Category Archives: Just thinking

Privilege? White, Black, Anyone’s?

People look at me in amazement when I confess that I love Twitter. I do. I love Twitter. I love the freedom of thought, the discussion, and yes, even gasping at some of the insults.

One person who always manages to set Twitter a-tweeting is Helen Zille. Like her or loathe her, she stimulates thought and discussion. That is the best part of living in South Africa as against my home land of Eswatini. The vibrancy of discussion, the controversy, the provocation. You are made to think, to look into yourself and find what your beliefs really are. Almost anything goes.

Helen Zille’s latest foray, initiating an intense argument about white versus black privilege has done that for me. My first thought was, yeah, she has a point. Maybe. Bit of a long shot. Then I read some of the responses from all sides of the divide and began to really think the question through.

Without doubt I grew up in a totally different environment to my Swazi neighbours. I am not sure how different, because there was little fraternisation. I know I loved the food they ate from locusts to sour porridge to imbitfo to lekusha. Lifestyle was simply the way it was. We lived the way we did, ‘they’ lived the way ‘they’ did. There was no overt condemnation, or in retrospect, concern at the distinction. This is the mind-set of privilege.

 It was a no-brainer that I would start school as close to my fifth birthday as possible, while my Swazi peers, who knows? I certainly didn’t. Although I do remember when the first two Swazi children came to St Mark’s Primary School in Mbabane in 1964, or was it ‘63. It was a big deal for all of about five seconds.

I know we did not have electricity, but somehow I was still put into a hot bath. We had a paraffin fridge, a radio, I slept in a comfortable bed. Were those facilities the same in the police houses adjacent to ours? I doubt it, but cannot say for sure.

We had a motor vehicle. I had a bicycle and a horse too.

Are these criteria for white privilege? Or is it only about money, how much one has, regardless of how one came about it?

Is it that simple? Is the divide that neat?

Our forebears are decried for looting and taking land and riches that were not theirs to take, and for this reason we whites must forever bear the shame and blame for the ignominy and cruelty of the apartheid years, for colonial horrors the world over.

Do we deserve this acrimony? Again, I am not sure.

What I do know is that I love history as much as I love Twitter, and so my thoughts, whenever I allow them to chew on a delicate question, tend to trundle back in time. I recently watched Braveheart, a tale of dreadful tyranny and oppression of the Scottish people by the English. I read a book recently that outlined repercussions for many as a result of the Irish troubles, I think of the internecine wars that have inked a bloody trail through Europe’s history, and, incidentally substantially changed the tribal boundaries of that continent.

Oppression and colonialism go back to the dawn of time, across every land, every continent of the world, from Babylonian and Egyptian times to Alexander to the Picts, Angles, Jutes, Huns, Vikings, the list is pretty long and I haven’t left Europe yet!

Against this backdrop, Africa cannot hope to be the exception.

The first settlers to be dropped off at that fair Cape were not in search of domination at that point. They were cast offs, people exported from their own countries to the furthest reaches of the known world for no reason except expediency at the behest of their rulers. Australia was a boot camp for criminals, a life sentence of separation from their native lands and families. Can you imagine what it was like being dumped in a foreign land, totally different to anything you have ever experienced, tropical diseases, an inclement climate, vicious animals you have never heard of let alone seen.

These displaced peoples lived a life of oppression and blow all privilege in Cape Town, and so they set off for pastures greener. They had nothing to lose. At this time, blacks were living free, and believing, I guess, they were privileged if they thought about it at all. They themselves fought their enemies to take possession of land they wanted, raided for cattle and wealth in exactly the same way as there paler brethren to the north had done for centuries.

Then came the gold rush. Why did none of the black tribes rush for the goldfields. Prospect for their share of the metal. As far as I can establish they were not prohibited from doing this. Or were they. Or did it not fit into their idea of wealth, and so they didn’t get caught up in the fever.

I have the same question for the Indians in North America.

There were blacks who benefited in California, although they were in the minority, according to Blacks in Gold Rush California, published by Yale University Press. An interesting and telling excerpt:

On a September day in 1848 a black man was walking near the San Francisco docks, when a white man who had just disembarked from a ship called to him to carry his luggage. The black cast him an indignant glance and walked away. After he had gone a few steps, he turned around and, drawing a small bag from his bosom, he said, “Do you think I’ll lug trunks when I can get that much in one day?” The sack of gold dust that he displayed was estimated by the white man to be worth more than one hundred…

South African History on line, when telling about the discovery of gold in 1886, mentions that “blacks had mined gold hundreds of years earlier.”

Why didn’t you guys go for it in 1886? Did you sit back, thinking you were OK in your tribal customs and ways, and decide the whites were all lunatics in their quest for the gold stones, and leave them to it?

That’s where the problem began in my humble opinion. Way back then you lost out! Not because anyone stole it, or held you hostage while they helped themselves. Your forebears sat back and allowed it to happen!

I can just hear the chorus arising from the twitterati if any should read what I have written! But bear with me a little longer.

Can you imagine if the majority of those claims had landed in the hands of Xhosa and Zulu and Pedi and Tswana and other tribal hands how different the history of this part of Africa would be today?

