South Africa is sitting ‘on a powder keg’ – Bishop of Johannesburg

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 this evening.

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.

Bishop Moreo also singled out state capture as an issue that required the urgent attention of Christians.

“State capture is a wicked, omnipresent manifestation of greed, graft and corruption that has its roots in the highest official in this country, the president.”

He praised those of his parishes that had responded to his call earlier this year to highlight the evil of state capture but said every church needed “to confront this insidious exploitation of our people”.

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 Diocesan Synod continues until Sunday.

Vendetta against women a blot on South Africa

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.”

Bishop calls for end to racism

Bishop Moreo also called for a renewed commitment to eradicate “the naked sin of racism”.

He confronted an incident which had rocked St John’s College in Houghton, Johannesburg, at the end of July, and noted that something like this could happen “anywhere, anytime, in any of our schools, organisations and parishes”.

He said the St John’s incident had “paraded this naked sin for all to see. We were left wanting as a Diocese and as Christians.”

Reminding delegates to the synod of the process of reconciliation that Nelson Mandela had initiated as president of South Africa, Bishop Moreo said that he had been a true Christian in this respect. Mandela had shown many acts of reconciliation during which he had embraced people who practised racism. Dr Moreo noted that racism was absent in Mandela’s actions.

But now, he added, “I doubt whether any of us could truly say that racism does not exist”.

He said the Church sat back after 1994 and trusted everyone else to keep an eye on good governance. In similar manner, “we as the Church have allowed the dark shadow of the demon of racism to fall over the light of Christian harmony, goodwill, and love”.

Bishop Moreo told delegates that some might doubt the possibility of racism occurring in the various institutions of the Anglican Church in the Diocese. He warned, however, that as parishes became more integrated with different races and people of various nationalities represented, the chances increased of racism occurring.

In this respect he noted that racism had a bedfellow that simmered just below the surface – xenophobia.

“All too easily do the tentacles of the secular, and especially the political world, grip the soul of our parishes, yet point at us as a Church when we fail. In all our institutions therefore we must create initiatives to ensure we reflect the inclusiveness of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

There was a need for intentional discipleship in the world, more than ever.

“My specific charge to each of you is to commit a new, and to work without ceasing to eradicate this naked sin of racism which has actively reared its demonic head.”

The Diocese of Johannesburg is part of The Anglican Church of Southern Africa. The Diocese has 76 parishes (churches) which are organised into ten regions, each of which is headed by an Archdeacon. The Diocese was formed in 1922 from the southern part of the Diocese of Pretoria, and at that time included the whole of the then southern Transvaal. Today it comprises the central part of Gauteng province.

The Cathedral of the Diocese of Johannesburg is the Cathedral Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. The headquarters of the Diocese and the Bishop’s office are at St Joseph’s Diocesan Centre in Sophiatown, Johannesburg.


2 replies on “South Africa is sitting ‘on a powder keg’ – Bishop of Johannesburg”

I was privileged to have been elected by my parish to be a delegate at this Synod. Bishop Steve charged us to become disciples by acting and speaking against critical issues he raised. The highlights for me was the approval of three motions on (1) youth development, (2) establishment of gender ministry (3) and development of guidelines to minister to LGBTI members.

Thank you for this article. I have also been sensing that SA is in trouble. By God’s grace love and mercy we must do something about it.

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