What a (almost) burst ear drum is teaching me about listening .

I am currently struggling with an ear drum that has threatened to burst.  Seemingly out of the blue.  It was a painful ache, much like when scuba diving, or flying with your ears that don’t want to equalise, that sent me off to the doctor.

The doctor, on examining my ear kept saying OH MY WORD, OH MY GOSH repeatedly. Never a good sign really. She then went on to tell me that the inside of my ear looked more like a haemorrhoid, a shiny (this was apparently a good thing) one than like the inner anatomy of an ear.

I am grateful for modern medicine – hopefully the deaf, blocked, dizzy, unbalanced, ringing, buzzing, motion induced nausea sensation will be passing soon.

It’s ironic when someone whose career is all about listening to people suddenly can’t.

Then I thought about the haemorrhoid thing, and other than thinking EEUWWW…thought about some hard conversations around race that I have been engaged in.

Around how when we have to consider things like privilege, shame, fragility, guilt, we often listen with ears that don’t hear. About how hard it is to listen to the anger or stories of others whose stories don’t make sense to us because we don’t experience life that way. About how uncomfortable or inconvenient, or how much we don’t want to have to keep listening.

We listen ready to explain the buzz, the nausea or maybe don’t even acknowledge the blockage that is the problem.

A friend recently challenged me on not being afraid to listen and speak up less apologetically.

I have realised that part of my buzzing has been not wanting to deal with some of the fall out of speaking up and out, of not feeling like there is enough energy to do so.

I am committed to not apologising for learning and wanting to keep walking with, learning from, and speaking up when I feel I must. I am committed to quote another wise friend to ‘failing forward’ in this as we learn to listen together.

I can’t learn when I am focused on the buzz.  I can’t listen or concentrate on what you are telling me when I am distracted by own blocks. Whatever they are.

I am grateful for friends, like my doctor, who have pointed the ‘haemorrhoids’. I am grateful that we can create spaces where we can learn to listen despite the buzz.

I am dreaming of a South Africa where listening means clarity and being heard, and being quiet when needed. Without the buzz.

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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.

Faith vs Hopelessness. My wrestle with my country.

PRE-READ DISCLAIMER: This is my wrestling space thinking & I know that I am not alone in it, hence my sharing. This isn’t an answer. This isn’t I have it all figured it out. This is I am hurting for friends whose stories are slowly being revealed to me. This is I am sore for my country at the moment. This is I wish I knew how to engage in this space better. This is I wish that collectively we had more sway in influencing healthy change and new ways of doing things. This isn’t party politics as much as it is about where does the power sit. This is about my wrestling. This is the context of my wrestle. If you want to wrestle with me in faith and hope and love. Grateful for grace to cover where I get it wrong.

‘Faith makes hopelessness forbidden’ – part of a WhatsApp that a friend sent me last night. I have been wrestling with what it means to have relentless, unfailing HOPE and what that looks like for us as South Africans. Beyond just for us as South Africans – what does us it mean for me as a believer in Jesus – the giver of hope and a different way? How do I live hope? How do I speak hope? How do I encourage hope?

So I started thinking about what is taking up energy – not just in terms of my focus but also of taking away hope.

• I realised it’s the lack of engagement – the lack of skills being imparted to people to know how to engage in this space, to be invited into this space at times by people already in it and also skills to know that saying sorry for something doesn’t mean I maliciously hurt you or are carrying shame. It’s about saying I am sorry that you are hurting, were hurt and have been hurting still despite the fact that things are said to be changing.

• I realised it’s the lack of listening from all of us – especially those of us with a history of speaking first and loudest. Yes, we also have feelings and opinions about what is going on, but I am so used to speaking up and out that sometimes I forget that others might be quiet simply because of what was my normal rather than what I would prefer to be OUR normal way of engaging where we both get a chance to be heard and understood.

