#unfenceSA

This morning the first conversation I had with another person involved a story of her young (teenager) cousin being beaten to death by 4 other people.  She was called out of church, along with her family. On arriving at the scene of where he was barely alive, under a black bag at the local rubbish tip, his body was okay, but his face was damaged and scarred beyond what seems to be humanly possible to do to another human being.

Then I thought back to my own childhood where a story like this was unknown.  Where the drugs we were warned about including dagga and tippex thinners and stranger danger with sherbet straws or sheets of stickers – this one I have never checked on snopes to verify?!  Where a drug like TIK (yes, I know it’s everywhere) seemed highly unlikely to even get a mention.

Last weekend I sat and listened to stories of people I know and love but who because of our political history being what it was I never got to know and love growing up.  They were isolated from me and me from them based on the amount of melanin I have in my skin and they in theirs.  Based on the amount of melanin and race, secondly by ethnicity, my black friends – for black in this context incudes anyone not white – would have had their education, their life paths and their potential potentially prescribed. One of the most painful things for me to hear was someone whose family I consider one of my closest, most loved people in Cape Town talk about the battle to get to where he is and the chance that a (white) manager took on him years ago, allowing him to work in a store that my family frequented on a monthly basis to receive scripts for my mom’s blood pressure and my asthma.

How ironic, that someone who holds this much value in my world, is someone whose path I could have crossed so much earlier, but didn’t simply because my schooling and local world was 10km in a different direction.

I nearly didn’t go last weekend – when the invite came and I realised it was in the same 10 day period as 2 other preparation heavy workshop engagements, I thought maybe I need to wait for the next one.  I am really glad I did.

I sat this weekend among people I respect as people wrestling, truth speakers and people further down the road in figuring some things out that I am still working on wrapping my head around and listened.

I listened to a friend speak out, knowing that he would offend some listeners, in a safe enough environment to do so.

I watched people who would usually be deferred to first in speaking, or were used to being given the floor, listening more than they spoke.

I learnt about the depth of wisdom and a history that belongs not just to friends, but to communities to, that wasn’t my shared history.

I engaged with a friend who voiced that he wished that the white community would experience what it feels to be hopeless. Not because he is wishing hopelessness on people but because he wants the white community to experience what it is to feel like there are no choices and to mobilise from there and not just be in an inverted power dynamic.

I was reminded again about how we can be hopefully naïve and in this space it diminishes the hopelessness many feel.

Hope matters, but hope needs to be more than just a feel good thing.  It needs to be something that stirs and disturbs us when we are sitting in a place of too comfortable and too easy and too much going on to think that things need to change.

Hope matters for all of us when we are angry and scared about what things could look like, might look or won’t look like.

Hope matters when we see systems in place that still don’t serve us all well.

Hope matters when I have to speak up and out within my own community against things or for things that need to be heard.

Without Hope we all die, but without any action Hope is just a warm fuzzy thing to hold onto.

I am grateful for this weekend.

I am grateful for the reminder that actually, it takes courage to speak into spaces of privilege and power.

I am grateful for being able to think back to my first weekend, at the age of 16, as a family experiencing listening in Strandfontein 25 years ago, led by Wilson Goeda and Gerrit Wolfaardt (I stand under correction here!).That shaped me in ways that I am still figuring out.

Was I comfortably uncomfortable all the time this weekend?  No

Was I challenged to keep listening, to keep wrestling?  Yes.

Let’s #unfenceSA as we keep listening to those who don’t look, think or sound like us and let’s #unfenceSA by engaging in our own spaces more and challenging the areas where we can do better.

Thank you Johan De Meyer for kicking this off.

