Tag Archive: Manenberg


Another guest on Friday was our mate Portal Pete who has moved with his wife, Sarah, into Manenberg and is running a drug rehabilitation program among other things, and he had these words to say:

pete

Great food etc.

It didn’t feel awkward to me. It felt OK. Living and working in what some call missional community in Manenberg, I feel and cause offence on a fairly regular basis. We’re learning that offence most often leads to blame, and blame is one of the greatest obstacles to moving forward together (whatever that means!) We need to deal with our offence if we want to get anywhere. Proverbs 18:19 – “a brother wronged is more unyielding than a fortified city; and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.”

When we feel we have been wronged, will we deal with our unyielding-ness? When we are accused of wrongdoing or oppression, will we acknowledge hurt we’ve caused and work towards restitution? Will we see the futility in ‘disputes’ about ‘issues’ held at arms length? It’s one thing to get all systemic about things. That does need to happen. But if it’s not preceded by friend-making across the racial and geographical barriers we bang on about, issues will remain impersonal and we will become either an enraged activist or a hopeless cynic. Very few people want to be friends with, or even listen to, enraged activists or hopeless cynics.

One of the young men we have been doing life with decided to leave the house on Tuesday, the very day he was celebrating being four months clean from drugs. It hurt. It makes me realize that the battle and the journey towards healing really isn’t against a chemical dependency on tik. Personal, communal, or national healing Is about each person’s whole life – their beliefs, behaviours, view of God, awareness of strongholds, sense of self-worth, level of humility, level of Holy Spirit, and pivotally WHO THEY ARE DOING LIFE WITH. That’s the key.

What our dear friend, or any addict, or in fact any human needs to realize is that each individual’s freedom is inextricably bound up in the freedom of others. Ian needs Dowayne, who needs Achmat, who needs Elroy, who needs me, who needs Sarah, who needs Clare, who needs Lloyd, who needs Ian – and so the cycle continues. That is why I need Manenberg – because it teaches me everyday. I, a white British male with a tertiary education and networks of economically empowered friends, become interdependent with those who have been, or are currently, marginalized, addicted, abused and traumatized. As theologian John Inge puts it, “if places are the geography of our imagination, it is…true to say that how we are affected by them will be a function not only of the place, but of the people we find in it. Our ‘placement’ is much more important than is generally imagined. It is no mere backdrop to actions and thoughts. This needs to be part of the ‘unavoidable witness’ of the Christian community.”

So the power for systemic transformation is in living locally as a generative contradiction to the neoliberal dream, living in distinct redemption to a segregated past, and in emphatic opposition to a globalised present. I think conversations like the one we had last week are important. But much more important is making friends with people different from yourself, and moving near them and doing life together. Then, from a place of close, placed, friendship, a local theology will spring up and the issues will choose themselves.

What if we all just stopped talking about it, and did it?

[To return to the start of this conversation and read what reflections other guests had, click here]

[For a post Portal Pete wrote on Moving into Manenberg, click here]

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spag

i do not have adequate words to describe last nite.

i am scared that the ones i use will do it injustice as there is no adequate way to capture what went down at our home as some friends from Sybrand Park, Khayelitsha, Kayamandi, Wynberg, Nyanga, Manenberg and Southfield came together for a meal and some intense conversation.

Spaghetti is a contradiction food all in itself. It is NOT good first date food. It is messy and at some point in the evening someone is going to have to catch your eye and give a nervous cough and indicate that you have some food on your face, or your clothes, or lap.

And that’s kind of how the conversation went. It was messy. And this is probably one of the greatest things that we as South Africans need to learn. MESSY IS OKAY. Messy is necessary and so is uncomfortable and awkward and even angry and confused and devastated. We will not move forwards until we can start having those conversations comfortably, or uncomfortably, so to speak. Both at a political leadership level but also maybe more importantly at a grass roots, neighbour level.

messi

Step one was the phone basket. As you arrive to have a meal with us, you turn your phone off and add it to the basket as a symbol of your commitment to be unplugged and engaged with us for the evening.

Step two was a simple meal. i mean a really delicious and amazing meal that tbV put together including garlic bread and delicious salad and tasty spaghetti, but nothing crazy fancy beyond that. People brought drinks if they could and we shared a meal together.

Step three was introductions. Not even tbV and i knew everyone as one of our friends brought a mate with him, but each person at the meal knew at least one other person. We had an even mix of black and white but from all kinds of backgrounds and current story situations. With this particular meal, we were looking at diving a little more deeply into the idea of race and location and boundary and so you were invited to tell us a little bit about yourself and where you live and why you live there.

As that process happened, people interrupted with questions and clarifications and we got joyfully sidetracked on to deeper conversations of different aspects of race and privilege and prejudice. A lot of laughter. Some silence – a moment after one of our friends stopped talking and tbV wisely said that, ‘The white in me wants to respond and fix and make sense and explain and speak to what you have just said. But I think I just need to listen and let it sink in and really hear and sit with it for a while.’ And so as a room we sat with it for a while. And it was a little awkward and a little uncomfortable [for me, maybe not at all for everyone else or maybe even more so, i don’t know] And then we continued.

There was a lot of passion that erupted. It definitely felt like there were some ‘I have a dream’ speech moments where heart just completely overflowed and it was intense but beautiful. And challenging. There was a strong moment of one participant saying, ‘I feel the same way as you’ and being challenged boldly back. “Where did your children go to school? Oh really, well then they had that choice. How can you possibly feel like me?” Privilege exposed and named in a powerfully tense but amazing moment. At the end of the evening the two of them ended up in a car together as the one gave the other a ride home.

i definitely learnt some things. One of the things i learnt was that for many years the line “Education is the answer” has been held as the carrot before the proverbial horse as if black people just need to educate themselves and get a university degree and then everything will be okay. Apartheid put them on the educational back foot and so one of the ways of overturning that part of the past was through education and lifting oneself out of it. But last night we heard stories of people with masters degrees manning petrol pumps, unable to find work. And that is the story for a large number of people. Education alone has proved to not be the answer. There are much bigger things in play.

i felt hugely uncomfortable. One thing that made me feel uncomfortable was the moment i drove into our driveway with Nkosi and his friend Monde who i had picked up at the taxi rank. Having visited Nkosi and understanding a little of his home situation in Khayelitsha, the thought of him seeing the absolute luxury i live in, was a difficult thought. But it was later on during the story telling when one of our friends shared how 32 of them [not a typo!] lived in a three bedroom house, that i was just blown away. i feel like i have had an idea of poverty and the idea that a lot of people are squeezed into small space so maybe 6, 7, 8 people in a room. 32 people in three rooms. i cannot get my head around that. There are reasons why we live where we live right now which are completely valid. But there are also some inherent contradictions that are part of it as well. At the moment, while we live here, there is the absolute commitment to use the space we have for life-changing transformative conversations like we believe happened last night.

Step four was really just picking up threads that had come out of the introductions and conversation that preceded. But to be honest, the richness of last night was in hearing peoples’ stories and challenges and ideas about where the country needed to go. By the time we got past introductions, i think it must have been 11pm [four hours since starting the meal] and we wrapped up just around 12. One of my highlights of the evening was our one friend who had to be somewhere at 8 and then just got so completely invested that he skipped his other function and was one of the last two people helping clean up after midnight, when i returned from giving someone a ride home.

What’s next is more of these dinners. Having done two now [both going for more than four hours of intense conversation, the previous one being conversations around church] tbV and i have realised that as amazing as they are, they are also really tiring and so probably won’t be moving them to once a week happenings just yet. But once a month feels manageable. We want to have one around money/economics and we are thinking about doing one around marriage. And then we’ll see from there. The next one will happen after we get back from the USA which will be July so maybe end July. If you’re interested in being part of one, let us know. That doesn’t necessarily mean you will be, but it’s good to know who is interested.

i also chatted to Nkosi this morning and he was saying how last night was great and the next step is to get a black church and a white church together and host a conversation like that. i am super amped to do that. So that is something we will chat about and hopefully look to doing later on in the year. If you’re a church leader and interested, let me know. That could really be ultimately country-changing.

These dinners are not the solution to anything. But they are an incredible catalyst for change. i was sitting there last night thinking, ‘This does not happen naturally. Not a lot anyways.’ It needs to be a little intentional and it is likely to always start off a little bit awkwardly. But what if more and more South Africans [because one of our participants from last night is going to be doing something similar with his mates tonite] decided to be more intentional about Deeper Conversation meal times [on whatever topics] and started hosting meals and bringing different people together?

Arguments on Facebook [with the lack of tone that being online robs you of] can only go so far. tbV and i have decided that if you have a strong argument against something that we say or do then sit across from us at a dinner table and let’s talk about it face to face. If we are truly grappling about something [church, race, money, marriage] then let’s commit to an evening together with people who think differently and see what can be learned. Let’s learn to listen together and let’s encourage each other to speak boldly and honestly.

