As Christians, our contribution to the admirable and worthwhile project of nation-building derives from the Christian scriptures. It is the Word of God that gives believers a moral and spiritual orientation. Thus in the letter of Paul to the Ephesians we are told that with the advent of Christ, all barriers that divide humankind have been broken down, that a new humanity is now taking place. In the idiom of the New Testament: there will no longer be distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female – and if I may add, black and white – all of you are one, and are citizens of one motherland, one fatherland (see Gal.3:28). You are the spitting image of the one God.
The challenge to all South Africans is to take these sentiments or teachings to heart; to internalize them; to weave them into our lives so that the transcending of distinctions and working for unity, become second nature.
The ushering in of democracy in 1994 meant the creation of a new but daunting South African consciousness, an exciting awareness of a new identity as South Africans, while giving full recognition to our religious, cultural, and racial diversity. Unity is the cornerstone, the highest value, the essential quality of any nation. It is a gift beyond compare, a gift par excellence, a sine qua non of any self- respecting nation.
1994 gave us a new order, a fresh start, a new solidarity, a new fellowship, a new creation, a new reality. This new order is intended to transcend the divisions of the past, to exorcise the ghost of apartheid, to work feverishly for unity and to embrace willingly the spirit of oneness.
We are enjoined by the Scriptures to work, not for an abstract, spiritual unity, but for a palpable, tangible, concrete unity and a visible reconciliation. National-Days such as Freedom Day or Heritage Day ought to be symbols of national unity where people who come from different cultural and racial groups gather together to renew the bonds of unity. Such gatherings are yet to take place in South Africa. South Africans still live apart.
They are suspicious of each other. Look at the sea of black faces. Where are the other racial groups? Why are they so tardy in joining hands with their fellow South Africans? They are like children shouting to each other as they sit in the market place:
“We played the pipes for you, and you wouldn’t dance;
we sang dirges, and you wouldn’t be mourners” (Mt.11.16).
The ghosts of the past still keep us apart. For example, the freedom songs we used to sing when we were slaves in Egypt and continue to sing on National days have a jarring, discordant sound in the new democratic dispensation. They are excessively partisan. They send a clear signal that some people are not welcome. They are divisive. They undermine the project of national unity. The mountains are ready for a new echo, a new sound. It is imperative that we break into a new song of unity. There are other obstacles to the project of unity viz: the prevalent inequality, poverty, rampant greed, violent crimes, especially crimes against women and children, collusion and the blatant disregard for the rule of law. These impediments militate against the growth and promotion of National Unity.
As for the religious leaders from the different religious traditions, we gather here today not only to pray for the unity of all South Africans, but also to celebrate publicly the variety of our devotions, spiritualities and rituals. In celebrating together we transcend the partiality of our own religious and denominational traditions in order to complement each other. It is this complementarity and unity in diversity that we keenly seek to embrace and promote, and that hopefully in so doing, we also contribute towards the unity of all the South African people regardless of their racial, cultural or social differences.
God our Father, bless South Africa so that its people may become one nation, a peaceful, caring and compassionate people.
National Day of Prayer