• I realised it’s the slowness of change, but not being sure how to see practical change implemented as MANY people who have power to ensure these changes in our country are more concerned with their own positions of power and gain than they are with ensuring that people move from absolute poverty to a place of opportunity because the basics are being met (as a simple starting point)

• I realised it’s the language that is being permitted without looking at what do these words mean – my focus and energy and hope gets drained when I hear calls for revolution without looking at what revolution has done in other communities – without asking what will this mean for the children and vulnerable in all our communities. It gets drained when the language we all use from ‘get over it already, its 20 plus years’ to ‘ revolution is now and the white oppressors must realise this’ to a nation whose leader orchestrated exploitation, violent revolution and murder and mayhem and political intimidation being honoured in our own country without recognising that under his leadership people lost everything, feel still live in the knowledge that you can’t speak out against him and that despite his language use publicly, the exploitative nature of his regime continues.

I get tired and struggle when the word revolution is seen as interchangeable with resurrection.

Revolution is about one world system replacing another world system.

Resurrection is about overcoming a world system with a new way of life system. It’s about hope.

Sitting with these realisations makes me want to weep. It makes me want to wail and lament and cry out loud ‘Can’t you see we are simply repeating a system from the past which on the surface looks to benefit the many but experience not just here, but elsewhere has shown us that it simply serves to repeat a cycle’?

I know I sit in a position of privilege. Not only am I historically advantaged, I am protected financially by virtue of being married.
I know that I sit in a faith community that is striving to engage in this space.
I know that I sit in the midst of people working this out. Where we can talk and speak and make mistakes and listen and say ‘’ I am sorry’’ on a micro inter-personal level. Not just where things went wrong in the past, but also where we get it wrong in the present. When I get it wrong with you.

In faith what do I wish and pray for?
• I pray that we will become comfortable with being uncomfortable so that we can have the discussions and engagement as individuals and collectively that we need to have.
• I pray that we will start looking at what we are inviting or engaging people to be a part of through how we speak and what we do: whether we are imparting life giving hope or simply providing a space where energy and a lack of hope finds a space to be expressed.
• I am more and more convicted that within our faith circles as in the pre-90’s faith circles when the church as a body was part of calling to account, that not only do we need to be calling to account our leaders, but also each other as we respond from places of passion, purpose, but also places of fear and hurt. We need to be mirrors to each other in this else the bigger image of what we are wanting to see happen is never going to happen.
• I pray that each and every person who is passionate about this country will see that they have a role in it, beyond simply being nice to people – but actually to ask questions and invite understanding through listening.
• I pray that we will actively choose hope and that this hope will determine our actions, our engagements and our responses.

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)

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.

Race, Reconciliation and Red Herrings…a response to The Spear (2012)

Red Herrings, Race, Penises and Reconciliation

How to start a piece of writing about a topic that has enraged and resulted in vehement debate in a country such as ours?  I know that there will be people who accuse me of being idealistic.  There will be people who think that I am failing to recognise the past.  There will be people who think that I am failing to recognise the present objectively.  In discussions with a friend (she is black)whose heart seeks reconciliation, healing and forward growth for South Africa, I admitted that I am tired of feeling like just because my skin is paler than the majority of my fellow South African’s, I am not allowed an opinion on South Africa, or on the Spear and the dialogue it produced.  It is hard when I listen to people argue so objectively that they can’t or won’t acknowledge people’s subjective experiences which result in seemingly irrational behaviour.  It is painful that when I dare voice anything I know that half the people who may read it through other friends’ debating and sharing will make assumptions about me based on the fact that I am white and should therefore be quiet, or that I am not allowed to be heard.  My words to her were in fact:

Siki, it is hard to be heard when I know that many of my white peers will think that I am not being objective enough in seeking understanding whilst there are people of colour(s) will dismiss what I have to say without hearing or knowing me simply because I have green eyes, dark hair and a paler complexion with freckles!”.

