Q&A : Politics – November 2008 – “Jewish Life” magazine
The country has been through a political rollercoaster ride in the last few months. Give us a Jewish perspective about the recent political events that have transpired.
They say that a week is a long time in politics, in South Africa I think we have all seen that 24 hours is a long time. The recent events that have gone on are actually a great credit to the new South Africa. We have had some very painful clashes between personalities and factions in the political structures of late, and now we have seen a peaceful and democratic change of governance. This is a remarkable achievement for a young democracy on the African continent. Without making any long term predictions, I must say that there are a number of positives that have emerged in the new government.
How is this democracy in action?
We are already onto our third president and Zimbabwe cannot even get rid of their first. Normally this kind of dramatic change is often associated with violence or a coup of sorts. But here it happened peacefully, which shows an important resilience within society and a deepening of democracy.
But how do we resolve our disappointment with the outgoing members of government?
We are dealing here with the South African government, and as citizens of this country, we have an obligation to respect the government of the day – if it is a government that has been elected democratically and set up by the constitution of South Africa.
But what is our responsibility to trust in the ruling party of the day?
Our trust is always to be put in G-d. But at the same time, Hashem instructs us to work through the means of this world. Whatever we do is always under the guide of the Torah, but also to benefit our lives.
How do we work through the means of this world?
One of the mechanisms of working through the means of this world is to engage with government, and this is something that I, along with others in the community, try to do on behalf of the larger community.
But weren’t we left in the dark?
Although these changes happened very dramatically and none of the experts predicted it, the roots of this change really occurred in December, at the Polokwane conference where the ANC voted out the incumbent president at the time (Thabo Mbeki) in favour of Jacob Zuma. I was fortunate enough to be there on the first day of the conference to do a prayer on behalf of the Jewish community at the opening of the conference and there I witnessed democracy first hand. Still, none of the experts predicted this would happen. Hashem guides all the events in the world.
Why did the ANC do this unprecedentedly? Remove an incumbent president from office against his will, and to what end?
Because there is certain dissatisfaction with the way things were going in the country, and whenever there is change there is hope for improvement. Key ministries have had significant changes (like the health ministry) and there is hope that problems (such as HIV/AIDS) can be properly addressed now.
And for the lay man who cannot engage with government – what can he do?
Each one of us must get involved in our communal structures and organisations to improve the quality of life of our community. Our community has set up the most incredible organisations to look after the community in every respect: welfare, education, security, Zionism etc. We can all make a real difference to our shuls, schools, and community institutions and in so doing, continue to nurture and build our special Jewish community.
Should we be priming our future leaders so that they are able to engage with government on a more hands on basis?
The way that we build Jewish leaders is by training them in Judaism. To raise and educate them with the values of our Torah, and then those who have leadership tendencies will automatically rise to the fore. This means that as a community and as families, we must give top priority to educating and raising our children so that they have a deep knowledge of, and a love and passion for, Judaism.
What is our view on leadership in the public sphere?
Judaism has within it a very important value of talking responsibility. This means that you not only have to look after yourself you have to look after others. This is chesed. It is fundamental. But everyone can give in a different capacity, public or private. We need loyal members of the community, who all contribute through their unique talents. Some talent manifests privately and others manifest public ally, but all must be in pursuit of the greater good. But it all depends on Judaism because if you raise children with Jewish values, raising good strong leaders will be a consequence of this.
What is the Torah view on democracy?
The Torah believes passionately in limited governance and in constraints placed on power. Democracy places this important constraint on power – no one’s power is unlimited. We need to have a compassionate society, one with strong leadership, but where power is exercised within the bounds of morality.
Emerging from this rocky political climate – what should we take out of it?
A little bit of humility. That G-d controls the world, and that we have to have faith in him. The Tanach says that the heart of kings is in the hand of G-d. Ultimately, our stake in the future is in Hashem’s hands, and we place our faith in that fact.