A mother’s take on #feesmustfall

My brother and I stood in solidarity with the students at UCT yesterday, the 22nd October 2015.  My mom and I have had lots of conversations about what is unfolding.  I asked her to put some of her thoughts down… here they are.  Thanks Mamma. 

In the musical “Les Miserables”  there is a song –

“Do you hear the people sing?

Singing the song of angry men?

It is the music of a people

Who will not be slaves again!

When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start when

When tomorrow comes!

And an invitation to join in and be strong, although some may fall and some may live.

I keep on thinking of this.   I am a wife, mother, 69 yrs old and WHITE. How does this affect me?  I hear the anger, see the hurt, the desperateness and yet I have HOPE.

I am and have been privileged and blessed.   My parents “battled”, money was in short supply, but  I am a qualified nurse who did not have to pay for my training.   My brothers all have degrees.   My children finished their degrees of choice, without any debt.

What right do I have to even comment?  How can I understand what many parents and students are going through, universities closed and exams not being written?  It is not right and understand the concern, but every week I sit with people, whose cry “please pray for work for me”,   My children need to go to school.  My child needs to be educated, I cant afford to send him

A mother and her primary school son, who often have to walk 8 km to school and work and back, because there is no money for a taxi or bus.  Fortunately he gets fed at school.

A mother, who pushes trolleys for tips, so that her children can go to school.

When a mother says, I do not want to go back to the life I led to be able to educate my children. I hated it and know it was wrong, but I was desperate.

The stories are endless and they do not want to their children to remain in this cycle

Two of these above mothers are white.

I say again, I am blessed and privileged.

How do I see the marches?  If I was in Cape Town, would have been there too.  I am proud of my children being there.

And yes, I understand the anger and frustration.  Maybe I would lash out too.

I do not agree or support or condone the rioting, looting, stone throwing, burning  and pray that there will be a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

I do not know what the future holds for my children or grandchildren. I hope and pray that they will be able to study in freedom, without the yoke of being slaves to debt.

That is why I say I have HOPE because we have hope that if we act and speak out for justice, there is Hope.

Isaiah 58v6    “is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen; to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cord  of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

V7        Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood

V12      Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;  you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls , Restorer of Streets with Dwellings”

I want to be able to stand before God and say “Lord, I chose the true fast”

I pray that our country will be the country it can be.  A country with a hope and a future.  Too long there has been too little hope for too many.

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#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.

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.