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My Habakkuk Confession

Pre-read disclaimer: My guy encouraged me to share this as he felt it might be encouraging and helpful for other people too. This is an ongoing part of my wrestling with what and where my role is in a country on a continent that I am passionate about and that I want to be a part of seeing healthy and whole. God is a part of my worldview. People matter to me too so yes this is about the state of the nation but it’s also a part of figuring out how to deal with my perceptions of things around me. You don’t have to agree with them – but please play nice if you are going to comment

It’s been a Habakkuk season
This morning I broke down and confessed to my guy that I am struggling.
Struggling with the raw hurt and anger and sometimes hate that is emerging around us.
Struggling to know how much or when to respond and when to keep quiet.
Struggling with a sense of having been silenced as a result of something that has happened that I don’t fully understand.
Struggling with the edification of someone who has committed the most vile atrocities against all people in his own country – regardless of race. People who have had homes burnt down, markets and trading areas bulldozed, been tortured and killed all in the name of ‘’restitution’’ in his own country and is now seen as a voice of truth. (This isn’t my media propaganda, this is my experience of having been there, having sat with and listened to people’s stories – across the racial divide).
Struggling to deal with the calls for action that are needed but that are leading to verbal and other violence when I still have clear memories of what it was to live through these calls in the fairly recent past – when people were tortured, simply disappeared or knowingly killed for holding opposing views, within the apartheid struggle as well as between struggle parties who disagreed with each other aka faction/ political violence, or across borders within some of our neighbouring nations where this rings true too.
Struggling with the level of blood shed that has already passed and with the levels of hurt, anger, fear and even hate becoming more and more evident in dialogues and engagements – I guess I am especially struggling with this and know that on my own, or with friends who only think like me or look like me this isn’t going to be resolved.

Then I read Habakkuk again as a reminder that none of this is new.

Habakkuk reminds us that law and order fell to pieces then too (Hab 1:1-4), that justice appeared to be a joke and that anarchy, violence and fights broke out all over the place; that the wicked appeared to have hamstrung the righteous.
Habakkuk reminds that God can work among us as he worked among the ancestors and people of before, that we can ask God to not only bring judgement but also Godly mercy (Hab 3:2)
Reminds us that the paths that God takes are older than the oldest mountains and hills (Hab 3: 6)

After confessing this to my guy, who then sat and prayed with me (&for me) and we prayed for the country, for the continent, the following vision came about and Charlie shared with an instruction that we need to write this down, so here they are:

• A picture of Africa (as a continent) beating as a heart would beat but haemorrhaging, blood gushing out; a surgeon then attempted to work on stopping the haemorrhage but to no effect, the bleed continued. After this a hand, the hand of God, moved across the continent and only then did the bleed heal, stop. Charlie reinforced the sense that we need to keep praying, we need to keep holding on to the peace and purposes that God has for us in the here and now. We need to recognise that there is much hurt, much unresolved anger and much change needed and it is all pouring out at the moment. We need to keep praying for guidance as to how to manage this space, to guide it and allow it to transform not only systems but also people’s lives in order for healing to happen.

About 10 years ago I had a dream which keeps returning every time I think about the state of our nation:
Context of the house where the dream happened: I grew up in Tokai – relatively close to Pollsmoor Prison, so lived with an awareness of protests and the political awareness that my mom instilled in us through her refusal to treat or engage with people differently based on their race. In fact, mom and dad through their networks exposed us to prayer, reconciliation and story-telling weekends in the early 90’s. Our home was open to all people always and we had missionary (local and foreign) students of all race and nationalities in our house often.

My dream: I was inside the house I grew up in and could see masses of angry black youth shouting, protesting and throwing building nails at homes in anger, shouting threats and toyi toying. These nails, despite doors and windows being closed, slid under the door lintels and landed on the tiles in our passage. In my dream I remember picking up these nails and looking at them in my hands, crying that these are meant for building up and not instilling fear or damaging or breaking down.

I am still sitting with this dream – trying to work out how and where I pick up these nails (even if they prick and hurt and result in my hands bleeding, as in the dream) to know how I am part of the building process.

I am feeling a little more hope-fuelled than I was this early this morning.
I am acknowledging and confessing that my hands and heart have been bleeding.
It has been overwhelming some days.

