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.