The Bishop of Johannesburg, the Right Revd Dr Steve Moreo, has warned that the high levels of poverty in South Africa pose a great danger to the country.
“This country is sitting on a powder keg of hopelessness,” he said, citing the figures recently released by Stats SA that showed that the number of poverty stricken people in South Africa had increased by 53.2% between 2011 and 2015.
Bishop Moreo made these comments when he highlighted a number of critical issues that required the attention of Church and Society as he addressed the opening session of the Synod of the Diocese of Johannesburg last week.
He noted that one needed to look no further than outside the doors of St Mary’s Cathedral, or on the streets of Johannesburg, to see how dire the situation was. He wondered aloud how long it would be before the situation exploded.
“The authorities seem unable to cope with this,” he said. The Church was called to respond to alleviate the situation as much as it could.
Unemployment was another issue highlighted by the Bishop who expressed disquiet at the high numbers of young men in particular, who were unemployed. Special initiatives were required to mentor young men, who made up most of those who had no work.
Actions were needed by parishes, schools and other organisations to reach out to young people so that the energy of young men could be channelled into fighting evil rather than perpetrating it, noting that there were far more males than women in prison.
The issue of discrimination against many marginalised groups, including women, the physically and mentally handicapped, and LGBTIQ groups, also drew comment from the bishop.
Referring specifically to the issue of LGBTIQ people, Bishop Moreo said that the Church still had much to answer for.
“To put it bluntly, there is still division about the rights of marginalised groups, but the question about what Jesus would have done is one that should exercise everyone’s mind here honestly. Jesus accepted us all as we are and we as a Diocese accept everyone.”
The abuse of women In South Africa, sometimes at the highest levels, was also highlighted by Bishop Moreo in his Charge.
Bishop Moreo said such abuse was a daily occurrence with over 28 000 sexual offences against adult females, nearly 56 000 cases of serious assault against adult females, and 83 000 cases of common assault against adult females in South Africa reported by SAPS in the financial year 2015/16.
He added: “Astonishingly, in the very month of women, our Church’s month of compassion, a deputy minister of state had to resign for striking a woman, but another woman defended this deputy minister for doing this violence. Yet another woman, the wife of the Zimbabwean President, ran from her responsibility, back to her country after striking one of our women citizens.”
He described the situation as too terrible for words, saying that the vendetta against women in this country is a blot on our land.
Turning to the need for care of children and young people in the context of the family, Dr Moreo said there should be investment in family ministry since family life was itself under threat in society.
“We live in a patriarchal society in which women get beaten up, earn low wages, and in which 52% of the unemployed aged between 15 and 64 years old are women. Yet one third (33.4%), or nearly 1.6 million households are headed by a woman. What this does to family life can only be imagined,” he said.
“As a Church that promotes family life, we need to recognise that families are in crisis.”
He added: “In modern times the family structure has collapsed. If we take into account the increase in divorce, and absenteeism from the family unit of one or more parents, young people and children are inevitably affected by this situation as they try to deal with their own crises.”
It was important that each parish, organisation and school supported and equipped parents and families to cope with the demands of modern living.
“I am sure you will agree that all parents try their best and most children rise up and call them ‘blessed’, but there are those children who go wrong, and the Church needs to be there to assure them that their particular prodigals are in God’s hands, and that no one is blaming them. They do not need our condemnation and being blamed for everything that happens in the lives of their children.”
Turning to the prevalence of human trafficking, the bishop said this was nothing more than modern-day slavery.
“Many of us sit back and think the age of human slavery, at least in South Africa, has gone. Not so. Human trafficking is not just sexual assault. Human trafficking is luring girls and boys of a tender age into situations which they are openly tempted to part with precious money and leave their homes on the promise of work being available. On arrival at the “promised land”, they find nothing of substance – and the result is frequently a descent into performing sexual favours, forced marriages or working for a pittance or nothing, or even forced out of their country, as they find themselves alone, bereft and without the support of family.”