This monthly feature is our response to the President’s invitation: “Thuma Mina – Send Me”. It is a toolkit of ideas to help our readers respond to that call.
In 2007, I returned from the UK having spent 6 incredible years living and working in London. Virtually as my plane touched down naysayers began questioning my decision: Why on earth had I come back? Hadn’t I heard that we were “going the way of Zimbabwe”?
I had all this buzzing around in my head when – out on a Comrades training run up near the Kruger National Park – I greeted an old man carrying wood on his head. His reaction changed my life forever and set me on a brand new path.
He stopped dead in his tracks (as did I, which isn’t difficult when I am running) and stared at me like I was nuts. I wondered fleetingly if I had offended him, but my fears were soon allayed as a huge, craggy smile broke out on his old face. We smiled warmly and greeted one another and in that moment a bridge was built between two very different human beings; one old; one privileged; one white; one rural. It was a bridge that I knew in my spirit was strong and permanent; it was a moment when I knew beyond all doubt that love was the beginning and end of all faith; the beginning and end of all life and purpose and the true meaning of truth, reconciliation and healing. My experience with that old man stood in stark contrast to the naysayers who had been so negative on my return. To the two of us, South Africa was indeed alive with possibility.
This experience birthed a campaign called Stop Crime Say Hello. The thinking is that peace creation is an active process that we must all participate in daily with simple acts of kindness and bridge building. By doing this we slowly begin to chip away at the culture of violence that has been put in place over decades of disrespect for one another.
As a call to action, Thuma Mina is so simple. It can and perhaps must begin with small actions repeated often; actions such as greeting people – especially those who are different to us – as we go about our daily lives.
I guess the hardest part is slowing down for long enough to really see humanity in all its wondrous complexity and beauty and brokenness all around us. Because healing doesn’t happen in a hurry and bridges take time to build.
The call is to do something – however small – to make a difference in one life at a time.
I would love to dialogue with you around the call of Thuma Mina – Send me. You can contact me on email@example.com. (www.peaceagency.org.za)
Here on the North Coast of the East Coast of South Africa we are driving scared. This is because people stand on bridges over highways and throw rocks onto cars. This terrifying experience has happened to half a dozen motorists over the past month, and lives – some of them children – have been tragically lost. Meaningless, senseless violence. Or is it?
This stretch of the N2 highway (between Tongaat and Salt Rock) forms a psychological boundary if not exact, between some of the greatest “haves” and the most impoverished “have nots” in South Africa. On one side of the highway we have opulent houses, malls and luxury housing estates. On the other side of the highway, the picture is often very different. Here poverty is on display in all its brutality and people often live in corrugated iron shacks. Our domestic worker recounted the story of a recent violent protest in her neighbourhood of Shakaskraal in which people who live in such shacks took to the streets because the houses they had been promised 10 years ago, had not materialised. 10 years is a life time to wait for a house when you are living in such dire circumstances.
When they asked why their houses would not be built, they were told that the land that had been allocated for housing was no longer available as it was now going to be used to build – wait for it – a zoo.
Now, many of these people work in houses and businesses – on the plush side of the N2. I wonder: if I lived in abject poverty on that side and people lived in multi-million Rand houses on the other side – a stone’s throw away from me- and I was told the land I had waited for for 10 years had been given over to build a zoo, if I wouldn’t feel a little, I don’t know, pissed off. Would I feel violence welling up inside me? I would. No question. I might even take my pain and anger out on those with big homes and fancy cars. This might involve throwing rocks off bridges – or worse.
Now of course this is just a theory. But, whilst we build cages over our bridges, we need to make serious efforts to build emotional, social and psychological bridges between people – off which rocks cannot be thrown.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.