Tag Archive: Robben Island


This is the last passage i will be sharing from the book, ‘Robert Sobukwe: How Can Man Die Better’ [because you do need to go and get a copy and read the whole thing, you know!] And this is a look forward to how Sobukwe might have felt about the current situation with a big focus on justice and what i think lies ahead of us in terms of a move from racial focus to that of social and economic justice.

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When we got to spend some time on Robben Island recently, we were privileged to get to hang out with the former Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane. This next passage from the book became more significant as we had encountered the person it was talking about:

‘The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, spoke about Sobukwe’s legacy in the struggle for liberation in the memorial lecture in 2004: by focusing on the pass laws he had ‘addressed what was at the very heart and core of the oppression of black people in South Africa’. Sobukwe’s ‘eloquence, charisma, decisiveness and clear objectives caught the imagination of many’. And, going on a personal note, said Ndungane, his encounter with Sobukwe had changed the course of his life.: ‘It marked the beginning of a journey which saw me involved in political activism and landed me on Robben Island for three years. A journey which began in chains and has now ended in freedom; a journey which saw a prisoner from Robben island becoming an archbishop.’

Ndungane, renowned for his liberal views on homosexuality and his urging of action to tackle South Africa’s HIV/AIDS scourge, had been a student at the University of Cape Town in 1960 and took part in the PAC’s anti-pass demonstrations. He continued working underground after the PAC was banned and in 1963 was jailed for three years. He was on Robben Island while Sobukwe was there. 

Ndungane assessed Sobukwe in the context of the grave problems in the liberated South Africa: ‘I wonder what he would have made of the continued economic conditions in which most black people still live, and of the fact that the rich in South Africa are getting even richer? Over half the African population is living in poverty – even in destitution. Would he have applauded the fact that the rich – even the mega-rich – in our country now include black people? I am sure that he would have been glad to see that black people have the opportunity to develop their capacities to the full – including their entrepreneurial capacities. 

‘But my own feeling is that he would have been shocked by the continued lack of freedom in South Africa today. I think he would have been shocked that so many human beings live without freedom. A person is not free if they do not have enough to eat, if they have to hear their children cry in vain for food. A person is not free if they have to sell their bodies in one way or another for a very tiny mess of potage. A person is not free if they cannot read and write in a society that rewards only the literate. A person is not free if they must beg on the streets, or go irredeemably into debt, or steal from others – in other words, beg, borrow or steal. That is the condition of the majority of the black population – and some from other population groups as well. The astonishing thing is how many do NOT resort to crime, considering the alternatives.

In other words, I think that Robert Sobukwe would have mourned the continued economic injustice in South Africa today. Black Consciousness was not only about dignity and self-respect – thought that was the personal individual core of it. It was also about justice. I don’t think he would have thought it is enough to have a vote – though that is a basic human right and essential for our dignity. I think he would have thought a vote, to be useful, should be able to carry in its wake justice for those who were marginalised.

I believe Robert Sobukwe would have moved on from the emphasis on equality and reconciliation between the races to an emphasis on economic justice. That indeed IS the struggle that lies ahead of us.’

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

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From Worst Christian Book covers of 2014 to how to respond to Trolls or other people online you disagree strongly with, to a whole bunch of really helpful, insightful and great articles on race-related things and some reflections on our time at Robben Island, this has been another crazy  week of much to read, watch and ingest, and i would hate for you to miss any of it and so i have compiled this Don’t-Miss-Out summary of some of the greatest and lamest and most interesting moments from the web this past week.

Catch up on some of the gems you missed and share them with your friends:

 

MOST UNLIKELY CHRISTMAS GIFTS: If you haven’t finalised your Christmas Shopping yet, there will most likely still be time to order any of these, which i imagine will be sticking firmly to the shelves:

 

Worst Christian Book covers of 2014/2015

 
 

MOST HELPFUL.INSIGHTFUL IN THE ONGOING RACE CONVERSATION: i have continued to read a LOT around this topic and keep on finding SO MANY POSTS that are just so good. i took three of the best of them and stuck them together in this blog post:

 

The Wisdom of Others in Talking about Race
But then immediately found this interview with Christian Rapper Propaganda which made some of the aspects of it even clearer and it is worth reading the whole thing on Relevant Magazine, but at the very least part 2:

 

Interview With Propaganda by Relevant Magazine, Part II
 
 
MOST HELPFUL ADVICE WITH REGARD TO TROLLS AND OTHERS IN STRONG DISAGREEMENT: 

 

Why I run with Trolls: While a lot of people think that engagement with people who are strongly opposed to an idea you might be discussing is a waste of time, i give some ideas on why it might not be.

 
 

MOST HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT:

 

Journey to Robben Island series: Last weekend i was privileged to go with tbV and a group of about twenty young up and coming Christian leaders to spend the weekend at Robben Island and i posted some snapshots into that experience.

