Tag Archive: restitution


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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

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]

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So, the other day i tried to take a few steps back in this ongoing Race and Reconciliation conversation we’ve been having over here with this post trying to see if we could all agree that the incredibly out-of-proportion extreme gap between rich and poor in our country [and the world at large] is not okay.

Most people stayed away from engaging at all [maybe it’s cos of the busy time of the year, but questions like that also suggest follow-up questions and if those are engaged with deeply enough then there could be a cost involved so safer to just stay out of it for sure] but those who did largely agreed that we could start at that point, and then there were a number of, ‘Yes, but…’s, which should probably be filed as ‘No’ because the question was, ‘Can we all agree that this is not okay?’

So the next question becomes that of race, with some people emphatically suggesting that the problems in South Africa are economic or socio-economic class problems and not race related.

i beg to differ.

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY IN SOUTH AFRICA IS STILL A RACE THING

Wait, but you said, i thought, that economic inequality in South Africa is not a race thing?

Well, yes and no. i typically don’t believe that economic inequality in and of itself is a race thing, and i do believe that South Africa is moving more towards a time and a place [although this is going to take a while still] where the issues become more economic and socio-economic than race…

BUT, because of the history of apartheid and the debilitating and damaging effect it had on so many people, and the lingering consequences thereof, the wealthy in our country for the most part continue to be white and the poor continue to be black [and completely realise there are coloured and indian as well as asian and other-african stories that make up this equation as well and am eager to hear from people who can adequately represent those stories] and so at the moment it remains a race thing.

As one of the young leaders said to me on our recent trip to Robben Island, Mandela helped bring the people of South Africa over the bridge of Reconciliation, but he didn’t bring the economy over that bridge. A great injustice was done to a huge percentage of the people in our country and while we can all be friends now [to simplify it completely], that doesn’t mean that there is not some outstanding justice to be done.

THE ‘HOW’ OF TRUE RESTITUTION AND REPARATION IS THE GHOST CALLING OUT TO US

If you steal a car from someone and they catch you and you say that you are sorry, then there may be a way for that person to forgive you and to refuse to press charges. But you have to give the car back.

This seems to be the point a lot of white people i know are stumbling over. We get that apartheid was bad. We are really sorry and we hope that you can forgive us. But we would like to keep the car.

Now, what i think makes it tricky, is that land was stolen a generation or two ago. Figuring out who took what from whom and trying to get it back to them feels like a ridiculously complicated thing. i have spoken to a small number of black people who feel very strongly about this issue, but am yet to find someone who has some kind of practical solution.

i imagine even those who would go the more extreme route and take the land using violent means, practically would not easily be able to say how that works in terms of who gets what.

So that does seem to be a very big and daunting HOW. But that doesn’t mean that we can simply just shrug it off and “Let bygones be bygones. That is an easier thing to feel and say when you are now the one with the car.

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Yes? So please hear me loud and clear on this one when i say i have more questions than answers. i don’t know how this all plays out well. The issue definitely seems to be blurred or obstacled by the mess that is Nkandla and corrupt government officials seemingly wasting a whole lot of taxpayers money on a lot of occasions and the corruption that exists at the top. But i don’t think that is directly related to the issue at hand and if we raise that, then i feel like we are missing some of the conversations and actions that need to happen.

i would love to hear your thoughts on this:

[1] Comment on my statement that while we are heading towards a time when the issues are more socio-economically defined, at the moment at least, there is still a huge amount of race-relatedness to that conversation [as the way our system is divided socio-economically is still so much related to race issues past]

[2] Your ideas concerning reparation and restitution – Do you think we have done all that is necessary with regards to our apartheid past and we all need to just move on and make the best of a bad situation? Or do you feel, like me, that there is still some work to be done in terms of economically making amends for some of the travesties that were committed.

[3] Play nice. The moment you make it personal, you lose your audience. You can be passionate and respectful.

[For other South Africa related posts and conversations, click here]

“It takes a big man to cry, but it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man.” [Jack Handey]

Ah, i love me some Jack Handey, but as i continue to look at some different aspects that define the character of a person, i’m not quite sure that would be the best approach.

However, when we hear the word “Sorry!” coming out of our mouth, we should always be asking ourselves one key question:

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i imagine, to some great extent, that uttering the phrase, “I’m sorry” is a natural response to being caught in some kind of wrongdoing or hurt-causing and we should always at some point, really take a moment to pause and think about how sorry we actually are.

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There is a difference between saying the words, “I’m sorry!” and actually being sorry. Maybe a word like repentance is more helpful because it carries the idea of an about turn or a change in direction. Is my action following my wording going to back up my wording? This links to closely to the post i wrote on your actions needing to back up your words and the phrase, “Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear the words you speak.” 

Trying to move away from false knee-jerk apologising would be a good start in this. Another quote i read on this went along the lines of encouraging you not to give an excuse when you apologise. If there is a reason for your action or if something was misunderstood and an explanation feels necessary then it might be more helpful and meaningful to separate the two. When you say the words, “I’m sorry, but…” it probably starts to feel about as believable as a good old, “I’m not racist, but…” [almost always followed by a racist statement of note!] An “I’m sorry but I really shouldn’t have to be sorry and here are the reasons why” kind of thing.

So maybe figuring out what a valid apology is. Maybe it is simply, “I’m sorry that you were hurt” or “I’m sorry that your expectation was not missed” or something that acknowledges the pain of the other person.

A QUICK RECAP

# Am i genuinely sorry? Am i seeing my fault in this? Am i owning whatever was my responsibility in this situation?

# Am i apologising in a way that doesn’t sound like it is coming off as an excuse which really negates the whole apology?

# Am i planning on changing my actions or doing something to make this thing better or giving recompensation where necessary?

[This last point a particular touchy point for most white South Africans i imagine – of course we are sorry for apartheid and everything that went with it, but we don’t particularly want that to cost us anything.]

KICKING THE LIE IN THE FACE

i remember reading this statement as a child, probably in one of those “Love is…” cartoon strips that were so popular then:

‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry.’

Urgh, what a load of raiSIN-infested bollocks! But really. It might sound like a good idea. And can be truth if you are pursuing the idea of saying alone not being helpful. But if the idea is that you never have to own your crap or change your direction or back pedal and make up for something jerky you did, then it really is an unfortunate greeting card and nothing more. Love is being committed to serving the other person and grabbing hold of responsibility for actions or words even when that is uncomfortable or painful for you, because you know that you were in the wrong. When this is coming from both parties, then strong relationships start to form.

And a whole lot more, I’m sure, but for now, just the opportunity to reflect on the idea that being a person of character means taking responsibility in the best and most helpful and healing of ways when, intentionally or not, you mess up and hurt someone else.

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[To return to the beginning of this series on Character, click here]

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