Invitation to book launch

“To be is to do” – Socrates Whether we are aware of it or not we create the world we live in. In artistic terms each of us is continuously adding to the ever-changing universal canvas. Our mere existence has an impact on the environment and the way we live our lives exerts a certain pressure on the world causing it to shift in microcosmic ways as we get about our lives. Our daily parenting choices mould our children, the way we speak builds or breaks people; the choices we make concerning dignity, respect, humanity, tolerance and equality shape the world around us. We are powerful beyond our wildest imaginings. This is at once humbling and extremely exciting for we have had placed in our hands the ability to influence our world either for good or for bad. The question is, what kind of world am I helping to create? More specifically – what kind of South Africa am I helping to create? This is a real bugger of a question because at a most basic level it suggests that – at least in part – what we see going on around us is of our own creation. Now before you hurl your newspaper/computer into the nearest recycling bin be aware that the world around us is made up of both good and bad – not just bad. So when considering how I am impacting the world around me I must reflect honestly on both of these aspects so that that I can challenge myself to become more of a creator for good. But the most critical part of all this happens as we realise our power to change/create the world around us. When people get a taste of this reality they become passionate to do just that. Some of them may interpret this in an evil way others in a good way. But what is clear is that when this realisation strikes it becomes impossible to remain passive. If we become passionate to influence the world for good it shows up in a number of ways in us including; little or no negativity; a ruthless avoidance of revenge; a passionate desire to see people reach their full potential; a passionate desire to see the country succeed; an uncompromising adherence to the law; compassion for self and others. You may know of people who exhibit some of these values and behaviours. It is not that they have necessarily given up their lives to start soup kitchens or read to the aged (though these are wonderful things to do if you are so inclined). It is simply that they have taken the time to reflect on themselves and how they can contribute to the creation of a better world. Even in the reflection there is a degree of change because as we change so the environment around us changes. I have been privileged to write this column for close on 5 years. During this time I have asked each of us to do just what I am describing above; reflect on how we can help to build our beloved country. I have suggested that we greet one another regardless of race, gender or religion; that we pick up litter on our verges and fix what is broken in our neighbourhoods; that we quit our negativity and acknowledge what is working in our country; that we stop using racist language. I have asked that we consider adoption or that we mentor a child. Readers of this column have supplied nearly 600 impoverished school girls with a 3 year supply of washable sanitary pads enabling them to stay in school during their periods; you have given funds to help restock shops looted during the xenophobic attacks in Gauteng; you have mentored dozens of vulnerable kids throughout the Durban area. It has been an incredible journey. And I am really excited to let you know that the journey continues with the launch of my book called The Flipside. It is a collection of my columns published here in The Mercury and has been generously sponsored by the Democracy Development Program. We will be launching the book soon and I would like to invite readers to that launch where you will receive a free, personalised copy of the book. All you have to do is e-mail in and tell me a story of what you are doing/have done – big or small – to help create a South Africa we can all be proud of. The first 20 respondents will be sent an official invitation. My e-mail address is I look forward to meeting you at the launch. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.

Are you a recovering racist?

The recent spate of cases involving racist attacks is cause for deep concern. Last week Cape Town resident Andre van Deventer was found guilty of common assault and crimen injuria for spitting in the face of domestic worker Gloria Kente and calling her a k…r. In October five young men allegedly attacked and racially abused Cape Flats resident Delia Adonis. One of the youngsters is a student at the University of Cape Town. And in a separate incident another UCT student – former Boss model Djavane Arrigone – is also charged with assault and crimen injuria for allegedly urinating on taxi driver Michelle Puis Nomgcana from the balcony of Tiger Tiger nightclub in Claremont. Apparently he saw nothing wrong with his actions telling the driver; “I am rich, you are poor. I am white, you are black.” It is particularly concerning that two of these cases involve white youngsters who were born after the end of apartheid. I often hear it said that we live in a new era of diversity and equality. People base this pronouncement on the fact that our youngsters are ‘colour blind’ and happily befriend, hug and kiss children of all races and religions. If this is the case – and our soon-to-be four year old gives me no reason to contest this view – then we urgently need to reflect on what us adults are doing to turn our children from innocents who gladly kiss people different to them into young adults who piss on them? Now let me be clear from the outset that I – as much as anyone – need to constantly examine my attitudes towards people different to myself. This is not about guilt or shame. This is about all of us having the courage to ask ourselves the difficult questions and challenge our perceptions and prejudices. But that said I also do not believe that we should make assumptions that let us off the hook. It is too convenient to wallpaper over these horrendous acts by labelling them “exceptions to the rule”. Make no mistake; racism – overt and subtle – is going on every day in South Africa. We all have race demons to face. We should also not make the mistake of assuming that these kid’s adult role models would dress up in white cloaks and pointy hats and set fire to crosses. It is more likely that they look quite ordinary – just like you and me. So what is going wrong? You see most whites don’t use the k word (this highly offensive racial slur originally had the connotation of ‘one without religion’, primitive, uncivilized or heathen) out loud anymore – but in our hearts and in the way we treat black people we scream “primitive” at them at the tops of our voices. It is in the way we roll our eyes when they speak of their ancestors; the way we take them off to our GP when traditional medicine is being used or even discussed. Our children see this and they learn to view black people as backward and inferior. It is in the seemingly innocuous things we say; “was she black or white?” we ask when someone recounts the story of a fatality on the highway. What does this question tell our children? Does it not suggest that lives have different values? “Are they Indian?” we might ask when discussing the neighbour erecting the large new home next door to us; “you know what they’re like,” we add with a disdainful squint of the eyes. And incidentally I am not for a moment suggesting that racism is just a white thing. People from all walks of life are – consciously and often unconsciously – derisive, condescending and patronising. And young minds absorb it all. So we should not be surprised when – a few years and a good few Tiger Tiger cocktails later – junior decides to relieve himself on a black persons head. In Andre van Deventer’s case he used a variation on an old chestnut to defend himself against claims of racism telling the media that he had once had a relationship with a coloured woman and they had had kids together. Now I can tell you from personal experience that having children of a different race does not mean you are not a racist. As an adoptive parent of a black child I can tell you that I have to challenge my attitudes on race as much as the next guy. It also does not matter if you have friends or business partners of a different colour. Our challenge is to “go there”; admit – in the words of a friend of mine – that we are all “recovering racists”; challenge our stereotypes on a daily basis; spend quality time with people different to us; have tough conversations with them; visit their homes; meet their families; eat together. If we don’t then we are simply deluding ourselves that we are free of prejudice and the born frees under our care will grow up with exactly the same baggage as we have. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.

