Thursday, July 29, 2010

Reitz, an island of hope in the Free State (?)

A group of 4 white students acknowledge guilt in the week, following the discovery of their shocking video, where they humiliated black workers, in their hostel called Reitz Residences or Flats. There is a significant difference between the trials of the Reitz-4 and the Waterkloof-4, a group of white students who brutally kicked to death a black man one night, in Pretoria. The Reitz-4 acknowledged their guilt and expressed the desire to make amends. I would also recommend monetary compensation for the victims, although it would never be able to restore the dignity of me Koko, me Rebecca Adams, me. Naomi Phororo, me. Mittah Ntlatseng and mr. David Molete; the restoration of their dignity is rooted in much more then a symbolic gesture.

It seems to me that these boys, in the words of Jonathan Jansen, are the products of 'knowledge in their blood'. Yet, they, unlike the Waterkloof-4 seems to be aware of the graveness of their actions. For me there are other concerns. The fact of the matter is that this video, was entered in a competition for students on the campus of the University of the Freestate. I don't know, if it won any prizes, but seemingly no-one, not the organisers of the competition, nor the crowds watching it, raised any significant protest. It was, as the four said later, an attempt to be funny, like the volk's hero, Leon Schuster. They simply wanted to be the next Leon Schuster. No jokes. But moreso, and this is critical, they were taking the political messages of white supremacist groups like FF+ (FreedomFront Plus) and AfriForum on their campus, to its logical conclusion. Their actions need to be seen within the context, at that time, of these organisation's consistent campaign on various traditionally Afrikaans campusses, against what they called 'integration'. The message of the video was: this is what we think of integration. The black workers represented the black 'hordes' who wanted to come and invade their space, in this case the 'island of Reitz' or the University of the Freestate. When this repugnant story broke, the FF+ and AfriForum, usually very vocal and ready for any interview, simply walked away from these boys. They were on their own. The political leaders never conceded anything, they simply pointed out that these boys lost the plot. Well, they did lost the plot, because they were led by and they trusted organisations and leaders who continue to hide their intently racist visions and interests, in their quest for a dream that was doomed from inception.

Its at this level where we need to focuss our attention. Yes, a mission to overcome racism need to address the personal journey of acknowledgement of guilt and commitment to restorative justice. At this level, exposure to the other on the same level, in equal-power relationships is critical. But its much more then this, this journey needs to be a communal journey, as the practices and rituals which sustain the myths of racial supremacy are deconstructed and replaced with new rituals and practices, which consciously embody equality, openness and justice. These new practices pursue a quest for redress and transformation; it seeks together to nurture new communities, a new just society. Its difficult, fraught with deep and painful learning experiences; its breaking down the islands of separation, yet it builds slowly but surely, islands of hope.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

...when the morning comes..we will tell the story of how we overcome.

I recently was part of the backroom team working in a SA/Namibia camp with young people from various countries. They came to serve, to learn and to experience intercultural living together. It wasn't possible all the time. The Rwanda group were not allowed to enter Namibia and Lesotho. I was then asked to prepare an alternative program. My colleagues and friends, Natasha Felix and Malin Fisher (young pastors) and our faithcommunity and youth in Riverlea joined hands. This was hard work, but not impossible. Yet, emotionally it was gruelling; it sucked us deeper and deeper into the cesspool of injustice. Whilst our European friends were welcomed with open arms, because they are able to pay their way (and indeed they are welcome), our very own sisters and brothers, in the wake of the African World Cup were stopped at the borders and send back to where they came from. Soon it dawned on us: Fellow poor Africans were not welcome in fellow African countries; money are!

