Dark spaces, Grace spaces & Me.

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.
I refused.
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.

Or don’t.

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.

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Protest Deja Vu

This is the outcome of multiple conversations, with a variety of (different races & economic groups) friends over the past while.  It’s a work in progress.  The calls to protest have made me rethink what I stand for.  Who I stand for.  Not just what I stand against. 

My heart and head have been unsettled and noisy for the past year.  Which has actually led to less online engagement, more listening & more watching what is unfolding around me.  It’s been liberating to realise that I have been guilty of deifying certain voices in the social justice circles.  Of sometimes not thinking through why I think what I do, what filters do I carry with me and through which filters am I experiencing others.

It’s liberated me to start a journey of discovery towards the voices who challenge me to think about what righteousness and justice looks like in relationship and as a God-believer.  I don’t agree with everything always.  I have to sit with things often.  I am still going to be too conservative for some and too radical for others, or too enmeshed and overthinking for yet others.  I am going to cause offence somewhere on this journey.  Sometimes for the right reasons, and other times because I have gotten it wrong and need to reflect and repent of where I have done so, not just inwardly but to the people in the story too.

I have had a lot of déjà vu watching the online postings of the current #HambaZuma, #PhantsiZuma, #ZumamustFall hashtags.   On the 16th December 2015, some of us engaged with similar conversations to those which are unfolding now.  Do we go march or don’t we go?  We agree with the principle, but do we agree with the way the action is happening?

I tweeted something which in my spaces was fairly moderate along the lines of “hoping that once this march is over, we will continue to see mass mobilisation towards other issues of injustice”.  I lost facebook friends over this, frustrated people over this and was accused of being divisive in this rather than invitational which was always the intent.

It wasn’t a judgement it was a hope. A hope that issues of injustice would be acknowledged and in our numbers, in the mass of people, addressed. 

The issues of injustice that matter to me are that of sanitation (going to the toilet shouldn’t mean risking rape, murder, assault or being kidnapped); of children not being in school because of violence or because there aren’t enough support systems in place to deal with children who are struggling.

A hope that remains still, now in April 2017 as we sit in a week in which the date for the EIGHTH vote of no confidence in our president has been set.

My protest question still remains:

What happens after Friday?  After the proposed national shutdown? Where there are ‘well meant’ but offensive motivational messages being circulated about make sure your ‘helper’, ‘security’ and ‘gardener’ are with you for this march?

(Q: How do you know that they share your views?  These are adults, they can choose whether they want to join you or not.  Maybe they want to protest in their own spaces.  Maybe they don’t trust the process.  Maybe they have witnessed enough protest in their lives or lived through the previous change in government to want to choose to hand the baton on to others)

One of my mentors who is black and poor asked me:

What are people going to do afterwards”

“What will change in how people treat each other and take responsibility for things, after wearing black, after marching?”

Government can’t change our social dynamics. Zuma must go BUT what responsibility and response within our abilities are we going to explore and COMMIT to after Friday’s march.

SO, please forgive me for overthinking this if you must, but I have friends who don’t eat supper every night; friends whose children run out of nappies for economic reasons; friends who STILL can’t give their children choices like my parents could give me. Friends who lost parents because they were poor – poverty reduces life expectancy (not a liberal snowflakey vibe, this is fact).  I have lost friends who didn’t have private medical resources & didn’t share how they were struggling health wise and so were on repeated waiting lists in the public health system and ended up having heart related issues on their death certificate but had it been me, would have been placed on medication and under observation.

I want to protest against these realities. These injustices.

I want to protest against power dynamics that aren’t right.

I want to protest against things that take away choices from people.

Yes, I want Zuma to go as I believe that he makes choices that removes choices from other people in order to continue expanding his own world.

I want to protest against the fact that in 2015, there was mass mobilisation for a week towards a march in the community and then it seemed that people went quiet.  That the invitation (again) and call (again) to share responsibility for addressing the daily injustices in our nation wasn’t taken up by the broader white community and THIS has added to the sense of mistrust and questioning of intent and motive.  The impact of our lack of action has led to some of the responses now.  As a white person, I recognise this to be a recurring theme in the social media debates in 2017.  I recognise and own that this is aimed at the white community.  Not because we don’t have a role in this country, but because we are either reluctant or reticent, or not sure how to engage with these things.

