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ANOTHER VIEW: Pesach parallels in South Africa today

Toby Shapshak | 2012-04-15 00:37:07.0
Toby Shapshak. Stuff editor. File photo.
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We, too, have become slaves to a greedy elite

When the Israelites arrived in Egypt, Pharaoh welcomed them - like we welcomed our new democracy. For a generation it all seemed wonderful.

But the Israelites looked up and realised Pharaoh's son, the John Vorster of his day, wasn't the man his father was and they had become slaves. So, too, South Africans have realised that Pharaoh Zuma isn't the man Madiba was.

From being led by a generation of gentleman leaders into our own "land of milk and honey" as equals in a democracy, we discover we are now virtual slaves to an out-of-touch elite who have fostered a kleptocracy.

Pesach - or the festival of Passover - celebrates how the Israelites were delivered from slavery in a universal story of emancipation and freedom from cruel and unjust rule. It's analogous to the way we obtained our democratic freedom from apartheid. Even more so, the parallels with today's political climate are striking. The tragedy is that our leaders have forgotten where they come from. They have forgotten their people. They have forgotten us.

Growing up, I loved stories from the Bible. I thought they were all true. I still do. Told to me by my father, they taught me my morality. The times have changed and we live in a vastly more educated age, with infinitely more complex moral dilemmas. Explanations of religious belief have tried to keep pace but they still hark back to a "blind faith" argument. If I learnt anything from biblical stories, it's that religion requires sacrifices - not least an enormous vacuum in critical thinking.

The way I've managed to reconcile the problem is to separate "religious belief" from "organised religion".

The history of organised religion, to perhaps oversimplify it, is a tale of empire building. But this is true of all organised belief systems or mythologies. The dark side of human nature has this tendency to assert itself. Evil, power-hungry people use whatever mechanisms they can to achieve their goals, to feed their greed, to make their fortunes.

The greatest religion - which is really another word for belief system - right now is politics. Organised religion evolved into being a controlling mechanism, as much as providing spiritual belief. Stripped of the latter, all we have is the organising principle.

Politics, as we can see from the implosion of credible leadership in the ANC, requires a disproportionate amount of blind faith and personal sacrifice.

The painful difference is that this post-apartheid government - the children of the Freedom Charter - are more interested in self-enrichment, personal advancement and as long at the trough as they can get. The organisation, the party, has become more important than the reason it was formed.

It's hard to believe men who fought against apartheid for freedom now defend R1-million cars (two of them) as their ministerial right when Aids orphans go hungry during the Easter weekend of abundant food on middle-class tables. There's already an uncharacteristic chill in the April air - before the long dark winter before Manguang and the horrors of what country we will have afterwards, now freedom fighters have become gluttons.

There is a painful parallel between today's political Pharaohs and how we now need a new Moses - the Nelson Mandela of his era - to save South Africa from the inexplicable, inescapable slavery we find ourselves in.

I would not describe myself as a religious person. But I do have a deep sense of faith.

My faith is in humanity. People are inherently good. I believe it - even if the converse so often proves this theory. History shows we can always triumph over evil. My forebears walked out of slavery in Egypt, and the hell of the Holocaust. SA survived apartheid. Anything is possible.

I'd say sometimes faith needs to be blind, but that's the problem. It's been too blind throughout history. Sometimes, most times, we need to be critical. And that's the problem with organised belief systems, whether they are society-wide or our personal ones. When they break, or can't adjust to new events, we fall back on faith. We believe in the organisation, not the original meaning.

I've always loved the phrase "Red Sea pedestrians". It typifies the Jewish humour, the tenacity of my people. On these holy days like Pesach we tell ourselves, and our children, about the evil times and how we survived them. It's cruel that history - no matter what we achieve - still repeats itself.

But it's also an example to us of the tenacity of humanity.

I don't know how I will reach the other side, both personally and politically. I have little faith that our leaders will remember their original purpose. I just know that we've survived many deserts before. That we walked out of those concentration camps. That we can survive anything this world, or our leaders, throw at us.

Because we have our humanity. We have our humanity.

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