Poor Pretenders


Following on from what I wrote last week about The National Conference on the Constitution, some very true words were spoken by Adv. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi:

“I hear a lot of scepticism and dismissal of constitutionalism as a concept – sort of embedded in some of these remarks. I want to take them seriously that there is a sense of constitutional scepticism, but I want to consider a possible alternative to constitutional nihilism …

Consider a different perspective.

My own experience – having studied and lived in this country – is that if you destroy the rule of law, what you are left with is a state of chaos. People who benefit from a state of chaos are people with money and guns.

A state without the rule of law never benefits the poor, but the promise of the big man, you know who promises you a different future if you destroy the rule of law, is always that things will be better, but they never are.

So we have to sustain the rule of law for the poor, but not any kind of rule of law, but a rule of law that is grounded in justice, not to sustain it for the rich, but to sustain it for the poor. And we’ve got to understand that if we destroy the rule of law we destroy it primarily for the poor and we benefit the elites who pretend they are acting for the poor, but they are simply exploiting the poor by deploying their language, but ultimately what they are interested in is themselves.

So whenever someone uses constitutional nihilism as an entry point in the debate we have to be very, very concerned about what their true agenda is. So I am very sceptical about claims about selling out and very sceptical about the claims for constitutional nihilism.”

[Interesting trivia: Tembeka Ngcukaitobi was born on the 25th December 1976. Use it, don’t use it].

Now as we look forward to next week – Holy Week – we will be reminded of the story of Jesus’ anointing with costly perfumed oil. In John’s telling of this story, we hear Judas complain about the wastage and how it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. John adds a whisper to the reader regarding Judas’ motive: “Judas said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief…” This points to Ngcukaitobi’s insight about how there are certain “big men – elites – who pretend they are acting for the poor”. Yet, as he says: “… they are simply exploiting the poor by deploying their language, but ultimately what they are interested in is themselves”. Sounds like Judas would have fitted in well with those who wear RET (Radical Economic Transformation) T-shirts. The ancient story remains disturbingly relevant to our days!

During Holy Week (Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday evenings) we will be investigating who killed Jesus – but looking at some of the hidden players.

Spoiler alert: it was us. Not them. It is us.

With grace,

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Scapegoating the Constitution



This past week President Ramaphosa gave the opening address at The National Conference on the Constitution. The words of his written speech provide a distilled clarity of our Constitutional democracy. I encourage you to read his address in full.

What baffled me was how the event was repeatedly being reported through the media. The impression I got was that the conference had gathered to evaluate the Constitution to see how it may have failed us or not. This was the exact opposite question we need to be asking. It is not how the Constitution may have failed us, but how we have failed the Constitution. Here is an example of the repeated media coverage:

President Cyril Ramaphosa believes that, 26 years since the Constitution came into effect, it is time to reflect on its efficiency and whether it has “served the aspirations of our people”. 

If you have read the President’s speech you will know that these words do not exist in the written text. The written speech is clear that we are to account for our honouring of the Constitution or lack thereof and not the other way round. Was this a case of media mischief?


In watching the recording of the President’s speech he deviated from his written speech on a few occasions. And the words above quote him correctly. They are from his off the cuff introductory remarks. Was he playing to another audience or were these words simply spoken unthinkingly? I do not know but I know that it is very unfortunate that he said what he said and that this was the only angle picked up by the media. The result is not only at odds with his speech but at odds with what we need to hear as a people of this country, namely, the truth.

We dare not use the Constitution as a scapegoat for our failings. To do so is to crucify the innocent and allow the guilty go free. This may bring brief relief to the ruling party but it will not bring life to the nation.

Then, after The National Conference on the Constitution, the ANC Chief Whip, Pemmy Majodina is reported to have said: “This is the 25th anniversary of the Constitution, and that Constitution needs to be amended. Remember, this was a transitional Constitution, to accommodate everyone.” With these words Majodina invites us to remember something that does not exist. We do not have a transitional Constitution. We have a Constitution finish and klaar.