This experience pulled us deeper and deeper into their experience, into their pain. Deeply spiritual in their approach to this injustice, they would remain strong and dignified. They would smile bravely and continued to walk tall. They remained true ambassadors of a world, few us us are familiar with and then, when we concluded the camp, this weekend, oh my word, our friends stood up sang this song. Its a song written by perhaps the father of gospel music, Charles A Tidley, a son of a slave Albert Tidley and freewoman, Hester Miller. He taught himself how to read and write and eventually he became a pastor of a church, where he was first a janitor. Amongst others, he wrote a song 'I'll overcome Someday' (1901), which many years later inspired the popular struggle song, 'We shall overcome'. Our friends from Rwanda however sang, 'By and By', which may inspire another struggle. They sang,
Trials dark on every hand,
and we cannot understand
All the ways God would lead us
to that blessed promised land.
But He'll guide us with His eye,
And we follow till we die;
We will understand it better by and by

Often our cherished plans fail'd
Disappointments have prevail'd
And we've wandered in the darkness,
heavy hearted and alone,
but we trusting in the Lord,
And according to his word,
We will understand is better, by and by

By and by, when the morning comes,
when the saints of God are gathered home
we will tell the story how we overcome
we will understand it better by and by

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It is about power...justice, I mean.

Power is critical in the quest for justice. Yet, power in itself is no virtue. It can be an instrument of oppression, where justice are denied. It can also be a tool to liberate.

I've come to realise that the passion for justice, the adoration of justice, the affirmation that justice is right is not enough. These notions might even be opium to the masses. Of course, we would all affirm the need for a world that is devoid of pain, oppression and violence, a world of justice, but there has to be more. We also need power to make it happen, to make it a living reality, not mere words.

Many a activist for justice would affirm, in the trenches, that the powerfull never give away power. Power-sharing does not follow from an altruism or a deep sense of pity for the wretched of the earth. The commitment to justice assumes a contest over power. It asumes a struggle for power. Often, I hear people wailing about powerstruggles in a particular setting. These complaints often are as a result either of a naive analysis of reality, or of a deliberate denial of reality. Those in power are of course, confortable with naivety and would encourage denial. They would even create a mirage of power and would frantically deny their own collusion in the centralisation of power. I often hear how powerful people use words and phrases as they strive to protect their positions. The alternative is not to play into these delusions, but to see through the fog of propaganda and to push for more power. That is how we come closer to the lofty ideal of justice.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

strangers become part of us...

Its one thing to speak about lofty ideas on justice and reconciliation. Its another thing to live it. We often asume that its all about saying the right words, quoting the most sexy philosophers and authors and have them comment on our wordsmithship.
Its not.

Its about sensing and feeling our fellow human beings. As we journey through life we meet strangers along the way. In those moments where we meet the stranger, where we are challenged and changed. Our world is changed. Sometimes we meet in them the face of God, as his dream for the world becomes a-live (or a life). Justice and reconciliation (and you might want to add unity, love, peace....etc) are living realities. These realities that need to be embodied in the mandane struggles for life (and also of life itself), as we inter-act. Sometimes we are able to capture these moments in words; often not. Then we may dance or sing. We may simply rest in that moment or the series of moments-almost like a surfer who caught that special curl. Then its gone....its part of the ebb and flow, of life and we need to (again) battle as new more powerfulwaves are on the horison-beckoning us.

As strangers enter our worlds, they become part of us. Perhaps we will never see them again, yet, those moments of inter-action, have left their mark. We are changed, our worlds have been changed.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Peter De Villiers and the media (again), the clown, the questions

Some would say, here we go again, but let me say it: certain sections of the media is running a campaign to discredit the black Springbok coach. I can understand when Aussie and New Zealand commentators and journos have a go at anything to do with the Springboks. They need to attack us psychologically. That's part of the game. But why would South African sportsjourno's then reprint these reports almost verbatim?

My questions:
Why would they gloat at the kind of remarks made about de Villiers capabilities, his English, his style, his kind of humour. Why would it be funny when he waffle in English ? Why would his moustache, or voice-tone be singled out for particular redicule.

Questions that I ask: who would benifit from a Springbok side that loose ? Who would gloat over a loosing Bok coach. In whose interest would that be. Why then would our journalists continue to cas a shadow over the capabilities of de Villiers.

