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.

Advertisements

Awakening Dreams

On dreaming…..2 weeks ago I sat on my couch with a friend reflecting that the BIG dream, the thing that has been in my heart for always that I want to see happen in Cape Town just doesn’t seem to be happening. It felt like I was always on the edges of people in the spaces I wanted to be in rather than in the actual spaces. It was frustrating and actually had gotten to the point where I didn’t know what to do with the dream anymore. She looked at me and then said: I don’t understand – you are a part of these circles of people. I said, yes, but the dream part just doesn’t seem to be taking shape at all.

My dream is to be a part of the circles of people who are actively, intentionally and in their day to day work spaces talking, telling stories and figuring out what justice and forgiveness looks like. My dream is to see children on the Cape Flats and in poor communities receive the same quality and standard of intervention as the children living closer to the mountain. I know that my voice is a white voice, just too young to have been in the struggle, just too old to be a part of the youth that experienced the change in a more integrated way through schooling, through sport, through life stuff. Yet, despite all of this, the seeking for healing, wholeness and reconciliation has always been a part of my story – whether spoken or not. It’s meant a different awareness of things & it’s something that has happened without feeling like I had to intentionally make it happen. It’s been always been an “is” thing.

24 hours later a child is bought into my practice: Their story is the story of a child growing up with gang violence being normal, rather than random and unexpected. During the session this dream is awakened, with a sense of anger that this child has to be bought to the suburbs rather than being able to access support within their home community. This is put aside in an effort to focus on my client until her community worker who brought the child to me gently asks, “Have you ever thought of starting a practice in the community this child comes from?”

Time felt like it stopped at this moment. This, THIS is the dream being asked about by someone who has never heard it – who I had never met, and yet who pushed straight into my deep heart’s desire. This felt like my Martin Luther King moment where I got to feel what it was like to say “I have a dream…”

I was gobsmacked – lecturing was challenging after this. It is hard to concentrate on teaching narrative theory when it feels like your own narrative is busy changing.