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
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)