I was recently invited by the youth of Grace Mission Church (GMC), to take part in a panel discussion about the recent violent events in South Africa; to be specific, the recent xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals and the unceasing brutality on the bodies of women and children, by men – they mostly know. My fellow panellists whom I thought had incredible vantage points on the matter were, Ndaedzo Nethonzhe, Perseverance Thenga and Ripfumelo Faith Baloyi.
I thought I should share with you some of my talking points and what they bordered around. And maybe some thoughts time did not permit.
Firstly, let me start by saying, it was honestly refreshing to be part of such a bold move by the church. It’s a rare occasion to find young people in the church using their space for the benefit of their community; understanding that whoever comes to church is a community member first before they become a congregant. Meaning whatever is happening outside the church perimeters, someone sitting in the pew is affected.
It was an honour for me to be part of such a progressive moment, where we became human first before we became our learned divides.
These young people demonstrated that their need to be part of the solution is greater than wanting to fit in. They want to influence the narrative of their country’s affairs.
The constructive role of the Christian church in South Africa’s social and political discourse can never be denied. Whether it was during the dark days of the fight for liberation or the daybreak of managing a just – and peaceful – political transition in 1994, the church had an impact.
It can also, not be denied that since the days of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the passion to advocate and sometimes agitate for change in the immediate social settings of local churches has been missed.
So the gathering at GMC was to me a break-away from this dual-truth, that excited me the most. The church announcing its voice is still in the room.
South Africa is a traumatised society. Its people are beautiful, diverse and incredibly violent at the same time. They are blessed with the inherent values of Ubuntu and cursed with the built structural inequalities that persistently prevent them from being human in each other’s eyes.
In my view, South Africa’s Reconciliation Project post-1994 was an error. A missed opportunity of some sort. Rehumanisation should have been the foundational project, through which, reconciliation would have been automatic.
Reconciliation assumes that at some point in history, we were equal; men and women, races, locals and foreigners etc. It assumes that at some point, we saw each other as human; that we were once equal before the law, and we received the same justice in our traditional settings. But we didn’t, and our present psychological state of default violent behaviour is a seasoned expression of that.
Our history demonstrates that we were dehumanised, to make way for suppression, prejudice, segregation and indignity.
If rehumanisation was the 1994 project, we would have immediately done away with the Reconstruction and Development Project (RDP) housing project for starters because it was an extension of the ghettos. We would have immediately understood that no human being should ever live in a township environment – regardless of how well we “develop” the space. A ghetto is a ghetto and it is designed to dwarf human development.
So, we would have removed the ghettos because nowhere in the world and in psychology has the upgrading of the ghettos improved or eradicated the Behavioral Sink that is born from living in over-crowded spaces. I repeat, the ghettos were not meant for human development but rather imagination incarceration and getting rid of them would have been an empathetic act in South Africa.
If we would have made it our mission to see each other as human first – in 1994 – we would have immediately recognised that no human being should be subjected to domestic violence (not assuming that this started in 1994).
We would have seen the importance of elevating the status of all women as a means of promoting the state of our families, communities and subsequently, the nation.
We would have worked on our language and messaging in addressing social stereotypes such as cultural biases, racial differences, gender gaps, geographical perceptions and economic disparities. It is through our everyday vocabulary – or the lack thereof – that the messaging of dehumanisation finds its roots.
In Rwanda, for example, the genocide found its might when one group was dehumanised and called ‘cockroaches’. In South Africa, foreign nationals are dehumanised and called ‘makwere kwere.’ In the continent, women’s voices are silenced whilst their bodies are policed, brutalised, and their very existence is exhausted for the pleasure of men.
When we become human in each other’s eyes, empathy is no longer negotiated. It becomes the catalyst for everything we do.
While xenophobia is an Africa-wide problem and not just a South African sickness; when we become human in our own eyes, the asylum seeker, immigrant and foreign national trader would no longer be to the South African, “these people from Africa.” But fellow human beings.
When women become human in men’s eyes, they will no longer need to barter with their bodies, giving in to all sorts of sexual favours to men just so they can access their right to land ownership , such as the recently reported cases in Zimbabwe.
Now, as a Millenial, I am proud of the fact that one of our greatest gifts we will leave this earth as a generation is the ability to hold tough conversations without going to war. It is my generation that is leading the discussion for the emancipation of women and the elevation of their status in the world.
It is my generation that is questioning patriarchy’s unabated relevance both for the intended male beneficiary and his suppressed female counterpart.
Yes, we are standing on the shoulders on great activists as we are also challenging them on some of the realities they consider normal and acceptable. No, we don’t have it all figured out. But these conversations must be had, so young people and the older generations let’s continue to gather and normalise the change we want to see.