|Yesterday in 1960 unarmed protesters were shot dead during a demonstration against the Pass Laws (which required black South Africans to carry identity documents at all times). No-one knows for certain how it happened. Some say a policeman panicked and fired. Others suggest a stone was thrown. Another theory is that a local township gangster unconnected with the protest fired a pistol shot into the air. What we know: when the police volleys ended in Sharpeville, near Johannesburg on 21 March 1960, 69 protesters were dead and hundreds were wounded. How did we remember yesterday? Was it just a ‘public holiday’… the start of a long weekend..?
Let’s recall that a State of Emergency (the first in our history but not our last) was declared. All black political movements were banned, and the prospect for a negotiated transition to democracy ended for thirty years. And though we stepped back from the brink of all-out civil war in 1990, the ‘tradition’ of violence – of protest and repression – continues to this day. The shootings at Marikana in 2012 merely presented in bold the low level conflicts, over service delivery, or xenophobic mob violence against refugees, that persist. In the last few years service delivery protest and xenophobic attacks have become so common that they no longer hit the headlines or feature in news broadcasts. Joseph’s brothers are still unable to resolve their differences with him in a nonviolent manner. It seems that the tenants are still ready to kill the servants – and the masters to kill the tenants in turn.
Jesus’ parable is a warning to us today. Insofar as 1994 was our commitment to move beyond the use of violence to gain political ends, to reject a society based on murder, we were anticipating the vision of God’s reign, a regime of peace and justice. Insofar as we endorsed the words of Mandela’s inaugural speech “Never again!”, we were committing ourselves to a kingdom-of-God vision for South Africa. But insofar as we imagined that the new dispensation would somehow end all conflict, we were living in a state of delusion.
Conflict and disagreement is part of life. How we manage disagreement, how we resolve conflict, is the measure of our participation in the kingdom of God. Can we choose not to personalise issues; can we recognise we have opponents, and not enemies? The Harvard Negotiation Group emphasises that we need in a dispute to de-personalise issues and start with the presupposition that everyone wants a satisfactory solution reached by dialogue – there should be no winners or losers, but only winners.
Imagine what might have happened if Joseph and his brothers had resolved their differences this way. Or the master and the tenants. Indeed, how would our history have been different if reason had prevailed at Sharpeville in 1960? Or at Marikana in 2012? What on this long-weekend can we do to bridge divides, build community, and ensure a peaceful 2019?