My prayer is simply this:
God show me where you are in the midst of this?
God show me practically where you need me to be in the midst of this?
God show me how to be a part of the healing and not the hurting?
God show me.

Wrestling with ‘skin’ colour crayons

I run social skills groups for children from Grade R to Grade 3. Without fail in every single group, my coffee/ brown/ chocolate or as one of them has identified himself ‘toffee with a splash of cream’ children ask to borrow the ‘skin’ colour crayon when colouring in pictures of themselves. Not the peach crayon – which is what I apparently am- the ‘skin’ colour. It irks me every single time. It makes me want to hold the crayon next to my arm and say it doesn’t match me – it’s not the colour of my skin (I still look like summer according to some of the college students I teach which means I am tan).

Yet every single child knows that this is ‘skin’.

It frustrates me that this is the case and yet we question why race still matters in terms of how we as ‘old/ big/ adult/ leaders’ engage the world?

I love that one of these kids asked me to guess which baby photo was his – he was the lone person of his race in this group. They divide their friends into the annoying vs nice people. When I listen and watch these children engage with each other based on their individuality, be kind to each other based on their quirks, I celebrate their growing social skills, but I also inwardly celebrate that they see each other as people.

Then I look at my social media feed which is populated with US vs THEM or labels like animals, and narratives saying ‘get over it already’, posted by thcee same people who are asking why can’t we be nice to each other and simply see each other.

Maybe these kids who are still going to be confronted with the meaning of ‘skin’ colour beyond a mismatch of crayons could teach us a thing or two. They are learning to listen to each other. They are learning that sometimes when someone says ‘I am angry’, it’s because I am hurting. They are learning that when we repeatedly ignore someone it can make them ‘mad’ and want to shout and scream so that they are seen – and while this isn’t the most effective way of problem solving, sometimes it’s the only way to feel heard.

My 9 year olds can verbalise this, in safe spaces. In safe spaces, they can own when they get this wrong – when maybe we didn’t listen well enough to the other and so didn’t help find a solution.

Recently in my social media feed the recurring theme in the commentary on current race issues – like being a black working class student at Rhodes or about the Rhodes statue and what do we do with him became about US and THEM and sadly, for me, often a refusal from my ‘skin (peach)’ colour peers to hear the other – I am not saying that the actions, attitudes or behaviours are all to be encouraged, but when we engage on social media platforms and aren’t willing to listen, then all we do is make it seem like ‘skin colour’ is the only way to go.

I can’t only be willing to show compassion to someone because they are ‘nice’ to me, or because they have been willing to see me, if I am not willing to see them first. Sometimes they need to shout loudly at me before they realise I am still standing and willing to listen. Sometimes I need to be comfortable being uncomfortable with someone else’s pain so that we can find another way – especially if their discomfort affords me comfort or vice versa?

I have struggled the past few days with understanding how we ‘skin’ people hold Mandela and Tutu up in regard, and yet disregard the voices of people whose freedom to express their voices Mandela is seen to represent? I struggle with the fact that we repost and honour them and yet dismiss the ‘ordinary’ person of colour when they express their story or pain in a way that we can’t connect to and so don’t validate.

If we truly want to honour the ‘let’s move on’ South Africa maybe we need to stand next to, walk alongside and listen to people whose stories and experiences are different to ours. Not because listening on its own can fix them. But because being seen and being heard and being acknowledged does something inside all of us.

It helps us find each other. Maybe then ‘skin’ colour can become peach and the ‘coffee’ ‘brown’ and ‘toffee with a splash of cream’ will truly all be equal to the peach in terms of value and legitimacy and experience. Despite the different pictures they paint and stories that they colour.

Justice vs Selfishness

Is SOCIAL JUSTICE in some ways THE STRUGGLE AGAINST SELFISHNESS?

