On a recent holiday in our beloved second home of Mpumalanga province, we decided to take a day-trip into the Kruger National Park. The idea was a gentle game drive up to the Skukuza day visitors’ area where we would light a fire at the communal braai area and make Jaffles.
Now, if you are anything like me before meeting Cathy, you will not know what a Jaffle is. Suffice to say for now that if food could ever be categorised as being race specific, Jaffles would have to be called pure “white food”. I mean just the name is white right? What self-respecting black person would ever refer to anything as a “Jaffle”? (This reminds me of the many work trips I took with my friend and colleague Akhona Ngcobo. Note: never refer to biltong as “billies” if you are with a black person!)
But a Jaffle is basically a toasted sandwich done on an open flame. The difference to a regular toastie (ahem…. sorry black friends!) is that they are round, not square. You put whatever you want between two slices of bread, squash it all into a round metal mould that is secured on the end of a longish, heat resistant handle, cut off the corners that are now protruding and oozing out of the sides of the mould, shove it all into the coals for about 5 minutes a side and Bob’s your aunty.
Now, imagine the scene…. two white parents plus their one black daughter set up for their lunch in the communal braai area at Skukuza. They lay down their little pile of 6 or 7 briquettes (you don’t need a big fire when Jaffle making) which they ignite with the same number of fire lighters. They then make their cheese and onion filling (which all comes out of separate little colour-coded Tupperwares), spray the hell out of the Jaffle maker with “Spray ‘n Cook”, cut off all the corners and proceed to braai their very small, round toasted sandwiches.
In the cultural nightmare I had the night before our day trip, there was much incredulity amongst the black families who were there braaiing their lunch with us (as an aside, have you ever seen white people using communal braai facilities? I haven’t. We don’t seem to braai together in public.) As they set fire to whole bags of charcoal and braaied proper amounts of nyama the questions were written all over their faces: “Why go to all the trouble of lighting a fire to make such a small sandwich?”; “Why such a very small fire – even if the sandwich is small?”; “Why no meat?”; “Why cut the corners off the sandwich – isn’t it small enough as it is?” “Why not just get a toasted sandwich from the tea room?” “You look hungry, would you like some of our meat?”
But as always, the experience of being together with people different to us was profoundly enriching. We all braaied our separate ways; we smiled and laughed, spoke about what animals we had seen and blew our coals to get the flames going. So much was the same, but much was different. And those differences are what made the experience colourful and rich and fun.
At one stage our braai neighbour commented that he had seen Jaffle makers in shops and now he knew what they were used for.
I resisted the urge to ask for a piece of his chop.
“I…am an image of what is happening everywhere, and I want it to stop today”. Richard Rohr.
In our defence, we had been in the queue for a good couple of hours. Lolly had been as patient as anyone could reasonably expect a 5-year-old to be and Cathy was working hard at maintaining that “isn’t-this-all-so-wonderful” face that parents do in adverse holiday situations. I was trying manfully to practise saying hello and smiling at people. But it was hot, the queue was endless and the experience was losing its shine.The Table Mountain cable way is a world-class tourist attraction that is exceptionally well run. However, on this particular day there had been early morning wind on the mountain and the cable car had remained shut until around 10:00 am – the time that we arrived. As a consequence, there were several hundred people in front of us waiting to be ferried up the mountain. We were getting close to the front when we became aware of an adolescent child – a new face in our immediate circle of queue friends – standing behind us. We thought little of it, until we became aware that the rest of his family were following suit; leapfrogging their way up the winding line of people one family member at a time. Father would nudge a child forward to hop the queue and once the child had blended in with the crowds, the rest of the Von Trapps would follow.Eventually the whole lot of them were in front of us. Cathy transformed from oh-so-happy Mum into Darth Vader. I thought about greeting these newcomers in a friendly “being peace” kind of way but opted to spend the rest of our wait plotting ever more gruesome ways to exact my revenge. However, in that unspoken way that spouses sometimes make decisions we opted for a truly brave and adult response to this irksome family: we stood close behind them and muttered our disgust at their appalling queue etiquette – just loudly enough for them to hear: “What gives people the right? “and “I hope they enjoy the extra few seconds of view they will have”. It was this last comment that caused the mother to turn round, take Cathy’s hand and say patronisingly: “Oh, darling we will!”Well, Cathy transformed out of Darth Vader into Lucifer himself and made to mouth off. I chose to play the peace-maker role in this somewhat volatile situation by declaring loudly: “Oh leave it Cath, they aren’t worth it!” I turned away in a huff and looked down towards the city. Just a short distance below our scene of mountain rage, the university students were continuing to enact #feesmustfall by looting, burning, threatening and expressing hatred and vengeance. My anger-spilt-over at our small queueing injustice was suddenly inseparable from the rage of our nation. I went cold. How easily I point fingers; how quickly I exonerate myself; paint a me-and-them picture. I am non-violent and peaceful because I speak and write about such lofty ideals damn it; because I mouth off against the violence associated with such campaigns as #feesmustfall. I am better than someone who hurts people or damages property. I may spew vitriol about this family, that group of students or some random politicians. But as long as it is behind people’s backs or in the safety of my social or work circle, then I can still pass as a reasonable, peaceful citizen.Much of my passion is about promoting peace and non-violence in our country and there I was reacting in a decidedly non-peaceful way to something as petty as queue hoppers. In effect, I acknowledged in that situation a violent response to injustice is easier – better perhaps – than non-violence. This was abhorrent to me; shameful in fact; a denial of the infinitely powerful processes of peaceful conflict resolution.“He who is without blame cast the first stone”. I know I must drop my stone – in truth we all must – but preaching about peace, tolerance and non-violence is so much easier than actually doing anything about it. We want to stone the so-called “wrong-doers” as this eases our pain and assuages our guilt. But we must find a way – even in the seemingly small instances of violence and confrontation in our everyday lives. We must take responsibility for setting a tone of non-violence in our nation. Interaction by interaction, we must transform the present moment into a cauldron of peace. This is the long but necessary road – indeed the only road – to the peaceful society we wish to inhabit. Of course, Murphy insisted that we bump into this family at least half a dozen times on our mountain adventure. Not only that, but whilst having lunch at a wine estate 2 days later, they were sitting at the next door table! We will be presented with the challenge time and again until we listen and drop the stone. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.