South Africa – going the way of Botswana?

Excitement mixed with a familiar sense of contentment wells up inside me as we accelerate to the summit of the final rise on the South African side and catch our first glimpse of the Limpopo River Valley. Miles and miles of spectacular Africa lie before us; as far as the eye can see. It is good to be back. Botswana – and in particular a special corner of modern day Bechuanaland known as the Northern Tuli Game Reserve or Mashatu – is as much a part of my family’s culture as curry and rice and church on Sundays. It is not just the vastness of this untarnished wilderness that makes this place so unique or indeed the exceptional game viewing; huge numbers of birds and beasts inhabiting a wide range of ecosystems. My experience of Botswana is that apart from its exceptional beauty it is also a fascinating nation of enormous character; a place from which we can learn a tremendous amount. As we cross the border and begin our drive to our camp my mind drifts off and I develop what is commonly referred to as the Mashatu stare. This is not a state of mental inertia; quite the opposite. It is a state in which one can properly ponder lofty matters; the meaning of life; the state of the nation; whether or not the Proteas will ever win a world cup. And as our 4 x 4 rocks us purposefully along dirt paths I have the first of several such ‘ponderations’ of our trip; my first lesson from Botswana if you like. Why do we always hear that South Africa is going the way of Zimbabwe? Botswana – a thriving, healthy, peaceful democracy in the heart of Southern Africa – is as much a neighbor as Zim and yet I am willing to bet every one of the few sheckles I have that you have never heard anyone say; “South Africa is going the way of Botswana”. Why not? We do not even will it to go the way of Botswana. Why is it so obvious that we will emulate one neighbor and not the other? Is there something rotten in our drinking water that comes down from Zimbabwe? You certainly never hear this kind of negativity in Botswana. Straight up I determine to counter every; “we are going the way of Zimbabwe” with; “well that is not correct at all – we are in fact going the way of Botswana!” We arrive at our camp and are greeted by Hilda – the warm and welcoming wife of the camp manager Monty. Hilda and Monty are Batswana. Now this might not seem significant but this interaction provides me with my second lesson from Botswana; a lesson we must urgently appropriate here in South Africa as we progress into the next stages of democratic maturity. Many South African hospitality or service-oriented operations; game lodges, hotels, B&B’s and restaurants and indeed a wide range of other commercial enterprises including farms and mines are still owned or managed by whites whilst the blacks do all the work; wait on tables, make beds and dig holes. A smattering of exceptions exist however the reality is that genuine transformation is still theoretical. In Botswana employment equity is a lifestyle not a policy – and it works; these people are world class hospitality practitioners delivering a world class experience. Of course Monty and Hilda – along with other senior camp staff members who are all Batswana – join us for our meals. And this is my next learning; there is an ease to the way in which people of different cultures interact in Botswana. Admittedly they were a British protectorate rather than a full-blown colony with all that that entailed. Perhaps this is why Batswana feel little if any sense of inferiority. The reality is that here in South Africa we have a mountain to climb in this regard. We need to spend time together – different races – learning to understand and honour one another’s cultures; one another’s differences. Only quality time together – eating food, talking, living life together – will enable us to become comfortable in one another’s space. Fate has undoubtedly contributed to the present health of Botswana and our lands are vastly different from a historical perspective. But perhaps one more insight Botswana gives us is in terms of levels of dignity of her people in themselves and towards others. Although tiny in comparison to South Africa, it is a proud nation; one that respects the rule of law; one that gives high value to education and discipline. This is perhaps the greatest legacy of the first President of Botswana Sir Seretse Khama. Of course Botswana – like all countries – has its problems, the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world not least of them. But I leave the country with the conviction that they are getting more right than wrong and that we should stop prophesying doom related to Zimbabwe and begin actively aspiring to our other close neighbor. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysen: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.