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.

 

Advertisements

What does a freedom fighter look like?

This morning this went through my head after I received a message from a woman that she was furious at people’s attitudes and the stuck narrative that things were better pre-94. That she had “lost it” with someone who wouldn’t respect or listen to another man (of darker colour) doing his job because “it was better before”.

Under apartheid.

You know the days when there was a blanket quota system in place: white, preferably male and um – ja….that was about it.

What kind of freedom are we talking about when we talk about freedom fighters?
– Freedom to vote?
– Freedom to speak our minds?
– Education & health care for all?
– Freedom politically?
– Freedom to be safe?
– Freedom to love who we want to?
– Freedom to worship?
– Freedom to be who we are – male/female/ pink/ purple/ worshipers/ non-worshipers?
– Freedom to know that we matter, that people matter?

I teach a course on contemporary society and all my foreign students (whether from the rest of Africa or elsewhere in the world) comment on the fact that South Africans are obsessed with certain social interactions and dynamics (like race) that aren’t a part of the general narrative in their countries of origin – this doesn’t mean the dynamic isn’t there. It just isn’t as apparent. Day to day, people in different contexts compare what was and what is and question what will be in terms of our contemporary society’s future.

Politically and economically as a broader community we are trying to work out what economic, social and political freedom really means. People like Julius Malema, Steve Hofmeyer, political parties and others are all touting what they believe needs to be, needs to happen for us to be free as a nation. Freedom fighters stereotypically are the icons that have been part of revolutions, to see broader social change come about so that we can have discussions about our leaders, about Steve and Julius on the same social media forums without fear of reprisal – other than people disagreeing or deleting you if they disagree with you.

Yet, when I think about this woman, I see a freedom fighter too. Someone who won’t be on coffee table coasters or t-shirts; someone whose name you probably won’t have heard of.

I see a woman who found ways of helping people know that they matter despite a political system that said otherwise.

I see a woman who stood up in front of a community of displaced, formerly homeless people in a refuge in the 80’s where everyone was scared of HIV/AIDS, who shared a cup with someone living with HIV to make the point that HIV wasn’t something you could catch by simply doing life with people – doing lots of other things yes, but not through sharing life things.

I see a woman who was raised and is a part of the cultural grouping associated with the oppressor – the Afrikaaner – who rants and raves and challenges people yearning back to the days of oppression. Not out of a naive space, but out of a bigger picture space of recognisning that things aren’t all great BUT….

I see a woman who has been impacted by crime directly, overseen health care for political prisoners and gangsters, who with her husband, exposed their family to racial reconciliation weekends in coloured communities pre-94 while there was an awareness that this wasn’t the norm amongst most of their peer group.

I see a woman who has watched her husband’s retirement be impacted by the change of management, whose husband exposed things in his place of work that weren’t ethical and was then “moved out” of his place of work and left with a greatly reduced income because of it and who isn’t bitter.

I see a woman in her 60’s still advocating for fair wages, for good conditions, for people to be seen and for justice for all.

I am humbled by this woman.

I am proud to call her mother.

(Today my mom lived for me Micah 6:8… I am forever grateful for the gift of my mom and dad – we are blessed)

Poverty Pornography (2012)

Poverty pornography….is a term I was introduced to during a community visit at OWCS. My role there is to support the director of OWCS, Ricky da Silva with regards to strategy, planning and staff support.  The more I thought about it, the more I liked this term.

Poverty Porn (PP) has a kind of a ring to it.  It’s also aggressive and in your face and has the dirty feel to it that shops with blue movies and brown bags hold.  It also speaks volumes about what we do in communities and with people when rather than engage with them out of a sense of dignity, we do for, do to, and don’t meet them heart to heart.  Compassion and Justice, Micah 6:8 doesn’t allow for poverty pornography.  PP for me speaks about when we use communities to ease our consciousness’; it’s when we go to make ourselves feel better about something, like poverty by painting a wall, but not bothering to see that actually the light fittings in a school are all broken.    It’s when in lieu of asking someone how their day has been, we rather pretend not to see them.

Poverty is ugly.  It’s not something we can pretty up –however much we want to.  It is a place where in the midst of the suffering joy and peace can be seen, but not when we refuse the intimacy of an experience.  Like a person who chases the celluloid or print porn images, poverty pornography will never allow our hearts to be truly moved, or the people we attempting to reach out to, to be truly seen or heard.

Poverty pornography in some ways allows for injustice and inequality to remain pervasive as it allows the illusion of making a difference without any sacrifice or discomfort to ourselves.  It doesn’t force us to recognise where we can speak up for justice, or practically do something to address injustice from a relational stance, rather than from a distance.  The only way we can truly address the issues of injustice and poverty in our communities is when we willing to have an intimate experience with a story that becomes shared story – so rather than us and them it becomes a “WE” story.  It is not up to policy, economics or social theorists to address this actually.  Jesus stated that the poor will always be with us.  This doesn’t absolve us of caring and challenging the structures that create the poor.

Over the past while I have been considering what Poverty Pornography looks like in my community and have recently been challenged, again, by what I can do in my world that will make a difference in this space.  It means that I need to consider what dignity, respect and humility looks like when strategizing around projects and needs.  It means that personally I can’t stand up and say “it’s Mugabe’s fault” or a the capitalist system or the old refrain of the colonialists left Africa poor without looking around me and seeing where I can stand up and make a difference.

Practically, it means that I need to consider what it means for me when:

  • I know a friend who is being paid a ridiculous wage and can’t afford her children’s school fees, and food and clothing when the cost of this would match what I pay to fly to CT for a weekend.
  • It means I need to consider when I buy my 4th bible because I want to read certain passages in a different translation and the person up the street is questioning a God who seemingly shows favouritism to a few and he isn’t one of them – what is my responsibility to him.
  • It means that I need to look at what it means to live simpler so that others can simply live – AM I willing to empty out space in my wardrobe when I get new stuff, so that someone else can benefit, or am I hoarding clothes for just in case?
  • I am challenged to ask how you are, look you in the eye and say have a great day, not because I want to rescue you, simply so that I see your personhood, and am willing to hear your story, rather than make you a non-person by not acknowledging you. You at the traffic light, walking past me in the street on my run, smelling or looking different to me.

Poverty pornography means I know things intellectually, but as long as it makes me look kind and caring and good – I can post on facebook how much money I gave away or how many needy children I “blessed”, but I don’t need to be challenged or uncomfortable with the injustice of life.  It doesn’t mean I need to give everything away and live in the street, it means I need to be conscious of what I have and the responsibility that comes with that.

I dare say that that more intimate our understanding of Micah 6:8 which reads as follows in the Message, the stronger our communities will be come.  When our understanding of our neighbour shifts from someone who is just like me, to someone who is near me, around me, in my face then maybe we can’t so easily engage in a distant theoretical understanding of poverty.

But He has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.  It is quiet simple:  DO what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.

(Musings over months – 20th September – Alexa Russell)