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Op-eds

A true democracy in action

  • ChiefRabbi
We are witnessing history. South Africa, as a young democracy of just more than 20 years, has for the second time in our short democratic history removed a sitting president from office.
by CHIEF RABBI DR WARREN GOLDSTEIN | Feb 22, 2018

What is so significant is that the two presidents have been removed from office through democratic processes in a peaceful, legal way. This is how a true constitutional democracy functions. In particular, the removal of former president Jacob Zuma was brought about by the combined forces of a free society: an independent judiciary, a feisty press, robust opposition parties and an engaged citizenry. We can be proud of, and inspired by, the vibrancy and strength of the democratic and constitutional processes of our country.

What is even more inspiring is that Zuma was removed as president because of the horrific corruption and ghastly state capture which he and his cronies have presided over. His removal is a great victory for the forces of ethics and decency.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was democratically elected as the president of the ANC. He was favoured over Zuma’s preferred candidate after openly campaigning on a message of rooting out corruption, bringing integrity back to South Africa and prosecuting all those guilty of the heinous crimes of attempting to steal the country and all its resources from its people. There is now a spirit of hope and optimism for the future of our country.

During the past two years, as more details emerged of Zuma’s corruption and state capture, I agonised over what to do. As Jews, given our long history of persecution, we always feel vulnerable when criticising government.

There were community members who counselled an approach of neutrality. After weighing up all the factors, I decided that, as the Jewish community of South Africa, we needed to fight against the corruption, and openly called for Zuma’s removal from power.

Morally, it was the right approach to speak out for justice and integrity, but it was also clear that unless corruption and state capture were defeated, the future for all – including the Jewish community – was bleak.

And we have the blessing of living in a free and open democracy, which gives us the opportunity to be involved in national issues.

And so, I joined in the protest movement against state capture and encouraged our community to do so. Many of us joined the protest marches to the Union Buildings and to Parliament and other places.

We made our voices heard, and so we should have. That is what it means to live in a truly free democracy. We must never be afraid to speak truth to power. We must never be intimidated. We can never take refuge in apathy.

On the other hand, we cannot descend into cynicism and narrowness. Let us embrace our role as a vibrant and proud community within the broader South African society, committed to positively making a difference to our society.

During this time, we also changed the prayer for the government which is recited in our shuls – because it was impossible to pray for the welfare of a corrupt president. And so we prayed that G-d should bless South Africa with “a president who is morally worthy of this nation of heroes”.

We can now, as a community, revert to the original wording of the prayer for the government, and can, in good conscience, pray for the welfare of the president.

But that doesn’t mean that the struggle for justice and integrity is over. It doesn’t mean that all the problems of South Africa have been solved. There is a long journey ahead.

There are many pitfalls and obstacles, but finally, we are moving in the right direction. We must give our full support to Ramaphosa, but also hold him accountable.

We have a moral duty to continue to play our role as a vibrant part of South African society to ensure that values of decency, goodness and integrity are maintained. We must be part of creating a thriving future for South Africa, be true to our values – and be prepared to fight for them if necessary.

In the meantime, let us savour this moment of victory and appreciate the historic reversal we’ve been privileged to witness.

We are about to celebrate Purim, which teaches us to see the hand of Hashem in the events of our lives. Let us apply this lesson to what we have just experienced in South Africa.

The overturning of reality is breathtaking and one can feel the hand of G-d in these events. The situation has been transformed from one of darkness and despondency to one of hope and optimism.

The country is awash with relief and elation at the turn of events. A short while ago, the Guptas were the most powerful people in South Africa. Now Ajay is a fugitive from justice. Zuma and his cronies presided with impunity over the looting of state assets – now he is out of power and awaits his legal fate.

Cabinet ministers will no longer be appointed to sign off on deals to enrich a few families, but rather on who is best qualified to serve the people of this country, according to Ramaphosa.

This overturning of reality began with a handful of votes. The fate and future of our country turned on such a small margin of victory.

Hashem guided us through these weeks to an outcome which is so full of hope. Let us give thanks to Him for this.

May Hashem bless President Ramaphosa to lead this nation of heroes with abounding success, and may He bless us that this be a new dawn for South Africa, heralding a future filled with prosperity, dignity and opportunity for all.

2 Comments

  1. 2 Choni 24 Feb
    I agree that we should pray for the welfare of the new President for his actions in South Africa. But what if he decides to cut ties with Israel. Do we still pray for his welfare?
  2. 1 Choni 28 Feb
    I would ask the Rabbi; Is it the God of Israel or the "god" of South Africa, that you would ask to bless Cyril Ramaphosa? I doubt very much if God would  bless Ramaphosa if he should cut ties with Israel , no matter how good he is for S.Africa.

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