Siki responded to this with “Lex, you need to say that, you need to say these things out loud and we need more people willing to listen and talk and being willing to defy the perceived stereotypes from all sides”

So, I now I am saying what I think – not because I think I know better than anyone else, but simply because I have been listening to a lot of what is being said and spoken and actioned in an attempt to understand what has been unfolding 5km from my home.  I currently live close to the Goodman Gallery where the infamous “Spear” painting is being shown; where the word race and racism has been touted about – a lot.

RACE – what a loaded word in South Africa.  Theories abound – I have heard people say that black people can’t be racist – which makes little sense to me in the context of Xenophobia and Black on Black violence.  I have seen people walk out of lectures when I was at university in response to a lecturer trying to prove this – black and white people who got more and more irritated with her.  I have also been told that black people can’t be racist towards white people.  Again, something that makes no sense to me and never has.  Surely racism is what happens when we are prejudiced or assume something about another person based on what we understand their race or ethnicity to be about? I have engaged in cross-cultural spaces personally and professionally from the age of 15.  One of my earliest childhood memories was leaning to give our helper a hug and a kiss when she returned home from being on holidays and being told by her not to do that; if the wrong people see there will be trouble –she literally recoiled into the corner and pushed me away.  This was how I learnt about apartheid.  I wasn’t allowed to hug someone who looked after me when my mom couldn’t  and made sure I had fun, who disciplined me when I needed it, with my parents’ approval, someone who I loved because “some people don’t understand that it’s okay for people of different colours to love each other” (my wise mom).

In response to a lot of the “racist” cries, many paler Africans are crying, people need to get over apartheid and stop yelling!  No, not everything is racist, but as Max du Preez pointed out, how much animosity still exists in certain communities over the Anglo-Boer war?  I can take you to places where people refuse to speak English, and other places where people refuse to acknowledge that Afrikaners aren’t all thugs – I can speak about this- I am a product of both.  When my mom chose to marry my father, she was asked:  “Ai, JB, kan jy nie met n ordentelike boer trou nie?” (Ai, JB, can’t you marry a nice Afrikaans boy?).  My Ouma and Oupa were accepting and welcoming to my English “rooinek” father –the rest of the family – well, and I can brag that I was once a peace child…  My Oupa (grandpa) took my English father and his first granddaughter (me) for a walk once –without telling my dad where we were going.  It only emerged when they reached someone’s home that it was to a family member who was disgusted that my mom had married ‘the enemy’ so to speak but due there being a baby present, the door was opened and some sense of peace brokered.  Well, for a moment anyway 😉

So, next time, as a white person you are tempted to yell, let’s get over this already, try speaking English in metaphorical “Blikkiesfontein” and note the response?  Or listen to your own gut instinct when a man dressed in veldskoen (vellies), two tone shirts and a fiat bakkie pulls up – what is your immediate thought?

What does this have to do with The Spear?  Well, firstly, I think that we need to take a long hard look at ourselves before shouting out in indignation (some righteous, some self-righteous) about the “ANC and its’ race card”.  What I learnt over the past few days about what some other middle class, educated black South Africans’ are saying with the word race is the following – and before you read this list, agree to just hear what they are saying, rather than getting defensive immediately or blaming the current government for not addressing these issues –listen to what I learnt:

Race…is about the social inequality

Race …is about the lack of trust

Race….is about the fact that so many black people still live in incredibly poor conditions with minimal access to electricity and water

Race …is about the housing crisis

Race…is about white people not knowing much about the past and the injustices and way in which many people of colour in this country struggled.

When I read the above list, I can understand why so many people are quick to shout RACE –it’s loaded with a whole lot of meaning that I don’t automatically give it. I can understand why someone told me to be quiet when I started talking about the need for us to know what the injustices were, and how to respond to these that could bring healing –except that once we did start speaking, there was a sense of peace – for both of us, not necessarily resolution but a better understanding.   The more I engaged with one person’s thinking about this, as she wrote in response to an article written by a mutual friend, the more it made sense to me why people were so upset.

I get that technically and legally the above aren’t definitions of race – but it helped me understand.

