I was recently invited to be part of a small speaker panel at a local church in my home town of Salt Rock, Kwa-Zulu Natal.
As I prepared for the session, I became overwhelmed by all the bad news that is currently surrounding us in South Africa.
I tend to steer clear of regurgitating reams of negativity as I feel the mainstream press does a great job of keeping us all up-to-speed with that. But my mind couldn’t help going there: the brazen looting at VBS, the constant revelations of state capture; Johan Booysen’s reminder to us of the rot at the National Prosecuting Authority; the various commissions of enquiry that literally spew forth the rotten, effluent of the Zuma years. The Rand tumbling. Petrol prices sky-rocketing. Good people fleeing for foreign shores and bad people remaining, unpunished. It made me feel quite ill to be honest.
If you are feeling a degree of discomfort or even depression at the state of our nation and indeed the world then in my mind you are simply human. It tells me you care; you desire the fulfilment of your right to happiness; you are concerned about the betterment of the world; for safety and prosperity and well-being for all and not just the entitled rich; for the well-being of our children.
But questions kept coming to me that troubled me: Is my discomfort, my depression based on reality or on an invention of some kind? Who or what is controlling my state-of-mind; me or the news media or my friends or what I read on social media? Am I choosing to believe what is negative to fulfil some need for belonging; belonging to a legion of South Africans who are trapped in their own victimhood? Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?
I asked these questions because there was appearing a genuine paradox in my mind: I cannot possibly deny that we are better off as a nation today than we were this time last year and yet I feel worse. How come?
So let’s unpack this for a moment: If this time last year I had told you that Zuma would be gone, Cyril Ramaphosa would be our President; Tito Mboweni would be our Minister of Finance; Shaun Abrahams would have gone; Tom Moyane would have gone; Nomgcobo Jiba would have been suspended; some R100 billion worth of foreign direct investment would have been committed; a slew of commissions of enquiry would have been established to investigate state capture and the demise of SARS – would you have taken it? I would have!
So again, why am I more negative today than this time last year? And why do I know that I am not alone?
The truth is that the truth will set us free. However, it will cause us considerable discomfort even pain, whilst it does. We are currently buckling under the burden of bad news. Because as much as I may list all the great things that have happened since last year, they have come amidst revelation after stinking revelation of the depth to which our nation has sunk in the past decade. And as we ingest our weekly, daily sometimes hourly doses of News24, Daily Maverick, City Press or whatever our media poison happens to be, we are systematically contaminating ourselves with the truth. And we are right at the bottom of the bad news barrel right now; we are in a very deep, dark place and we are struggling to see the many colourful and beautiful lights that are surrounding us.
I am not saying we shouldn’t expose ourselves to what is happening around us – far from it. The evangelist Billy Graham used to say that he preached with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. I believe this wisdom should apply to us all. But we must also guard against over-exposure; we must be wise in what we consume and what we believe because not all “truth” is true; not all truth is good or helpful; not all truth needs to be immediately consumed.
This column is all about giving people small things we can all do to make South Africa a better place. But without hope (as opposed to optimism) we are not able to breathe; we are not able to give or serve; we are not able to fulfil our purpose for the world. We must take time; find some quiet and stillness and allow ourselves to find the good amidst the bad; shake off this crushing weight of negativity and take some time to focus on just how and why and where we are better off today than a year ago.
Then – charged with a lightness of being and a slight twinkle in the eye – we can be that change that we wish to see in the world.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered and Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death
As a white person I do not fully understand the land expropriation without compensation issue. In truth, I cannot. My background, my thinking, my skin, my privilege precludes me from really getting it.
But what I do know – and what, it seems some other white writers are beginning to grapple with – is that the issue is not the issue.
The issue is not about people getting “free land”. It is not about what people do with the land. It is not about food security or what it will do to the economy. I would even say that it isn’t about redress, or certainly not all about redress.
It is to some extent about politics and the 2019 elections but perhaps the timing is just coincidental. Or perhaps the timing is just right.
My paradigms disallow me from seeing expropriation without compensation as necessary and good. My paradigms prompt me to say: “Who can argue against the facts? The statistics prove the point. Countries in which land is expropriated are likely to XYZ. Just look at Zim.” This thinking is one dimensional and comes from a place of strength and privilege. And fear.