“The peace movement can write very good protest letters, but they are not yet able to write a love letter.” Thich Nhat Hanh – Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar and human rights activist
The recent story of Dr Lisa Augustine took me back to 2007. I remember it clearly; wandering round an old Natal Midlands farmstead with Cathy, chatting to the farmer’s wife about their business; a weaving operation. The subject turned to safety in the area and we were regaled with one of the most astonishing tales of humanity that I have ever heard. Dr Augustine of Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital is also a weaver of sorts. That day she left the orthopaedic ward late. She was on her way home when she was set upon by attackers.The weavers were weaving peacefully when a gang of hopped-up young men entered their workshop yelling, brandishing all manner of weaponry and demanding “all the money”. The weavers were simple folk but the young men would not listen to this and attacked the husband with an axe. He was wounded but not fatally. Again, the wife explained that there was no money but that they had some food and she would be glad to prepare them something if they were hungry. This disarmed the young men somewhat. Suddenly – with this offer of kindness in the form of food – there appeared to be more than one possible ending to this encounter.The doctor’s attackers threatened to shoot her if she did not hand over her cell phone. In her exhausted state she did something that she later felt may have been unwise; she looked one of them in the eye and explained that she had been working hard all day at the hospital helping his community. It was probably her tone more than anything she said, but the man immediately changed his tune: “And suddenly the hostility vanished. He seemed to soften and his body language changed from being very aggressive. He apologised,” explained Dr Augustine who then gave him R40. The attackers left without hurting her.
The weavers and the Doctor said similar things about their attacks; that their attackers were probably just desperate. The question is, desperate for what? If we could answer this, then we would be a huge step closer to establishing a peaceful society. And we need to move beyond money, food, greed etc. These are only partial answers that trap us at the level of the material. We must be willing to venture into the darker spaces of human suffering. Until we go there, non-violence can only ever be a pipe-dream.
In 1967, Dr Martin Luther King Jr nominated the above quoted monk for the Nobel Peace Prize. The reason for this – as I see his work – is that he seems to provide us with the beginnings of an answer to this question – what are people so desperate for? He tells us that peace begins with each of us “being peace” as he calls it. We cannot fight for peace; we cannot create peace; we can only learn to “be peace.” How does this answer the question of what people are desperate for? Quite simply because hurt people hurt people. The only way to end the cycle of desperation that leads inevitably to violence is to be peace to people and we only do that by living lives that are – in themselves – a love letter to humanity and to the world at large; a constant cycle of healing and being healed. You see, people – all people whether poor or rich – are desperate for connection; for love and belonging.After several hours of food and conversation, the weavers helped the young men to load their possessions into the family car. They were to lose a great deal but their lives would not be taken. However, just as things seemed to be working out for the best, it became evident that none of the youngsters could drive a car. This caused tempers to once again flare. The weavers then did the only logical thing they could think of under the circumstances; they taught one of the boys to drive. Like parents, they patiently explained the workings of the clutch and gears and it was not long before they stood atop their driveway and watched as their assailants drove their car and possessions off into the distance. The boys were caught before they left the midlands. The weavers continue to weave and Doctor Augustine continues to help people get well The world continues, but with a little less blood spilt. This is simply because the weavers and Dr Augustine decided to be peace. “The way you speak, the kind of understanding, the kind of language you use…. without being peace, we cannot do anything for peace. If we cannot smile, we cannot help other people to smile. If we are not peaceful, then we cannot contribute to the peace movement,” Thich Nhat Hanh.Although this is radically counter-cultural – especially in western civilization – it will resonate deeply with us if we allow it. And the world will be a better place. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.