Tag Archive: cape town


comment

Yesterday i wrote a post titled, ‘Before you favourite, RT, forward…’ which started with Back to the Future memes [not serious at all] and ended with alleged swimming lesson racism [very serious]. The focus being on people on various social media platforms sharing stories that arrive as ‘Breaking News’ or are sensational or emotionally-charged, before they have bothered to check whether they are authentic or not.

i want to take it a little bit further today, while continuing to emphasise yesterday’s point.

And i want to address it through the lens of the ‘swimming lessons’ debacle in Cape Town where, in a nutshell, a woman with a black African sounding surname tried to enrol her children in swimming lessons with an organisation and they told her there was no space. Then she created a new email address with a very white sounding surname and they were instantly accepted. The emails were shared and it looked like a case of obvious racism.

SOME IMPORTANT CONTEXT

In terms of establishing context, i want to share a comment my friend Linde wrote which is so crucial:

Linde: This is what the minority of business owners in Cape Town who insist on alienating black clientele have created. Even I have created a white alias e-mail profile to ensure that I get treated fairly on every occasion. Unless this rise of discrimination towards black people ends or at least lowers to the same level as in other parts of SA black people will continue being on edge and since it’s difficult to get the law to act on such cases social media is the only recourse. I get that innocent people’s businesses are getting hurt – this is unfortunate, but I hope that instead of getting defensive these businesses realise the reality of the situation for black people and consider ways of ensuring that their procedures are as transparent as possible.

Cape Town has a recent, let’s say present and completely unacceptable history of racism. i have heard that from a number of black people who live in Joburg and have visited or come here for work, and i am aware of it from a number of incidents involving restaurants, people looking to rent and neighbourhood watch incidents. We seem to be doing worse than the rest of the country. And anyone committed to being an Ally, as i most definitely am, has to has to has to be aware of this and take this deathly seriously and be prepared to stand up against it any time it raises its head. Our starting point needs to be that this stuff is real, it happens and it has caused a lot of hurt for a lot of people and the kinds of experiences that i as a white person have never had to face.

AN ALLY IS SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T SIT BACK 

So the moment someone posted this story on my page i sprung into action, emailing Virgin Active who i heard were linked to this school. I received some information from them suggesting that we did not have the full story [apparently not all the emails were shared which can completely be used to change the flavour of the story] as well as testimony from a friend of mine who uses the school and told me the accusations had taken her completely by surprise as she has used the school for a number of years and it is completely diverse.

Now this is where events got a little unfortunate. My personal context was that i was in the middle of a busy day and i caught a whiff of this when i popped into Facebook and didn’t have sufficient time to respond more extensively and so i jumped on, on my phone, and typed a quick status update asking people to pause until we had more story and this is where i got it wrong.

Brett: Okay everybody with the Virgin Active messaging and the swimming lesson panic I have a friend there who is on it and the investigation is happening but we need to slow down a little now and not get crazy before we have the full story. Good people are checking it out. As they should.

i realise now that i made a poor choice of words and despite the rush i was in i should have done better. Ncumisa, Linde and Sindile tackled me on my comments and rightly so. When many black people have spoken about incidents such as these or being refused entrance at a restaurant etc they have been labelled ‘crazy’ and so that word in itself was a bad choice. i’m not sure that i know how i could have conveyed what i needed to [some of the information i received was behind the scenes and in confidence and so while i had some extra info i was not able to share it all, which put me in a very tricky place] but i do have a good idea that this statement came across as many others have done in terms of deligitimising the concerns and making it seem like i was trying to explain away or defend something that had come across as clearly racist.

i get it. i completely do. i messed up.

TRUE, RIGHT, HELPFUL, KIND

When we look at any comment we make via social media and possible any article we share or joke we ‘like’ i think these four words can serve as a helpful guide for us.

Is what i am about to say True?

Is this point i am trying to make Right?

Is me expressing this thought or opinion going to be Helpful?

Am i being Kind in this moment?

A 5th one i thought of as i was writing these out was, ‘Is this Clear?’ which relates to word usage, context, language and more – are people going to receive the message i am trying to give?

TRUE/RIGHT 

righttrue

i think these two overlap and my previous post deals with a lot of that.

