Silence: The Brave New Loud

“Outside, the music pumped. But no one looked like they were in the mood for a party. The late winter crescent moon hung in the sky like a scythe. Five pieces of paper had worked like a car bomb, blowing the night apart.” The Daily Maverick’s Richard Poplak on the silent anti-rape protest #rememberkhwezi during Jacob Zuma’s speech at the announcement of the election results.

It was like a scene from a Hollywood thriller, though were it fiction you would have battled to believe it.  4 brave young women took on the State President, the Independent Electoral Commission and the nation’s top security – and triumphed. You could see it etched on their faces; bewilderment. Mere seconds after they began their protest, hand written signs held aloft (“I am 1 in 3”, “# 10 years later”, “khanga” and “Remember Khwezi”), they stole a brief glance at one another and almost sheepishly let their signs drop a little. They simply could not believe that they had managed to steal the show for that long. It was never part of the plan surely that the nation – the world – would get the full length of the President’s speech to read their signs and process the magnitude of what was happening. They had expected to be thrown out in a matter of seconds. But incredibly, no one moved to get rid of them. The President babbled away like some wind-up children’s toy and everyone else assumed that he must know what was going on – otherwise he surely would not have continued. Timing is everything and their’s was immaculate. They left the President’s – and by extension the party’s – integrity and even dignity in tatters on the floor or that building.

The impact of Poplak’s quote above is that he likens the impact of this silent protest to a car bomb. What he is saying is that silence – peace if you will – is as powerful a weapon as the worst forms of public violence. Done properly and timed correctly, it impacts in similar ways to car, human or aircraft bombs by wresting attention away from the main event and making itself the main event. The difference is that with high impact peaceful protest – and it does not get higher impact than this – the only death is to people’s egos and heaven knows that is no bad thing. There is no down side. The irony of peaceful, silent protest is that its reverberations can be louder, longer and more powerful than any act of carnage. The vibrations of this protest will be felt for years – decades I would think. How this must have incensed the powers that be. But peace does that – it incenses those with any form of tyranny in their heart.

It is quite possible that the seeds of this protest were sown on Friday 22nd July when SABC staff coordinated a “blackout” protest by all wearing black from the first to the last broadcast of the day. They were protesting against the unfair firing of their 8 colleagues and against the national broadcaster’s decision to censor scenes of violent protest in the build up to the 2016 local government elections. SABC management including COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng knew absolutely nothing about this; it was coordinated without a paper trail and as brilliantly timed and executed as the #rememberkhwezi protest. And like that protest, it hurt no one; it contained no violence and it resonated with the nation.  Again, the only casualties were inflated egos. Shame. The real victor? Democracy.

It is surely no coincidence that these incidents of silent and very powerful peaceful protest coincide with a change in direction of the political winds of our nation. Silent protest at this level of audacity, impunity and bravery is a hallmark of deepening democracy and the results of the 2016 Local Government Elections demonstrate a similar trend towards maturity.

These clever and well-coordinated silent protests – along with more balanced election results – reaffirm that our democracy is in better shape than even the most positive amongst us could have imagined. And the large-scale impact of the protests will surely begin to recalibrate how many perceive and enact protest in the future. Also, bear in mind that #rememberkhwezi was coordinated from within the EFF, the same party that walked out of the IEC Elections Centre when Jacob Zuma rose to speak. This is their ongoing form of silent protest as they refuse to legitimise the President by listening to him.

As activists and politicians begin to understand and experiment with its power, we can all look forward to a lot more silence in the future.

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.

 

 

 

 

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Enjoy that voting queue!

I learnt a great deal during my half dozen or so years living and working in the UK: I learnt to enjoy warm beer; I learnt that the Cornish Pasty is not only something you eat when you are either drink or hungover; I learnt that a Kebab is not always a stick with meat that you put on a braai, but what we would call a Shawarma. I learnt that the human being’s capacity for carrying things extends way beyond what we would ever imagine. (I once carried a laptop, 3 large bags of groceries and a new TV from the centre of town to my North London apartment using a combination of buses, trains and my feet) and I learnt the great British art of queuing.

Now we do not queue well in South Africa. We are just not wired for it. This is because queuing well involves patience (not one of the great South African virtues) and an unfailing faith in the fact that the system – whatever that may mean in terms of the type of queue you are standing in – will work when you finally get to the front. Now, our history does not provide us with sufficient evidence of the system working for us to have such faith. So, even when systems do work – and they work more often than we are willing to admit – we still protest vehemently. We also have a curious belief that we are above queuing. So if there is a “priority” queue or an “express” queue or any way – legitimate or otherwise – to cut a queue, it would not be out of order to sell an aging member of our family to avail ourselves of such.