The impermanence of a life without privilege

Who would have killed who? Which tribe would be in power, and where would they be based? How would the boundaries of Africa have changed, and what might they look like today if only the indigenous residents of the time had the same value system as those sent into exile to this strange and wonderful land?

Regardless of any supposition, however, we are where we are today. I am privileged. So are many other people. Of all colours and races. Many more are not. They live in hovels, eeking out a living in conditions I hesitate to imagine they are so awful.

The real question is what are we going to do about it? Black and white if you have to discriminate.

Jesus said:

“… for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;

I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”

Mathew 25 vv 35,36

The only question any of us should be asking is: what am I doing to alleviate the suffering of my fellow man, how am I making his load easier to carry?

As important as debate is, action speaks louder than words.

So I ask again: what are you doing?

Beyond Despair

The cardboard mound is eerily pale in the early morning light. It looks sepulchral. It isn’t there by chance. It is the night’s shelter for a young man, a boy really. People ask how old he is. Fifteen. Maybe. It is hard to tell age in Africa, especially for these young ones.

Depravation stunts their growth, so twelve-year-olds look no older than eight. He could be twenty. But he looks mid-teens. He is a sad youngster. Life has robbed him of all joy and bracketed him in despair. Not even the raucous, drug induced hilarity of other street dwellers can make him smile. If he gets a smoke, he draws on it with studied pre-occupation, glaring at it as he inhales deeply.

For the rest he sits on the edge of the pavement, his focus inward. At times he finds bottles and breaks them. He uses the pieces of glass to shave his skin, slowly, deliberately sweeping the chips down first one leg, and then the other. Red stripes appear in places. He strokes through them. His arms are black with the scars of deeper cuts.

Each day I worry that he has died in the night in his coffin of cardboard. Each day I thank God when I catch sight of him. I have spoken to many people, but no one seems able to offer any solution or help for this boy. I know his name, and where he is from. He claims to have forgotten his surname.

I wonder what atrocities were perpetrated on this young soul to bring him to this place of bleak and hideous despair. More than that, I wonder what my role must be, what is the best help for him? I fear putting him into a system that might harm him more, but leaving him to the mercy of the elements seems equally cruel even if it is his choice. Reaching him will take time and patience, and wisdom.

People warn me against getting involved, believing he will attack me. He won’t. I have given him a wrap for the nights, and food. He said ‘Thank you’. I trust that the Lord has put him in my path for a reason, and it is about him, not me. I hear the words of my Saviour reminding me that whatever I do for the least of these, I do for Him.

This past Saturday night for the first time in many weeks, he did not come ‘home’. I worried all through the weekend. I mentioned his absence to an employee on Monday. He said he had seen people talking to him, together with the police. Maybe, just maybe, he has found proper shelter.

Later I saw him walking past. He had a haircut, but his left arm was pressed into his side in an odd manner. Again he slept elsewhere. Yesterday he was back. His dejection seemed more intense.

I went to him. “How are you?” he won’t answer. He doesn’t have to. The depth of misery in his eyes, the imperceptible shake of his head say more than words.

On the pole next to us are two billboards. One says “Fight back!” I think that’s the translation. The other says “Protect our Borders”. We have elections soon. how I wish there was a sign that says “We Care” and then shows that they do.

Shortly after I left him a man walking past began to harangue my boy. I went out but he left before I could stop him. The boy went and hid himself under his pieces of cardboard although the sun was still shining.

The pile has not moved. I am scared. I want to pray that he is still alive, but a little voice says ‘Why? Why would you want this life for anyone?’

God’s People are broke.

Close to 40 years after giving my life to Christ I obviously have many Christian friends, and right now a number of them, including me, are broke. Broker than we can remember ever being! Of course, we understand the principle behind the lack of funds – learn to trust the Lord, and we quote willy-nilly all the platitudinous scriptures; All my needs are met in Christ Jesus I am blessed according to the riches I have in Christ Jesus My Father knows my needs Look at the sparrows, they do not worry about where their next meal is coming from And so on and so on. The fact remains, a number of us are broke. No money. Kute mali. I am good at whining, particularly at the Lord. He is the recipient of all my wisdom and moans, and has to listen to my wails, and then wipe my tears of repentance. My Father God! What an amazing Person He is. As is His son, Jesus. And the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the One who leads us into all truth. So there I was, early the other morning doing what I do best. Drinking coffee and talking to God. Let me amend that. Talking AT God. Reminding Him of the promises He has made over the years, my needs, and in between reminding Him too of what a little goody two shoes I am – all that I have done for Him. MY WORKS! As I paused to draw breath I heard a quiet voice: “Will you dance with me?” “Huh? Pardon?” “Will you dance with Me?” “Well, I suppose so, but…” Slowly the lights came up in my brain. My God, my Heavenly Father, wanted to dance with me, for no other reason than it would be a fun and happy thing to do. He knows my whines, my fears, my needs. He knows my works, every little and big thing I have done for Him. He knows too all the things, big and small that I have not done. What He wants is a loving relationship, special moments spent simply enjoying each other’s company. Because He loves me. There is nothing I can do, or say, to make Him love me more. I’m broke. So what. I have a roof over my head, and clothes to wear. There is food in the larder. Not as much as I would like but as much as I need. I have family and friends to love, and who love me. I feel myself cracking. God’s people are broke, I said. Maybe I should amend that. Possibly, just possibly, if God’s people were broken, taken apart by His love, we would focus more on Him and less on our own worries and concerns. If, our of our brokenness, we would allow Him to put us back together again, the broke would become whole. Slowly I stretch out my arms, I felt the joy beginning deep down, ending as a smile, then a laugh, as I begin to dance with my Father.