Note how the conversation has begun to slip down the slippery slope. We have moved from a question to an answer both based on falsehoods and blame. The truth is that this Chief Whip is more concerned about the 2024 elections than Constitutional integrity. If only she knew that the best electoral strategy for her party (and every party) in 2024 is to tell the truth of how they have betrayed the Constitution. This confession may set people free to begin to trust them again.

Now here is the beautiful and revolutionary preamble to our Constitution. It is remarkably non-nationalistic. It is Gospel in its truth-telling, desire for healing and call for justice. I invite you to read it today as a prayer:


We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.


We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to—

Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;

Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and

Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.


May God protect our people.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso. God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa. Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.

In grace,

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Blessed are the Peacemakers



South Africa is a very violent society. This is confirmed every day in the news. It follows that we are a violently traumatised people. This is confirmed by our hyper alertness and the high levels of fear and anxiety within so many of us. Rage and the threat of violence never seem far from the surface in SA. For our own sanity we block out large parts of this traumatising truth. We become numb by necessity. All this is so normalised that we are barely aware of it, yet ask anyone who has had an opportunity to travel outside of South Africa what they most enjoyed and without fail we hear: “It was just so good to walk around freely.”

Sometimes the constant high tide of violence feels like it surges even higher or perhaps we just seem to catch more of the headlines than usual or our own experience and the headlines collide. Like the person who was mugged two months ago. She told me she is so grateful that she was not physically harmed, yet her physical body begs to differ with her: she still cannot sleep through the night and all she wants to do is retreat into her house and never come out. For others their house is no place of safety at all as the statistics around GBV and domestic violence testify. Still others live with low intensity threats on their life every day, like the city fruit seller who must deal with threats of intimidation most mornings while setting up his stall. The threat is: “Let me help you set up your stall, or else…” Just take a moment to mull that over in your mind…

While Martin Luther King jr said: “A riot is the language of the unheard”, violence seems to be the 12th official language of South Africa with just about everyone fluent in it and if not fluent then at least schooled in it Whether it be a university student or a health care worker on strike or a member of the police the message is the same: “Violence is the only language they understand.” Or “Unless something burns no one will take notice.” Even though we have all seen the horrors of violence play out we keep returning to it again and again asking it to be our saviour.

Some argue violence is only a ‘last resort’ but the last soon becomes the first resort. Take for example the horror of a fortnight ago, when Four electricians were killed by Ekurhuleni residents while trying to restore power to their suburb. The community thought they were copper-cable thieves, as if that would have justified their mob murder. Again, mull this over for a moment… How do the families of the killed ever heal from this? And how does the community responsible ever process this?

The most pervasive crime and violence in our country is not actually named crime and violence, and yet this is exactly what poverty is, especially poverty in the presence of wealth. The violence of poverty differs from gun violence in the number of fingers on the trigger. Instead of one finger on the trigger there are many hands on many levers over much time, but the result is the same: death. Poverty is not a natural phenomenon. It is systemically designed. Take the story from two weeks ago: Girl, 4 found dead in pit toilet in Eastern Cape. See how poverty and the neglect of care kills? This particular form of violence repeats itself even though a very simple solution exists:

News24 has reported that, according to the 2021 National Education Infrastructure Management System report, more than 1400 schools in the Eastern Cape had pit toilets. Over the last decade, a number of children have died in pit toilets. In December, the body of a three-year-old boy was found in a pit toilet in a village outside Vuwani in Limpopo. In 2018, a five-year-old girl died after falling into a pit toilet at Luna Primary School in Bizana in the Eastern Cape. In 2014, Grade R pupil Michael Komape died at Mahlodumela Primary School in Limpopo after he fell into a pit toilet.

What we call “service delivery protests” are in fact cries for the means of life. When these means of life are withheld people die. This is violence. This is crime. Poverty is a primary form of violence that is not recognised as violence, yet it begets violence that is recognised as violence.