Now based on time spent in bank queues, I have calculated that 2.5 minutes is about our average breaking point in terms of length of time spent queueing. At this point someone will invariably pipe up and say words to the effect of: “Ridiculous! Why are there only two tellers? Two tellers and eight empty cubicles. What are we paying for? No wonder this country is going to the dogs!” Then all the rest of us nod and tut tut in agreement. Some of us – on arrival at the front of the queue – even berate the poor teller, as if they have any say over how many tellers are employed at their branch.

On a particularly glorious summers day in London, I learnt that queuing is not so much a necessity in Britain as an actual pastime; even a hobby to some. I was standing in the queue outside Wimbledon chancing my luck for one of those rare day passes that they issue to a few eager fans. The atmosphere is festive and the time spent together with other fans is always great fun.

However, one lady had taken this experience to a whole new level. She was not a tennis fan per se, but went to Wimbledon each year simply so that she could stand in this queue. She so loved the atmosphere, camaraderie and laughter that she would go year after year and just, you know, queue. She didn’t ever actually go in to watch the tennis.

Now of course this does rather epitomise stereotypical British eccentricity and whilst Brits do love a good queue, this lady may be a bit extreme or to use a good British expression “potty”. But that said, there are many benefits to learning the art of queuing well, amongst them maintaining healthy blood pressure.

Casting our minds forward to Wednesday and our Local Government Elections, we will have a great opportunity to practise our queuing skills. Here are a couple of tips to help you make the most of the election queue. You can of course apply the thinking behind these tips after election day too:

  • The day is a public holiday given to us to vote. Take your time; soak up the atmosphere. Remember what it took for us all to be here together. The process of voting (not just casting your ballot) should be a rich experience for all citizens of a vibrant democracy;
  • A voting queue places us in a position to meet and interact with other citizens who may not look and sound like we do. Don’t miss this opportunity to expand your boundaries. Greet people; shake hands; strike up conversation. A queue can always be a bridge.
  • You think the queue is long? Try manning a polling station for a day to see what long feels like. Express gratitude to those assisting us to exercise our right to vote.

We have a long way to go until we can call our democracy mature; it will take us citizens doing democracy with respect and dignity. Let us embrace this is as we go to the polls on Wednesday.

Enjoy the queue!

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.

 

 

 

Living Extraordinary Lives

Many of you will recall the 1989 movie classic Dead Poets Society. Set in 1959 at an elite and conservative prep school in England, the movie tells the story of John Keating – an English teacher who inspired his students through his unorthodox methods of teaching poetry. The central theme of the movie could be summed up in the teacher’s exhortation to the boys to “make your lives extraordinary” a sentiment he summarised with the Latin exhortation carpe diem – seize the day.

In 1989, this movie had deep resonance with me and a close group of good friends at our similarly elite and conservative high school in Johannesburg. At the time in an all-boys South African school, if you excelled at Rugby then you were assured a smooth passage through to matric with an assurance of being a prefect (and probably not a virgin) by the time you reached matric. But alas, my group of friends where no good at rugby and so you can probably guess that our leadership lives (and indeed our love lives) were less colourful than they might have been.

In 1989, we were in Standard 9 – or grade 11 as they call it today – and into our lives walked one Roger Lovett, our very own John Keating. He was a teacher of enormous passion whose English lessons were filled with drama and wildness. He was an eccentric chap; portly with a thick mop who wore tweed jackets and owned a Great Dane, inevitably named Hamlet.

He broke every rule in the book swearing, talking about sex in a way that mattered to 17-year-old boys and forcing us to reflect on the reality of life outside the safe confines of a mostly white South African private school. The video club he started would find us watching age restricted movies like the harrowing Burt Reynolds classic Deliverance. He started movie and theatre clubs and we would watch, discuss, argue and critique. He pushed us way beyond our 17-year-old selves. The only rule seemed to be that no subject was off limits. Friday evenings would find us at his home debating something-or-other most fiercely whilst eating food cooked by his wife and drinking wine that was most certainly not permitted. In all this, Roger Lovett caused us to believe we could live extraordinary lives. That is the power of great teachers and my friends and I owe a tremendous amount to this one man.

I have not kept up with all my pals from our very own Dead Poets Society, but of the ones I am still in touch with, one has become a top lawyer, another an award-winning broadcast journalist, another began a hugely successful chain of restaurants and the other has become an award-winning movie producer. None of these achievements – all so different – should be seen outside of the impact that Roger Lovett had on our lives.

