Another successful SAWIP year drew to a close at the graduation ceremony of the Team of 2015, held last week in Stellenbosch on 8 October 2015.
This years graduation address was given by Rev. Peter Storey, former bishop of the Methodist Church of SA and leader in the Ecumenical movement and a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Duke University, North Carolina. Once chaplaln to Nelson Mandela and others on Robben Island, he founded Life Line SA and Gun Free SA. and served as a member of the panel that selected the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The text of his address is copied below.
MAKING A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE
By Rev. Peter Storey,
2015 SAWIP Graduation, 8 October, 2015
Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study
What a privilege it is to be able to share with you this celebration of achievement! My warmest congratulations to each one of these outstanding graduates, and to those on both sides of the Atlantic who have shepherded them through to this moment. Well done to SAWIP.
Speaking to the graduates, I don’t have to tell you that your achievements bring with them an inevitable challenge! Through SAWIP you have received unique tools for your future lives and careers, so please brace yourselves now, because, in the ancient words of Scripture, ‘From those to whom much is given, much will be required.’ Tonight we must speak not only of achievement, but accountability. We need to ask, ‘what expectation comes with the SAWIP experience?’ and my answer would be nothing less than this: a world of difference!
When I taught at Duke University, at the beginning of my first lecture I always said, ‘If there’s anybody here who doesn’t want to change the world, this would be the time to leave.’ Steve Jobs of Apple only wanted people like that, because, he said, ‘The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.’ So I am hopeful that the world – or some part of the world – will one day be different because of you, and that you won’t shy away from that large goal.
But my theme should also remind you that perhaps the most challenging thing about the world you are entering, is that it is a world of difference. It is full of people different than yourselves, with widely differing life experiences, skin colours, cultures, religions and world views, and unless you find a way of living harmoniously in such a world, the future will be dark indeed.
Our world is in trouble. We seem bent on destroying the only planet that can sustain us. What we don’t destroy ecologically, we do our best to smash through violence and war. National armies are giving way to literally hundreds of different militias each with their own contending goals. The mass migrations that war, economic hardship and religious intolerance have triggered threaten to make a nonsense of borders and nation states. Capitalism crowed when the communist bloc collapsed in 1989, but is not recovering from its own implosion in 2008. The obscene gap between rich and poor shouts for redress. Money and power collude to undermine democracy, replacing it with plutocracies in which governments belong, not to the people, but to the super-rich.
At home, the giants who brought us to 1994 are almost all gone and have been replaced by moral dwarfs. Those of us who recall the giants, the Mandelas, Sobukwes, Sisulus, Suzmans, Beyers Naudes, etc, are angered to have to deal with the selfish and hollow people who now lead us toward a bankrupt kleptocracy. Professor Njabulo Ndebele says they have brought Nongqawuse back to life, ‘killing the cow that is our country.’ And when morally stunted people are found out, they lash out, so it has become fashionable to rubbish the greats of our recent past, to try and cut them down to size. Identity politics, fraught at the best of times, always becomes much more toxic in bad times, and as the money pot dries up in South Africa, so it becomes more important to blame this or that group than it does to find ways of uniting us.
Yet, there is nothing that cannot be put right by people of skill, unselfish passion and integrity. In the very bad days of the 70s and 80s, international visitors used to ask me, ‘Do you see any hope for South Africa?’ and I would reply, ‘It looks hopeless, yes, but in this land you can never exclude the X- factor.’ They would ask, ‘…and what is this X-factor?’ and I would say, ‘If I knew, I wouldn’t call it an X-factor.’ I do still believe in that X-factor: the ability of South Africans, when the chips are down, to see the greater good and do the wise and generous thing.
But the X-factor depends on people of skill, unselfish passion and integrity – and here we look to you. David Kiwuwa reminds us that the average age of the leaders of the world’s ten most developed economIes is 52. In Africa it is 78. ‘This continent desperately needs young, agile and innovative leaders equal to its challenges,’ he says. ‘Until this happens, Africa is trapped between its past and future.’ It is young people like you who we look to, to take us into that future.