I recently had the privilege of attending a conference with various leaders seeking change in the area of poverty, inequality & unemployment. At this conference were leaders who had been involved in the struggle against apartheid as well as young leaders whose voices are loud in the current struggles that our country faces as a whole – by whole I mean people of all groups and (racial) backgrounds.
There were many reflections on things that worked, ideals that were and weren’t achieved and stories told of the political struggle that ensued to bring SA into a democracy. Rev Frank Chikane said the following which has sat with me and I have no concrete answers to this – other than we need to find this path through restitution and peace: ‘In the build up to 1994 the country was taken across a bridge in such a way that bought the country to a new place without destroying it; however the economic system wasn’t taken across the bridge’.

I sat listening to people speaking about their experience of growing up poor, of the struggle to escape an economic system that is responsible for much of the structural violence and neglect many people still suffer under and realised that this was the bigger narrative against which the smaller, personal narrative needs to unfold. As a South African who is white how do I find my space in the midst of this when I see what are emotional, angry and ‘you can’t possibly understand the other’ type responses on social media and news comments?

How do i listen to what needs to be said, but still ask or challenge or engage people to find an alternate way to that of bitterness driven responses? This morning I again saw a person of colour being allowed to respond to an emotional statement (which is allowed too) and yet when a ‘white’ person affirmed the initial response and asked the questions which I too wanted to ask was immediately shot down. It made me think that while we talk a big talk about creating a land of equal opportunity that in the midst of that we need to find ways of seeing each other – and that means looking beyond our own assumptions and stereotypes –regardless of who they are about.

Sivuyile Kotela said ‘that we need to find a way of talking about poverty and it’s link to race without being racist; that the church has a responsibility to talk about poverty differently to those who do so for political reasons and that as much as don’t want to talk about race often, in the context of poverty it’s a needed discussion’. This might not be radical enough for some of my more left wing friends. It might infuriate some of my more right wing friends that the race word has once more been used.

So in this context how does this broader narrative and story that is currently unfolding as a nation impact my personal narrative around justice? I have had FOMO watching friends engage in dialogues around this until I felt convicted that actually, justice needs to be about the way we live our lives – and yes the dialogues matter, but what matters too is actioning the things that we see and hear.

How do I acknowledge and what do I do re: my white privilege? No – that doesn’t mean I have a trust fund, it simply means that inherently if I listen to some of my best friends (who happen to have grown up differently based on their skin) tell stories of their childhood, do I acknowledge & respond to the wrongs or simply nod and move on?

Justice in my day to day life is about how I:
– Engage my community
– Engage my neighbours
– Engage those employed by me: whether at work or at home. Do I respect and value the person & her work, helping in my home enough to pay her a generous and living wage or do I worry that this will impact my disposable income too adversely?
– What do I do with disposable income and time?
– What do my friendship circles look like? Do I intentionally befriend people whose stories differ to my own so that there are bridges being built or do I surround myself with people who are like me and allow to not have to think/ talk or be the other?
– Is my faith & it’s actions private or is there a social aspect to it in terms of how I live it out?

I don’t have answers for all of the above – but when I start to ponder them the selfishness of aspects of my world are bought to light and it brings me back to consider where I need to shift again.

One week later: Things that helped, things that hindered & finding grace in grief

I have learnt, lived and experienced things this last week that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. In the midst of the heartache and disappointment there have been many reasons for gratitude. There have also been things that happened that were perhaps well meaning but really not helpful. There were things that I am not sure what they were about but have left me perplexed. They are things. Things for me work well in lists, so here goes the list.

GRATITUDE for the man I married who has loved, held, supported and shown up when nothing he can do can “fix this” right now. I have learnt that Charlie shows up in the way that matters and that he loves me more, deeper and far better than I could have hoped or imagined.

HELPFUL reflection: We need the love and support and ACKNOWLEDGMENT of our community but that much of this grief work is private as much as the journey is shared. So thank you for acknowledging our grief, for praying, for messages and for space. That is both something that I am grateful for and that was helpful. There is a part of this that is lonely and that I can’t share with others – but value them being there. Just being there.