You see this teacher gave us all a love for language, art, theatre, movies and reading. But most importantly he taught us how to think. He never allowed us accept the status quo; life as presented by the prevailing dialogue of our time. He never allowed us to regurgitate stock answers fed to us by our parents or the media. He forced us to engage critically with issues that matter. For me – in fact for us all –  this is where it all began; in that classroom, round that dinner table, in those theatres and movie houses.

It was a member of this ‘elite group’ – film producer Barry Strick – that got me thinking about Roger Lovett and how desperately we need more of his ilk in our classrooms. Last weekend Strick’s significant and controversial movie “Twee Grade van Moord” (Two Degrees of Murder – subtitled in English) about the topical but thorny issue of assisted suicide, won Best Feature Film and the Audience Choice Award at the important Karoo Arts Festival. It is just the beginning for a much-needed movie that is tipped to go a long way both locally and abroad.

Now, I seriously doubt whether beautiful and necessary films like this would ever see the light of day if it weren’t for great teachers like Roger Lovett challenging their learners to push the envelope of extra-ordinary in their chosen fields. We may grow up and move on but their legacy remains throughout lifetimes.

I am not sure where Roger Lovett is today but two things I know for sure; the first is that we desperately need more of our teachers to become John Keatings and Roger Lovetts if South Africa is to reach her full potential. Yes, we need our teachers to teach but perhaps more importantly, we need them to inspire our children to extraordinary lives.

The other thing I know is that if Roger Lovett was anywhere near Barry Strick at this point, he would grab him by the shoulders and bellow at him: “Well bloody done Strick!”

Twee Grade van Moord opens at cinemas nationwide on 22 July.

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.

 

Love your Penis. Love your Vagina

“Do you think my vagina will be safe in the car?” asked Sue Barnes as we alighted from our rental vehicle. It would have struck me as an unusual sort of question but for the fact that we had been discussing Sue’s vagina and other related topics for the best part of the morning. We were on one of our “menstrual missions”, distributing packs of Sue’s miraculous washable, reusable Subz sanitary pads to 500 impoverished girls from 5 desperately needy community schools.

Before handing out the packs, Subz founder and inventor Sue does a brilliant talk in which she lovingly explains menstruation and the fact that each girl’s body is a precious thing; something to be honoured and respected. This is not as obvious as it might seem to you or I. As I have written before, many of these girls make use of toilet paper, newspaper and even soiled sanitary pads belonging to friends or relatives during their monthly period. The harsh reality is that menstruation will keep over 60% of South African girls away from school for a cumulative total of more than one-and-a-half years of their 5-year high school career. This makes passing matric virtually impossible and their options become limited to menial work or worse still a life at the mercy of a sugar daddy, now disingenuously referred to as a “Blesser”.

For the purposes of illustrating the various parts of a woman’s body, Sue makes use of some highly innovative props; an apron complete with breasts, removable nipples and a vagina and a 3D model of a woman’s pelvis. This is the particular prop that she was referring to when we got out of the car.

Spending time with Sue Barnes on what she refers to as a school activation, is a truly enriching experience. Not only do you get to see the utter joy on girls faces as they receive their free 3-year supply of washable, reusable sanitary pads, but you also get to speak openly about sex, breasts, nipples, penises and vaginas. I find this to be extremely liberating and very necessary in our society.

You see a significant contributing factor to our very high levels of woman abuse, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, abandonments etc. is the gradual erosion of dignity and sanctity that so many girls and women in our country experience. This happens when young women are denied access to proper information presented in a respectful, open fashion and products that dignify them and celebrate their femininity. I also believe that the language (or lack thereof) that we use for sex and related issues is highly problematic and plants early seeds in both boys and girls that sex is dirty and shameful – even violent. This creates fertile soil for later perversion and abuse to flourish.

When Cathy and I became parents we made a decision to refer to our and Lolly’s genitals by their proper names. No peepee and foofoo for this family! We allow her to look, we talk with her about our differences and – in an age appropriate fashion – we answer her questions. It is quite telling that we have copped some serious flak for this approach.

Now please understand, this is all new to us and something that we are really battling with ourselves. In fact, we have to steel ourselves every time we use the words or have the conversation. Neither Cathy nor I come from families in which sex was discussed. In fact, recently, Lolly loudly announced to her Granny that she had an itchy vagina and my poor old Mum nearly lost her lunch. “Don’t say that word!” she said in hushed tones.

Now my Mum’s response would actually be Cathy and my response had we not taken the decision to make a concerted effort to try and normalise these things. This is an attempt to help our child grow up without the sexual hang-ups that we have.