As an example, food security – a big focus of our arguments against expropriation – is only an issue to the well fed and at that, when their security is threatened. I work with people in areas like rural Limpopo who haven’t enjoyed a single day of food security their entire lives. To them, food security is when the local wild vegetables happen to take root in the red dust and they get a meal. If you have read Trevor Noah’s superb book “Born a Crime” you will have been struck by a story of his Mother making soup out of river clay just to fill her stomach. Many people in our country would just laugh at us if we told them that land expropriation would impact food security.
And what about the economy? We can argue – and we do so disingenuously to protect our own positions of relative wealth and privilege – that land expropriation will impact the economy and of course the poorest of the poor will be worst hit. This may well be true. But come on! If we really cared so much for the poorest of the poor wouldn’t we do more about them? Would we not give up some of our proverbial farm so that they may farm and eat – or for heaven’s sake screw it up if they wish to? And not just the odd progressive farmer (I have met some of these amazing people) but all of us who have?
The other point we need to understand better from within our privilege is that less of nothing is still nothing. So let’s be brutal with ourselves and say that the economic argument against land expropriation is much more about us who have, than those who don’t.
But if the issues around land expropriation are not the issue, then what is? I don’t know for sure, you would need to ask a black person without land. But from what I have come to appreciate, it’s got as much to do with psychology than anything. It has to do with closure; burying the rotting corpse of apartheid that still lies in the streets and pollutes all of us; It has to do with people being given a realistic chance (not just on paper) to exercise their rights; to be human and adult. It has to do with collective dignity being restored to a vast group of people only some of whom will benefit from land expropriation.
So, when we are tempted to say: But look at what happened in Zim – it will mess up the economy like it did there! Perhaps we can take a broader look and say: Yes, perhaps it will – but perhaps it won’t. And if it does, maybe that’s what is needed for the psyche of people and this country to heal for future generations. We cannot truly do that which so many suggest – move on from the past – until the land issue is resolved.
Bring it on.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.
There is a poem called “The Cold Within” that was written in the 1960’s by then unknown American poet James Patrick Kinney.
I first heard this poem quoted by our former Public Protector Professor Thuli Madonsela, but apparently it is quite well known the world over. What struck me about it was the fact that it could so easily have been written about us here in South Africa in 2018. It is challenging, painful and beautiful and – as the various 2019 election campaigns begin to polarise and divide us – it deserves our full attention:
Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.
Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.
The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.
The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?
The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.
The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.
The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.
Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.
The poem is so powerful because it places us together around a fire – usually a space for friends. But the fire is dying and so are we. It begs for us to find our common humanity – that which will save our lives – and share what we have with one another; our kindness, our time, our resources – regardless of our differences.
If you are bringing up small children in South Africa, you may well have heard the words “brown” and “peach” used to refer to black and white people.
I simply cannot express in words how these terms irritate me. They irritate me even more than that other new South African buzz term “colour blind”. More on that another time.
The reasons for my grave dislike of these two terms are many. I shall limit myself in this post to just two:
The terms are used mostly by liberal white people (or black people with liberal white mates) who are trying to be politically correct. This is well intentioned, but it backfires dangerously. This is because the colour classification of a human being (as much as we may disagree with it) has come to represent vastly more than simply the colour of my skin; it is who I was, who I am and who I will be; it is the suitcase I am packed up in – but it is also the contents; it is my body yes, but it is also my soul and my psyche. I am black; I am white; I am coloured; I am Indian encompasses the way I see the world, the way the world sees and treats me and the way I live and move and have my being in the world. It is everything, with actual colour just a part of the story.
So, changing people’s colour is not only naïve, but damaging; we are tampering with something foundational and intrinsic and indeed good. People are not just walls you can paint over when the old colour doesn’t match the decor anymore. By changing black people’s colour to brown – without asking I might add because it certainly wasn’t black people who started this – we in effect negate their ‘blackness’; that thing that travels such a long journey beyond just colour.
