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Opinion piece by Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane

Posted on: January 28, 2002 11:57 AM
Related Categories: Southern Africa

Last year's horrific US tragedy and subsequent events have dramatically illustrated how vulnerable and mutually dependent we are in our global village.

They pose a supreme challenge: Work together for the common good or perish!

Firstly, we must recognize that no war is holy. All war is evil. It kills and maims people. After every war the protagonists end up talking. Why can't the talk simply replace destruction?

It is time for us to re-commit ourselves unreservedly to reconciliation and sustainable world peace. Otherwise we will all be destroyed by the pervasive evils of fear and hate.

We must look beyond the tragic events that brought the whole world to a standstill We need visionary, imaginative and creative leadership that will work relentlessly towards eliminating conditions that feed dangerous fanaticism. We need leadership that will make the world safe and secure.

I propose the following:

1) One of the fundamental tenets of a democracy is maintenance of the Rule of Law. We must, at all times avoid the temptation of revenge. History has shown that violence begets violence. We need a well resourced, effective and efficient international criminal justice system that is swiftly able to bring to account perpetrators of heinous crimes against humanity.

2) We need to recognise that "to God belongs the earth and all who live therein" (Psalm 24:11) As stewards of his creation this places on us an obligation to care for one another and to ensure that there is equitable sharing of resources so that everyone has the basics for life with dignity, such as food, shelter, clothing , water, healthcare and education.

3) In the governance of our global village we need to ensure that there is equity, transparency and responsibility.

There are already international instruments or bodies which were created to maintain order and stability in the world. The devastation of two world wars prompted men and women to look for positive and practical ways to ensure lasting world peace and the United Nations is one result. It and other bodies dedicated to conflict of resolution need to be re-appraised and strengthened.

Never again can we accept the surreal situation in which a super power simultaneously drops bombs and food parcels on an already debilitated nation. More importantly, we must not allow the economic, political and social injustices that have throughout history bred fanaticism. We must think and act as citizens of the world - the old divides of North and South or East and West can no longer apply.

Some may argue that this is wishful thinking and that humankind is not adept at learning from its mistakes. This is not so. Much goodwill exists. In recent decades we have experienced huge advances in terms of negotiated politics, industrial relations, strategic partnerships and even shared currencies, like the Euro. In this country we have come to value and build on the richness that comes from diversity.

In an environment that thrives on bad news, the good is too often overlooked.

After years of being labelled naive and impractical, those of us who have consistently campaigned for the cancellation of international debt owed by the developing countries are greatly heartened by the decision among some G8 countries to cancel all of what is owed . It is finally acknowledged that "business as usual" is not in their own interest - that greed and self interest have created an imbalance that endangers the entire world economy.

Those countries that have seen the light can and must use their influence on others. This is not so difficult as national leaders increasingly co-operate on global issues.

Hopefully, economic leadership is also coming to realise that people are not poor because they choose to be. They are poor because they operate in an environment that has been exploited to the point of paralysis.

In the non-governmental and non-commercial horizon, the Jubilee 2000 movement has made great strides in marshalling civil organizations to co-operate in a campaign to alleviate poverty.

The likes of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Economic Forum are no longer hurtling along unchallenged.

It seems that note is finally being taken of Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Amartya Sen's emphasis that the validity of any economic policy should be judged on whether it takes into account its impact of people on the on the downside of an economy.

The business community - hard hit by organized crime, fraud and shady practices - is slowly, but surely, beginning to address ethical issues.

There is a growing awareness that, while profit is the motivating factor in business, there is a critical need to place human values at the centre of economic systems.

In the religious arena inter-faith co-operation, dialogue and advocacy is gaining momentum. Religious leaders worldwide are accepting the mantle of prophetic ministry and alerting the world at large to unjust systems. Typically, the Anglican Communion, with a constituency of more than 70 million members, is increasingly using its collective muscle to address issues such as HIV/AIDS and the unpayable debt of developing countries.

I often operate in an interfaith arena and am greatly heartened by the mutual respect, tolerance and spiritual generosity that prevails among the likes of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Baha'i, Buddhist and Hindu leaders.

Another Nobel prize winner, Jonas Salk, said: "We are the first generation in human history in which large numbers of ordinary people are taking personal responsibility for the future of the entire species."

It is all about mutual respect and a collective inclusive responsibility and although I am optimistic, we do still have a long way to go.

I remain convinced that poverty is the pivotal issue. It is, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, the worst form of violence. Born out of avarice, indifference and a false sense of superiority, poverty flies in the face of God, in whose image all humankind is made. It is at the heart of Africa's AIDS pandemic and other health woes. It was the World Health Organisation that pointed out several years ago that in order to acquire wealth a nation first needs healthy people - not the other way round. I would posit that the same applies to education and other social environment factors that should automatically take precedence in a national budget over arms deals and the servicing of unpayable debt.

But the single most unifying challenge remains and that is for world citizens in all walks of life to remember how vulnerable and interdependent we all felt after the US tragedy and to act accordingly. We dare not forget that we are the sum of each other.

The world needs to subscribe to our African philosophy of Ubuntu that says:

"I am because we belong together" and "I am only a person through other people". It affirms the mutual interdependence of our community.

Let us respond to the call of that wise African leader Julius Nyerere, who never failed to remind us of the familyhood of humankind, and let us choose to move forward together.