My point is that so many kids grow up with a sense that you can’t even call something its proper name – it’s that bad. The words vagina and penis – even menstruation or intercourse –  have almost become swear words to the point where we often use slang words to describe our reproductive life and organs; words we deem to be more appropriate but that I would not necessarily put into print.

So, many children – girls in particular – grow up stripped of their dignity through a combination of shame, a lack of suitable sanitary products and very low levels of real understanding around their menstrual cycle and even how they get pregnant. This leads to a degradation of their and others sexual selves because of a general lack of care and openness around these topics. For this reason, I suggested to Sue Barnes that this Child Protection Month we should launch a “Love Your Penis Love Your Vagina” campaign. Even she said no!

However, you can help. To date Mercury readers have raised a staggering R150k for girls to hear Sue’s life-changing talk and receive a pack of washable, reusable sanitary pads. With your support we have reached over 1000 needy girls in 10 schools. We invite you to join us and sponsor a (nother) 3-year supply of pads and panties for one girl. For just R140 you will change her life forever.

The Peace Agency bank details are as follows:

FNB Durban North

Acc #: 6215 995 8217

Branch code: 22-04-26

Please reference your donation with “Project Dignity”

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.

 

Lessons from Chernobyl

A recent Washington Post article tells the story of the 2575 km2 Chernobyl Evacuation Zone. Three decades ago the explosion at the now infamous Ukrainian nuclear power plant displaced nearly 100 000 people and left a ghostly, uninhabited desert-scape in its wake. Trees stripped bare protruded out of infertile soil; all animal, bird and insect life had been obliterated.  No movement; no sound. Empty shells of buildings; crumbling homesteads; literally dozens of empty villages; a lifeless, apocalyptic wasteland. For 30 years, Chernobyl has represented humankind’s insatiable lust for more.

But now Chernobyl would appear to be trying to teach us a new and most remarkable lesson. According to biologist Jim Beasly, where once there was dust and nothing more, today the enormous evacuation zone is: “An incredibly large sanctuary for animals large and small”. Research reports reveal that out of the ashes of Chernobyl has emerged an enchanted forest complete with thriving animal populations; grey wolves, red foxes, wild boar, moose, deer, hares and racoon dogs. Many of these are meat eating animals that have sufficient food to survive and thrive. They have developed a resistance, not only to environmental radiation, but to radiation in their prey. Researchers heavily suited in masks and respirators say it is like a huge national park just with no people.

This story is miraculous yet unsurprising. You see nature – creation if you like – has regenerative power or resurrection wired into its very nature. The great paradox is that death brings life; the seed must die in order to germinate; the land must burn in order for new life to flourish; the rivers must flood for the floodplains to yield their abundant crops. Without Chernobyl there could be no enchanted forest.

And without apartheid there would have been no Mandela as we knew him; without pain there could be no Buddha; without separation from God there could be no Christ. Perhaps more accurately put, without darkness there would be no need for light.

This fills me with hope and enormous joy. I pray it does the same for you. Because in the midst of our own personal catastrophes – our own Chernobyls big or small – we can hold fast to the truth that light will always extinguish darkness; that not even a catastrophe of nuclear proportions could thwart the regeneration power inherent in the created world. Life will continue and even thrive where once there was disaster, pain and suffering.

Outside of our own personal lives, the same applies to our beloved country. We may be tempted to despair; to see the pain and suffering and wonder if we will ever be the enchanted forest we all dreamt of. Schools, trucks, bulldozers, tyres, homes; logs – burning, burning – everywhere we turn. Can anything good come of all this burning? Destruction of property; vitriol and hatred flying through the air. Lies, deceit, corruption, fraud, state capture. Can anything rise from these ashes?

Nature tells us that it not only can, but indeed will. It is all a matter of time and if we are able to rise above the ashes and see what will undoubtedly be. As the good book says: “For now we see only in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully.” 1 Corinthians 13:12.

South Africa will not only survive but thrive – not in spite of but because of what is currently taking place. It will thrive because of what Jacob Zuma and all who resemble him, have done to us. How can we say this? You need only look at the giant leaps in progress we have made as a nation in the treatment and prevention of HIV to see that this is true. The truth is that it took Thabo Mbeki’s denialism – and the tragic loss of life that resulted –  to mobilise us into a world leader in this field. Must we thank the man for this? Of course not. But we have risen from the ashes he left behind.

And out of our very own Chernobyl will emerge a new and better South Africa. It may take decades but it will happen. You see that is the way of the created world. As a collective we will be able to look back at this dark and depressing time; look back from our enchanted forest and say; “without that time, without those leaders, this could not have happened.” Will things get better soon? Probably not soon, but there is no doubt that they will get better.

