This last month has felt particularly hard.
Tuesday last week en route to work at Skatties I stopped to buy supplies for the afternoon’s therapy games. My car trip to Manenberg often serves as a hands free listening time and check in time and this trip was no different. So much so that I missed the shop I had been planning to stop at and ended up stopping at a corner shop in Wetton.
It was a shop that felt dark, manned by 4 men. While waiting to pay for my purchases I noticed an altercation start in the entrance to the shop & stepped back into the shop to avoid being too close to whatever was unfolding. A man was intimidated and verbally chased out of the entrance to the shop which he responded to by throwing a stone. What happened left me feeling initially shocked but then angry. Mama Bear kind of angry when the 3 younger men chased this man down the road, threatening and hitting him with a metal pipe. A younger (coloured) man was sorting through the bin outside the shop with a toddler in a trolley & we stood together watching the chase before the beating started. He told me that these men are always like this towards coloured people.
I found myself shouting and screaming at the men to stop.
“People aren’t for hitting. He is a human being. Just stop hitting him. Stop it”.
Just after this, the men returned telling me that I could come and pay now.
They were perplexed.
I stood outside of the shop voicing that I couldn’t support people who beat up other people in this way. At this 2 of the men told me to go, dismissing me with their hands.
The 3rd just stared at me, unsettled but determinedly inviting me back into his shop.
I can’t support violence.
Their shop was empty until I entered – it wasn’t a busy shop. It wasn’t a welcoming shop.
I walked away and climbed in my car driving to the BP shop just up the road.
On reaching the till to pay (again) I realised that I no longer had my bank card. It was still on the counter in the shop where the violence had unfolded. I also didn’t feel safe to walk back in there on my own. The heightened awareness of the vulnerability of women that the #metoo campaign left me with was still there- making itself known at different times.
I had to walk back into this shop.
I am so grateful for an (don’t know his rank) army guy who told me his name was Swartbooi who accompanied me back to the shop, walking distance away.
A man who listened and heard my story and simply let me ask for my card and stand my ground.
My ground reaffirming that there is too much violence in my country. “But the coloureds and their swearing” was his response. The shop men weren’t from this continent.
I don’t care who said what – there was a child witnessing your actions and that man is a human being.
“Yes, but…”he said… Yes, but I responded:
I am on my way to Manenberg right now to work with precious children whose lives are full of potential but who live in challenge and witness violence. I am asking you as a South African that you recognise my country is violent. Don’t add to it.
Just go lady. Just go.
So I went.
I went, full of adrenaline and gratitude to be entering into a community space that is healing. Into a space with children & connection and whose school space is a space that also seeks to offer support to families. A space where violence isn’t ever the answer.
In contrast to this space, the body of a 10 year old girl who had been raped and murdered had been found in the bushes of Manenberg. A 10 year old girl with a family and friends and community who was known to the children I know. A girl who in debates was the example given for one of the 900 child murders. A girl whose name was Chanele.
And then the Black Monday social media posts started, with the white genocide things (people who say yes and stats which disprove this) thrown into it and people debating whether farmers had a place to feel vulnerable and how to respond – some gracious challenges, some gracious invites but also some that riled me up terribly.
Farmers (Black and White) are in geographical vulnerable spaces & have been tortured and murdered in terrible ways. This is not a cultural war.
Farm workers (black and coloured) are vulnerable: Both to attacks but also to some heinous ‘discipline’ and acts of violence, including murder and being fed to lions and locked in coffins from their employers along with the exploitative practices in different ways from wages to living conditions to the dop system that still exists.
I recognise this.
I also recognise that the space I inhabit knows that the communities where we have the highest levels of violent crime and murders are also some of the most resource challenged in South Africa in terms of policing and social services & effective interventions.
Nyanga, Manenberg, Hanover Park, Marikana in Philipi recently. Everyone knows someone who has died through an act of violence.
Tonight I feel like if any community is at risk of being ignored by people and powers, it’s once again the communities where we have become desensitized, normalised and accepted high levels of violence as being acceptable ‘there’. Where it’s become “normal” for streets to remain empty and quiet while gang wars rage and alliances between the corrupted & the broken parts of people get to determine whether children get to go to school or not. Acceptable in how we mobilise, respond and support.
It’s not a genocide, but it feels like an apathy to some of our communities and a tacit acceptance of the challenges, violence and deaths in them is one. And by them I am talking about spaces where police hippos are driving past children on skateboards, where rocks were still lying in roads after a gang fight and where we shake our heads and want to keep our distance.
Tonight I am weary at the how and what gets reported. Tonight I am weary at the fact that social media spaces don’t always feel different to that corner shop.
Yet there is grace.
A friend posted a response to something I had posted earlier re: #blackmonday and the use of old photo footage. An offline conversation ensued. A conversation in which we both saw each other and recognised the other. The other in the fight to see people recognised and seen. The fight to figure out how to invite people to own our current state and not dismiss this as things of the past only, but that we need to be pushing into a new way of being and can only do so by seeing the things that violently hinder and damage. I removed the post not because I wasn’t able to stand by what I had posted, but because I realise that I am weary. We are both weary – her at needing to respond to white people asking “is it racism”. Weary enough that we arranged a play date with our boys for us to have a conversation and see each other properly.
This is grace – where we can see,challenge and acknowledge what we know to be true about each other in the midst of seeking change.
There is grace when you arrive at Skatties and are treated like a Skat (treasure) too. When you are held and prayed for and seen, in a moment before heading into a role to hold space.
There is grace when children who initially couldn’t sit with you & whose defences meant avoidant & unhelpful behaviours are able to self-correct with minimal prompts, who tease and invite you to play with them, and in between this tell stories that are violent in their content but are creating their own space. A space where their resilience is honoured but their hearts can also be held.
Children from hard spaces with soft hearts.
There is grace.