Why should we celebrate?

Why should we celebrate?

This month, South Africa will commemorate 20 years of democracy.

You’ll be surprised to know that it took me a while to write that sentence. I kept getting stuck at word six: ‘commemorate’ or ‘celebrate’?

It seems so silly but I’m not the only one struggling with the word ‘celebrate’ this month.

When Daily Maverick columnist Onkgopotse Tabane wrote an article giving twenty reasons to celebrate twenty years of democracy, the response he got from many readers was, “Celebrate? What’s there to celebrate?”

Many people aren’t feeling in the celebratory mood for good reason. The majority of black South Africans haven’t enjoyed the economic and social freedom they were promised twenty years ago. Racial divides still run strong and deep. Corruption in government is endemic.

And I’m sure we can all add to this list.

So what is there to celebrate?

The same question might be asked by a non-believer of Christmas. As we gather to joyfully celebrate Christ’s birth, someone could look in and ask, “What are you celebrating? A Saviour? Have you seen the mess the world is in?” And walk off thinking we’re a bunch of nutters.

But we know there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

I’m currently reading a book by Michael Cassidy, the founder of African Enterprise, called “A Witness For Ever” and it’s opening up my eyes to the bigger story at play in South Africa.

God’s story.

In Michael’s own words: “Throughout South Africa in the years 1991 to 1994 prayer intensified. A great cry to God seemed to be coming from the nation that He should act and intervene to help us for we could not deliver ourselves.” (A Witness For Ever)

And he did intervene, miraculously.

South Africa came through a multi-racial election without civil war or rampant violence. Even secular observers viewed this as a miracle when, at a similar time, over 100, 000 people were “ethnically cleansed” in the Bosnian War, and an estimated one million people were murdered in clashes between rival tribes in the Rwandan Genocide.

How did we do it?

As Anita Kromberg from Diakonia Council of Churches put it, “[Our miracle was] the product not only of our prayers and groaning, but also of very hard work by many different people.” The miracle was God’s answer to the prayer and hard work of his people.

Behind the scenes, numerous men and women organised secret conferences where leaders from opposing parties could meet. People mediated, wrote letters, organised meetings, and prayed together in small groups and in the thousands. Many of these acts and these people’s names we will never learn about in history books but they all contributed in some way to peace.

I feel the case for ‘celebrating’ may be growing.

We can celebrate that our country didn’t descend into bloody civil war like Bosnia and Rwanda. We can celebrate the numerous progressions that have been made towards protecting human rights in our country. We can celebrate that all citizens have the right to vote regardless of colour or creed.

There is much to celebrate, but we also need to remember that the hard work is not done.

Freedom, as economic, spiritual, physical and emotional flourishing, has not been won yet for the majority of South Africans. Racial reconciliation is as big and as important a topic as ever. Our leadership is in serious need of prayer to change the course our country is currently set on.

Celebrating doesn’t mean we need to stick our heads in the sand and pretend everything is perfect when it clearly isn’t. Rather it should be an opportunity to learn and gain courage from the past.

We can take heart in the knowledge that God has and is willing to intervene on our behalf if we are willing to work hard and pray for it.

Although written 20 years ago, the closing paragraph of “A Witness For Ever” seems to speak prophetically to us today:

“[T]he chance is there individually and nationally to do something beautiful for God and for His Christ. Here in the Beloved Country… South Africa should do it. So that our witness is not just for a fleeting, magic moment of extraordinary time, but for ever.”

Now it’s your turn, what do you think about celebrating 20 years of democracy?

(Image via)

This post was written by
Sam is a freelance writer based in Cape Town. She is a member of the Common Ground Rondebosch PM congregation.

9 Comments on "Why should we celebrate?"

  • Nath says

    Brilliantly written Sam. What a gift for words. Use them like a sword.

  • Eulogi Rheeder says

    What a great piece Sam. Just yesterday I was talking to a woman who told me that it was the little things of our democracy that makes her heart sing – like, the freedom to apply for a bank account and business loan and not having to worry that it’ll be rejected on the account of her skin colour and the freedom to see her granddaughter go to a school she wants to go and not one that was dictated to her.

    These might be trivial things to celebrate to some but sometimes, when we get caught in all the wrongs, we forget the rights. So, I’m choosing to celebrate with her and so many other people the significance of our democracy – the freedom it afforded to so many that had previously not had opportunities. And I will use this to stir things in my heart and to continue to fight for the freedom every day – to me, this is celebrating our democracy!