This cycle of violence is so clearly portrayed in the work of Anthony Collins. He suggests we turn the problem on its head and ask what we should do if we actually wanted to create a violent society. Presented this way, Collins shows that some key suggestions are easily identified:

  1. Teach children violence through observation and personal experience.
  2. Expose the young and vulnerable to overwhelming distressing emotions without appropriate emotional support, so that they develop unstable emotional defenses.
  3. Expose people to stressful situations that they are unable to manage.
  4. Maintain many types of inequality.
  5. Withhold the provision of non-violent skills for resolving conflict and stress.
  6. Normalise violence by maintaining socially acceptable forms of it, and forms that are legitimated by social authorities.


Jesus says: “Blessed are the peacemakers”. Now we know what peace-making means. It means we must address these 6 ingredients of violence.

In grace,



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betrayal | resistance


The betrayal | resistance exhibition will be open today after the service.
You too will be able to write your own Yellow Banner.



As a nation how many times do we need to be reminded that:

  1. A society is as healthy and educated and secure as the most marginalised and vulnerable of the society.
  2. The truth will be revealed. That no amount of oppressive censorship and violent intimidation is able to keep a lid on the truth eternally.
  3. Corruption collapses on itself. That anything built on injustice and inequality has within it the seeds of its own destruction.
  4. Denial delays healing. Denial of lesson 1-3 leads to sickness and possible death.


For the biblical prophets these lessons were the Law. The Law of the Lord. According to the prophets the Law of the Lord was as firmly fixed as any law of nature. Therefore, to reject them would be as futile and as reckless as rejecting the law of gravity. The prophets would constantly remind the powers that be and society at large that these Laws are not negotiable. A government decree cannot make them cease to exist. Even if everyone decides that these Laws don’t apply, they do not disappear. They remain active. If we transgress them we will find out the hard way. We may find out after three days when the stone is rolled away or after forty years of wandering through a desert, but the point is we will find out. And here is another Law. The longer it takes for us to find out that no society is exempt from these Laws the more extensive our destruction will be.

As a result of our Apartheid past one would think that we would have learnt these lessons once and for all but sadly it seems every new crop of people in power must to learn them for themselves.

In the last number of years and even in the last few weeks we have seen these Laws apply:

  • State-Capture as a whole and the Zondo Commission of Inquiry is the overarching example of this;
  • Mafia-like cartels fleecing State owned entities slowly coming to light;
  • Bullying by management in an institution of higher learning and assassinations in another institution of higher learning;
  • A tourism board into English league soccer;
  • A JSC listed International Holdings company that is more like a Ponzi scheme than business now bankrupted;
  • An individual flipping a housing estate with government partnership for millions in profit;
  • The LOTTO board mansions;
  • PRASA derailment of Metrorail, etc. etc.


In each case marginalised and vulnerable people have been left more marginalised and vulnerable while a tiny number of people have become filthy rich. But the truth always stretches towards the light of day. Sure it does not do this on its own. It takes convicted and courageous people to draw open the curtains – even just a crack – to let a slither of light in to pierce the darkness. And soon the flow of truth is unstoppable.

The first reaction by the powers and benefactors of the corruption is to accuse the truth-tellers of wrongdoing. To huff and puff. To fire, dismiss, and intimidate and sometimes even assassinate. Their denialism and violent reaction eventually is their undoing – exposing themselves to be exactly who the whistle-blowers said they were.

When it comes to holding onto the truth, investigative journalists in SA are like a dog with a bone. They simply do not let it go. We owe so, so much to these journalists. By joining the dots of the corruption they help us as a nation to short circuit our denialism, and lessen the time we live with the lie which in turn limits our own self-destruction.

Jesus said: “…Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.” [Luke 12:2-3].

For this reason regardless of the steep headwinds of resistance that whistle-blowers and journalists face in the field, the wind of the Spirit of Truth is always at their back. And this ultimately makes the difference. Truth alone is able to carve out a free future.

With grace,

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