 
 

MOST INSPIRATIONAL:

 

18 Badass women you probably didn’t hear about in 2014: Suggested by my friend Lindsay Brown, here is a remarkable list of some stories that didn’t get as much noise as they could have this last year.

 
 

CLASSIC PHOTO MOMENT OF THE WEEK: Go and order some Thai food for my wife and this is the Customer name they assign to me:

 

dreads

 
 

MOST EPIC USA MEETS SA VIDEO: With over 200 shares just from my Facebook blog page, i imagine you have probably seen this already, but if not then watch how Trevor Noah takes on the might of Americaland in this clip from The Daily Show:

 

 
 

MOST INSPIRING SONG: Absolutely love Asumbonanga by Johnny Clegg and he released a new version of it to coincide with the one year remembering of Nelson Mandela’s death:

 

 
 

MOST CRINGEWORTHY MOMENT:

 

Watching The Ellen Show where Ellen is chatting to her ‘Most amazing teacher of the year’ who is this white lady working with mostly Asian kids and the moment in the video where the teacher says, “Some of them don’t even have English names yet.”

 
 
FROM THE TWITTERER:
 

“A movement starts when the founder really knows Jesus. You know how a movement dies? When the followers only know the founder.” Francis Chan @crazylove

“There is no point being in the right place at the right time if you are not then willing to do the right thing.” Mike Pilavachi @MikePilav

“Convictions don’t change the world. Rather, people who faithfully and tenaciously pursue and live out their convictions change the world.” Eugene Cho @EugeneCho

 
 
Analogies are like sandwiches; I’m making one right now.  @Benjamin_G_Lund

Assistant measured my feet and said “You’re an eight” I couldn’t.  @FemmeDomestique
 
 
Hashtag Game suggestions i’ve submitted:

When Harry met Slalom

Lacrosse and the Switchblade

The Good, The Badminton and the Ugly

And now for something completely discus
 
 
CELEB TWEET LOVE
 

Brought my Celeb Tweet love up to 4 with this Retweet from Parks and Rec’s own John Ralphio:

Jean Ralphio favorited your Tweet

Dec 11@rejectedjokes Oh no. Love us some Jean-Ralphio. Well played dude. So. Much. Fun. #ParksAndRec
 
 
What about you? What blog posts or articles caught your eye this week? What has been making you think or laugh or be challenged or go, ‘Wo!’? What have you written on your blog that is worth taking a look at?

Leave us a link in the comments for our weekendentertainment…

 
 
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Some last reflections from our trip to Robben Island last weekend

[1]: Before i even look at my notes, what stands out to me was the depth of conversation – i barely knew anyone that we went with, so mostly new friends or people i had met once or twice before and yet we dived in to some deep conversations that happened so naturally. Probably because we all knew why we were there, but none of them felt forced or engineered. One lady who i met, Nicole, had been introduced to me on Facebook a couple of months ago and so we had had some interactions but we [her, me and tbV] spent most of the boat ride to Robben Island involved in deep conversation about race and the country and other things. I felt like once we’d arrived at the island, i could have been put straight back on the boat, sent home and the weekend would have felt worth it. And those conversations carried on throughout the weekend.

 
 

convo

 
 

[2] The idea that if my aim in life is for a big house, a comfortable car and a happy family, that my vision is too small.

Each one of us should be dreaming of, hoping for and living towards a unified and reconciled South Africa. To suggest your vision is too small is not a pronouncement of judgement, but it is a blowing of the trumpet [or maybe in our case the sounding of the vuvuzela]. A call to freedom with the realisation that i am not free until everyone is free.
 
 

blow

 
 

[3] That the duel dangers of Pride and Insignificance stem from the same root cause:

Pride = I’m good enough

Insignificance = I’m not good enough

Both start from the place of having all eyes on me. When God calls us to put Him above everything and then to look to others and ourselves.
 
 

mirror

 
 

[4] In Judges 6, we see an encounter between an angel sent from God and Gideon, and despite context telling us that Gideon was a scared and cowardly man, the greeting shows us something completely different:

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

The reminder that God views us both as we are and what we can be. He refuses to dwell on who we were.

 
 

[5] A reminder for me that i never wanted to go to Robben Island simply as a tourist activity. Take lots of pictures, see all the sights, okay i’m done, move on. The privilege of having a significant encounter and the time of a whole weekend to really appreciate and learn from what happened there and see how it informs the present and works towards affecting the future.

