by Craig Stewart
Originally appeared in The Warehouse newsletter
I didn’t come to public activism easily or naturally. In August of 1989 Archbishop Tutu and Rev Boesak led a series of beach protests in Cape Town to highlight the racial segregation of South African beaches. The first one was violently broken up by the police and that week I decided I could no longer vacillate on the sidelines and joined the next one on Strand Beach. I had made the choice to turn from apathy to anger and action. A few weeks later, on September 2, 1989, a police water cannon loaded with purple dye aimed and fired on thousands of protesters in the city centre. This ‘purple rain’ covered protesters, cars and buildings and the police arrested all those drenched in purple, some friends were smuggled out of town to escape. Chaos and violence and fear seemed in control.
We had been living with generations of colonial oppression and apartheid rule, were living under a state of emergency, and seemed to be sliding towards overt civil war. Cape Town felt like it was on the brink, and though perhaps we didn’t know it then, we faced a choice. Would we cower and withdraw, or would we choose a deeper good? What would the crisis reveal? The purple rain march provided an opportunity for Cape Town to choose.
Twenty-nine years ago tens of thousands of people made the choice to act from hope rather than react from fear, and they marched peacefully on the streets of Cape Town against the Apartheid state. Within months, political liberation movements had been unbanned and the journey towards a post-apartheid South Africa had begun. A tipping point after years of struggle, preceded by a moment of collective decision.
My city is on the brink again, this time in the midst of drought. Cape Town faces a severe drought and unprecedented water shortage. Capetonians are profoundly aware of a crisis that has been facing us for decades; we are potentially about to have such low water supplies that the taps across the city will be switched off on #DayZero, and the city will be declared a disaster area.
I worked as a research assistant in the Freshwater unit at the University of Cape Town in 1990 and remember the head of the unit repeatedly telling me that Cape Town would run out of water in my lifetime. Now, in 2017, we’re almost there, and the city is filled with fear, anticipation, urgency, anger, confusion and hurt. We’re a divided city with unjust foundations and practices. For many, not having water is nothing new, with hundreds of thousands of Capetonians living in informal settlements that do not cater well for sanitation and water access. This crisis has the potential to reveal our deeper selves—will it drive us towards deepening division and injustice, or will we choose another path?
A long-term crisis precipitated by ‘purple rain’ led to bold repentance and action in 1989. Presently, a lack of rain offers a similar invitation.
I came to faith in Jesus on a Friday afternoon, early in my Grade 8 year in high school. My faith journey has been full of clear moments of necessary actions of repentance, multiple other “conversions”, moments of choice which deepened my understanding and renewed my commitment to the Kingdom of God. One such commitment surrounds #DayZero. In response to this crisis Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has invited us to consider the idea of #DayOne rather than #DayZero. #DayZero is about a temporary avoidance of a very real crisis for part of the City, whereas #DayOne can be about faithful conversion to a way of living and being that makes #DayZero less likely for all our fellow citizens—especially including those who have lived with #DayZero for their whole lives.
At the Justice Conference last year, Sivuyile Kotela said that we don’t make a choice when we are standing in front of the fiery furnace, but that this moment reveals the choices we’ve already been making.
Choosing #DayOne does require repentance. Not a moralistic self-flagellation, but a genuine willingness to admit that a change is required and turn towards that which is more aligned with the Kingdom of God. #DayOne will require a few journeys of repentance for us all:
- A turning from fear to hope. A hope that embraces who we are as a city that is South African and African. A hope that recognises we can be something more than that which the Apartheid and colonial planners of this city intended. A hope that opens us up to all of this city, including its problems.
- A turning from selfish consumerism to communal sustainability. A move that overcomes the inertia of being environmental consumers, to the growing urgency to live a life that nurtures and sustains our environment.
- A turning from isolation from our neighbours to solidarity with them in all the injustices we, and they face. This requires us to respond to Jesus’ call in the story of the good Samaritan to expand our notion of neighbour.
- A turning from apathy and self-doubt which allow a tolerance of conditions for large numbers of our neighbours that we ourselves would not be willing to live with. A turning to anger and action that no one should live like this.
God’s invitation into embracing #DayOne is not simply restricted to avoiding #DayZero, but is an invitation to choose a life shaped by the Kingdom of God and His shalom for all of His beloved creation.
Bio: Craig Stewart began his career with a brief stint as a fresh water ecologist before moving into education and a non-profit career. He remains fascinated by water, the nature of complex systems, and how change happens within them.
He is currently the CEO of The Warehouse (www.warehouse.org.za), a justice and mercy ministry in Cape Town, South Africa, that is working to inspire, equip and connect churches in church led community transformation. Craig is a member of the Board of Directors for HOPE Africa and an adjunct staff member of Eastern University in the USA.
Craig is married to Liesl and they have 3 children. He loves cycle commuting and mountain biking.