Should this make us resigned and fatalistic? No, it should cause us to redouble our efforts to learn the lessons that will take us to that enchanted forest as quickly as possible. And once we are there – for heaven’s sake – let’s not make the same mistakes again.

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.

Keeping positive in South Africa

I am sometimes asked how I keep positive about living in South Africa. My answer is usually four-fold: Firstly, when I do those personality assessments I am usually categorised as having a positive personality type. So in some ways it is a part of who I am. Secondly – and this is not meant to be flippant or provocative – I am white and middle class; I have very little to complain about. Thirdly, our democracy is as healthy and robust as it has been in centuries and we are privileged to live in these times. Finally, and arguably most significantly, I am surrounded by incredible people; positive, proactive and passionate, who are quietly going about their business, working to make South Africa a better place.

In my writing, I have regularly celebrated such people. I have written about a little girl who gave all her hard-earned money to orphans; about a young man who made an under-privileged girl’s dream come true by taking her to his matric dance and about a woman who has invented washable, reusable sanitary pads for needy girls.

These people have replaced moaning with some form of action big or small and they seem to have the ability to see the bad but allow it to affect them for good. This is not a unique gift given only to a few. This is a decision.

Once in a while we have the profound privilege of meeting and working with people who literally take our breath away. Such people are usually more human; down-to-earth, lacking in any form of “saviour mentality” and completely at peace with the ‘littleness’ of their mission. They flee from any form of grandstanding or glory-seeking and they do not care who gets the credit. From within this humanity emanates a deep and very inspiring sense of authenticity; a lack of both false humility and ego-driven self-righteousness. They also have enormously high levels of love and empathy that are a result of years of practicing those affects.

Joanne and Bjorn Teunissen are a couple that take your breath away.

When I first met these two people they were on a mission to adopt their son, 3-year old Emmanuel. Both educators – at the time Bjorn was headmaster of Crawford North Coast and is now at Crawford La Lucia and Jo was a primary school teacher running a business selling educational toys – they had no intention of opening a home for abandoned and orphaned babies. But the call was always upon them and it was a matter of time before they partnered with Cathy and I and opened the doors of the Baby Home Durban North on their property in Glen Anil. With their experience of adoption and their expertise as teachers, they took to this new mission as if they had been waiting all their lives to do it. Typically, they embarked on a road less travelled, extending their services to caring not only for babies but also for vulnerable toddlers and children with special needs.

One word describes this couple (and indeed their kids Kiara, Tatum & Emmanuel) and sets them apart: Wholehearted. They don’t just care for vulnerable children, they do it with such joy; such unbridled glee. They simply love it; pigs in poo you might say! They do it with everything they have.

And this is what makes them so unique. If you look at their Facebook page, you won’t just see pictures of babies being cared for. You will see pictures of babies eating bowls of colourful jelly, laughing, riding plastic scooters, playing in parks, on swings, swimming, mucking about, eating ice creams, going to school; you will see babies curled up fast asleep in the arms of one of their daughters, you will see shots of volunteers laughing as they joke with the family. It is one big happy family; love in action.

I am not sure if I can properly capture in words what this family does day-to-day suffice to say that they don’t have 3 kids, they have 9; 3 of their own and 6 in the Baby Home. They love totally, and with utter abandon. They are 1 in a billion.

I encourage you go and visit the Teunissen family and their Baby Home. Allow them to rub off on you. They are a true inspiration; a tonic for negative and battle weary South Africans.

You can contact them on jo@peaceagency.org.za.

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.

 

 

Being love

Whether one is religious or not, so much can be learned from the life and leadership of Pope Francis. In the blink of an eye he has transformed the Papal office in ways that will materially affect not only the Roman Catholic Church, but the spiritual and indeed physical lives of generations to come. He has done this by working hard, eschewing the trappings of the position and resisting the temptation to settle into the comfort of being a benign figure-head. In short he has decided to live simply and with love – surely the mandate of all leaders religious or otherwise.  He places the foundational issues of justice, mercy and compassion at the top of the agenda and sets aside all pomp and ceremony to ensure that this mandate is met.

Some of course say that he is too real; too down-to-earth, maybe not ‘regal’ enough to be a pope. But this demonstrates a lack of understanding of his Spiritual father and namesake Saint Francis of Assisi and the simple mission of love and compassion that he embodied. The Pope would echo St. Francis’s famous petition: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”

But what ensures that this man’s name will be etched in the annals of not only religious, but secular history is that he has crossed over to the dark side as it were; he has got out from behind the pulpit and he has entered the domain of real life, off-limits to many religious leaders. For far too long the church has remained largely passive on issues of politics, justice, human rights, race, equality, lawfulness, poverty – ironically all the things that Christ spoke of a great deal. It has preferred to play it safe and keep its rent payers happy by being vocal about what it deems to be the greater sins; abortion, contraception, homosexuality, worship of other Gods etc.

