Monday, November 24, 2008

16 days of repentance from our violence against women and children

We, the churches are guilty in the violence against women and children. We keep silent and we silence those that cry in pain, to keep the peace. In the mean time one in three women are stripped of their dignity and the rest of us, the priest and Levites of this world, look the other way. We simply don’t want to get involved.

Yes, of course we make statements. The church that I belong to, URCSA, actually the men attending our General Synod in 2005, said, ‘We confess that, instead of treating you as equal image bearers of the living God, we often pushed you into second-class citizenship in the household of God. We confess that, instead of treating you as equal fellow-disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, for a long time we went alone to study theology and to appoint church-leaders. We confess that, instead of treating you as equal witnesses to Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we silenced you in the church and resisted the work of the Holy Spirit, who has given you so many gifts for ministry to build up the temple of the Holy Spirit.’ The question is however, what have we done to make amends, to redress this injustice?

In the South African context, the Kopanong Declaration can help to give body to our statements. Forging networks with gender justice movements, in ensuring empowerment and equality, is critical. I would however also want to contextualise this campaign by reminding us all of the hundreds of thousands (if not millions!) of women and children, who are displaced and slaughtered by a bloody mineral war in Congo (Kinshasa) and the utter mad-ness that is going on in Zimbabwe, under the approving eye of our politicians. Many flee starvation, by entering fortress Europe or South Africa, only to be caged in ‘refugee camps’ for months, some years, without hope of gaining papers to work of stay there. Further, whilst we abhor the frightening levels of rape and violence against women and girls, we need to focus our attention on politicians and leaders and their actions and policies, who continue to maintain sexist and patriarchal practices, which in reality creates the environment for these evil deeds to flourish. (How can faith communities and all people of conscience, forget the kind of crude patriarchal and archaic mentality of the current president of the African National Congress on sexuality, women and the role of a man, revealed in his perpetual court battles a year or so ago!)

Anyway, we have to make sure that we do get involve, that we keep on to raise our voices, march or pray against violence, in particular violence meted out against women and children. But most importantly, like the men of this one church said in 2005, ‘we (have to) commit to make restitution for this wrong….’

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A celebration of brown

Brown-ness should be celebrated, its the colour of the future. This is the interesting point in the article on the Obama phenomenon, by Colleen Lowe Morna, executive director of Gender Links, where she makes the point that Barrack Obama is neither black nor white, he is brown. She tells her own story, 'as a Southern African mother of two daughters of mixed race', who celebrates, the 'fortune of her two daughters in being born brown'. She concludes,
'If all that Barrack Obama succeeds in doing is to show us that between the black and white of race and politics there is a colour brown in which you can celebrate your African roots as well as pay tribute to the white grandmother and mother who raised you without being called an Oreo (black cookies with a white filling), he will have done our world a great service.'

I am becoming more and more aware of younger people celebrating their brown-ness, the 'fortune in being born brown'. What does this mean ? Is this only a struggle of us South Africans, in particular the brownies again ? Lowe Morna, who describe herself as 'born of white South Africanparents', however makes the point that, if you get on the subway in London or New York, you will be hard-pressed to find a face that is 'purely of any race'. This is my struggle, exactly. Whilst we become aware of our mixed-ness, our brown-ness, more and more we realise that this is not simply a Southern African conundrum. It is a reality within the rest of Africa, but also in other parts of the world. Danny Titus often makes the point, that the notion of mixed geneology, but also mixed heritage is not only the reality of coloureds in Southern Africa. I would like venture a bit further. Mixed-ness, in terms of geneology is a reality amongst all human beings- racial purity is a myth. In terms of this, whiteness, has no genetic ontic essence, it is a social construct, i.e. it was developed. Steve Biko, often made the point that blackness, African-ness is not about genes or pigmentation, its about a social state of being. Here we need to ackonwledge our history, the roots in slavery, European colonization, miscegenation and bricolage. So, lets accept that as human beings, we are all products of mixed geneology, and culturally, we are all mixed, hence the title of Dr Hans Heese's book, 'Groep sonder grense' (Group without boundaries)

Where does it leave the conversation ? It leaves us at the place where we have to own up to our mixed-ness, all of us. We are allways open to new shades and textures, as we evolve in our human-ness. In this process, we may celebrate the diversity and the new shades emerging, hence we may celebrate brown-ness, as long as we realise, that this is an open, inclusive celebration.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We so need angels of peace

Congratulations to our very own African-American, Charlize Theron, officially appointed by the UN, as a special peace ambassador. In a period where we as Africans, again, are simply hanging our heads in shame at the kind of humanitarian carnage on our soil, we need angels of peace.

