The Wheels of Injustice

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“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Albert Schweitzer said that the wheel of history needed to come to a halt in order to usher in the Kingdom of God, but refused to turn, so Jesus threw Himself upon it, then as He was crushed by it, it does turn; and therein lies His victory.

The question is what are we willing to do in partnership with God to make the wheels of injustice stop?

Suspending the “But..!”

It has happened to most of us. Especially lately with all the political turmoil happening in our country. Someone starts talking about something that makes you feel really uneasy. You feel your heart beating faster and your blood may even start boiling a little. It may in fact really push your buttons. At this stage in the conversation you have stopped listening, because all you can think about is what you are going to say in response and how you are going to defend yourself or your stance…and most often you do not even allow the person to finish their sentence, before you interject with “But..!”

“But we have worked to be where we are now!”
“But I had nothing to do with it!”
“But they..!”
But..!
But..!
But..!

One thing I have learned over the last year or so, and especially in the last few months is that something incredible happens on the occasions where I am able to suspend the “But..!”. Where I have been able to listen without defending, justifying or convincing. Where I have been able to listen without interjecting or trying to proof my point.

On the other side of suspending the “But..!” lies the potential to understand something about someone we would have never guessed to be true, discover points of view different from our own and the chance to have our eyes opened to realities that we never even knew existed. My deepest moments of repentance and growth happened on the other side of suspending the “But..!

I am not saying that you should stop holding to your own beliefs. I am not saying that you should compromise on who you are. I am not saying that you should not engage in robust arguments and challenging conversations. I am not saying that you should agree with everything you hear. I am suggesting that we try and understand the things we hear… I am saying that we should sometimes practice the discipline of suspending the “But…!” and rather take a deep breath and listen…

(If you are feeling particularly inspired by this post, as a primer for practising this discipline, I challenge you to take a deep breath and watch this…and suspend the “But..!” for once: http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2016-06-11-watch-julius-malema-at-the-gathering-2016/#.V2eITjZCI9c)

Youth Day 2016: What has changed?

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Today is 16 June 2016. It is not a mere public holiday. Or the start of a long weekend. It is Youth Day. And it is #40yearslater. What has changed? An oppressive system that fails those who are least powerful in society still seems at the order of the day. Most of us who live comfortable lives have forgotten about the events of June 16, 1976. It is easy to feel that we don’t need to remember and remain ignorant to the fact that our very comfort is built on what the youth was fighting against as pointed out so powerfully on the Izwe Lethu blog recently (I encourage you to read this provocative post). It is #40yearslater and so much has gone wrong… So much of what was paid for with such a high price has been forgotten, corrupted and repressed. So what has changed?

This week as people and organisations have been preparing for Youth Day, images and clips from the movie “Sarafina!” have been doing the rounds again on social media and the news. The plot (for those of you who still may not know this) centres on the Soweto Uprising in 1976. I can remember seeing advertisements and news reports regarding Sarafiona, the musical, in the 80’s and the movie in the early 90’s. Without knowing a single detail about the history, the music or the prolific and legendary Mbongeni Ngema at the time, I can remember that the images and the name simply provoked negative feelings from me as a child. I confess with tears in my eyes, I was ignorant and had no idea of the deep seated racism running through my veins as an Afrikaner child. That was 30 years ago.

Today, however, I can say that I have come to a place of realising my ignorance and growing frustrated with living a life of privileged comfort. I am still privileged however, but I am repenting of my ignorance. I can say that I have read the history, I have listened to the songs, I have cried for those who lost their lives, their children, their brother and sisters. I have cried for our country and continue crying our in prayer for our country. I am a recovering racist. I actively work towards a more just society by the way I live and who I chose to have relationships with. I still make many mistakes, but there is a slow dismantling of my own inclination to discriminate and stereotype others. It is an everyday struggle to face up to those demons. God is working in my heart and my life. I have decided not to let comfort and ignorance define my life anymore. I have decided to be the change that South Africa needs. I have decided to take the hand of God and partner with Him in making His dream come true for South Africa.

So, June 16 1976. #40yearslater… What has changed? It seems that so much is still unchanged in our society. But I am changing. I have changed. It is not much, but that is the only place I can start. Aluta Continua.

Not on my terms: Language and Names

I think one of the most important things that we as Afrikaans or English speaking South Africans can do to work towards reconciliation in this country is to learn to speak an(other) African language. In KZN the obvious choice is isiZulu. We have been doing a basic conversational class through The Siyakhuluma Project on Wednesday evenings. The Siyakhuluma Project aims to bridge both the language and cultural divide amongst people living in KZN. The cultural information shared by our lecturer has really opened my eyes to many things that I have been ignorant of in the past.