I so appreciated this woman telling me that when she drove along the highway, she realised that she did begrudge white people – yes she had white friends, but she got mad all over again at white people when she has a colleague at work who has to wake up at 4:30 to boil water to get to work by 7:30 – this woman takes 20 minutes to get to work, so she isn’t speaking as someone who uses public transport, but rather who sees inside the shacks she drives past.  I appreciated this simply because it irks me too – but I don’t label it race.  I label it social injustice and the way that wealth is distributed and the fact some of this wealth is mismanaged – which as a black friend of mine pointed out is a favourite expression of “white folk”.  I heard him.  I did.  BUT I also know that the fact that poverty exists now isn’t just the fact that wealth is mismanaged now – it was also mismanaged under apartheid with funds being allocated to state security, rather than addressing the needs of all people who live in South Africa and if we want to be honest, funds were badly allocated to a select few.  When I look at communities now, when I look at the new elite class that has emerged, and the level of poverty that remains, wealth is still not allocated equally.  Not here in South Africa, not in Africa, not in the world.  If it was, poverty wouldn’t exist at all.

The Spear, along with the rest of Brett Murray’s exhibition, was social commentary on what many people (both black and white if you read popular media and blogs) had been struggling with in South Africa and see as a lack of delivery, as well as concerns with regards to the gender issues in this country, so objectively if I listen to these concerns I see direct correlations with the list above – and when I am willing to listen to other people’s hearts in this I can find things that we can agree on- as well as ask questions about should this be called race then?  And how does this fit with freedom of expression in our young democracy?

Subjectively though, when my father, either personally or as the man who is viewed as a father to our country is publicly displayed in the way in which President Zuma was, it is very hard to stay objective in responses – especially when it stirs up so much controversy which pushes all the buttons in many and serves as a reminder of much of the indignity of apartheid.   See, I heard that and was confused by this statement, until 2 black peers independently told me that under apartheid, black men would be stripped naked and exposed to white female policewoman for review –for whatever purpose.  Now, I am not sure if loads of my peers knew this, I didn’t consider this at all.  And I already hear some of you saying “Lex, what has that got to do with anything?”  Well, if we are all already struggling with working out how to manage life in South Africa with its history- and some of it feeling more personal than other stuff, and this button gets pushed – and ironically in some ways repeatedly pushed by the people who were offended by it – as some of you are thinking, it has a lot to do with everything.

People don’t live ALL subjectively or ALL objectively – even those of us touting seemingly objective arguments in either direction about The Spear have emotional reactions to what is said to us and about us and apparently on behalf of us in this dialogue.

As a South African, who lives on this continent and is passionate about people and purpose and seeing hearts healed and understood, it’s intensely frustrating to feel that I am not allowed to have an opinion or share what I have learnt from people who are willing to share their sensitive areas with me.  It’s hard to not want to yell back when I get told I don’t understand racism and I know that there are people who won’t give me the time of day as a person because they have already made assumptions about me.  See, I shouldn’t have to tell you the following every time I want to express an opinion as a white South African that this is on my CV:

–          That I grew up in a family where we were part of racial reconciliation meetings and listening to stories from when I was 16 years old. This was pre 1994…. It was whilst I was still in school.  We camped in communities that legally we shouldn’t have been in, but it was “ignored” (probably silently watched) as it was on church property.

–          That I spent a week in a shack in Khayalitsha, in winter, in the early 90’s, with spotlights and police sirens in the background and wondered what would happen if we weren’t invited to stay in a community wanting to see healing too. That I know what it’s like to have township dogs bark at me.  That I know what its’ like to be stared at with suspicion and not spoken to, whilst my black friends who were there too were embraced.  That I know what it’s like not to be able to fluently follow a conversation for lack of slang-vocabulary.