Humiliation of Shame

Today I bring forth an argument: To Shame or Not to Shame.

I saw a post which decried sharing acts of abuse in open fora as is the habit of social media. The reason given was that by doing so the shame experienced by the victim is further entrenched. My first reaction was to agree, but as I alloweIMG-20150111-WA0000 (768x1024)d the thought free rein, I began to change my mind.

The shame is there.

It took residence when the person was violated. It was introduced, it has infiltrated and it is resident. There is no degree of shame. Shame is shame. The only measure is the extent to which one goes to hide the wounds, the scarring.

Shame by its very nature is secretive, seeking to skulk in the shadows, its long tentacles intruding deep into the recesses of soul and psyche. It is this need to hide, to cover that allows perpetrators to go free.

I see it lurking, flickering hopelessly in the shadow of an eye, the cut lip that pretends to be a cold sore, the swagger of the fist-bearer, secure in the knowledge of his protection, that cloak of shame that will keep silence no matter the cost.

So I am not sure that it should be kept hidden from public view. I’m not convinced that it is a crime to share acts caught on camera. I tend to the opinion that an opportunity to bring into the light Mr flailing fist, Mr Macho rapist, could be the first step in bleaching that stain of shame. I imagine the relief at a burden shared, the knowledge that now, maybe the hell will end, and then that shame can begin its journey into the oblivion to which it belongs.

What do you think?

 

The Wonderful World of Books

IMG_0976 (1024x768)I love reading. I love books. I love the escapism of tales of love, and mystery, and suspense, and history, my taste is eclectic.

I learnt to read at a very young age, not sure how young, but given I could read by the time I started school, four months beyond my fifth birthday, I guess maybe four.

I was an only child, and for four impressionable years we lived in the village of Piggs Peak in northern Swaziland. Books were my closest companions. I assume, because I have done so much of it, I learnt to speed read, or simply in my lingo, to read fast, always impatient to find out what happens next. I have frequently read through the night, the story compelling me to turn page after page until the last word.

I am sure most people have a favourite ‘go to’ novel, or movie, the place you visit in order to laugh, or cry, or simply to escape for a while. My best is Colleen McCullough’s The Thornbirds. I have had many copies, which somehow disappear, so now I have it firmly ensconced on my Kindle. If I’m needing a good howl the movie Out of Africa does it for me. I spend the entire film in tense anticipation of Fitch’s death, the funeral, the lions on his grave at sunset…wonderful blub stuff!

Strange, because I avoided Percy Fitzpatrick’s Jock of the Bushveld because I couldn’t bear to read about the parts others talked of: the baboon fight, the kudu kick, the putting out to pasture, and his end. I was well into adulthood before I managed to get beyond page two!

The wonder of books is you can go from the heat and dust of the Australian outback to the freezing darkness of an Alaskan winter without leaving your armchair, drawn into multiple worlds of intrigue and love and stoic survival.

I have just put down one such book: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, recommended by a friend in our book club who said she had long since read a book so beautifully written, that gripped her so.

She was right.

Kristin Hannah, through the eyes of Leni, took me on a roller coaster of emotion, from tears to laughter, to teeth clenching cold, to glorious views in a couple of pages. I cried, I got angry, frustrated, terrified the cat as I thumped the arm of the chair, yelling “NO!”, gave up on the idea of sleep until my eyes could no longer focus, drifted off on an Alaskan breeze wondering how I dared call myself a writer, awoke in the pre-dawn warmth to continue reading.

As I devoured page after page, I had to pause as I revisited painful places in my own life, wondered at highs, looked at hints of answers for lessons learnt from lows, floating just beyond where I wanted to go at that moment. I now understand fully, if I want to write good books I have to visit those places, feel those emotions, confront those faults, instead of skipping around them, and causing my characters to do likewise.

That is the craft of a great writer, one who draws her readers in to the pages, making them think, feel, search for their own answers, and at best bring a difference to their lives.

I spend hours trying to fit all I need into the opening pages of the books I attempt to write, trying to come to grips with the technicalities of our craft, constantly chaffed as I make the transition from journalist to author.

Kristin Hannah has no such issues as she effortlessly sets the scene, the time of year, introduces the main characters, establishes the ethos of the story, and has you hooked in three pages. Brilliant. From there the story flows, and did not let go of me until the last work.

If you are looking for a good read to while away the long nights of a southern hemisphere winter, get a copy of The Great Alone – it will keep you company!

Thank you for the best 24 hours I have spent in a long time!