Speaking English to an isiZulu speaking person, not only means that you are speaking to them on your terms of vocabulary and grammar, but in choosing to speak English we actually impose our cultural ways of thinking upon the other person without having the faintest idea that we are doing so. Language never is just mere words. It comes with culture and “being”.

One of the most striking ways this point can be demonstrated is in the names we call people by. I will share a few very very basic things I have learned that I thought may be helpful for some – even though you may know this already (and to my isiZulu speaking friends, please correct me if I’m wrong, this is my understanding of it all and I am trying my best to bridge a few divides here!)

As I understand it now, in Zulu culture calling someone by their surname is deeply respectful. Apparently the word for “name” in isiZulu is the same as just “word” (igama – you literally ask “What is the word that is yours?” when you say “Ungubani igama lakho?”) – your name is just a word added to you, but your surname (“isibongo”) is the name you feel praised by. It acknowledges you as a representative of your family (And I’m sure you can connect this with the idea of “ubuntu” which means that we are actually only truly a person through others. I find this incredibly beautiful. You can apparently even thank a person by saying their surname instead of “Thank you” – it is that praiseworthy). So, for instance, if you want to respect someone (say she is an older person in your neighbourhood) and her name is Thokazani Mhlanga, it would be hugely respectful of you to call her MaMlanga rather than Thokozani. (Apparently you usually use the name of the family a woman has been born into – her maiden name in other words)

If you want to call someone by their “word”, I urge you to insist on calling them by their “real name” and not some name they have had to take because it is “easier.” Our lecturer told us the story of how she was given a Latin name in order for her to be christened and accepted into the local Catholic school. She never even knew the meaning of that name and most people in her family could not pronounce the name! I keep on thinking what a dehumanising experience it must have been. Naming someone on our terms like that eats away at their identity and ultimately their humanity. Calling someone by names they prefer or love acknowledges them and is respectful. Amazing that something as simple as a name (or a surname) can play a role in restoring a person’s humanity.

My husband had to learn the names of his new colleagues when we first moved here 9 years ago – Prathna, Prishnee, Prasha, Praksha, to name but a few – which was about as foreign to him – an Afrikaans speaking Free State boytjie – as can be. He managed just fine, so really there is no reason why we can’t also manage Andile, Nobuhle and Sthembisile.

Not on my terms: Dining Room Tables

 

Moving to the city has been and continues to be a huge eye opener to us. Never before have I been so confronted with my own privilege, stereotypical thinking, racism and feelings of superiority. Slowly I am awakened to the fact that as a white privileged person in South Africa doing things on my terms has mostly been the status quo. Living in the city has revealed how comfortable I have become to do things on my terms.

One of the interesting perspectives arising from our move to a smaller space in the city, was how little we missed the extra two thirds of our “stuff” that we lived with when we were living in a three bedroomed simplex in the suburbs. It is amazing how we feel we “need” certain things that we actually can live without pretty easily. Even now, living with one third of our possessions feels very luxurious in comparison with many of the people living around us.

One thing that I have been missing though is our dining room table. I loved our dining room table. To me it was a symbol of hospitality, connecting and engaging with others, generosity and sharing meals in ways that would make the love and good news of God tangible. So the only material thing I have longed for was our large dining room table…

This may all sound very noble to some of you, but in a dialogue session a while ago as I was listening to thoughtful challenging experiences being shared, I was reminded of the fact that having a meal around a dining room table is European or Western concept, not an African one. It hit me right between the eyes, here I was wanting to engage with people who are truly African around a dining room table – a Western concept. Here I was desiring to learn from others, but without even thinking about it, in doing so, once again, on trying to do it on my terms…

I know there will be some of you that will object, “Eating around a dining room table is practical” and so it may be. Especially if you eat with a knife and a fork, but not necessarily when you eat by using your hands or a spoon. I can hear some of you say, “Eating with a knife and fork is more civilised than eating with your hands or a spoon” – that may ring true to some…but only by Western standards. Western standards are not the only terms or the highest standards to which our own humanity or our dignity or civilisation can be measured.

And some of you might even say, “But Jesus had meals with people around a table!”…strangely I wondered about that too… So, I actually checked the use of table in the New Testament. If you do a word search for table in the New Testament you might find about 39 occurrences, but if you go and look carefully at those verses, you will see that in almost every single instance, the words “at the table” have been added in. I do not know Greek at all so I am certainly not qualified to make a call, but I would not be surprised if the translators (Western/European translators that is) translated the stories on their own terms…Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

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