–          That I used to catch mini-bus taxis into Bishop Lavis (poor socio-economic, known for its gangs – well then anyway- violent community) in the mid-90’s as I didn’t have a car and needed to walk through Cape gangsters to get to my social work agency.  That I had taxi drivers who refused to stop where I needed to be dropped off and left me in the middle of Elsies’s River, which at that point in time had the highest incidence of rape (geographically) in the world. This made me just another woman at risk – but I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb.  A sore white thumb. That I had a female Xhosa taxi driver tell me I was a crazy white girl to even be going to work there and driving off her route to get me closer to where I needed to be to make sure I was safe (this still makes me smile).  That my university supervisor at the time used to check the day after practical’s that I made it to class as she would be concerned about me until she knew, from a safety point of view, that I was okay – I found this out after the year was done!

–          That my first second major high school crush was on a coloured boy (I was just a girl –this is not derogatory) but I had almost no one I knew it was safe to tell this too.  I met him on a scripture union camp and he was awesome – and probably didn’t know what to make of this silly-eyed girl that just smiled at him a lot.

–          That I have lived in communities where I was not altogether welcomed by the doctors and managers at work and the “white” people in town simply as I chose and preferred to have multi-cultural friendships and didn’t support their racism or ‘colonialist’ ways of working with nationals in a country where we were guests of their government effectively.

–          That I have had men who refused to speak to me once they knew that I had dated across the ‘colour line’ or girlfriends who wouldn’t discuss this with me.

I shouldn’t have to tell you that I cry and cringe when I watch at the way we as human beings – all of us – yell at each other and keep yelling to be heard- whether out of pain or out of fear – but aren’t willing to stand and listen to someone else’s pain and fear so that we can heal or allow the painful, uncomfortable things to be bought out of the shadows.  There are so many people wanting to see changes in this country, who are seeking the same direction, but we can’t find each other if we can’t listen to each other.  And listening to each other is not about a white agenda, or a black agenda, or a coloured agenda.  It’s not about one upping the other and punishing.  It’s about being able to really see and hear each other together – I am in awe of the shifts in the press the last few days of more and more people taking a stand that is about the bigger picture, but acknowledging the smaller critical details too.

The Spear has highlighted that we default into fighting mode – and we cry without listening – and today reading the newspaper, all the editorials I have read by black editors – have stated this needs to stop;  that we need to look at the bigger picture.  The Spear neatly allowed a side step of the broader issues because it triggered the race card for many people.  And in triggering it stopped, but only for a while, dialogue and discussion from happening that could be helpful in healing and exploring our constitution, and our democracy.

I am committing to stand and letting people yell at me – out of pain and fear and not yelling back – but rather being willing to reflect and hear and cry with, so that if we shift as individuals and groups little by little, maybe the macro shifts we are seeking will come.

I am committing to wanting to understand more – and choosing to respect that people’s pace and process isn’t always where I think it should be – not as a white person, but as Alexa.

I am choosing to ask why the rhetoric resonates with many often, rather than just getting infuriated by it – and responding rather than reacting.

I am choosing to honour my friend, a woman whose heart is also to understand but will often challenge the status quo and speak up to say why the so-called masses may be responding as they are – and part of that was writing this.

I am choosing to allow myself to be corrected and learn – about the objective and subjective dialogues that still need to happen, but can’t be stuck on repeat.  Not because I think I know more or don’t know enough.  Simply because I don’t think any of us do.

 

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

Ramblings in search of understanding (2010)

Ramblings in search of understanding….

The past 16 years in South Africa have seen much change in terms of who I am legally allowed to be friends with, share meals with and do life with. This having been said, there are HUGE gaps in so many areas still, huge gaps where we seek to figure out how to be a part of the solution in shifting communities, but can’t seem to unlock the doors to doing so. This past week a study was released to the public about the nature of violence in this country.  Nothing in there was unexpected, and nothing in there was staggering news.  I am amazed that we had to have a big study commissioned to make it official actually –surely there was and are other ways of finding the path to a different way of life?