The recent brutal slaughter of innocent people in the Eastern parts of Congo (Kinshsha) and the possible role of Rwanda, but also other countries here in the region like Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe and Zambia in our very own African world war, is simply a blight on our dancing and singing about ubuntu, human-ness and all that jazz. Let me not even touch on the topic of Robert Mugabe, and how our very own SADC leadership, with our new man at the helm, Kgalema Motlante simply roll over, and keep on rubbing in adoration, his back, whispering in some sick joke about the wicked 'Western masters', in his ear.

Then, we have our own violent crime situation, to top it all. I was horrified yesterday, to hear the shocking story of the hacking to death, of Rashida Ahmed, in Laudium. This came as her brother was also murdered three years ago, being hijacked.

It is the kind of situation where we ask about God. Surely, God cannot simply be on the side of all people. God cannot simply be on the side those who willfully go out and cruelly murder and hack to death innocent people in their homes, or those who are on the side of the Mugabe’s and leaders who instigate a bloody war against their own people. God cannot be blessing the cruel cold-blooded murder of a young man, as he loads his .303 or another, driving with an AK47, up to the home of an innocent farmer and his aged wife, on his farm eking our a hard living, from dusk to dawn.

We however believe... that God, in this world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged.

Yes, he is on the side of those who seek peace, and on the side of the church as the possession of God, who stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; This calls the us, the church, in following Christ, to witness against all the powerful and privileged who, selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.

Peace means that we have to stand up against violence, and stand with all the victims of violence. Charlize, look around, we are there with you !

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama give to the world, the audacity to hope

Most of us, with our US, but also Kenyan sisters and brothers are celebrating the change in US politics. Whilst many celebrate the fact that this is the first black US president, I would hope for a deeper look at what's happened over the last few months.

My hunch is that we see a new generation of world leaders, who are making their mark. But also, I am challenge by the reality that a new generation of voters are making their mark. They are younger, they defy old school 'skiet, skop en dônner' politics and most importantly, they connect with what John Stremlau calls, a fresh cosmopolitanism, which Barack Obama embodies, new identifications that transcend old racial categories. He like, Tiger Woods, would not allow themselves to be boxed simply as 'black', or African-American. Tiger calls himself, bi-racial- a term that, in my view, speaks of his multiple heritage and connective-ness, which include, rather then exclude.

What does Obama say ? I read his now famous speech on race and identity again and noticed, how he did not shrink back from seeing himself as standing, with others before him, in the history and legacy of slavery, but also the struggle in the quest for liberty and justice for all. He stated,
Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time. And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

He also describes himself, his wife and children in terms of an complexity of heritage and identity markers, but also conscious choices, which affirms the reality of our common identity as mixed, as open, but also the reality of the US as a fluid cosmopolitan society. His candidature, he then sees in line with a rich multi-varied tradition of constitutionalism, but also struggle and protest, in the streets but also in the courts for equality and justice. He states of his campaign,
This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

Of course, there might be a heavy burden of expectation for him to get in there and shake things up, to make things happen, especially in dealing with reconciliation of a nation divided. This kind of expectation could backfire, as he still have to deal with other pressing matters like the economic woes of the US financial institutions, but also their hideous foreign policy, pushed by Condoleezza Rice, which alienated the US from the rest of the world and still present the US as the embodiment of Empire, a military and economic hegemony of severe humanitarian and ecological destruction. He has to deal with this decisively as soon as possible.

More-so, internally, racism has been entrenched in inequality and social degradation, draconian migration law enforcement and deep resentment amongst minority communities. It relates to economic policy. Yet, it seems as if Obama is aware of the magnitude of this challenge. He said,
I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

He then throws it back and challenge all to take responsibility, by stating,
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

In a sense he himself (his achievement, today) embodies this vision, this hope, which become in my view, what this election give back to the world and which are captured vividly in some of his closing remarks, where he affirms, 'What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow'. and '...what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.'

Of course, one could go on and on and enjoy the moment, but it remains always critical, to also remind ourselves that, at the end of the day, he also remains a human being, in all the glory and in all the frailties and vulnerabilities to sin. Hence the prayer of Annemie Bosch, wife of the late David Bosch, I received this morning, articulates also my prayers.
My prayer is that God will protect Barack Obama from all sides -

May he be granted the courage and the strength to stand by the high morals and strong convictions and the promises of positive change he has propounded during his campaign, so that he will not be swayed by the self-seeking powerful who always gravitate towards those in authority.

Above all, may Obama be protected against the pursuit (even secretly) of personal popularity and power! -- It is so true that "power corrupts" - and so does vanity..... May God keep him humble and wise and intrepid, and grant him and his supporters, the insight to seek the advice and co-operation of their opponents in all important matters of state, so together they will be able to truly work for the good of the whole American Nation - and by so doing, also, as far as possible, for the good of all the nations.

May I end off by congratulating our US friends on what you've achieved.
God bless !