If one analyse the games we've lost so far against the All Blacks then I ask, what would be the reasons behind the loss. Let me state the obvious: At least 2 Boks were cited for their ill-discipline, at least 2 got yellow cards. Why would de Villiers be blamed for it and not the forwards/scrum coach Os du Randt.

Just asking ?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Paying the highest price for health...who cares?

It's a fact: State hospitals don't provide the same care and service as private medical facilities. Put differently: healthcare is a commodity.

We've all had the experience when you land up at the admissions of the closest hospital, and the first question relates to your medical insurance or medical aid. Tough luck if you don't have might end up back on the street looking for a state hospital or community clinic. Who cares? I've heard in my community of people who were actually turned away with their sick first baby, because the nurses were on strike for a higher salary. The baby died. Who cares?

At the Charlotte Maxeke Academic hospital 6 premature babies lost their lives over a weekend in May this year. They died because of a virus, which is supposedly spread by contaminated hands, water or food. According to a report, released by Prof Keith Bolton, a few "contributory factors" was also present, such as overcrowding, under-staffing and a lack of antiseptic sprays and paper towels at the hospital. The state health authorities however absolved themselves of any blame. Shit happens....espescially at State hospitals, I suppose. Who cares?

For how long will we tolerate the evil, that the health, the lives of certain people are more valuable, then that of others. Back in the days of slavery, the lives of the slaveowner was of more value than the lives of the slave. The slaves would die in the field or in a delapidated shelter, out there away from human beings, who were afforded the best medical care and eventually a dignified death. Has anything changed in the current situation where healthcare and healing comes with a pricetag? Has anything changed in the 'new South Africa'? Who cares?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Its not xenophobia, or is it ?

Again, there are a deep and understandable concern over the violence meted out against nationals, in particular against shopkeepers from Somalia and Zimbabwean and Mozambican nationals. This scourge must concern all of us.

Let me give a piece of my mind, so to speak. I've observed that its not focussed on foreigners in general, the Eastern Europeans or Mafia-types from Italy or China (if anything, I would admit hating these ugly China-malls popping up all over Johannesburg.*blush*); This violence is focussed on black Africans; it is the actions of the poor and it is focussed on the vulnerable, the defenseless. Mostly these actions are physically violent, yet it's a desperate unorchestrated kind of violence. Its not the violence of the powerful in society, its the violence of the powerless. So, my concern is the question, what lies behind these actions. What leads to township folk pouncing on fellow Africans, as they too scramble for the crumbs that fall from the table of the rich man.
Let me make another point. Uncomfortable as it is, it need to be said. As I can see it, most middle class professionals from various other countries working in South Africa are not chased out of their houses, nor are they in the danger of being hacked to death or burnt alive. Again....its the poor.

So, what's my point ? My point is that the deeper socio-economic, the class dimension is more pertinent. In my view, we see the symptoms of a deeper more incidious evil system that gangs up against the landless, vulnerable classes. This system is maintained by the elite classes, where the old colonial elite and the new black diamonds have a common interest: the exploitation of the natural and human resources for the sake of the optimization of profits. We see in the so-called xenophobic violence the brute power of the current empire, which divide and rule the poor, the marginalised, through the other-ing of those darker blacks. The actual loathing of the stranger, the hatred of the other is happening in sophisticated systems of power, which creates others through laws, media images, police brutality.

The soldiers will not stop migration nor will it stop the inevitable ruthless scramble for the crumbs. The key to unlock this is dealing with the long term contradictions in the system; it lies in the state's regulation of economic policy, in the integration of regional economies, but moreso in the removal of bloodhirsty tyrants, who sell their own people at the market, to finance their lavish splurges on soccertickets and fine whisky. What was learnt is that quiet diplomacy simply entrench and solidify their positions. A more direct approach in unmasking and isolating the Mugabes and the Al Bashir's of this world is needed from the African Union. Unless the invisible (?), structural violence against the poor, is dealt with, we will continue to be disgusted by this visible (?) naked violence, which forces us to hear the wailing cries for a place under the sun.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Danny Jordaan, the humble champion of the world.