10 days ago, I attended a breakfast where people shared on some of the trauma in our communities that was silenced during the early 90’s.  I say silenced as it was given a blip in the news, but nothing more.  Mandela’s release, the restructuring of a government in transition and how to manage our international relations were more pressing issues as we sought to see shifts and changes.  The TRC was one of the transition bodies put in place in an effort to allow people to tell their stories, and perhaps find some form of closure.  We knew things had been bad, but so many questions still run around in my head.  As an African who happens to be white, in my 30’s and passionate about seeing this continent, never mind our country be recognised for integrity and its growth potential being realised, how do we deal with the following issues below– and I am ignorant of many people’s stories.  I don’t claim to have the answers, or all the insights.  I am responsible and accountable for what I have heard and what I do know though.

Human beings have the amazing ability to build each other up or damage, break and destroy each other.  As South Africans we listened to the stories of Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Congo, Liberia, Burundi, Eritrea and the list goes on, in horror.  We stand up and say this is not okay – and it’s not –but how many of us in our 30’s who weren’t directly impacted by the political violence are aware of what our peers are living with – their parents saw, our parents may have seen?  Rwanda’s atrocities and human rights violations, sadly, are similar to some of the legacy we get to live with too.

I think about World War 2 and what we know about mass graves, about the wars fought across our continent and mass graves.  I don’t think until 2 weeks ago did I consider the reality of mass graves on our soil.  Listening to multiple stories of family members needing to identify their fathers, brothers, sisters and children in a pile, not one or two, but a pile of bodies that have been stacked, and not even refrigerated, or moved to a different section of the province in an effort to quickly clean up the streets, makes me want to weep.  Our soil has seen way to much blood shed over the 400 odd years of South African’s known and written history.  This is in the too recent future for it not to matter.  If women weren’t encouraged to go and identify male family members due to cultural constraints and the men in the family were in hiding, or under arrest, it means we have many people without any sense of where there family members were or are today.  It also means that as a nation we have seen power being abused in the most horrific way.  This to some people is due the fallout of the times, is a legacy of apartheid – all this rhetoric means nothing when you realise that communities are still living in a state of disconnect and heightened emotion; that physically these things are still trapped within their nervous systems– and that is why we don’t see shifts forward, despite changes.  How do you shift when you stuck, and the systems have changed, but your reality hasn’t?

The TRC allowed for some stories to be told, people were allowed to tell things within a certain framework…and it would be unrealistic to expect that an entire nation’s healing would be found through the opportunity to tell a story. Especially as the telling of a story doesn’t necessarily mean healing if there is no follow through to the telling – and your story wasn’t allowed to be told as it didn’t fall into the criteria of selection framework.  Noma-russia’s story was one of these.  Her mother was 8 months pregnant with her when she was raped by members of the SADF and police.  This was in the 60’s.  Noma-russia herself was raped twice during the struggle years.  This was only one story that didn’t get to be heard.  How many more stories of rape and associated gender violence have been silenced?  And if these stories are being silenced how do we help the perpetrators heal?  How do they get permission to heal?  In times of war and civil unrest, rape as a weapon is primal.  Nothing is new in using rape to wage war.  But if you were a rapist, were raped, were a part of that story, with the apartheid struggle, the IFP- ANC battle in some areas as the backdrop where do you get to know that your story matters too?  Especially if this turned into being a part of the culture of the struggle, rather than something that we are not okay with – no one wants to see a mom, a sister, a brother, a wife having to deal with rape.  Our bodies hold onto trauma, unless we work out how to release it – no new learning, no new ways of doing things, passing things on can happen whilst we in this stuck place – and again we say why is nothing shifting?

Change in any context is hard – whether its good or bad changes, we struggle.  SA had two known armed forces – the Umkhonto we Sizwe arm of the ANC and the SADF representing the government.   Once you are in the SADF you are property of the government –and when I listen to friends, to guys who did their 2 yrs, or 1 yr or were permanent force, there are stories that get told and much that is left unsaid. Added to this was the integration of the SADF and MK, or simply the dissolution of certain platoons and brigades, and so from having an identity you were suddenly a non-person –which is what much of the old government did to most of the people of this country, I get it.  I just question how and where do we position ourselves to take those skills, that identity shift needed that allows for a sense of internal power, and not power that is played out in violence, in abuse or in those skills being used in a self-seeking manner.  The same people who were seen as the enemy, the perpetrators, in some ways are also victims, and the so called victims were also perpetrators – we all need healing in that space.   It’s amazing to me how within 24 hours you went from being heroes to guilty and terrorists to heroes.  And yet, what do we do now with the chaos that is found in so many places where both the SADF and the MK guys have skills, determination and much to offer.  How do we offer something though when there is a judgement over our roles, or a lack of being able to connect simply as we have so much boxed?

