Tag Archive: reconciliation


 

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That is the refrain i hear quite a lot from many white people when it comes to issues of reconciliation and marches and freedom and South Africa:

Can we just please stop saying it’s about race?

So i thought let’s give that a try. And the way i want to do that is by telling a few stories. Now try and not get distracted by the kind of message you think i want to suggest with each story. First read it and respond just as a story. And then we’ll examine the responses. Continue reading

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So much good stuff happening all over the internet the last two weeks in terms of helping us understand some of the challenges we are facing.

i stumbled upon this in the Warehouse’s most recent newsletter and wanted to share it with you as some really practical steps for moving forwards together. These steps apparently emerged from a conversation between Linda Martindale, Caroline Powell and my wife, tbV [the beautiful Val]. We have heard a lot about Reconciliation [making relationships right] but not nearly enough about Restitution [making situations/contexts right] so this feels really helpful. Continue reading

Turning the Tide

one white hand

calling to another

to tear itself away

from the clenched fist

it has become

accustomed to

to step away

and towards

the sea of black faces

looking on

exhibiting so much

welcoming

grace

forgiveness

patience

but at the edges

one can start to see

the restlessness

is beginning to show

[For other poetry i have written this year, click here]

Continuing with the conversation about ‘How to be an Ally’ with my friend Alexa Matthews who has a huge heart for this kind of thing and the humility to understand that we are trying to figure it out as we go along:Alexa

I have sat with this for a little while – and was hoping to send it off before leaving South Africa for a holiday. I am still wrestling with whether I as a non-black person should be writing this. Simply as part of me knows that this is something that some days I get horribly wrong rather than just right.

Being an ally, for me, doesn’t mean simply choosing to mindlessly go along with the loudest voices shouting about what is happening in the black community – that is not being an ally.

It’s about being willing to listen, hear and acknowledge that on my own, or only surrounded by people who think like me I have an incomplete story or picture of what is happening in our country and being willing to hear why people think the way that they do – whether it is the same or different to me. Continue reading

My lovely wife Val was of course the hostess for Friday's dinner and deep dive into Race, Boundary and Location conversation that i wrote about over here, and she shares some of her thoughts from the evening:

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The idea is simple: gather good people around good food and good discussion and see what happens. So we did. We turned off technology and tuned in to people. It was messy and it was chaotic, it was painful and it was personal and it was powerful. It was raw and it was redemptive. Some of us ate spaghetti with a spoon cos we ran out of cutlery. We sat on the floor and on stools and really close to each other – three people thigh to thigh on a chair made for two. We talked and told stories, argued and challenged, wrestled and sat in silence – the good kind and the uncomfortable kind. We left with heads and hearts aching, but full.

Here’s some of what I learnt:

1. White privilege is less about access to “stuff” and more about access to choices or, in Sen’s theorizing, capabilities – the real opportunities of being and doing available to attain well-being. Here’s an example: consider a priest who is fasting and a man in a famine-stricken country who is starving. The key element in determining a person’s well-being here is not whether both are experiencing hunger, but whether the person has access to food and is choosing not to eat. The functioning is starving but the capability to obtain an adequate amount of food is the key element in evaluating well-being between these two individuals. Having a lifestyle is not the same as choosing it; well-being depends on how that lifestyle came to be.

Here’s another example. Consider a bike as a commodity which enables the functioning of mobility. Personal, social and environmental conversion factors impact an individual’s ability to convert the commodity (the bike) into functioning (getting from A to B).  If a person is physically disabled, never learnt to ride a bike, if women are not allowed to ride bikes, or if there are no roads, then a person’s capacity to convert the potential of the bike into movement is limited. It’s not enough to give someone a bike if they don’t have the ability, the capacity, the enabling conditions to ride it in a way that moves them forward (or if they don’t have access to a pump, if they cannot take the bike out without being physically threatened by a mugging, etc)

2. In a post-industrial/post-agricultural world, we believe that we too are living in the Information Age, where the primary means of production is Knowledge and the accumulation of knowledge (i.e. education) is the means by which individuals access livelihood, opportunity, resource, jobs etc. I simply don’t believe this is true in South Africa. I wonder if perhaps we are actually in the Age of Connection. Knowledge might be power, but it’s less about what you know and more about who you know. The primary means of production might be Social Capital – the contacts and connections which enable us to network, navigate and negotiate the economic landscape. Perhaps education is the capability, but the functioning is all about social capital – it’s the people we know, the professional contacts, the personal networks that enable us to actualize opportunity. White privilege is at its core all about social capital.