    Thanks again for reminding me to take a step back and to see the wood from the trees.

  • Richard says

    Wow – what food for thought!
    I must confess that as I approach the 20 year mark, there is much left to be desired. What I am realising is that i have a choice: to participate in reconstructing our country – one person and relationship at a time. Or I can choose to be an armchair critic – throwing angry comments and ducking my responsibility.
    What word will we use at the 30 year mark?

  • Sean Wilson says

    My family left South Africa 33 years ago in response to the old South African system. Many people chose to stay to make a difference. I am sure many who stayed were armchair critics too. Many who leave now do the same, as do many who remain.
    I want to be part of God’s plan for SA now, and chose to return a few years ago. I am glad my own family is here. We do have a choice, as Richard said.
    I am in NO way making a comparison between now and the old regime, please don’t get me wrong. Things clearly need fixing, true. A lot has changed though. I remember being in Crossroads in 1980 and seeing nothing but shacks. The Red Cross was trying to build a clinic and my friends and I went to help dig holes in the sand to put foundations down. Now I drive through Crossroads and see a mix of developed housing and informal housing. There is a heck of a long way to go, but it is far better than then. The main difference is the basic freedom, which is undeniable.

  • Linda Martindale says

    Thanks Sam — brilliant and a good reminder of all we have to be grateful for! Keep writing … you have a gift with words and an amazing heart. Look forward to reading more ….

  • Roger Wood says

    I see so little to celebrate today.
    Having lived and having been involved in groups seeking change way back in the late 80’s and 90’s there was a different attitude towards seeking Gods help in bringing about change. There was a sense of urgency and I don’t see that same desire today. We remain comfortable in our largely racially divided churches and few seek to reach out to other race groups.
    Even our church outreaches are to far away places such as Zimbabwe, Zambia or Malawi and yet the need to build bridges is right on our doorstep. Why do we not feel the need to reach out to Langa, Gugulethu, Athlone or Retreat?
    Where are the Christians calling for God’s intervention in the upcoming elections? Where are the Christians writing to the local press expressing a strong stand against what they see as wrong?
    Where are the messages preached in our churches calling for people to become active? Where are the protest marches which united us back in the 90’s. I well remember marching through Rondebosch with the 100 or so black students just before the elections. We were verbally attacked by the local residents who were threatened by the inevitable change which we saw as an opportunity to build together.
    The celebration you are calling for was expressed after the elections of 94. Sadly we, and by that I mean the church, failed to move on from there but slipped into a complacent apathy.

  • sarah says

    Sam, thank you for communicating so excellently the tension I feel almost daily – I pendulum swing from celebration to despair and disillusionment. It’s the inspiring stories I hear daily of ordinary South Africans whose lives are being changed that give me cause for hope – and yet – when I engage with the media and news it often feels like we are getting no where. I feel inspired by the series of dinner conversations held recently between people from diverse backgrounds with diverse stories – the common thread being a deep desire to overcome the structural divides through relationship and understanding. Thankfully as Christ followers we’re called to follow Christ, not save South Africa – and thankfully in following Him – in doing what He calls us to do, His plan will unfold. Keep writing – your words always get me thinking and reflecting!

  • Sindiso says

    Thanks for this important message, Sam! I just returned from Rwanda where I voted on April 30th. It was an incredible privilege to cast my vote in that remarkable country with which we share that moment in time (20 years ago, when both our dates held us in suspense and where we walked out alter ego destinies). It reminded me that that moment in our history cannot and should not be taken for granted, not in the face of what atrocities took place in Rwanda and could just as easily have taken place in South Africa. Voting there also reminded me that, even with all of our government’s failings, there’s much it gets right too – including still enabling me to exercise my core democratic right even in places as far flung as Rwanda and the US. I am hopeful for our country and echo all that’s been said about how it will take all of us to realise that hope. Viva, South Africa, viva! Viva, Christ our Lord, viva!

  • Joel Ruttenberg says

    Hi Sam,
    Well written and excellent piece, I went into the election with the same sentiments but not the eloquent words you have used. After all the justifiable negativity around the braai fires I felt it was a time for justifiable celebration! I wore my SA colours and felt there was defiantly a lot to be happy about and to thank God for!
    Many blessings,

Leave Your Comment