This Pope is working to turn all that on its head, and is for a great deal more than he is against. He is all too aware that a church that remains in church may just as well not exist.  He is also radically inclusive and this is setting people free, something that the church has historically traded on preventing.

I have followed this man since his ordination and have been endlessly inspired by his feet-washing brand of leadership. But I was totally winded by what he did last week on Lesbos island in Greece. He went to this island – a primary gateway for refugees to Europe –  to witness first-hand the devastation caused by Europe closing its borders to refugees. This was a radical move in itself.

But the billed main feature of the trip was quite foreign for a Pontiff.  After a tour of the refugee detention facility, he sat down for lunch with some of the 3,000 plus men, women and children being held in overcrowded conditions awaiting their likely deportation. At the end of this emotional and deeply symbolic visit he did the unimaginable; he acted out his counsel that refugees be embraced, not shunned by taking 12 Syrians – Muslims to boot — including six children — back to the Vatican with him. In an act of kindness bordering on the irresponsible – even scandalous – he did the religious equivalent of giving Europe’s leaders the middle finger.

What do we make of this? Do we dismiss it as posturing, reject it for its clear political message – or do we perhaps accept it for what I believe it was first-and-foremost meant to provide; a new life for 12 people. And might we even ask: “If he can do this – why can’t I?” Or is that taking things too far because he is, after all, the Pope.

This kind of leadership can inspire us if we are prepared to be brave and let it. It can cause us to ask: “What can I do to play a role in a world – a country – that is seemingly so broken?”

And lest you imagine that this trip was all about the grand gesture, we can perhaps learn and be inspired even more by the less documented parts of his trip; parts that might speak to us even louder than the saving of the 12. As Francis made his way through the camp — surrounded by high fences and patrolled by police — he greeted observant Muslim women who had their scarves pulled over their hair, by placing his hand respectfully above his heart and bowing. In these small but powerful gestures, Francis invites us to shrug off our bigotry and become radically inclusive of all races, religions and orientations. And little children handed Francis gifts – drawings they had done for him. One little girl tried to fold up her artwork, presumably to make it easier for Francis to carry. I believe that in this moment years of contemplation and a life of love welled to the surface for Francis as he said to the little girl: “Don’t fold it. I want it on my desk.”

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.

 

 

 

 

 

How history will remember the man who insists on being President

In August 2014 highly respected ANC veteran Pallo Jordan found himself in hot water over lies regarding his academic qualifications. He had claimed to have a PhD going by the title of Doctor for years.

Via an article in the Mail & Guardian, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe explained that Jordan had written to the party’s leadership taking full responsibility for what Jordan termed as “deceit over a long time”. Jordan apologised to the ANC, its members and all South Africans and resigned.

There are moments in all of our lives that come to define us as men and women. For leaders with position and power, these moments may go down in the annals of history. For leaders like you and I they may simply become part of the history of our own small lives, or be forever etched in the minds of our children: “My Dad was always someone who did the right thing”; “My Mum played fast and loose with the law.”

The story of Pallo Jordan’s deceit did not end with an apology to South Africans. That is because Pallo Jordan is a man of integrity. How can we possibly say that about a man who lied and cheated his way through decades of his life, receiving benefits that he should never have been entitled to? Well, we can say that because when confronted with that dreadful moment of truth about his lie (a variation of a lie that many of us have spoken in our lives to make ourselves or our companies sound more impressive), he chose to admit his mistakes and resign. With only the evidence provided by his conscience and a Sunday Times expose; without any pronouncements of a court of law – he did the hardest thing possible; he took responsibility and action. His apology would have meant nothing had he not resigned; his apology would simply have been a request for us to let him off the hook: “You have been a naughty boy Pallo, but we forgive you. Just don’t do it again.”

My primary memory of Pallo Jordan is not that he lied about his qualifications. I remember him for the fact that he resigned as a result of being exposed. I remember how quickly, how decisively and how humbly he did it. I remember how he saw fit to respect South Africans and our democracy by doing what only the strongest of men and women and the best of leaders can ever do – kick themselves when they are down. Regardless of the fact that he would lose money, face and power he did what I have come to understand any true veteran of the struggle would do; he stood up bravely against anyone who dared to compromise the integrity of that struggle and the democracy that resulted – even when that person was him.