And the terms are not just problematic for black people. Peach – which let’s face it conjures up images of happy romps through orchards on a spring day – allows us to slip out of the past reality and the harshness of our whiteness and into a new and far more gentle and comfortable outfit. With one word we are able to say: “It wasn’t/isn’t me. I didn’t/don’t benefit from my whiteness because I’m not white, I’m peach!” But the thing is, I am white and until I learn what that really means and deal with it warts and all, no amount of peach paint is going to change me.
And when do we stop this charade with our kids? The world calls people black and white, coloured and Indian, Russian and Jewish and Muslim. Is it like swearing – they can only use these “bad words” when they are adults? We are white inside and out – and we are beautiful. We are black inside and out – and we are beautiful. God created us all in His image – black and white; beautiful inside and out. We must celebrate who we are and not try and paint ourselves in a different light.
Our kids will handle it.
An article in last weekend’s Sunday Times entitled “White flight ‘over fear and mother tongue’” tells us that white people are pulling their kids out of schools where there are too many black people.
In former Model C schools there are now only a handful of white pupils, some have none. The article says that most white pupils have moved to private schools or Afrikaans-medium schools. This is not new – it has been happening for over two decades now; schools can be a safe place for birds of a feather to flock together.
However, the only white mother left at Saxonwold Primary in Johannesburg says that she doesn’t think the exodus of white families is all about the massive enrolment of black families over the past years. She says that the white families had just “lost faith in government education”.
But at our daughter’s school – a private school – we have noticed the same trend. Unlike most white couples, we have a black daughter and one of the reasons we chose her school was precisely because it is so multi-racial. Since we started there in 2016, most of the white families have left and now there is just the one in Lolly’s class. It is generally accepted that this migration is at very least partially due to the darkening hue of the place, but ironically the reasons given are something along the lines of: “We have lost faith in the school”. So, it seems that the same reason for white flight is being given at government and private schools.
Now just for clarity, our daughter’s school is world-class. Sure, you can move your kid from one privileged school to another in search of ever improving facilities, but is this all school is about; a case of my astro is bigger than yours?
Educating the 21st Century child is so much more than this. Learning and socialising in a multi-cultural environment that prepares them for the world they will one day live in, is as vital to their future success as lessons, sport and extra murals. We stunt our children’s growth and development if we don’t expose them to as many cultures, colours, religions and worldviews as possible.
And not just at school, but at home as well.
Caution: If you are Australian you may find this post hard to believe (apart from all you lovely Saffers now living in Australia who know how awesome South Africa is – and of course our beloved Aussie family who travel to SA regularly and know the truth). This is because a recent travel advisory from your government recommended the need for high caution when travelling to our land. It warned of – amongst other things – robberies on roads and in shopping centres, ATM and credit card fraud and spiked drinks. It said you should never drive with your window down.
I recently took a once-in-a-lifetime road trip through South Africa with my family. Over two and a half weeks we drove more than 3500km’s, we crossed 5 of our 9 provinces, we visited tiny dorpies (villages) in the middle of nowhere like Alldays, Messina and Komatipoort, larger towns like Makhado and Polokwane and major cities like Johannesburg. We crossed 8 borders into and out of neighbouring countries Botswana and Swaziland. We visited 2 major national parks, the unparalleled Kruger National Park and the mesmerizing Mapungubwe. We went through around 40 toll gates, filled up 6 times with petrol and stayed in accommodation ranging from 5 stars to no stars. We met dozens of people, we travelled with our windows down, we bought food off the side of the road, we got stopped by the police – and let go (without being asked for a bribe). We found world class shops and restaurants in the most unlikely places like Bethlehem and Tzaneen.
We didn’t get assaulted, robbed or scammed once. We enjoyed friendly service wherever we went. People often spotted our NT number plates and we enjoyed a banter about their days in KwaZulu Natal. We felt safe and welcome and we loved every minute of it.
Now you might say that our positive experience is because we are locals and that foreigners might be targeted. This may of course be true, and I suggest that when you do come and visit us you take the normal precautions you would when visiting any foreign country. Begin by asking a local where is safe to go and where isn’t. This will tick all the boxes of those alarmist travel advisories. But please do come.
And to us locals, there really is no greater adventure than discovering your own land. This trip reminded us that we live in a place of such diversity, richness and beauty.
We should travel it more.