I want to protest that people in my friendship circles live like they do, with life being about survival far too often – whether from bullets, hunger or a lack of resources.

I want to protest that our fear of what restitution is stops us from exploring what it could look like in our spaces.

I want to protest for ongoing, as has been emerging in the social media debates, dialogues around what unity really means, about what making good could look like and what seeing each other means.

I want to protest at the fact that too often despite declaring that we are called to HOLY RIGHTEOUSNESS AND JUSTICE, we get caught up in our own self-righteousness and own vision of what we believe justice to be.  I have had to repent of this.  It’s uncomfortable and necessary.

I want to protest at the exclusivity of some of the spaces I have inadvertently helped create and protest for figuring out how to help keep people going on this journey of reconciliation and restitution so that it’s not just buzz words from the ‘rainbow nation’ illusion but that we keep on doing the hard work we need to in ourselves in order to see the others in the story too.

We are in the midst of a revolution.

It can happen while we pay dignified wages & explore what it means to cap maximum wages so that dignified wages are a possibility.  I am challenged by this every time I think about it.  Dare I think that this could be a reality?  Dare I believe that this is possible and doesn’t stop interest and investment in our economic markets and so importantly into people’s lives?

It can happen while we create relationships and figure out what generosity in this space looks like; it can happen when I choose to share with you because I know I have more than you based on my birth status and not because I am worth more.  And that the way in which I share doesn’t communicate power, but sharing of resources.  That there is dignity and acknowledgement that we are both givers and receivers in this process.

It can happen when I choose less eating out, less shopping, less what feels like essentials but are actually choices and choose to invest or pour that into other spaces.

Not just because you make me feel okay about myself, but because I choose to. And in choosing to, maybe I will find my sense of belonging with you.  In the midst of our differences.

Oh South Africa: prayerful reflections

Sunday 2nd April 2017:  Reflections on SOUTH AFRICA

These are some of the guidelines, reflections and conversation points that emerged during a time of prayer and discussion this afternoon.  Restitution, personal reflection as well as praying for your nation happened. Thought I would share them in anticipation of #blackmonday and the proposed national shut down on Friday in protest of a presidential cabinet reshuffle. 

 Who and what is our role?

There are lots of voices at the moment shouting about Zuma, about who is allowed to criticize who, about what needs to happen and what needs to change.  In the midst of this all, some significant conversations have happened in my world.  I thought I would share them with you as some reflection moments before pressing into prayer.

AS WHITE SOUTH AFRICANS…

Was at trauma conference on Friday and obviously, the happenings of the time were discussed. There was a big discussion of “whites being silent”… the final outcome was that whites need to listen more, really listen (which you’ve done for years) but important to be engaged and involved too… not to be silent as this means you not taking accountability and not working for the future… may God’s spirit lead you this afternoon.  (My friend Kirsten Thomson, echoed by Sharlene Swartz who was at the same conference).

Unless we are as committed to restitution and redistribution as we are opposed to corruption, we need to carefully think about why we are wanting to wear black in support of #blackmonday (Sharlene Swartz’s tweet that has been tweaked)

 

Why does this matter?

One of the recurrent themes, as I listened to different speakers at The Justice Conference SA was as Christians , why are we seeking justice? What do we believe about justice?

What do we believe about God in this? About who God seeks justice for?

What do we believe about people and God’s relationship to them?

A scripture commonly used to explore the justice space is Micah 6:8

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,[a]
and to walk humbly with your God?

As Christians, we believe that we are in the not yet -now space:  We believe that the Kingdom of God was revealed in Jesus and that the age of Heaven is to come and YET, we are called to be a part of ushering in the kingdom now. A kingdom reflecting equity, belonging and a God who has created, ordained and celebrated diversity.

As a country we don’t see this in our legislative history (think Apartheid which was an extension of the colonial system).

We also don’t see our current leaders pushing towards this.

SO other than reducing this to about one man who is an easy target currently in his actions, Zuma, we need to look at what is required of us in pursuing justice for us all.

There is an invitation to engage beyond just #blackmonday.

Can I invite you to join us in prayerfully exploring this space around the following topics:

What do Zuma’s actions mean, not just for us, but for our nation and for the most vulnerable in our nation?