I do not need to spell things out and in any case, much has been written about the man who still insists on calling himself our President. Suffice to say that whether you love him or hate him, this man will now be relegated to the trash-heap of history occupied by corrupt leaders; those who lied, cheated, deceived, manipulated and put themselves before the people. But he will not simply idle away his final years in ignominy for Nkandla or the fact that he violated his oath of office or any of the other atrocities committed by him. Ultimately, this will happen because he apologised without resigning. Had he resigned on Saturday night he may in years to come have even been honoured for some of his not insignificant achievements as President of the Republic. But now, history will only ever remember him for being a man who – when presented with that moment – chose to apologise but not resign. He will be remembered for the fact that he not only placed his needs before the party or his people, but before the constitution of the Republic.

And this is what stalwarts, elders and civil society leaders are now protesting over. They have nothing to lose from standing against the systematic destruction of this mighty organisation. They know that a weak ANC is bad for everyone and they will not look on as Rome burns. What the man who insists on calling himself our President – and the entire ANC – has missed is that this has gone beyond politics and a scrutinising of the letter of the law. This now sets in motion the ANC’s slide downwards to the trash-heap occupied by corrupt liberation movements; those who lied, cheated, deceived, manipulated and put themselves before the people. What a tragic trajectory.

Is it too late for redemption for either him or the ANC? I do not believe so. Provided this once proud organisation is able to liberate itself from its own propaganda and make itself accountable to you and I by speaking truth to power, then anything is possible.

Pallo Jordan proved that people are very forgiving when the right thing is done.

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.

 

 

My Holiday – by Paul Gwala’s ‘big brother’

The list of ‘firsts’ for our 22-year-old traveling companion was as lengthy as his first long-distance car journey: He had never in his life been on a holiday – ever. He didn’t know what it meant to be so excited that you battled to sleep the night before your journey. He didn’t know the thrill of being up before dawn, packing up as a family and heading off on an adventure, munching your sarmie and drinking a coffee.

He had never been out of Kwa-Zulu Natal let alone into another country. He had of course never needed a passport and were it not for this trip and our rooting through Swaziland to the Kruger National Park, he might never have needed one. He had never seen an expanse of water like Lake Jozini, a landscape as wide as Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal or a sky as blue as the Lowveld on a hot summer day.

Many of you will know the privilege of taking a child or indeed an adult on their first holiday; the wonder, the awe, the unfettered joy on their face; seeing a world that is so familiar to you through someone else, is a true blessing. As a family we go to Kruger as often as we can; it is our happy place and we know it extremely well. But through Paul I saw the magnificence of the place afresh as I witnessed it through his virgin eyes: I saw the beauty of an impala as if for the very first time; I laughed out loud at how comical warthogs are and marveled at the size of a giraffe; I willed a cheetah to show off her speed; my eyes grew bigger at the sight of elephants and I longed – longed – to see a lion (and I did!). I had my first ever bush braai off a Skottel braai and my first sundowners by a river. I had the time of my life.

Paul is a young man that has been in our life for many years. He calls me his big brother. I have mentored him through our Bright Stars Mentorship Program and I have watched how a young 14-year-old that the system forgot, has turned into a fine young man. I have walked the road of his failure to matriculate and watched as he worked tirelessly to make a real success of an IT apprenticeship, achieving necessary qualifications and clawing his way from a trainee to a junior IT consultant. I know there are many of you who have had similar experiences; you will know that mentoring a vulnerable child is as much a gift to the mentor as it is to the mentee.

I have seen how desperate Paul has been to work his way out of shack living in Mayville and into a decent life where he could one day have a wife and children and be able to provide for them. I have sat for hours listening to the specs of every Mercedes Benz on the market; Paul is passionate about Mercedes and his big dream is to one day own one!

Yet, he has never seen an Impala. He has never seen a big mountain range. He has never had a picnic out in the wild and he has never had a family that could afford to take him on a holiday. And when he Facebooks his mates to tell them all about his adventure he gets comments like: “Why does this sound like a Grade 8 oral where the kid is lying about what they did on holiday?” Paul is one of millions of South African children and young adults for whom life is a dreamless, colourless, hopeless march to the beat of the drum of poverty.

Have you seen an impala Mr Zuma? Have you and your friends been on a holiday? Do you have a decent home where you can have a family and dream about things? Your actions are indefensible not necessarily because they have been proved or disproved by your Secretary General or in a court of law, but because our Pauls live in poverty that disallows them a decent life. This is the true and most devastating fallout from your failure to lead. This is the consequence of your greed.

