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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. (www.peaceagency.org.za)
The now infamous coffin assault case which saw two white men torture a black man by forcing him into a casket, left me feeling ill.
I felt ill for several reasons amongst them the fact that I – like many others – have often had the dreaded nightmare associated with being buried alive. It is a fate too horrendous to contemplate. This man can only have feared the worst as this heinous act was being committed. That was obviously before they began taunting him with the possibility of placing a snake in the coffin with him to finish him off before his burial. I also felt ill because in a way that I shudder to admit, I participated in this hateful assault fueled by racism. No, I was not there. And no, I have never personally enacted physical violence towards any person let alone a harmless man doing no wrong. Yet, in a deep sense – and certainly in terms of the repercussions of such actions – what is done to one is done to all and what is done by one is done by all. We are inextricably connected. If you need evidence of this reality you have only to listen to the language people use in expressing their rightful disgust at such incidents. A close black friend of mine can often be heard saying: “what is wrong with your people?”. The “you and I” quickly becomes the “us and them” when people are giving expression to their pain.On a very practical level, if I am to disassociate myself too far from these attackers, I am simply denying the reality that I advertently or inadvertently participate in the daily incarceration of other harmless black South Africans. Forget racist thoughts and words – I have become good at hiding those – my very existence as a white South African represents a coffin in which I unwittingly, daily place people.
The point that I am making is that this violent, act of racism can and should be viewed as a powerful metaphor for the subtler, often unsighted ways that black people are entombed in our nation. Of course, it is easier to direct my outrage at these men from Middleburg (and of course I do). But if that’s where I stop, then I have failed to learn the lessons of the parable that this man suffered so greatly to provide me; I have failed to interrogate my culpability in keeping scores of ordinary black people entombed by racism. And what are these tombs? Yes, they can be brazen and obvious; the Penny Sparrow tomb of indignity for example. But they are usually far subtler: my denial of my white privilege, my wish that we could “move on” from blaming apartheid; my subtle satisfaction at black people who say life was better before democracy, my intimation that whites ran the country better; my denial of white influence and supremacy especially in business.In case you feel that I am being unnecessarily hard on myself, think again. As a white person living in South Africa, if I stubbornly insist on not doing the hard, humbling and often harrowing inside work that will radically unseat my “white in shining armour/white-is-right” attitude (I am steering clear of using the r-word here – though I am a racist in recovery – so I can avoid my all-too-easy “I am not a racist!” retort) from the very core of who I am, it will sooner-or-later be done for me. Will this be enacted violently by Julius Malema and his supporters? Could be. But it will more likely be in the form of a slow but deliberate erosion of the everyday supremacy and power of the white person; a certain squeezing into a coffin of our own if you like. If you are white, you are probably feeling this squeeze already. Is this a good reason to adjust my attitude and behaviours? Well, it is one good reason.I am not trying to incite fear here – in fact, quite the contrary. I am suggesting that if I intentionally, actively address my own inherited racism and white superiority and, dare I say it, my white entitlement to that superiority through, firstly, admitting it, then I will cease to lock people in coffins. I am suggesting that as a white person living in South Africa, I have an opportunity to answer a case against me well. If I do this daily and diligently, loving wholeheartedly until love breaks my arrogant, stiff-necked self, then I can be as great a catalyst for healing and restoration as I have been for suffering and division. Only then will we find the harmony and peace we so need and long for. 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.