This article endeavours to use empirical investigation in interpreting the socio-economic situation of coloured state pensioners to determine whether their human dignity is violated by their socio-economic situation. These older people are members of the Redeemed African Methodist Church. The relevance and importance of this article lies in demonstrating that the quality of life and the well-being of people are existentially determined by the extent to which their human dignity is acknowledged. The main purpose of the article is to present a theological-pastoral care strategy to assist them in the affirmation of their dignity when it is violated by their socio-economic situation.
The article is based on the perspective of practical theology, where pastoral care is understood as a public theology which analyses various ideologies and structures responsible for human suffering with the intention of influencing the wider society. The theoretical framework within which this article is situated is eschatology: indicating the essence of new beings in Christ. The empirical data was gathered by means of focus groups. Participant selection was made according to a stratified random selection method where the criteria important for the research were set and participants were selected randomly based on these criteria. After a pilot study the data for this research was gathered. A follow-up session was also held. Atlas-ti was used for the analysis of the data. Permission for this research was obtained from their church and the ethics committee of the University of Stellenbosch.
The theological theory of human dignity is utilised in interpreting the socio-economic situation of these participants. This theory explains that, as all humans are created in the image and likeness of God, they have unique worth. This theory also posits that apart from being created Coram Dei, human beings are also dependent for their unique identity on their participation in the communion of God. Other human beings are accepted unconditionally as neighbours, resulting in equality between all humans beings. The theological theory of human dignity forms the basis for a Christian anthropology where human beings are all in a unique relationship with God and one another. Human beings, according to a Christian anthropology, exist because of one another and for one another. This understanding of human dignity is also supported by the philosophy of Kant and from within jurisprudence. Sin destroys the relationship between God and human beings and between human beings and is a negation of human well-being and of their dignity. It is through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ that the relationship between God and human beings is restored. Human dignity is not earned, but ascribed by grace. Furthermore, human dignity is protected in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and in the International Declaration of Human Rights by various human rights. These definitions of human rights are employed in this article to determine the violation of human dignity.
Based on theories indicating the perpetuation of poverty over generations, the first socio-economic theme emanating from the data relates to the formal education of the participants. Most of the participants had been forced to leave school early in the basic education phase to assist parents with poverty alleviation. They did not enjoy the protection of compulsory education that their white counterparts enjoyed, nor were they protected by the human right to basic education. Various authors are clear about the positive influence of basic formal education for the appropriate formation and well-being of human beings. These children were not taken out of school to be idle at home, but to go out to earn money or take care of younger siblings so that older siblings could go out to earn money. This in turn led to the further violation of human rights: being forced into child labour. Although the current constitution of the Republic of South Africa protects children from the exploitation of child labour, the previous constitutions did not contain such sections on human rights. Although the exploitation of child labour was prohibited in 1956 by the Supplementary Convention on the abolition of slavery, the slave trade, and institutions and practices similar to slavery, the participants in this research grew up without such protection, and their human rights as children were violated. The violation of their human rights as adults continues, as indicated by their living in inadequate housing. Since 1940, reports have lamented the demoralising effect of the housing conditions of coloured people, as have various authors. They have shown how these conditions militate against decency and how they are absolutely not conducive to appropriate human development. These conditions constitute a negation of human dignity and are the breeding ground for crime and other destructive activities. They also contribute to ill health. The psychological damage caused by inadequate housing is severe. Poor sanitation, living conditions and overcrowding contribute to the suffering of the participants. The right to adequate housing is regarded in such a serious human light that seven international documents highlight it. This right is enshrined in the current constitution of South Africa, but is subject to the availability of state resources. Given this state of affairs, some sources are clear that not much is done for appropriate housing for poor older people. Concomitant with poor housing is poor medical care. Though medical care is free to the poor at clinics and day hospitals, it is the quality of the care and in many instances the attitude of medical personnel that are detrimental to human dignity. People also have to travel long distances to medical facilities which involves the cost of getting there. Long queues once they get there are a further violation of dignity. The medical transformation in the democratic South Africa is not friendly to older people, as more funds and personnel are channelled to children and pregnant women, resulting in the marginalisation of geriatric services. Quality medical care is expensive and out of reach for most of the participants of this investigation. It is especially their participation as consumers in today’s consumer society that violates their dignity. Because of poverty and unemployment, the pensions of many of these older people must provide for the needs of a whole household, making these older people vulnerable to having to buy necessary commodities on credit. The practice of buying on credit invariably enslaves them to debt. Debt enslavement deprives them of one of the building blocks of dignity: freedom.
The Christian church preaching Christ crucified and resurrected automatically preaches restored relationships in Christ. The church has to proclaim this assertion of restored dignity in situations where dignity has been violated. The church they belong to will, therefore, have to be instrumental in the process of reconstructing the identity and dignity of these older people in a way that can also be appreciated by those not belonging to faith communities. In order for this to happen, the following is suggested as a theological-pastoral care strategy in an effort to restore and affirm the human dignity of these older people.
The church could start this care strategy by ascribing the Biblical identity and worth of older people to these poor older people: they are worthy of respect and honour (Leviticus 19:32); they are part of a category of promise and blessing (Exodus 20:12); they are recipients of God’s special care to be carried into old age by God himself (Isaiah 46:3); they are eschatological signs and symbols of God’s renewed goodwill towards restored communities so that people again live to a ripe old age (Zachariah 8:1-8); they are the strength of a household (1 Samuel 2:31). Such an ascribed identity and worth could give these older people the public value to be recognised within society. The reconstructed Biblical identity ascribed to them could be shared with the wider society through the church, local radio programmes and platforms, literature and other art forms, and even by the writing of the biographies of ordinary older people to highlight their contribution to a better and more stable society.
Through preaching, Bible study, programmes and other methods, the Church could use the values of reciprocity and responsibility to assert that one should do to older people what you would like done to you. Within families, vertical reciprocity could be promoted to enhance respect between grandchildren, children and older people. Church money could be applied to improve the houses of these older people. In centres for older people, the church could assist in securing better-qualified personnel, regular visits by medical personnel, better handling of medication, etc. Links could be established between families, municipal ward members and members of parliament working in their constituencies for the establishment of home-care facilities for frail older people. Even the situation in medical facilities could be addressed to improve medical care for these older people and thus affirm their dignity.
Keywords: human dignity; human rights; socio-economic; theological-pastoral care strategy