Let’s eat spaghetti on our first date and let’s be bold and realise that we need Messi in our team.

i want to have a positive influence on the state of our nation. This feels like one good way to get started.

Read Nkosi Gola’s reflections on the meal…

Read Brian van Zuydam’s reflections on the meal…

Take in my wife, Val’s thoughts about the evening…

Some related thoughts from my mate, Portal Pete…

Babalwa Nyangeni adds some of her reflections…

Who else is up for giving this a try? i would LOVE to hear how it goes…

flag[For some more ideas of how to move towards progress in South Africa, click here]

manenberg

My new friend, Portal Pete [as i call him, or Pete Portal to his other friends], shares some thoughts as to why he and his wife Sarah decided to intentionally move into Manenberg:

“Why would you move to Manenberg?”

“Christianity is an invitation to be part of an alien people who make a difference because they see something that cannot otherwise be seen without Christ. Right living is more the challenge than right thinking.” This means that “what makes the church ‘radical’ and forever ‘new’ is not that the church tends to lean toward the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not. In the church’s view, the political left is not noticeably more interesting than the political right; both sides tend towards solutions that act as if the world has not ended and begun in Jesus. These ‘solutions’ are only mirror images of the status quo.” (Stanley Hauerwas: ‘Resident Aliens’)

I believe that there are simply no economic or political solutions to the economic and political problems the world faces and itself generates. If the assertion that God (and not capitalists or terrorists) rules the world, then it logically follows that only through Jesus’ sacrificial love ethic will the transformation of communities, societies and nations be possible.

Let’s get personal. Last October, my wife Sarah and I felt God ask us if we would move into Manenberg. We had recently arrived back in Cape Town from a year studying in London, and were initially looking for a sweet little Victorian cottage in Observatory. But we couldn’t let go of the deep-set feeling that commuting from the suburbs into Manenberg each day would just perpetuate the unhealthy prevailing narrative of whites going to ‘help’ those living in townships. The fact is, ‘being with’ is a lot more meaningful and generative than ‘doing for’.

And so – in April this year we moved in. Best decision ever, because it has allowed us to listen to, learn from, and be friends with, those whom we would never have otherwise met. Put slightly differently – when you are neighbours with someone, you develop an equal relationship based on familiarity and friendship. When you visit somewhere to ‘help’, ‘minister’ or ‘serve’, you develop a skewed relationship based on providing something. (Sidenote – I once heard someone say ‘the poor [whoever you think they are] don’t need soup and shoes – they need a place at your table for the next twenty years.’ I couldn’t agree more. Though, it’s those the world views as rich who would really benefit from eating with those seen as poor – not vice versa.)

I believe that if Jesus was alive in human form today and moved to Cape Town, he would live in Manenberg – or somewhere like it. And so, if the Christian life is about trying to follow Jesus, and be like him in everything, it seems quite clear that more of us should be living amongst the poor, traumatized, disempowered, violent and addicted.

Here’s my reasoning:

Jesus came from an accursed and belittled place. (John 1:46)

He himself was financially poor. (Luke 2:24 – his parents offered two doves rather than a lamb – a sign of their financial poverty.)

He seemed to spend more time amongst the poor and marginalized than the influential. (Mark 2:15)

And he was misunderstood for doing so. (Matthew 11:19) 

Might Manenberg be a contemporary equivalent of Nazareth – accursed and marginalized? Guess so, based on newspaper headlines and conversations I’ve had with Capetonians: 

 

“Manenberg?! No man, those people aren’t right.”

[Middle class coloured friend]

 

Or… “Listen, what you’re trying to do is noble, but those people will never change, they’ll just take advantage of you. Look, you don’t understand them like we do. There’s a reason people don’t go into those areas.”

[Middle class white friend]

 

Or… “You mustn’t go there – it’s too dangerous, the people are evil.”

[Black lady I met in a taxi].

 

Are Christians commissioned to walk as Jesus walked? Yup.

Is discipleship about ‘being Jesus’ to the world? For sure.

Might this mean exposing the first world myths of ‘quality of life’, ‘security’ and ‘comfort’? I reckon.

What about the apartheid mindset of fear and division? That too.

Does it not then follow that to move into Manenberg actually makes more sense than not?

 

Ah – hmmm – about that…

[For the post i wrote on Intentional Living and trying to decide where we are going to live next, click here]

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