph helping him with his carpentry. The apostles themselves were working people. It is part and parcel of the spirit of the New Testament to project a new system of values which highlight the nobility of work over the nobility of birth, and the centrality of individual experience on the path of individual salvation and redemption.

These considerations are very important for today’s South Africa and for the role of the Church in the spiritual unfolding of our history. Now more than ever, performing the work of God on earth calls for us to stress the importance of goodwill in work activities. The Benedictine order of the Catholic Church adopted as a maxim "ora, lege et labora" which means "pray, study and work". This is indeed what the whole of South Africa needs to do if it wishes to lift itself out of its present conditions. We need to encourage our people to pray, study and work. Praying, studying and working outline the parameters of both an individual and a collective path of human growth and upliftment. I believe it is important for our churches to highlight the need for human growth by underscoring the synergistic value of working activities, a constant culture of learning and devotion to God. Everyone, irrespective of their context, has the opportunity to learn, even though he or she may not have access to formal study. Even people who are illiterate can learn.

Similarly, everyone has the opportunity to work and keep himself busy, even in the midst of so much unemployment. I am reminded of something I read some time ago which was: pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depends on you. Perhaps we need to create a new culture that highlights these two important elements of human experience. I remember how this culture was embodied in the activities of our churches. Missions used to be very active in agricultural activities and used to organise people to produce food. Under the present circumstances, nothing would be more important for our people than achieving generalised food security. When I was a youngster growing up at the Palace of KwaDlamahlahla, many people of importance visited the Palace. They included prominent politicians, such as the Reverend John Langalibalele Dube, who was the first President of the African National Congress. We in this province remember him as the Founder of Ohlange Institute whose syllabus in the past had a technical bias. He also founded Ilanga.

Another impressive clergyman who made an indelible impression on my memory was the Reverend Fr. David Ntombela. He was the Rector of St. Mary's, Nkonjeni in the Mahlabathini District where I have worshipped ever since I returned home after growing up at the Palace. As a child, I was impressed by this gentleman of the cloth because he travelled in a brand new V8 Ford car, which was exactly the same as the car which my own father, Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi, owned. As I started learning the English language, I was taught what were called similes, and one of these was "as poor as a church mouse!" To me this reflected the fact that the House of God is a place where there is no wealth and I could not understand how Fr. Ntombela could afford such a posh car. To cut a long story short, Fr. Ntombela had made money which enabled him to purchase such a flashy car from the earnings he accumulated through the sale of mealies and beans, etc. which he produced just from the land around the Nkonjeni Church. I think that he was a wonderful role model to his parishioners in demonstrating to them and those who were not even Christians, what God meant when he said to Adam: "You shall live by the sweat of your brow".

One of the greatest challenges confronting our people is that of poverty. We need to appreciate the value of subsistence agricultural activities and a subsistence economy. In the past, churches were instrumental in creating a wide network of subsistence agriculture and economic activities. This was not peculiar to South Africa, but indeed reflected an ancient European church tradition. For instance, I was very impressed when I visited the General Home of the Benedictine Order in Germany, and saw how, to this day, they have a large compound in which they maintain lots of livestock, including cattle and poultry, and have large agricultural operations to the point of growing their own vines and making their own wines. They were self-supporting in every way. I have always felt that our churches should organise our people to help them to grow food and achieve generalised food security. Especially under the scourge of HIV/AIDS, it becomes increasingly more important that people improve their dietary habits in order to boost their immune systems and prolong their life expectancy, even if HIV positive.

Impressing this on our people is something that both church leaders and politicians should stress each and every time we preach or speak, as HIV/AIDS is the biggest challenge we face as a nation. The production of food is therefore a priority.

I have already mentioned to you how Fr David Ntombela managed to buy himself an 8-cylinder car which in those days was an absolute luxury for anyone, especially for a black parishioner. More importantly though, his activities provided for the needs of thousands of people and he gave direction to their lives. He also helped people to gain their self-respect, because there is no greater freedom and dignity than that achieved by becoming self-reliant through one’s own work. The recent celebration of Freedom Day across South Africa has given us pause to reflect on how far we have come and has reminded us that freedom comes at a price. This price must be paid every day. The most important part of this price is the commitment to work, because work brings about freedom not only for individuals, but for a nation. Only through work shall we be free.

As an Anglican parishioner, I am very much aware of the increasing poverty of our people at this time, to the extent that we cannot even meet our assessments. This is the extent of the poverty we face. I remember once meeting our Metropolitan, Archbishop Ndungane at Durban airport, where we sat together for quite some time in the VIP lounge and I mentioned to him that I am aware that my parish owes more than R50,000 in unpaid assessments, and that the Diocese itself is short by an amount of R700,000 plus in unpaid assessments for all parishes. I was quite surprised when His Grace responded to me by saying that is unfortunately what he called a trend everywhere. It was, however, not surprising to me because of the increasing poverty of our people. I realise that we cannot refer only to farming and rural activities but must point to self-help and self-reliance with emphasis on what people can do with their hands, even in an urban setting where many of our parishes are.

It is appropriate that following so close on the heels of Freedom Day we meet to celebrate Labour Day. The significance of freedom and labour being so near one another should not be lost on us. As a nation, we have been required to labour long and hard for our freedom. As you may know, I myself have dedicated almost half a century of constant work to seeing South Africa finally free. Like every South African, I stand in awe of what we have accomplished. I feel it justified that nations across the world look to South Africa as an example of outstanding transformation and reconciliation. I am proud of our nation. I am proud of how hard we have worked. But I am also deeply encouraged by our capacity for arduous and continuous labour because I see before us a long road yet to be walked towards freedom.

As a leader of my people I have always spoken directly, without rhetoric or compromise. In 1 Corinthians 14 verse 8, the Apostle Paul writes "For if a trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?" In times such as these, it is vital that leaders speak forthrightly about the realities we face. If, to allay the fears of his people, a king announced that the invading army has ten thousand men when in fact one hundred thousand are on the march towards his kingdom, the people will be content to rally twenty thousand of their own warriors. However, all twenty thousand will be slain and the battle will be lost. A dishonest leader is a curse to his people. A leader who does not give a clear signal, brings disorder.

I feel therefore that in the midst of our celebration, we must take cognisance of the battle still to be waged, and I am prepared to be direct in addressing its realities. The facts about HIV/AIDS are harsh and I support every courageous effort to save lives. I firmly believe that with courageous leadership and personal responsibility the battle against the spread of HIV/AIDS can be won on this continent. I believe it can be won in South Africa and it can be won in KwaZulu Natal. In fact, when the victory comes here, from the heart of the greatest suffering, the message will spread like wildfire that HIV/AIDS can be beaten. We are in a position to become champions of health, individual responsibility and upright conduct. Let us take up this challenge with zeal.

The HIV/AIDS crisis is but one of the many battles we fight on an individual and collective level in our country. Our success in each of these battles will determine the degree to which we achieve true liberation in our country. Much of the battle for liberation has now moved from the arena of politics and law, right into our homes. Freedom must now be sought from the shackles of the mind and the shackles of the heart, from the shackles of circumstance and of dysfunctional or destructive relationships. Looking at our families and our children, I feel that somehow spiritual, emotional and psychological bondage has become our most formidable foe.

I am heartbroken when I hear of the suffering of our children at the hands of those who should be loving, nurturing, educating, guiding and raising them. We may have worked for and secured the right to education for our children, knowing that knowledge is a tool of liberation. But still they are held in the bondage of insecurity, fear and anger because of physical and sexual abuse. We cannot keep silent when a father is abusing his children, just because he is the breadwinner. Feeding one’s children does not qualify one to abuse them. The terrible truth is that in most cases of abuse, the perpetrator is well-known to the child.

I am truly shocked when I hear of sexual abuse in our schools. To my mind, teaching is perhaps one of the highest callings, and to our teachers we entrust the development and education of our children. What is taught in our schools and universities today, will become the issues of social discourse tomorrow. But if instead of priming and shaping our children’s intellect and creativity, we are teaching them to distrust authority figures, fear relationships, despise their own bodies and withdraw from social interaction, we are generating a future of broken adults, broken leaders and a broken nation. I want something more for South Africa. I want to secure our future.