NOT SO HELPFUL reflection:
We chose to share the joy of discovering we were pregnant, as well as the sadness of the loss. The amount of info we share around this is up to us – it hasn’t been so helpful when people have wanted details around either the pregnancy or the loss. We were clear about the reason for not meeting our little person when we announced this (a blighted ovum). Questions & responses which weren’t helpful included, and in fact were quite intrusive:

o Did the doctors do investigations as to why? Can they explain why? (No – if you want more info, perhaps use google, rather than me).

o Were you on hormone treatment? Will you be given hormones to help you fall pregnant again? (Really – this is loaded with assumptions about how we fell pregnant to start with or that there are issues – and if there are, that is obviously something personal that wasn’t shared; and if there aren’t, how do I respond graciously and honour my community who have had struggles in this without pushing into their pain. Fertility is an emotionally loaded area. Please be careful how you approach this with anyone, maybe don’t?)

o Inquiries as to how much (& whether it will be protected/ unprotected) sex we plan on having in the near future (My gut reaction to this: Why would you like to recommend a baby making position?!)

The spiritual side of things matter too. I don’t believe that things always happen for a reason, or that there is a bigger picture or obviously God wanted an extra baby in heaven – my faith in God wasn’t hinged on whether or not this baby made it to us: I was astounded at the amount of people who told me not to give up on God. It worries me that God’s faithfulness is perceived as being contingent on my circumstances – but that is another discussion. The world is messy. Life is messy. This happening is nonsensical to me, and as hard as it is is messy. God doesn’t owe me an explanation -I don’t want to get into a discussion like Job did where God had to remind him of who is who.

It has been a week today since we found out that we weren’t going to meet our small person this side of heaven. Acknowledgment of this means being sad, saying it’s hard and taking your lead from how much information we choose to share. Our medical history is ours and the way in which we are processing privately needs to be ours too.

It doesn’t matter whether this was a first time lucky conception or a hard prayed and longed for one (with or without intervention)– or whether it was an adoption that fell through. When people bond and dream of their small people, it’s a loss – REGARDLESS of how the small person was going to arrive.

HELPFUL reflection: Recognising that while we share stories I don’t want to own your story and I don’t want you to own mine. They are our individual stories of unique babies but with a shared understanding of loss. It is stressful and hard for anyone to have to listen to someone else’s outcome which is not necessarily true for the person. Thank you for the friends who shared their stories but also for those who shared the helpful parts and didn’t insert into our story what their outcome was. Our story isn’t finished yet. A parallel story to this was my younger brother getting married before me – people often asked me if it was hard for me to hope for marriage since I am the oldest and Mark got wed first – no it wasn’t hard. I was never going to marry my brother. His being married, someone else having a baby or not is not my story. It’s theirs. My cousin is going into labour (hopefully) any minute – I am excited at the hope of new life in the midst of our loss. It’s been hard but helpful, for me, to be able to weep and celebrate with her. This might not be true for anyone else.

GRACE moments: That this either owns me indefinitely or becomes a part of my story. My daily choices as I grieve and choose to process will determine this. This was a reminder again that there is a depth of pain that lacks words. It was a reminder that I don’t have to soldier on and that in the midst of this and that there is love in places and people if I am open to receiving and allowing it to be there.

This is a club that I NEVER signed up for. I resent at times the fact that I now have to be a part of this and yet I look at the amazing women in my world who are here too – some who are birth mothers and some who mothers without having given birth (or adopting) and realise that none of them did either and there are lots of clubs throughout the world that people didn’t sign up for.

In the meantime there is grace, gratitude and recognition that it’s okay to say things are sometimes more helpful than others.

This is dedicated to a baby we never met who we named Michael; who would have been born around Freedom Day (27th April). Trusting that his story will help bring greater freedom in our lives, other’s lives as well as a sense of God’s glory in the messiness of life