NOW … It has always seemed quite obvious to me that making a world of difference requires a different kind of person. So as you consider your role in that future, what would be some life- changing precepts worth cherishing? Here are some I have found I needed most:
MAKE PEACE WITH THE FACT THAT YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN
Western culture worships autonomy. All the major religions say that we belong to others. African culture says the same. This is the essence of Ubuntu. The first words of Nelson Mandela’s first speech after coming out of prison, were: ‘I stand here, not as a prophet, but as a servant of you, the people.’
Somebody once said, ‘Service is the rent we pay for our room on earth.’ You have spent a lot of time learning about servant leadership. The important thing is that it is not just another technique – it is a paradigm shift in our character. Other people matter. Their welfare matters as much as ours. They may be different, they may be hard to get on with, but if they do not find fulfilment, ultimately neither will we. When the Israelites went into exile in Babylon, they hated it, but a wise prophet gave them good advice for the years they would have to bear it: ‘Seek the good of the city you have been carried to,’ he said, ‘because upon its welfare, your welfare will depend.’
During the dreadfully violent days before the 1994 elections, it was the amazing volunteers of the Natonal Peaced Accord who stood between South Africa and Armageddon. I remember us going to a big car company and asking for 50 cars for our peace monitors. ‘Sure, we can sell you 100 cars they said.’ We replied that we were not thinking of buying – we wanted then donated. ‘Oh no,’ they said, ‘we’re a business, not a charity!’ Our reply was that unless they made a massive commitment to the Peace Accord, they would end up neither a business nor a charity because a destroyed South Africa would no longer be a place where you could do business at all. We got the cars!
Our welfare depends on te welfare of others.
Melanie Verwoerd and Sonwabiso Ngcowa have recently released a little book called 21 at 21 – The Coming of Age of a Nation. They interviewed 21 so-called ‘born frees’ – young people born in the year 1994 – more or less of your age-group, wanting to know how life was different for them. They moved from leafy suburbs to desolate rural villages, to prisons and immigrant communities. Some of the stories of these wonderful young adults are gut-wrenching in the hardships they faced. All speak of amazing courage, but too many tell of a South Africa where talented, passionate youth are shut out from hope. I can’t say more now – please read the book! I only make the point that unless your plans for your lives, make space for persons such as those, your plans may not materialize.
You are not your own – the massive privilege of being in this room tonight has guaranteed that.
HONOUR THE ‘OTHER’
Jonathan Sachs once wrote a book called ‘The Dignity of Difference’ demonstrating just how richly humankind has been blessed by diversity. Yet this very same diversity has been used as a curse, not least in our apartheid past and the abuse of difference won’t go away. We human beings seem to be born with an addiction to division. It seems we are never happy unless we have some prejudice to prove that we are in and someone else is out.
Yet difference is so liberating! As you have worked together, you have discovered massive differences and you have had to decide what to do with them. You wouldn’t be here unless you had made positive decisions. You will go out into a South Africa where little people masquerading as intellectuals will argue that the ‘Rainbow Nation’ is a sentimental myth – that cultural identity is more important than our common humanity, that ‘foreignness’ is more determinative than the possibility of friendship. The old instinct to exclude will always gain willing followers – it simply requires insecurity and hate, of which we seem to have a boundless supply. Inclusiveness, on the other hand, requires big hearts, generosity of spirit, and a hospitality of the soul.
Parker Palmer is a remarkable guru in the field of leadership coaching. He speaks to the xenophobia of his fellow white Americans and says, ‘The renewal of this nation will not come from people who are afraid of otherness in race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Our main hope for renewal is diversity, welcomed and embraced.’ Right here in South Africa, Jonathan Jansen says, ‘South Africans will have to cross borders and take the ‘other’ seriously, or we are finished.’
You and I are here tonight because back in the early 90s, the visionary giants who put together the World Trade Centre talks, did take the ‘other’ seriously. There were only three forces of any significance contending for power in the future South Africa, but, instead of hogging the space, they made sure to include every political formation, no matter how small or troublesome. Everyone had a voice, everyone was heard. Their magnanimity and hospitality made a world of difference.
BE THERE FOR EACH OTHER
Being a SAWIP graduate may seem like joining an exclusive leadership club, but I hope I’m disabusing you of any kind of elitism. However, you have been on a unique journey together and you have forged unique, deeply respectful friendships. Given where our country has come from, you will agree that some of these friendships would likely never have happened without the SAWIP experience.