I have been blessed with sons and daughters of my own. Whenever I look at them, I see the unique potential, gifts and talents God has placed within them and, as a father, I want to help them express and develop these gifts. I believe there is a destiny and calling upon all my children. Anything that threatens to take them off the path of greatness, is a direct challenge to me. In a country where for generations we have believed in ubuntu, it should not be strange to hear the reminder that my children are yours, and your children are mine. I feel the same protective instinct rise when I see any child being robbed of their destiny through abuse, neglect or intimidation.

I must remind myself daily that "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" [Ephesians 6 verse 12]. We can become so angry with the perpetrators of crime, that we curse and reject them. Yet South Africa must learn to look beyond the criminal, to help the victim. Time and again I hear people saying that we treat our criminals too well, but give no care to their victims. I know that there are vast and far-reaching difficulties in our justice system, and I fear they have become places of higher education in crime. Our prisons must become centres of rehabilitation to ensure that no more South Africans become victims.

The Church as the body of Christ, across denominations, has been tasked with getting involved to right the wrongs of our society, individual by individual. Jesus said "I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me." He continued, saying "Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" [Matthew 25 35 - 40]. So what is our responsibility as Christians and South Africans of goodwill? Is it to sit on the sidelines and decry the deficiencies of government? How can a man who is in darkness be shown the light when he is surrounded by fellow men equally in darkness? I believe that rehabilitation, particularly in our prisons, can start with prison ministries, where men and women equipped with truth and love become involved in the lives and burdens of individual people struggling with sin.

As I have said, South Africa is yet to look past the obstacles and difficulties in our criminal justice system to reach out a hand of healing to the victims of crime. Where our children are the victims, we must accept taking collective responsibility. Where our parents and elderly people are victims, we must protect and assist them. It is beyond my comprehension that eighty year old men and women are walking miles to receive their pension money, only to be robbed on the way home. I was in awe when I heard of a team of young people who had begun going from house to house, visiting elderly members of their community and doing repairs and upkeep to their homes. They asked nothing in return. They were showing the type of respect and brotherly love we are commanded to express. It is called an "act" of love because it demands we "do" something.

Freedom comes at a price. We have laboured long and hard for the freedom we have today in South Africa. I, for one, am willing to work harder and longer to secure the freedom we have not yet achieved. I want to see men becoming fathers to their children and husbands to their wives. If nothing else, I will lead by example. I want to see leaders who are committed to speaking the truth and seeking the vision we all may follow. The Bible tells us to write down the vision, so that anyone who reads it will see it clearly and will run with it. Perhaps our Constitution may be seen as the written vision of our nation. However we are still running towards it. It is written, but is not yet fully achieved. I want to see leaders who can run ahead and show the way without wavering or stopping or resting on past achievements.

I want to see teachers who are dedicated to "walk worthy of the calling with which they were called" [Ephesians 3 verse 20]. It is no easy task to take in hand the next generation and shape South Africa’s future. I long to see every South African coming alongside our teachers and assistants, our professors and deans and trainers. I never want to see our educators burdened beyond what they can bear, for then their work will necessarily falter. I feel that we must look after our teachers and keep them accountable through our trust, our support and our involvement. We need to check up on what our children are learning and be sure that the generation of tomorrow is shaped for success. Let us rise against anything which would rob our children of the destiny of greatness upon them.

Many African parents rely on the fact that a teacher is in loco parentis, and we fail to discharge our duties to our children as parents. We fail in our most important duty of bringing up our children in a manner we would like to see them brought up. For example, most African parents do not attend parents' meetings when called to do so. Then when our children are abused, we complain and yet these parents' meetings give us the opportunity to put our stamp on the way children are brought up.