Danny Jordaan, must perhaps be the most unasuming champion of the Fifa Soccer World Cup 2010. He's been the one person that galvanised an organisation, no, a movement to make it all happen. Yet, listening to an interview with him on Talkradio 702, I was again struck by the matter-of-factness of his attitude in pulling off this soccer spectacle. Whilst the world is ecstatic, for him it was almost just another day in the office.What have I learnt from the interview with this worldleader?

Of course, I am simply responding to what I've heard in the interview, today and have not done a deeper look into his life and context. On my drives in our taxi back from Pretoria, in the afternoons, I had some fascinating conversations with a friend of his from the Eastern Cape, who was also deeply involved in sport, back in the days. From these conversations it was evident that Jordaan was a keen and brilliant soccer player, who were of course never afforded the opportunity to play for the national team. What a loss. From the interview, however one would not find one instance, where Jordaan presents himself as bitter or resentful. He is active in the present, have learnt the lessons well and he remains commited to affirm the dignity and value of human beings irrespective of the colour of their skin. These comments are simply presented as a background for my observations and it remains my thoughts, as I listen to these various voices.

Now for my reflections on the interview with the Talkradio 702
1) I was struck by the sense that Jordaan remained humble, aware of the challenges the still lies ahead.Its tempting to lash out at your foes and enemies, the naysayers and the prophets of doom, like some have done. In this interview there was reference to the Afrophobia and the pessimists, yet it was never in a gloating manner. There was a simple affirmation of the achievement, a sincere 'thank you' to all who have been part of the team, but them also a humble acceptance of the fact that he is human, tired and also overwhelmed by the support.
2) It seems to me that this moment was just another step in Jordaan's bigger vision. His journey came a long way, with many disappointments, many losses, many times where he had to start again, yet he maintained his overall vision of bringing all South Africans together and affirming the value of all human beings, in particular the people of the continent of Africa.
3)Whilst Jordaan felt the raw impact of Apartheid, he said at some point, we still carry the pain of it, he was able to be aware and transcend his own weaknesses, yet never succumb to a victim mentality. He was speaking of his own story, Group Areas Act, Bush colleges, Churches, schools, homes being demolished, with all the memories and social capital that went along with these buildings. He experienced the depth of depravity that human beings, blinded by ideology are capable of. Yet. he is also aware of the capabilities and potential within people-people can change and also make the world a better place.

These little glimpses of his story, in my view, gives hope. Its not only about the big lights and the rands and cents, its also about the human spirit, which can overcome the odds.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hospitality comes at a price.

Hospitality is not easy. Its easy perhaps, when its staged, not when the stranger rocks up and intrude on our programs and plans. Its not easy when the stranger don't pay back. Its not easy when the stranger is poor and at your mercy, financially and socially. 

For many, hospitality relates to an industry. Its about good marketing. Its about cashing in on 'tourists', but also 'selling the country'. Yet, these concepts and understanding need to be unpacked. Using euphemisms can maim the rich-ness of the concepts itself and subvert it, to serve hidden agendas and interests. Of course, we can read the dictionary or even our sacred texts to try to grap hold of the meaning, but there's more. These texts won't be able to unearth the complexities and cost of what it means to 'welcome the stranger', to 'host the unwelcome'.

Many are chastized for a fear for the stranger. Perhaps it would be more apt to speak of 'hatred' instead of 'fear'. I would also be in the chorus condeming all forms of violence against refugees and immigrants. We should all be. But are we willing to concede our own 'fear' or perhaps 'hatred' of the other, in particular the black other-those that come and seemingly impinge and threaten our way of life ? How much are we (I use we intentionally here) willing to open our doors, our homes, country to those who cannot pay us back ? Its all about the cost, hey ?