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Lessons From Desmond Tutu’s Vision of a Post-Apartheid South Africa

Hope and Love in Crisis

Keeping hope and love alive was one of the most urgent demands during that time. Tutu and Black South Africans knew they needed to offer alternative ways of conceiving reality as well as live the vision of God’s future liberation invading their present situation.

Hope and love finds itself not in comfort and safety but in struggle and crisis. It was South African church leader Allan Boesak who asked that famous question: Dare We Speak of Hope?

Dare we speak of inspiring of hope in a world of chaos? For that is the soil that our hands are working in. Dare we speak of hope in a world of struggle? A world where the kingdom of  darkness is against the kingdom of light? For that is the soil that we are working in. Dare we speak of hope when everyday looks like Good Friday while we wait anxiously in the darkness of Saturday for the hope of Easter morning? For that is the soil we are working in.

To speak of Hope and Love, for him, is to ask whether or not we stand where Christ stands in the world of those who, as Howard Thurman would say, “stand at the moment in history with their backs against the wall.”

To stand where Christ stands, as Black South Africans would see, is always to stand at the site of struggle; that particular place where decisions are being made, lives are at stake, and hope and love hangs in the balance. It was Thurman who spoke of this reality and its bearing on the world in an 1943 address titled “Religion in a Time of Crisis” at Garrett Biblical Institute. He shares, “It is the peculiar task of the preacher to recognize this deep urge within man and to call it to bear witness at all times, but it is particularly at such a moment as our own, now that the whole round world is rolling in darkness.”

One can see that Tutu and others found themselves in the moment of crisis in the South African struggle as their world was “rolling in darkness.” In a letter written earlier that year to then-Prime Minister B.J. Vorster, the bishop bore witness that there were only “superficial changes which do not fundamentally affect the lives of [B]lacks.”

Suffering must have a chance to speak. If it doesn’t it will turn to violence; either upon itself or others. Hopelessness begets violence. Violence begets hopelessness.

He wondered how long “can people bear such blatant injustice and suffering?” Much of the White community was by and large in prosperity, cut off from any sense of insecurity. Racist policies and practices, sadly sanctified through the White church, had long given them the comforts of social and economic power while Black South Africans experienced “a situation of evil and injustice, oppression and exploitation.” The most tragic thing was his people’s depressing threat of hopelessness.

The struggle for liberation and reconciliation of their beloved land was threatened by the violence of White South Africans and could only produce violence if something radical wasn’t done. Nothing less than a radical reordering of society based on the humanity and dignity of all people seemed powerful enough to keep South Africa from tipping over the edge into the abyss of destruction. A “people made desperate by despair, injustice and oppression,” Tutu shared, “will use desperate means.” Suffering must have a chance to speak. If it doesn’t it will turn to violence; either upon itself or others. Hopelessness begets violence. Violence begets hopelessness.

The choice was no longer between the world of the privileged or a better world, but between no world or a new world. Only one could win and bring radical transformation and healing in such a fragile society.

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Dante Stewart
Dante Stewart
Dante Stewart is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He is a graduate of Clemson University, where he was a student athlete and received a BA in sociology. His writings have been featured in publications such as Christianity Today, The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, The Gospel Coalition, and Fathom. He and his wife, Jasamine, live in Augusta, Georgia, where he is a local barista.


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