What does this mean in terms of what we need to be praying for in our leaders as a nation?

  • Are we praying for the standard to be God’s righteousness or for things not to be disrupted?

Are we able to see bigger than just Zuma?

What opportunities for justice do I need to be responding to?

What does this mean for the sphere of influence in my world, as well as what communities is God asking me to consider walking with?

What can we commit to in action in response?

What areas of our lives do we need God to being clarity in so that we can, in good conscience, advocate and pursue justice?

  • Some of these might be comfortable spaces, some less so, yet the call for justice is revealed throughout the Bible from the beginning to the end.
  • Think about Joseph, Daniel, Ruth, the Pharisees
  • Think about Jesus and the tax collector
  • Think about David and Saul and the role of the prophetic.

Where do we confuse:

  • Networking or nepotism vs creating opportunities for newcomers into our economic and income earning spaces
  • Who is responsible for healing our nation?
  • What sense of restitution do we hold? Does this scare us?

It might be helpful to reflect on:

  • Where we feel hopeless in South Africa
  • Where we feel hope in South Africa
  • Where we feel powerless and what we believe about God’s power in this
  • What can we dare to pray for and believe for South Africa and ALL who call this nation home?

This is an ongoing journey towards a healed nation.

May we lament as appropriate, repent as appropriate, respond as required.

Lord have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

Nkosi Sikilele iAfrika.

 

Sharing the cake

Why do their houses look different?
Why are people standing outside?
Why are children not at school, or the men at work?
Why are there no gardens?

Can you see the Park in this area?
Yes
Does it look like a nice place to play?

No, not really.

The above were some of the questions and conversations had en route from Rondebosch, a suburb with lovely leafy open spaces and parks, en route to Delft.

Notorious Delft – Delft that makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Delft that is also full of families and people trying to get things to work for all the right reasons.

The conversation was with an ‘almost 4’ year old who was accompanying his mom and myself to drop things off with a friend of mine whose house burnt down 2 months ago. His mom was preparing him for the fact that things would be a little different to what was used to seeing in his day to day life.

We also spoke about the SONA events that had occurred the previous night and how his mom and I felt re: the different political parties responses.

His mom mentioned that Julius keeping issues re: poverty on the table was so important but also it felt scary to think of him being in charge, even though things definitely needed to change.

‘ Why is it scary mom’ piped up the voice from the back seat.

A-hem… mom looked across at me.

I waited to hear what his mom was going to say;  After another um, ahem moment offered to share what I had voiced to my almost 2 year old son already, not because he understands yet, but because I want to figure out how to explain our unjust, unequal past to my son. Something that I realised I was going to need to do at some stage when he was strapped to my back on voting day last year.

But, back to my inquiring little friend.

Me: So, let’s say that everyone likes cake.
Yes.
Me: And we handed out cake to people, but we had a set of rules that said that only some people could have cake and not other people – how would that sound to you?
Would you be okay with being told that you had to watch other people eating cake?
NO – that’s not fair.

Okay, how about if you had the cake and we said that we all needed to share our cake with people. Do you think that this would be an easy or tricky thing? What would happen if someone came and grabbed your cake, or you were scared someone would come and grab your cake?
I would grab my cake and make sure that no one could grab it.
So actually sharing your cake, even though it would mean that everyone got cake can feel hard? Yes!

That’s a bit like what is going on in our country.
DO we believe that everyone should be treated the same? That God made everyone the same?
Yes.
Well, as crazy as it might sound, not everyone thought like this and some people made really mean, or bad rules saying that some people could have things but not everyone.In our country, the people who could have the cake were the white people, and other people weren’t allowed to share the cake with them.
Now we have new rules but still not everyone has cake.

Does that make sense?
Yes.

Okay, well what if instead of cake, we said nice houses, or nice schools or comfortable things.
At the moment, different people are trying to figure out how to help make sure everyone can get these things and for some people it feels kind of scary to share, some people don’t want to share and other people want to share but aren’t sure what that looks like.

Okay.

And then another why followed….

Don’t ever stop asking these questions little man, your why questions might very well hold answers, compassion and solutions for some of the consequences of bad rules.  

In the meantime we need to figure out how to share the cake better, both in attitude and practical action.