You are now going to go in different directions. Your trajectories from here on out are not going to be uniformly positive. Some of you will meet bigger obstacles than others and some will pass through deep waters – that is the nature of life.
Please be there for each other, it will make a world of difference.
James Small was a wing in the Springbok team that won the 1995 Rugby World Cup – the one where President Mandela put on the Springbok jersey and won many hearts. I knew him. He came from a difficult home and was never an easy kid. We often got frustrated with his behavior, yet he had this amazing, raw rugby talent that got him the very top. But then came the fall, he lost control and many of his demons came back to haunt him. As he tells it, it was when he was near rock bottom and very much alone that he got a telephone call: On the phone was President Mandela, who had once gripped his hand on that great day at Ellis Park and said, ‘you have an important job to do, James.’ Now he said, ‘I’m sorry you are having a difficult time, James, but we are behind you – you can beat this.’ It was that call – and the knowledge that in the midst of everything the great man had time to care about him, that made a world of difference.
You go into a world where competition is king. Hopefully through SAWIP you have learned of something more precious: solidarity. After all, you are a cohort and in Roman times a cohort was a band of warriors who would willingly die for each other. Be there for each other.
GO BEYOND VALUES TO VIRTUES
Psychologists who study the internal damage soldiers suffer in war, have come up with a new definition. They know about ‘PSTD – post-traumatic stress disorder’, but they say there is something deeper than that: they call it moral injury. Soldiers who have ‘done, witnessed, or failed to prevent acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations’ they say, suffer not just psychological, but spiritual damage – moral injury – the most significant symptom of which is a ‘lost sense of humanity’.
I believe our society is morally injured because too many of us have done, witnessed, or failed to prevent things in our society that transgress what we know to be right. When leaders behave routinely in ways that transgress what we know to be truthful, when they are blatently on the take, when they glorify tribal chauvinism over our common ctizenship and nepotism over fair practice, they give tacit permission for all of us to behave that way, and soon, too many of us have ‘lost our sense of humanity.’
How do we find repair for the soul of our nation? Well, it will not happen without a recovery of virtue. You may ask why I do not use that nice word, ‘values’? Because it is a tired word tossed about too cheaply, and because values are abstract principles, easily thought to be outside of ourselves. Virtues, however, cannot exist in the abstract: in order to be, they must be lived. Also, the word ‘values’ has been hijacked to often by the judgmental moralists of dogmatic religion. Virtues are warm, winsome and alive with hope of newness. When we meet values, we want to argue about them; when we meet virtues, we are transformed by them – we want to be like that.
That was the genius of Nelson Mandela. My church claimed him as a member, but you couldn’t box him in. He rose above the narrow confines of orthodoxy, but the virtues of love, unselfishness, humility, inner peace, honesty, kindness, compassion, and above all, truth …. these shone through him, and the result, when he led this nation, was that he made us all believe we could be better people. In the Melanie Verwoerd’s book, Our Madiba, Leila Gibson watched him interacting with people, and what struck her most was ‘the immense granting of “being” he gave to each individual he encountered.’
There is an internal work of leadership: I once interviewed Prof Jonathan Jansen, trying to discover the secret of his transformative leadership at UOFS. He said that transformation had to begin in himself: as someone who had suffered various indignities under the people who made up the majority at this Afrikaans university, ‘I needed to do some hard work confronting my own demons’ he said, ‘bitterness, anger, hatred.’ And the result was that he could come to the job at UOFS bringing a new truth with him – an internal truth. The result? Well, I met an ex-student of his, whose name was Marzanne – a white Afrikaner. I asked her how she became one of the first 6 white women students to enroll in a traditionally black residence on the campus.
I asked: ‘Did anyone tell you to?’ …
’No,’ she said, and then added, ‘it was a kind of spiritual thing.’ ‘Would you have done it if Prof Jansen was not the Rector?’ ‘No.’
You see, in the words of Jeffrey Sachs, ‘just as lies and corruption are contagious, so too, moral truth and bravery spreads from one champion to another.’ There is no reason why our nation should not recover from its deep moral injury. There are millions of decent South Africans who want that, who feel deeply alienated from the ways we have fallen into. Perhaps they are waiting for the ‘X-factor’?
Maybe the X-factor is young women and men like you.