3. While I can sympathize with the pain and anger of black friends, I don’t think I can actually empathize. I can show compassion for, seek to understand, commiserate with, experience anger on behalf of but I can never really experience “from within another’s frame of reference”. As one of our guests so rightly pointed out “We do not and cannot experience EQUAL frustration. You had a choice.”

4. I need to shut up more. Perhaps one of our greatest failings as white people in South Africa is our inability to sit in silence. When we listen to the voices of our black brothers/sisters expressing pain, anger, frustration, or simply sharing their experience, we want to immediately question, clarify, push-back, argue, dissect, debate, wrestle, show the other side, point out the discrepancies or inconsistencies, locate within the “larger picture”, propose solutions, and find “action steps”. We don’t know how to sit – just SIT – with a rage that fills a room, sucks all the air from it, and leaves our friends shaking. We have ears but do not hear, and eyes but do not see.

5. Reconciliation is not the path towards Justice but rather Justice is the path towards Reconciliation. Until and unless Justice has been enacted we can not experience right relationship. (Thanks, Nkosi!)

[To read more reflections from the other guests, click here]

[For more from tbV, like this piece explaining her tattoo, click here]

antjie

So i know i said i would share three sections of the book ‘Begging to be Black’ by Antjie Krog that i have just finished, but i couldn’t not share this bonus piece [which EVERYONE should read, regardless of where you are from] and then you really should get hold of the book, because four short extracts do not do it justice… but this is powerful stuff, prepare yourself…

This is from a trip Antjie did to Turkey and more particularly, Istanbul:

‘We walk down the street toward a recommended place called Güllüoğlu, established many years ago and still using a recipe for baklava, so we are told, brought from Damascus.4

‘Why does it sound so wonderful, a recipe from Damascus?’ I ask.4’The place of revelation, scales falling from Saul’s eyes,’ suggests the professor, as we pass a large demonstration taking place under massive police presence.

‘It is such a relief that my country has said sorry,’ he says. ‘At last the discussions about reparation have begun.’

‘It somehow seems to me that it is easier to say sorry when you are in power and in the majority. It is very confusing with us. Instead of whites being asked to pay back, they were asked to step back. Instead of being taxed, they’re being blamed.’

The baklva is indeed an experience worth a thesis. Three small wedges arrive on a plate. After the first mouthful we fall into sublime silence – no talking, no academic thinking, only deep, intense, empirical abandon. Our tongues verify the menu: the syrup of Turkish baklava is made not from honey but from special sugar; the pistachios super-finely grated on top were handpicked in Barak; the butter in the pastry comes from Şanlıurfa. It is sheep’s milk butter ‘made clear’ in the heat of the sun.

We sit enraptured. Speechless we drink the Turkish coffee. The money we hand over seems immaterial. The professor goes to a bookshop and I rush back for my panel discussion with a Turkish journalist and a Greek journalist who uncovered mass graves and atrocities on Cyprus. Their governments don’t like this debunking of ‘official explanations’, ad the two journalists are being harassed in terrible ways. Both of them look anxious and stressed out.

My input starts with a quote from Cynthia Ngewu, one of the mothers of the Gugulethu Seven, which I used in my book about the Truth Commission:

This thing called reconciliation… if I am understanding it correctly… if it means this perpetrator, this man who killed [my son] Christopher Piet, if it means he becomes human again, this man, so that I, so that all of us, get our humanity back… then I agree, then I support it all.

‘Let me set out what this amazing formulation says: it says that Mrs Ngewu understood that the killer of her child could, and did, kill, because he had lost his humanity; he was no longer human. Second, she understood that to forgive him would open up the possibility for him to regain his humanity, to change profoundly. Third, she understood also that the loss of her son affected her own humanity; her humanity had been impaired. Fourth and most important, she understood that if indeed the perpetrator felt driven by her forgiveness to regain his humanity, then it would open up the possibility of the restoration of her own full humanity.

‘In the TRC final report, Mrs Ngewu’s response on prison sentences for the perpetrators reads as follows: “I think that all South Africans should be committedto the idea of re-accepting these people back into the community. We do not want to return the evil that the perpetrators committed to the nation. We want to demonstrate a humanness [ubuntu] towards them, so that [it] in turn may restore their own humanity.”

‘This was being said at the end of a century dominated by revenge: that to punish would be to perpetuate inhumanity. Analysing the sentences in TRC testimonies about forgiveness, one picks up how both literate and illiterate black people formulated forgiveness in terms of this interconnected humaneness.

‘What I am trying to say is that Christianity (or human rights, restorative justice, or, for that matter, the theology of Tutu and the politics of Mandela) is not simply linked to, or an add-on to, a kind of African interconnectedness, but is in fact imbedded therein.

Interconnectedness forms the interpretive foundation of southern African Christianity, and it is this foundation that enabled people to reinterpret tired and troubled Western concepts such as forgiveness, reconciliation, amnesty and justice in new and usable ways.

‘In other words: these concepts moved across cultural borders and were infused and energised by a world view of interconnectedness-towards-wholeness to assist people to break out of their past and make a new future possible.

‘So what would be the difference? Christian forgiveness says: I forgive you because Jesus has forgiven me. The reward will be in heaven. “African” forgiveness says: I forgive you so that you can change and I can begin to heal and all of us can become the selves that we were meant to be. The reward is here on earth.

‘Forgiving is therefore never separate from reconciliation, but the first personal step. It demands a response from the forgiven one, to change, to become human, to share. Forgiveness is thus not an uninformed embrace of evil, it is not a miracle brought about by an individual, but an interconnected act that makes a changed relationship possible, a future, a new way of being.’

But I see the audience sitting in front of me: a fierce gleam of hurt, anger and bitterness in their eyes. The world will never learn anything from Africa, my friend Sandile Dikeni once said. We are just something cute, a mask to hang in a television lounge, but we will never be recognised for having contributed something worthwhile to the world.

begging

[To return to the beginning of this series and read some other powerful extracts from this book, click here]

begging

This is the second of three posts i am wanting to share from Antjie Krog’s ‘Begging to be Black’ worth some serious thought and conversational engagement.

From Chapter 9:

‘I don’t think I know how to talk about social imaginings. I think I am experiencing a racial awareness crisis. Whereas I can imagine myself poor, ill, scared, beautiful, strange, powerful, I can’t even begin to imagine myself black. Why is that? One stood up against apartheid because one believed that all people shared a common humanity and that discrimination was wrong. In other words, I think I can imagine the indignity and hurt and empathise with that, but I can’t imagine the being-blackness.’

‘Do you know or suspect why that may be the case?’

‘Part of me is terrified that it is an indication that, somewhere, somehow, the residues of as yet unrecognised reflexes of racism are still smouldering. That I cannot imagine myself black because I actually despise black.’

‘You suggest that to imagine yourself black would be for you the final proof of your non-racialism?’

‘Maybe. But maybe I simply don’t know enough about being black to imagine it. Again the story of Petrus. I think I do not hear it properly enough to say: now I can imagine myself with a black voice. On the other hand, maybe whiteness is unlaydownable and I just have to learn to care for it?’

‘I really feel a bit uncomfortable with your black/white divisions. You suggest that blackness is more than skin-deep, to use the cliche, and this is essentialist talk. Trying to argue intelligently about it is a waste of time for me. We’re sitting here in a country [Germany] and in an institution and with people that are still staggering to make up for those very consequences of racist essentialism.’

‘Okay. You’re right. You’re right.’

‘And this is not to deny that a group of people’s inner psyche had been overwhelmingly formed through the colonial and apartheid principle of race. But race deserves more serious thinking than skin colour.’

‘We still have twenty minutes.’

‘No, let us continue next week. I also have to point out that you should be careful not to let blackness become a voiceless group that you privately observe and define, instead of a varied, multiple people with which you should have multiple-way conversations. In other words, don’t keep on talking to whites about blacks. Talk and listen to blacks.’

Somewhat unsettled by this stern admonition, I walked back to the flat.

Oblivious to the trees and the long, quiet street, my inside was searching for a word. A milk-near word. Something rising through all the remnants of past hearings. How was one to break through all these dividing borders? ‘Suture,’ I think. Perhaps ‘suture’ is the word that can wash this world. Carefully, to stitch, to weave, this side to that side, so that border becomes a heart-hammered seam.’

[To read the next part on Coherence or the lack thereof, click here]

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