 
 

[6] The last significant thing i remember from the trip was a Franciscan Blessing, that Rene August shared with us, which was so profoundly deep and transformative and certainly something to revisit regularly:

May God bless you with a restless discomfort

about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,

so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger

at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,

so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears

to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish,

so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness

to believe that you really can make a difference in this world,

so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

[“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8]

 
 

[7] Although, after all the significance and meaning, and historical impact…

After all the tears and hugs and stories and prayers…

After prophetic acts and revelations and possibilities and moments of shared pain…

One of the images that will stand out for me about this most excellent adventure was that of my new friend, covered in tattoos including some showing affiliation with gangs while serving the thirteen year jail service he completed a few years ago… lying on his bed, late at night, once everyone was asleep, playing Plants vs Zombies on his tablet.

Or me humming the theme tune every time i saw him during the day and him responding with a guilty smile…

 
 

pvz

 
 

There was a lot more that words on a page or screen just cannot capture, but these past few posts have just contained some gems and some foundations for future growth and wrestling that needs to happen and is in the process of.

What a great and significant weekend with a number of really incredible people. If the future of South Africa lies in the hands, tongues and lives of people like these, we are looking good. There is a reason to be filled with hope.

For more information on Freedom Mantle, who organised the whole trip, check them out at http://freedommantle.org or join them on Facebook.

 
 

[For a return to the start of this series and some more reflections, click here]

During our weekend at Robben Island, there were many moments or phrases that stood out in terms of being quick “Aha!” flashes of inspiration and here are some of the ones i captured:

“Man’s potential for justice makes democracy possibly

Man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

[Njongonkulu Ndungane]

justice

# “The Church is so silent these days. The voice of the church is very important. The voice of the youth is very important. God’s word of justice must be heard – Scripture is full of this.” [Njongonkulu Ndungane]

cross

# Luke 9.23 reminds us that we need to take up our cross daily.

# Don’t die for your cross

# Identify it

# Then pray for grace to carry it 

[John Rollins]

# Prayer is standing naked before God. [Henri Nouwen]

# A reminder of the assurance that the God who calls is the God who equips.

3 Issues with Church: # Lack of Leadership # Lost Voice # Forgotten Role

On the topic of White Privilege which i’ve been writing so much about:

[1] A reminder to view my privilege as an opportunity to share privilege. Sometimes being a person of privilege means that certain people will listen to your voice and give it credibility whereas other voices they might more easily ignore. That is one area where i need to be aware of my privilege so that i can use it well.

[2] A story one of the guy’s on the weekend told me about having to take public transport to get to the Waterfront to be able to go to Robben Island with us. How he had to budget an extra hour for this which was fine but annoying. And then the realisation he had that most people in this country [especially the poor and marginalised] have to rely on public transport. Another aspect of the privilege i find myself with is the ability to jump into my car to go somewhere i want to. Most people can’t [which is very different from “most people i know can” and so it doesn’t feel like a real thing]

Possibly the most profound statement to me from that weekend, came from my new friend, Nkosi, who reminded me, as a black man, that, “It was not only the blacks that lost at that time [apartheid], we all lost.” Which is probably a whole other post in itself.

Any of these one liners or reflections stand out for you particularly or give you something to reflect on?

Let us know in the comment section…

[For the last part with some reflections on some highlights of my Robben Island time, click here]

african1

One of the most moving times of the whole weekend was actually right near the beginning, when after arriving at Robben Island, and dropping our stuff off at our rooms, we met together for introductions.

We had to go around the room and introduce ourselves and say why we were there. i had the task of following my incredibly gifted wife who has such a powerful way with words that she immediately won over the room with her talk of being the salt Elisha threw into the poisoned water in 2 Kings 2 which immediately purified the water which had caused death and miscarriages until that moment. And how she wants to be used in the same way, in this country, where waters have been polluted and poisoned…

i decided to just speak from the heart and in a diverse room of passionate people, spoke about how i see myself as African and this was an opportunity to dig deeper into the story of my country that i care so much about. Seeing my new friend Nkosi nodding, as if to say, ‘Yes, you are African. You are one of us.’ and just generally feeling a sense of love and acceptance in that small circle of people was such a powerful and moving moment for me.

i am NOT European. i was born here and have lived here for the majority of my life and this is my home and my land.

i am African. despite what some may say because of the colour of my skin.

i am African. and i wear it proudly.

a phrase i heard on the weekend, which i love and am going to adopt, is the title, ‘Man of the soil’ and that is what i am.

i am African. deal with it.

african2

[For part iii of our Journey to Robben Islans looking at the spirit of the island, click here]

cell door

i never particularly wanted to go to Robben Island. in fact, to be honest, for a time i particularly didn’t want to go to Robben Island.

Something about growing up in a not too politicized environment perhaps and then later not really seeing the point or perhaps thinking it was a ‘flavour of the month’ kind of vibe with everyone going and it being such a touristy thing.

But then somewhere along the line [maybe when i was in Americaland and we would drive past Alcatraz on the bridge and i’d think, ‘Well, i can’t go there cos i haven’t even been to Robben Island] it changed and it was ‘a thing i would like to do someday’. but it always seemed booked up and quite expensive and so never became an actually planned reality.