The other day, many of us, including our church leaders, attended the Conference which was called by Deputy President Zuma on the 18th of April, on "Moral Regeneration" in Pretoria. This was a hopeful sign when the nation is admitting that there is moral decay in our country. My view was that we need to look back at our past because there are things that we as politicians did which are foundational to some of the moral decay we see around us. For instance, during the liberation struggle there were campaigns to make the country "ungovernable." There were things that were done by church leaders which were foundational to some of the behaviour we now complain about. At the Moral Regeneration Conference, for example, I mentioned the Kairos document, and what it advocated. I was pleasantly surprised when Dr Tsele came up to me smiling, with another priest, to tell me that they authored the Kairos document. We as a nation need to confess our past sins. For example, we politicians need to say up-front that we were wrong to urge young people to make the country and the townships "ungovernable', and to confess as church leaders that we were wrong in urging violence through such documents as the Kairos document.

I often tell the story of my visit to Lambeth Palace in 1985 to pay my respects to our Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Runcie. I had sent a short memorandum to the Archbishop in which I wanted to be guided by him on the contentious issue which you theologians have wrestled with for ages, about when does the time come for what is called "a just war." On arrival at Lambeth Palace, His Grace had a copy of my memorandum in his hand, and before we even sat down, he said to me, I have read your memorandum, do other leaders agree with you? I knew at once that the Archbishop would have consulted church leaders in this country after receiving my memo. So my response to his question was: "Your Grace, you are a leader too, do others always agree with you?" And before he responded, I also asked: "And did everyone agree with Christ?" His Grace just looked at me and I got no guidance on the serious issue of the violence that had then erupted in our country.

On this Labour Day, I have really spoken about relationships. The words of the poet John Donne ring true that no man is an island apart from the main. In the eyes of the world, in 1994 South Africa embarked upon a journey of reconciliation. In truth, we were labouring day in and day out to reconcile for many generations. I feel that the work of reconciliation is ongoing and we cannot abandon it now. Building relationships is essential towards building a free South Africa and imparting to all our people a sense of security, personal dignity and identity.

Even though I myself suffered a lot of vilification from certain church leaders during the liberation struggle, I however do feel that the Church is well-equipped to become a leader of reconciliation and relationship-building, even across cultural barriers, always leading by example. Paul spoke strongly against division in the body. I am reminded that even Jesus Christ said "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand" [Matthew 12 verse 25]. Reconciliation is our greatest challenge and it will be our most important victory. I want to see us united in one purpose to achieve freedom in South Africa from the bondage of fear, insecurity, criminality, poverty and isolation.

South Africa has moved from pariah to participant in the ever-expanding global community. We have become a leader on our continent, blessed with greater prosperity and potential than many of our neighbours. We are indeed an active part of our world, influencing politics, shaping ideologies and determining our collective future together with our brothers and sisters across the globe. Yet within our own borders, indeed within our own homes, millions of individual people feel isolated and the freedom to receive abundant life and joy is denied. The child huddled in the corner fearing the next broken bone, the old man deprived of human contact for weeks on end, the mother taking the abuse to protect her children, every victim of crime, every person needing someone to shed a little light on a very small but self-sustaining world of pain; for these people I continue to work and pray constantly.

Unless we take our efforts towards reconciliation right into our homes and work-places and churches, our labour towards freedom will seem to be too high a price to pay for too little. Our greatest enemy at this point in our history is despair. I believe that in this battle for freedom we need to shoot accurate arrows, knowing our target, rather than wasting countless resources hoping to succeed somewhere. Fighting everyone, everywhere with everything we have, is a sure way of exhausting our capacity and ushering in despair. We need to fight as a united body against issues, not people.

I urge us as people of goodwill to indeed be salt and light to this world. In the times of our spiritual forefathers, salt was put with the offerings to represent the covenant of God with His people. I believe that as His children we need to be that salt, by bringing the covenant blessings of God to those who need to receive. His blessings of shelter, sustenance, comfort, healing, teaching and protection are ours to give, for we give as we have received. I thank God our Father for the richness of His blessings to me. In response to His goodness, I have dedicated my life to bringing light to His people. I believe that as those in whom the light of God shines, we are all leaders. Let us live as leaders, accepting the responsibility to keep going in the right direction, and never cease in our labour for freedom.

I thank you for the opportunity to share my heart on this occasion. May the Lord be found by those who seek Him and may He bless our fellowship here today.