And it’s not just Mr Zuma and his pals who have turned their back on our nation’s impoverished young; we all have to some degree. I feel deeply ashamed about Paul. How can it have taken me nearly 10 years to take him on a holiday?

Until every child in this country can be a child; wonder, gasp for joy, jump up and down with excitement; laugh from their belly; go on holiday and see amazing things, then we have all failed.

Every one counts. Consider mentoring one of the millions of kids who need to learn to dream again; take a child on holiday if you can – or just to your local beach or bird park; for an ice cream or for a game of Putt Putt (another first for Paul). How can we expect our kids to become productive adults if we don’t love and care for them?

It is up to us.

For more information on Bright Stars contact sandi@peaceagency.org.za

Black & White Works

Open letter to a friend and colleague:

Dear Akhona,

It has become fashionable to write open letters to public figures. These letters are usually vitriolic and self-serving. Come to think of it I have seldom read an open letter that is kind, affirming and hopeful. One of my objectives in writing an open letter to you, is to change that.

You may not be a public figure (yet) however you are very famous to your beautiful son, your brothers and Mama who are the very breath you breathe and your large network of friends and associates – me included.

Regrettably such fame doesn’t generally garner much interest. So why am I writing this? I am writing this to make public a simple truth that we exchanged via Whatsapp during the time of the Penny Sparrow scandal; black and white works.

This may seem like a somewhat fatuous statement at a time of such racial upheaval. But my association with you has demonstrated time-and-time again that this fact is true. Not only that, but black and white is necessary as we seek to find balance in this country of ours. Let me explain.

In the time that I have worked with you, we – that is Cathy and I and our respective kids – have become close friends. By virtue of spending long hours in planes and cars together, we have learnt a great deal about one another. We have challenged one another’s stereotypes – including our racial stereotypes, we have grown in our understanding of our respective cultures and we have made those new understandings work powerfully in some extremely challenging and even hostile work situations. I can confidently say that neither of us working independently in our field of conflict resolution and peace creation would have the success that you and I have had, working together. The one without the other would simply be less effective. Black and white works.

Through this process of time spent and conversations held (the only way that different people ever found one another), I have learnt a tremendous amount about your incredible culture. This has allowed me to bring a more rounded, balanced, integrated me to the uniquely African work we have been doing. My whiteness with all its strengths and weaknesses has been balanced by your blackness with such different strengths and weaknesses. And I have learnt that black and white is not the same – thankfully! Of course, we are human and equal – but we are also extraordinarily, beautifully different. This combination of our differences; different skills, customs, ways of doing things; different ways of speaking, relating, forgiving, inviting, negotiating and yes, even fighting – is powerful to heal and restore dignity when used in combination. It is an elixir not a poison. And then of course, we have many similarities. What fun that has been!

And you have deepened my understanding of what it means to be African. Through your kindness and jokeful acceptance of my often awkward attempts at being culturally sensitive, I think I have been allowed to call myself that; an African. Not that sterile classification that so polarises; white South African. No, through you and our dear friend Mr Walter Malepe, I have been affirmed and accepted as an African. I thank you for this.

And as I have listened to hours and hours of languages being spoken that I don’t understand, feeling every inch of my inadequacy, you have demonstrated the power of patient engagement. Before, this impatient white boy might have disengaged from such meetings or conversations with an air of arrogant irritation: “Why don’t they just speak English?” But because we have worked in non-Zulu speaking areas you too have been lost. We have been lost together! But you have shown me that it doesn’t matter whether we understand or not. What matters is that we respect the speaker by being present and engaged with every word he or she speaks. It matters not whether we understand the words. We work to hear the heart. It is all about dignity. Respect. Honour. This is the African way. I have developed – slowly but surely – these subtle but necessary skills, and as a result I have the ear – and perhaps even the heart – of many people who by rights should have little or no time for this mlungu. I could not have developed in these areas on my own. The thin strands of trust; the hands shaken and held for long enough to say; “you are my brother”, the ever-so-subtle but terribly warm smile from a tribal elder as I speak. That would not have happened if black and white did not work.

We have done battle together in corporate boardrooms and under trees. Many are the fights we have fought and many are the battles we have lost and won. They have been hard fought and taxing but I believe we can say that in some small way our country – room by room – person-by-person – is a better place because we have worked side-by-side. That is for no other reason than the fact that black and white works.

So thank you Akhona. Thank you for being willing to challenge me and for allowing me to challenge you; thank you for allowing your mind to be changed and for seeing the brother in me. As fires burn and as battles rage let you and I and our families affirm in word and deed what I have known to be true for all my life.

That black and white works.

Take care sisi.

Justin

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.