WHY THE CHANGE OF HEART?

On the 27th of November, tbV [the beautiful Val] and i received an email that contained this invitation:

“SACLI’s youth team, Freedom Mantle, is putting together a small event (about 20 younger leaders) on Robben Island for young Christian leaders who are passionate about coming together to transform the nation in their generation. I have attached some documents that give more details. The head of the Freedom Mantle team is Siki Dlanga, who is based in the Eastern Cape. 

The young leaders will aim to discern what God is doing in the nation at this moment, specifically around the identity of this new generation of leaders and the calling we have to achieve in our lifetime. The outcomes of the Imbizo will hopefully provide the beginning of some foundations for a deeper and broader process of discernment as we clarify how we understand the movement God is initiating in our nation at the present time. At this stage the participants are a mixture of artists, activists and academics. 

Could you join us on Robben Island from the morning of 5 December to 7 December and be part of this discernment process? December 5 is the one year anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death and the 90th anniversary of the birth of Robert Sobukwe and we will include some symbolic spiritual acts around committing to picking up the Mantle of the older generation of Godly leaders in our nation. We will be sleeping in the prison. Most days will be facilitated prayer and conversation. On Dec 5 Archbishop Njongonkulu, who was a prisoner on the island for 10 years, will join us to lead some symbolic actions committing ourselves to picking up the leadership mantle of our elders.”

The invitation combined two things i am absolutely passionate about – God and South Africa and so it was a no brainer. The trip was fairly pricey in terms of what we’d want to spend on a weekend, but it included the expensive tickets to and back from the island and so was an easy purchase.

i imagine, in the next few days, as i try to put some words together to try and adequately give some kind of glimpse of the depth and significance of this week to me and us as a group, that i will fail dismally, but i will try. Suffice it to say it was an incredible group of people, some deep and involved conversations on a number of issues facing our country and the church, and some incredible food and profound experiences.

One of the highlights for me was getting to hang with my friend Nkosivumile Gola who has written a number of times for this blog, such as this piece on First Steps towards a Really New South Africa, to be able to eat together and have some back and forth conversations. And he was just one of the legendary young leaders that were brought together for this Indaba.

So glad i went – many reflections to come [both online and privately] and a copy of ‘Robert Sobukwe: How can Man Die Better’ by Benjamin Pogrund to dive into, as i start to increase and diversify my knowledge of the South African story thus far.

sobukwe

[To continue with this journey and read about my identity as an African, click here]

Yes, he was just a man, and should never be seen than anything more than that [and just like all of us he was flawed and would be the first to admit it] but having said that he demonstrated with his life so much more than most men do and so he was a very special man and it is fitting that we take some time to celebrate and mourn and remember the legacy that MUST cause us to examine ourselves and see where each of us can live better.

Some images of some of the different aspects of Nelson Mandela’s life to remind us of his smile, his charisma, his life and humility…

Followed by some testimony from U2 lead singer Bono who in this article gives tribute to Nelson Mandela, specifically to his focus on poverty:

Mandela saw extreme poverty as a manifestation of the same struggle. “Millions of people … are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free,” he said in 2005. “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome … Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.” It certainly fell to Mandela to be great. His role in the movement against extreme poverty was critical. He worked for a deeper debt cancellation, for a doubling of international assistance across sub-Saharan Africa, for trade and private investment and transparency to fight corruption. Without his leadership, would the world over the past decade have increased the number of people on AIDS medication to 9.7 million and decreased child deaths by 2.7 million a year? Without Mandela, would Africa be experiencing its best decade of growth and poverty reduction? His indispensability can’t be proved with math and metrics, but I know what I believe …

Reminding us of his humour and humility:

He had humor and humility in his bearing, and he was smarter and funnier than the parade of world leaders who flocked to see him. He would bait his guests: “What would a powerful man like you want with an old revolutionary like me?”

He finishes off the article by explaining why Nelson Mandela was the man who could not cry:

Laughter, not tears, was Madiba’s preferred way—-except on one occasion when I saw him almost choke up. It was on Robben Island, in the courtyard outside the cell in which he had spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. He was explaining why he’d decided to use his inmate’s number, 46664, to rally a response to the AIDS pandemic claiming so many African lives. One of his cellmates told me that the price Mandela paid for working in the limestone mine was not bitterness or even the blindness that can result from being around the bright white reflection day after day. Mandela could still see, but the dust damage to his tear ducts had left him unable to cry. For all this man’s farsightedness and vision, he could not produce tears in a moment of self-doubt or grief.

He had surgery in 1994 to put this right. Now, he could cry.

Today, we can.

I want to close this post with a tribute sung by Johnny Clegg and Peter Gabriel at the 46664 concert and one of my favourite African songs: Asimbonanga

Mandela

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