Safety and security – we survived 2010, we have premiers whose homes are robbed and a former president’s whose house was invaded despite security.  We are told to call crime lines, to support policing initiatives, and at the same time polls are in place to find out whether a bribe has ever been solicited from you or you have offered a policeman a bribe?   How does that work?  During the silenced struggles, police weren’t perceived to be neutral, eyes and backs were turned on so-called black on black violence and then this was all supposed to change after 1994.  Now, I listen to stories and see headlines of police brutality; of the same people who are supposed to be protecting me, being the people who aren’t protecting other people simply because of class, or ethnic origin.  Who am I supposed to trust when that is happening? As a woman, who is single and often alone at night, do I believe that the police have my back, that if there is a road block, I can trust that righteousness and integrity will prevail?  I know that there are many good, committed people protecting us and serving our country.  What do I do with the knowledge though of people being brutalised by the people who swore to protect us all?

And then there is poverty -something which is inherently violent.  Not because it carries guns or knives or beatings, but because of the price it extracts from those living in it, with it, under it.  Children’s ability to dream get shattered; their ability to learn stifled and the day to day survival that kicks in – how is this difference to living through war or conflict.  Peaceful poverty may look different to contexts where there is violence too – but the reality again is our brains and bodies have to battle, daily.  So perhaps yes, we can look at the legacies left behind, but we also need to own our day to day realities that are not unique to us as South Africans, but not helped by our past either.

Our communities, whether rich or poor, integrated or not, young or old are all dealing with something actually.  Some of us are better at saying – Stop; wait a minute, what is this about? Some of us want to know what makes the past that impacts the present.  Some of us would rather just say it shouldn’t matter- as yet again, if it does matter then we need to work out how to manage it.

So, my search for understanding means I need to be willing to figure out how do we look at the past in order to redirect the path going forward?  How do I, as a white African be a part of seeing change on the soil that is mine too?  Not because my original family came from here 500 years ago, but because my identity, my culture, the rhythm in my veins, the things that make sense to me as much as the things that don’t are all inherently a part of this continent.

I believe we are wired to need a sense of purpose.  The people fighting the struggle, the guys in the SADF, the unknown faces of Africans –whether Black, White, Chinese, Coloured or Indian – all had a sense of purpose.  There was a need for a story so that there was a reason for this purpose.  If my purpose and need to be in a place where we seeking reconciliation, forgiveness and concrete pathways of hope and future orientation exist, then I need to be willing to be listening to the stories too that need this.   A people without a purpose, without a hope perish.  Does this mean then that if we are not being agents of hope, we too are accountable for some of what we see around us?  If we are not helping people find purpose, than are we not as guilty as those actively robbing people of their purpose?

Madiba said:

To be free is not merely to case off one’s chains, but to live in in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

As a Christian, I believe that we have been given the gift of freedom, as a human being, I believe that we are given choices and that we have much power in those choices.   So then to carry on with Madiba’s thought, my freedom (both fought for in this country, and spiritually) means I have a choice to help respect and enhance other’s freedom.

In some ways the career aka life path I have chosen in terms of career helps this – I get to sit and be in spaces where we get to witness people’s stories.  In that I have to speak up and speak out about things that aren’t okay, shouldn’t ever be allowed to be okay.  I also need to remember that sometimes we need to remember the past, not so that we can get stuck there, but so that we can use it to lay, or where necessary relay the foundations for the present and future.