Some comments relating to the swimming pool incident but which can relate to other online shares:

Dave: It gets so ugly. People don’t have all the facts, but then get horrifically personal and aggressive. it becomes anti-social media. ordinary moms, dads, people we know, MDs who lead companies, respected (if not respectable) radio presenters all go on a venomous tirade of filthy vitriol. I spent the weekend unfriending and blocking a lot of people who should know better, and who I don’t need to add negativity to my life.
Joanne: “Cock-ups and misunderstandings are better resolved directly than via social media.” – yes, yes and YES. I am totally over people coming straight to SM with everything. If they haven’t had an immediate response, if things don’t go 100% their way, if ALL their dreams don’t come true: go straight to social media and totally obliterate someone’s life or business. Which basically makes such a person, at best, a spoilt brat or, at worst, a bully. I’d like someone to show it to me. What? The written warranty they received at birth guaranteeing them total happiness at all times. If you can’t produce it, then get into the queue with the rest of us and listen to the boring music while waiting for an agent to attend to your call.
Lisa: My heart sank reading the mudstorm that met Aimee’s allegations. Mainly because I’ve dealt with that company for about four years, and could tell here from experience that it’s much more a case of #everydayincompetence than #everydayracism. Honestly, when I want to reschedule my kids’ time slots, the admin lady always says ‘waiting list’ and doesn’t get back to me. I suspect they partly run quite an old-fashioned paper-based business where it’s quite tricky to figure out the schedules. When you nag and ask the swimming teachers, who know better what slots are open or not, you can eventually get things moved around in under a week or so. I’ve had similar experiences with preschool and primary school waiting lists, where one staff member is more helpful or informed than another, or you kind of need to rattle their cage to remind them who you are. I find the witchhunt response on FB (“just close your business now you racists!”) a bit hard to stomach.
Linde: It’s funny how we live in a society that loves Whistle Blowers. Whistle blowers rarely have concrete evidence – their very act of whistle blowing is the catalyst for investigations being initiated. It’s funny how everyone disapproves of the whistle blowing in this instance but not even one person has suggested of a better more transparent way of doing business in Cape Town. Is this because people don’t value the contribution black people make to white businesses or the SA economy?
Claire: It’s the whole idea of Internet Mob Justice… People rant, other people share, and before you know it, with very few facts at hand, people are shutting down businesses or destroying people. I’m not saying Cape Town is innocent in the race problem. Far from it. But like they said, it’s more incompetence and bad admin skills in this instance. Mob justice… If it’s not okay on the streets, why is it okay online?

i don’t think it is undermining our quest to root out racism at all to ask that we do our due diligence when it comes to the facts of a story before we start handing out pitchforks and lighting torches. i do get that ‘questioning the validity of stories of racism in Cape Town’ has become a huge source of pain for those who have lived them and so there is a fine line [and many people in this case believed that the emails shared constituted enough proof to proceed] and we need to be sure that we are not trying to make excuses or defend the guilty by asking for proof. We also need to be committed to seeking out those answers if we are not sure.

My first response [before i shared the story] was to try and verify the story by emailing Virgin. i imagine that not everyone that had something to say to/about me did that much. Which is typical of the kind of slacktivism social media encourages – getting heated up and vocal and sharing, retweeting, liking, but not necessarily doing anything practical. If we are going to call for truth and rightness in terms of dealing with issues that are raised then we have to be prepared to go that extra mile and make sure we do the necessary research as far as possible and don’t simply use the line as a means of backing up our inaction.

My friend Jez shared this story of  a palestinian boy killed by Israel during the First Intifada. With the Israel/Palestine situation being a hugely volatile one, this photo immediately rocketted through social media spheres evoking huge emotion and anger and passion for the cause. Until a reporter did a little bit of digging and found that the image was actually taken from a movie called ‘The Kingdom of the Ants’.

Seen the movie ‘Wag the Dog?’ A fictitious war is created for televisions across America to cover up an infidelity of the president. The scary thing is that it is not just a movie any more and we have to be more and more careful about the ‘news’ we so easily trust. With anyone able to jump onto Photoshop these days as well as more high profile digital manipulation, seeing is definitely not believing any more.

While we may not always be able to establish absolute truth because of things like that, we can and should be responsible in doing as much as we can to corroborate the authenticity of anything significant that we share before rushing to click.

HELPFUL

Next up, a helpful thing to ask before we post, share, comment, is the question: Is this Helpful?

It may be right and true, but sometimes the thing we have to add may not be all that helpful. It may distract from the real issue at hand, it may cause people to go off on a tangent, it may unnecessarily invoke anger [like my use of the word ‘crazy’ – while i understand what i meant and was trying to get across it was a very unhelpful word to use and i should have done better!] and more.

Is this adding to the present discussion? Is this going to be useful in moving us forwards?

If we can get into the habit of asking this question our social media presence will be enhanced hugely.

Different Dave: We all need to be careful of that hair-trigger that develops on our social media weapons of mass destruction. And when someone stands up and challenges the reaction to an event like this, that same hair-trigger goes off in their direction too.

 KIND

kind

Lastly, is it Kind? It may be Truthful and Right, and it may even be Helpful, but is this thing that i am about to share, Kind?

The Bible talks about ‘Speaking the Truth in Love’ which doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘Speaking the Truth in Nice’ and we see Jesus get hardcore with both the religious leaders of the day [Pharisees, Sadducees] and His own followers when they are being hypocritical or misrepresenting the Truth.

But sometimes asking the question, ‘Is this Kind?’ will help us to make good decisions, and more often than not it will help us choose relationship over being right [a great choice to err towards].

Will this mean we never get it wrong? Probably not. Life can be quite complicated and a tone-free environment is not the easiest place to always communicate what you think, feel and mean and even if you do it perfectly, someone else’s day, frame of mind and context may come into play against them. There is much space and need for grace, forgiveness and love. BUT i do think that if we ask the question – Is what i am about to share True, Right, Help, Kind and Clear? – more often before our fingers vomit their words upon the keyboard and out onto the screen, that we may be well on our way.

For the sake of building community and working towards reconciliation and building both a better province, nation and world, let’s commit ourselves to trying a little bit harder on this one.

clearly

This feels like a post which will be helpful for a lot of people to read, so if you agree please take a moment to share this via your social media channels – that is, if you feel like it is right, true, helpful, kind and clear…

[To read the Before you Favourite, RT, Forward post, click here]

Jules

Growing up in Cape Town in a largely coloured area, the perceptions about white and black people were always negative. So naturally I took that on as the norm (as that was my context). I was only in high school when I was first exposed to white folks. All my teachers were white and they knew everything and seem to have everything. I basically unconsciously just ended up assimilating into that thinking that white must be right. My teachers at school were never really outwardly racist but there were those occasional undertones, side comments that one at that age could not quite understand. In this context I never really thought much about the issues of race.

When I went to Bible College a little bit after High School I was confronted with my own racism. One of my classmates who was black got a better mark than me, and this shocked me. Why? Because I grew up being told that black people are not very bright. I went home to tell my parents of this discovery and they just shrugged it off saying “you’re 19 you don’t know anything and not you’re not racist, those people are …” I realised that as a Christian this kind of thinking would not be helpful or gracious it was downright ungodly. So I decided to get to know and build better friendships with black people that I was surrounded by at Bible College. It was and still is an awesome journey. In these friendships I have had to confront a lot of wrong and misinformed thinking and my friends continue to be gracious as we work through these things together. I have found that I am richer for getting out of my comfort zone.

So my friends then exposed some other stuff and brought up my racism towards white people. I couldn’t deny that at all. My experience of many white people is that of ignorance, entitlement, totally unaware of their privilege and so not interested in engaging in issues of race, politics etc.

So my argument for not making an effort to have white friends was, “agh will they ever change? Probably not, and who has time for those people anyway?” So I would just tolerate them but no further and that will be that. Right? Wrong?

I moved to Bloemfontein last year in December and ended up at a predominantly white church. I was like “ahh Help! I see white people, everywhere!” God has a sense of humour for real! Moving here has made me look more seriously at the attitudes and prejudices I hold towards white people. I had attempted to have friendships with white people many times but it always never deepened or went past a certain point. So I never really felt compelled to preserve and be persistent. I wrote to some of my friends and told them I guess I’m going to have to learn to love them white peoples.

I have actively sought to make and build on friendships with white people. What changed for me is that I realised that, had my black friends not been patient, gracious and kind with me then I would have not gotten out of my habitual wrong thinking. My thinking was formed by ignorance and lack of exposure to black people. It was only in my relationships that I was able to move past a lot of things I grew up believing about black people.

So what I want my white friends to know is this:

I am your friend for real, I love you because Jesus made you and I sincerely want to understand the inner workings of your mind. This might mean that at times when you say stuff because you are really ignorant of the world around you; I will in love tell you that you are wrong.

You are not an island. You cannot go on pretending that things are okay or be okay with being in your comfort zone. You are so missing out! You need me and I need you. Further to that I want to need you, because you are part of this epic country.

Be honest. Don’t hold back tell me how you really feel I can guarantee that your anger concerning race and apartheid will often be the root of some misunderstandings you may still hold. I love you enough to wrestle it out with you.

Don’t just moan, own! Don’t just complain about how rubbish things are, own your part in making a difference and changing things. The cop out argument of I can’t really do anything about stuff because I’m white? That’s just unhelpful and only leads you to be complacent and back to what makes you comfortable.

If we want a better South Africa then we have to fight for it. It’s messy and it will mean that we’ll scrape some knees, and come out bruised. But it’s worth it. We have such an opportunity to create a new normal. We don’t need to keep perpetuating our past.

To be very honest it is really rough and tough loving people who just don’t seem to want to get it. I often feel like giving up. But then I realise Christ never gives up on me no matter how many times I mess up and don’t get it. So to my white friends I won’t tap out, by God’s grace I’m all in.

[For other stories from People of Colour who have things they’d love white people to hear, click here]

Home from home

table

i mean, how can you not love that, right? Coming home to Cape Town was an easy one.

But leaving Oakland was also a less easy one than we may have thought. It was surprising to both tbV and myself just how much like home it felt to us. Which was great.

And had a lot to do with the people and some of the places. Especially getting to stay for a month with Aaron and Sarah Postma-Ruff who we had invited to live with us for about 7 months when we were here last. With a lot of stuff that previously belonged to us [furniture, home-made wine box book shelves, purple cushions and towels] being incorporated into their new home, it certainly had a bit of an ‘ours’ feel. When Aaron met us at the airport dressed in his home-made Hello Kitty suit, it was like game on. We had arrived home.

kitty

Favourite Indian restaurants and board games and boss’ new hot tub and weekend away with housemates and blockbusting movies and Netflix and Frosting-in-a-Can and giant Chocolate Bacon Peanut Butter Cups and visiting old church family and baptism-and-barbecue day and all-night-snack-fest-board games and sunsets and radio podcasting and hammocks and of course the reason that allowed us to get over – a sequel to last year’s Houseboat Youth Group Camp speak on Lake Shasta:

So really just an incredible time and a month felt just about right. Opportunity for two more book share launches and conversations on church. Being in the winning city of the NBA championships as it happened.

But i think mainly just the people. We really love a lot of the people there quite a lot. Which is why i guess it feels a lot like home.

Took a moment to think about Philly today. We were there for the same amount of time as Oakland. We loved the place and loved a lot of the people. But i’m not sure for me that it would have that same kind of feel. i guess maybe cos the setting for Oakland provided a lot more space to be real and honest and challenged and to challenge, and the freedom to be ourselves.

The last night pretty much summed it up. Meant to be finishing off our stay with board games with Aaron and Sarah and never got round to playing the games because we just got so caught up in life-transforming wrestling-filled conversations about life and money and being church and changing the world and stuff. And then my mate Dave [one of the 4 Horsedawgs of the Apocalypse] came round after working til midnight to help me sort out some stuff on my new computer before we flew away. That is family right there.

If you want to get your signature on the ‘Get Brett Fish and tbV back for Houseboats 2016’ petition then maybe we will see you all again next year, same time, same place. After all, Americaland may need a lot more African missionary types to head that way before it can feel completely caught up with the rest of the world. Or something.

Oakland, we will miss you. But Cape Town? It is GOOD to be back…

So this morning was a little bit of soul searching time for me as i took into account a lot of what different people have been saying in the comments on my blog recently [and over a longer period of time].

i realised that not only are some of the things that have been said true, but also came to think of some other things i’ve been doing that have actually been completely unacceptable and so i needed to apologise. And for something of this magnitude, i didn’t think written word would actually be enough. So i went for face-to-face by recording this shortish video in the hopes that those i’ve wronged will see it and really hear my heart on these things. And that we can move forwards together in the hopes that i can be better moving forwards.

So thank you for the words that caused me to really think about these things – i hope i am a changed man:

 

anec

So my friend Kevin Smuts [who has been one of my biggest cheerleaders in general life matters over the last three years while we were in Americaland in particular – side note: very encouraging to have cheerleaders! who are you a cheerleader to?] is part of an a capella band that he started called AnecNote [which is an amazing name altho i feel like i contributed at least 87 viable alternatives when they were going through their name-finding phase… so close… i helped weed out the bad ones, perhaps.

Anyways, being Kevin i suspected they would be good. He is a super talented muso and hoping to make movie music some day [pay attention Hans Zimmer!] and i’ve heard his stuff and i never doubted for a second music-wise it would be any good.

But an a capella band? Apart from Graham and Christine Weir’s most incredible Not the Midnight Mass who i got to see live on a few occasions back in the day, what other a capella groups spring to mind? That’s right. None. So talent evenings or school shows perhaps, but that’s about it.

Anyways, tbV and i got to go to a show on Sunday night after a day of Improv workshopping for me and house-warming for us both and by the time it came to ‘going out to social event with a bunch of people we would probably kind of know but mostly not really’ we were not super amped. But i did want to see Kev and support the band and so that clinched it i think.

[cue tbV and brett fish being blown away]

Because basically that is what happened. Not only are they musically fit, but they brought the funnest vibe you can imagine and it was a completely insanely amazing evening. Comprising five very different but extremely talented individuals, currently going by the names of Leah Adams, Emma de Goede, Morné Kahts, beatboxer supremo Daniel Nambassi and my main main Kevin Smuts, they rocked the house. If you’re in Cape Town, you need to make a plan to see them – having already played at TEDx, Kirstenbosch, 5FM and a bunch of other places.

anec2

i have some video clips [and you can find more on their site and on the You Tube] to give you an idea of their talent and diversity, but these really don’t do their live performance justice – fun, frivolous, a little bit cheeky and adventurous as they basically finished off the evening pretty much half making up a song and just giving it complete wings.

Here they are covering Titanium by David Guetta ft. Sia:

Then they took a dab at Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off:

And finally Problem by Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea

Don’t you just want to pick them up and eat them? Well you can’t, so stoppit! They have a strict non-cannibalism policy when it comes to themselves as band members. You can however find out a whole lot more about them though…

You can stalk them at their web page over here, on the Tube of Youing over here, on that most Instant of Grams by clicking here, or on the Twitterer as @AnecNote and you can even get hold of an original never-before-worn AnecNote t-shirt to display yourself as a true Groupie or AnecNotie as they are not called. 

Have you ever heard AnecNote live? How would YOU describe their gig?

OctLnow

One of my favourite weekends of the year, when i’ve been privileged enough to be a part of it [which is quite often!], is the weekend known as October Leadership.

i have been part of at least ten of them and spoken on about 8 of those and it has never failed to be a life [and hopefully school etc] transforming weekend.

Run by Scripture Union, the purpose of October Leadership has been gathering together the Christian Union committees from the various high school around Cape Town and training up the leaders to lead the Christian groups and impact their schools for the year to come.

The two pictures above are of October Leadership as i remember it to be, 7 to 10 years ago, when we had the campsite at close to full capacity with close to 20 different schools represented, and then camp this weekend which must have been about half the size.

[Apparently last year they only had about 30 people and only had to make use of the top half of the campsite]

With the theme of Live Out Loud [LOL, but not really] this year felt like another significant time of inspiration, challenge, opportunity to deal with the crap in our lives holding us back and being handed the question, “WHAT IF?”. Inviting the young people to start to imagine and dream and wonder – what if God pitched up* at your school? What would it look like if the kingdom of heaven really broke into your school in a big and real way?

[* where by ‘pitched up’ i am not suggesting for a second that God ever left but for me the idea of God doing some discernible and very noticeable work]

So i have no doubt that it was a significant weekend for a number of the people who attended. Hopefully everyone in different ways.

But, during worship on Friday night, i did something i really don’t do all that often. [We’re talking once every ten years, if that, although i would be more than okay if it was more]

I started to cry. 

Looking around at the people who were there, it was almost more obvious to me who was not there. My old high school, Westerford, was one of the schools that was not there. S.A.C.S. and Bishops and i think Wynberg Boys were not there. Rondebosch boys was represented by one person. Most of the schools from the Stellenbosch and Somerset West side. Parel Vallei. Fish Hoek. Many more…

The worship session followed a time when the young people had gathered in their CU committee groups and written down a little bit of their current reality and they shared that with the big group. What added to my breakdown was hearing from some CU groups that used to be really huge and influential in their schools who now had more people on their committee than attending meetings. Listening to at least three schools that had to bribe people with biscuits or chips to come to their meetings. Schools represented that didn’t even have a Christian group of any kind.

It was quickly obvious to us that something had gone wrong. Someone somewhere had dropped the ball. Somewhere along the line, people had just started taking this camp for granted or had just not had a clue about the significance of it. And these poor kids [and many of those not represented and possibly a bunch of schools in the Western Cape who have struggling, dying or non-existent Christian groups] had been caught in the crossfire.

THIS IS NOT OKAY!

Val and i had a bunch of conversations about a lot of the reasons that may have led to this and hopefully i can tempt her into writing a post to express some of them more eloquently than i did. What resulted was that she ended up doing the last talk this morning and just hitting it out of the park in terms of confession and being able to name some of the things and being able to inspire, challenge, encourage and hopefully give these young people something to work with.

God showed up [as He does when you create space for Him and invite Him and step out of the way] but it should have been such a more significant weekend for a whole lot more individuals and schools represented and something needs to change to get us back there. Who in the Western Cape will stand in the gap to help Daryl Henning [old mate of mine who has just become the leader of the SU work in the Western Cape and who i am so grateful for and know has some great plans in mind to head things in the right direction] and others lead this thing back to a great place? i have heard that Schools United are doing some great vibes and there are some cool youth ministries and leaders around. But the legacy of strong schools ministry feels like something that should not be let go too easily.

The one passage that followed us around the weekend and is one of the inspiring pieces we held onto as we said our goodbyes and moved out was this passage from Ezekiel 37:

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

 

This is a reblogged post courtesy of Susan Hayden who posts some worthwhile musings over at Disco Pants & A Mountain – you should check her out… but this felt really relevant to some of our recent race conversations and so i asked her if i could add it here…

truthcoffee

 

When you’re told a coffee shop is the best coffee shop in the world and that coffee shop is not in New York or Berlin or Copenhagen but in Buitenkant Street, Cape Town, it’s normal to be a bit skeptical and to think it got that vote because they feel a bit sorry for us with our accents, but I have to say, I’ve been to coffee shops in all of those places and Truth kicks every one of their butts. It’s freaking amazing, and even though I had on my best H&M and blow dried hair I felt decidedly uncool amongst the Afros and metal and sleek, industrial finishings. The menu is as modern and chic as the interior, with things like wild mushrooms and thyme on toast with a perfectly poached egg, English breakfast with hollandaise sauce (because that sauce should actually be served with everything) and what I ordered, the organic three egg omelette with herbs and mascarpone cheese which was delicious. And the service is friendly and the people who wander in and out are interesting to look at, so if you live in Cape Town and haven’t been there, go. It’s really awesome.

The reason I chose that venue that morning is because truth has been on my mind. A while back I hosted a meeting of my discussion group, The Dialogue Thing, and as I sat there in my courtyard while the south-easter died down and a sickle moon appeared over the rooftops, listening to black and white women talk about their lives and their experiences of race and identity I felt gratitude for another opportunity to listen and talk and be heard and – for the love of God – to be acknowledging the big, fat elephant in the room called ‘race’. Because these spaces don’t present themselves in normal life. Instead, we all vok maar voort, in a mass disacknowledgement of our history and our past, and we pretend it’s not an issue anymore because 20 years have gone by, but it is an issue. It is. You can’t have lived like that for so many years – in segregated schools, on whites-only beaches, our minds warped by the twisted ideologies of our elders – and emerge unscathed and go on like nothing ever happened.

And I’m white and middle class so I can only speak from a white, middle class perspective, but if it’s hard for me sometimes to relate to black South Africans I can’t even imagine what it feels like for a black woman born in the same year I was and who was denied basically every human right and freedom I took for granted to suddenly be in white spaces and have to be cool about it and fit in and accept us as kin. I mean, it was crazy, the way we lived. Yet, somehow these conversations don’t happen. We’re expected to move forward, en masse, and worse – we’re warned not to bring up ‘the past’ because people get uncomfortable and it makes for awkward dinner party conversations. And what’s so amazing about this group of women is that they march head first into the awkward and talk about really difficult subjects. And they welcome the discomfort because they know it’s the only way we’re going to get to the other side of this thing and relate to one another as normal human beings.

And the stories that come up are always incredible. A statuesque, admirably stylishly woman who works in media told the story of her wedding, and how she had the biggest fight with her mom and aunt at the airport because their ID documents still contained their English names, Victoria and Elizabeth – the names they were given in their youth because their Xhosa names were too difficult for the white people to pronounce. And because they hadn’t changed them, their tickets were booked under the wrong names which caused a problem for airport staff. Another woman whose mom is white and British and whose dad is black and Zimbabwean told us about how she went to the bank a while back and had to endure the humiliation of the Xhosa staff chuckling and calling their friends and passing her ID book around because while she is pale-skinned and has European features, her name is a traditional Ndebele one. As she lives in Cape Town she is constantly mistaken for a Cape Coloured, though she is Zimbabwean born and bred, and is regularly told off for not speaking Afrikaans. And this is how she lives, and the kind of nonsense she has to endure on a daily basis.

Because, given our history, it’s incredibly important to us knowing what everyone’s race is. It’s how we grew up and it defined, in the most basic sense, how comfortable or crap our lives were going to be, and it’s an ingrained thing which affects all of us South Africans, irrespective of where we come from. The woman in media recounted an incident where she assumed the person she was speaking to was Xhosa like her but then they spoke with an Afrikaans accent, and how much that confused her, and she was thinking, ‘are you black? Are you coloured? What are you? I need to know!’ Because when we know we can pigeonhole people, but the impact this categorizing has and the damage it continues to do cannot be overemphasized. And she talked about how hard it is being given a good job and always having to worry about whether she was chosen on the basis of her skin colour, and how she works extra hard for fear of letting herself and her people down. And how, being the first ones of their generation to get a tertiary education, the weight of the responsibility and what their families sacrificed and now expect of them gets so cumbersome they can hardly function at times.

And then we white girls were asked about our experience of being white, and it’s not something one is often asked about because (with good reason) nobody really cares, but it was very liberating to be able to admit how tricky I find my relationships with black South Africans and how, no matter who the person is and how much we have in common I’m constantly monitoring what I say and second-guessing what she says and interpreting everything politically and furtively hoping I’m not saying anything stupid or offensive because, god knows, I have done in the past. And I hate it, and I want to not do that anymore. I want things to feel natural and good, but they don’t. And I think the only way to get beyond (if we ever even can) it is to talk our way through it. We have to keep talking and listening and having ourselves reflected back at us because we still operate from positions of great privilege and, frankly, ignorance, and we don’t even realise, I think, how much space we white folk still take up.

And it’s not about harping on the past, it’s about getting it. Getting where we’ve been, where we are now and how we can really move on instead of just pretending we have. My beautiful and deeply insightful psychologist friend drew a great analogy as the evening drew to an end. She said, it’s like having grown up with very abusive parents who have now gone away and left us to fend for ourselves and we’re expected to just get over it and act like nothing ever happened. And it’s not about laying blame because that’s counter-productive and you give your power away when you assume the victim role. Conversely, it’s about taking our power back by taking cognizance of the hectic stuff we’ve lived through in this country, and truly acknowledging it and how much scar tissue we all still carry around.

And there are no immediate solutions, and maybe things will be different in generations to come. And sometimes they’re different now. On the school run yesterday I drove past a bus stop and there was a real old school Afrikaans farmer, dressed in khaki from head to toe, with a boep and a felt hat, in animated conversation with a middle-aged black woman in heels and long, orange braids, and to anyone not from here this would be, so what? But for me, it was the little reminder I needed that, in small but significant ways, we have become a different nation. Still mad, still schizophrenic, still trying to find its feet, but also embracing new ways and discovering new truths. And this – our ability to learn and change – is what will matter in the end.

Truth is at 36 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town and open from 7am to 6pm. My pictures are crappy, but there are some great ones here http://www.truthcoffee.com/

Truth is at 36 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town and open from 7am to 6pm. My pictures are crappy, but there are some great ones here http://www.truthcoffee.com

 

[A whole host of other conversations happening with regards to Race on this blog, which you can take a look at over here]

%d bloggers like this: