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.

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The Boldness of Blacks

A few weeks back a friend of mine wrote a blog, an exasperated blog, stating that she was tired of white people being seen as courageous for going into black communities. I flippantly stated that actually the blog should have been about the courage of black people going into formerly mostly white suburban communities.

• Into communities in Cape Town where we are regularly seeing headlines about white on black violent racism.

• Into communities where people earn their livelihoods – such as they are. Livelihoods being a term I use loosely as it means being paid something that most people think you should be ‘grateful for’ & yet none of the people I know who employ others express “simple gratitude for at least earning something”; instead it’s mostly about the feeling of what we are entitled to in terms of how hard we work or the effort we believe we put in.

• Into communities where one man was sjambokked (whipped) while running in order not to be late for work but was assumed that he was a thief – because why would a black man be running through the suburbs (and obviously not in running gear)

• Into communities where at 9 ish in the morning a woman was beaten, en route to work, based on the assumption that she was a sex worker. Not only was there an indignation that she was black, there was an unspoken thing that it was okay to beat up sex workers too.

She challenged me to write something about this & I thought it might not be so helpful. Yet this morning, on opening up facebook, there is yet ANOTHER headline posted by a friend who wants to live in Cape Town, yet isn’t sure he wants to have to deal with the ‘racial backwardness’ of this enchanting city, of a YOUNG white woman who swore at a YOUNG black woman and then ‘tazzered’ her – over a parking space in a Hipster area of pubs and restaurants – and then told her to go back to where she came from. Really?! This white woman lived across the mountain in a different community altogether – how did she know where this black woman came from? So, some people are reading this and thinking that it was about road rage – my question is if it had been white on white would the tazzer have come out? Would the K-word have been used, multiple times and would the sentiment of ‘go back to where you came from’ have been expressed?

Cape Town, I love you. I love saying that this is where I grew up. I love that my head clears and heart breathes out because of the forests and mountains and beaches and water. I love how each day, I am grateful for the natural lifestyle that you facilitate. This has been a part of my identity as a Cape Townian.

I am also deeply saddened and angry by you. I was concerned about moving back here from Jo’burg (the city Cape Townians often claim to not understand how people actually live there). One part of what makes living in Jo’burg easy is this:

– I can go for lunch with any of my friends: black, white, coloured, indian and NO ONE stares – out of curiosity, labelling or for any other reason. It’s just lunch. Before you deny this, in December a Xhosa friend and I went for lunch in Hout Bay. We were the table of curiosity for a few people. She graciously claimed that perhaps they thought that our conversation was interesting – however, the staring had begun before the conversation got interesting.

– In Jo’burg there is an underlying energy and drive and awareness of crime etc – but there isn’t the same level of resentment that simmers in Cape Town. It feels- and yes this is a naive statement as I am sure that it’s not true everywhere – that this is the possibility of listening, befriending and doing life with others without the questions, glances and mistrust that Cape Town we seem to have.
Cape Town, our identity is a paradox. It’s of utter beauty and amazing things happening in different pockets and circles – for we are not all bad – but it also has the ugliest of things too as we really don’t seem to live like all people matter and have worth. There are people actively striving, in faith based and development circles, to see the beauty outplay the ugliness. Until we admit, until we own that the ugliness is a part of us it won’t go. Like an alcoholic who denies his problem, but the impact of it is felt often, Cape Town we have been denying our racism but the impact of it is felt often.

It’s time to own it. Just own it and then maybe we can find ways of being the mother city. The city of healing, of hope and of restoration.

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.