Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
As we enter the first weekend of Ramadan, I extend my hope that families across South Africa will experience a time of healing in relationships and a renewed closeness.
This ninth month of the Islamic calendar offers the opportunity for all adherents of the Islamic faith to fulfil one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a time of reflection and submission, restraint and self-discipline.
But it also offers the opportunity for families to gather daily and share the first meal of the day. Ramadan focuses attention on the daily reuniting of families around the dinner table; a significant and precious tradition that is often neglected in the hurry and bustle of life.
Having spent the day in reflection on faith, it is my hope that Muslim families will come together each evening of this month of Ramadan and find relationships restored and unity kindled. Families are, after all, the first building block of a healthy society.
In my own faith, Christianity, emphasis is placed on breaking bread with fellow believers regularly. There is something special in preparing a meal, sitting down together and spending time fulfilling the needs of the body while connecting with the people we care about.
In my own family, it was always a blessing when my children were growing up to gather around the dinner table and share a meal. In this time, we connected and talked about our daily lives. This built a bond between us that has lasted down the years so that now, even though my remaining children are grown and leading busy lives of their own, I feel connected to them.
Sadly, I have lost five of my eight children over the years. One cannot describe the pain of laying a child to rest. But I will forever be grateful for the relationship I had with each of my children; and much of that was built around the dinner table, sharing meals.
In many communities in South Africa, families are fragmented and don’t know the blessing of harmonious relationships. There is, of course, some disagreement and discord in every family. But for some, the tension of broken relationships is a permanent state of being. Thus there is no refuge in family and no peace in coming home.
My heart breaks for South Africans who find themselves in that situation. I know that there are many elderly people living with tremendous stress, as they worry about their children and grandchildren. Theirs is not simply the anxiety of wanting the best for their families, but the deep distress of dealing with a daughter who has been raped, or a grandson on drugs, or a son who can’t find work to feed his children.
The realities in our country place strain on individuals, but also on families because, under stress, relationships usually suffer. There is a natural inclination towards self-preservation when circumstances are tough. We become inward focussed and, ultimately, selfish.
Thus we see individuals, particularly young people and children, feeling isolated and alone, as everyone around them who should be there as a support system is dealing with their own stress and is emotionally unavailable. It is not difficult to see why some of our youth make poor decisions and even find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
A stable family is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. This may require that we put aside our own resentment and entitlement, and reach out to heal relationships with those in our family, through forgiveness, penitence and making amends. It may mean swallowing our pride. It may mean accepting responsibility. And it may also mean forgiving where forgiveness is neither deserved nor appreciated.
I hope that Ramadan can offer an opportunity to consider what we might do as individuals to strengthen our families. That other pillar of the Islamic faith, the giving of alms, should be seen not only as offering charity to strangers, but meeting needs wherever it is within our power to do so. That need might be physical, and financial, but it might also be emotional or relational.
My own faith in Christ prompts me to love my neighbour as I love myself. That means turning the focus away from what I need and what I want, towards what those around me lack that I might offer. I believe, according to the Word of God, that it is sin to withhold that which is in your power to give.
The Bible also says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. I see that every day in the service delivery protests and the frustration of our people.
Poverty-stricken South Africans are not just angry that they don’t have proper houses, job opportunities or decent education. They are angry because they have placed their hope in people who are not delivering on their promises. More than that, though, people believe that it is within the ruling Party’s power to help them, and question why that help is being withheld.
There is a larger social climate that is evident in the smaller building blocks of our society. Where families are not unified and individuals are focussed on their own interests, everyone suffers. Our nation can be restored by restoring our families first.
On behalf of the IFP, I extend my best wishes to Muslims throughout our country during the month of Ramadan.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP