Archive for September 2013

A Poigant Challenge from Professor Jansen

I love Professor Jonathan Jansen‘s candour in calling a spade a spade. In his latest book “We Need to Act” (and a symbolic follow up to his 2011 book “We Need to Talk“), he lays down a very direct and personal challenge “asking citizens to leave their comfort zones and contribute to righting the wrongs of our society.”

Here are his seven compelling reasons (there always have to be seven!) on why we need to make the move to active citizenship with a sense of urgency:

  1. If ordinary citizens do nothing, we face even greater social instability in the light of stubborn  unemployment and crises in the poorest of schools
  2. If we do nothing we become part of the narrative of hopelessness
  3. Without our action, millions of marginalised people could be doomed
  4. If we do nothing we fail to demonstrate to the next generation how to live full lives
  5. We must serve to compensate for the wrongs of our shared past
  6. We must give back once we have been able to move ahead
  7. We must take our place in the long chain of activists who have over the centuries opposed poverty, illiteracy, government and gangs to give us this tender young democracy to work with

Thanks Bernard to bringing the book to my attention. I am challenged. I hope you are too.

We Need to Act

‘I believe that citizen action is vitally necessary as we come out of the heady days of post-apartheid euphoria.’

The Month That Should Not Have Been

Conventional ‘wisdom’ dictated that Mamelodi for a Month should never have happened. It did though. And here are some insights into how challenging it can be to go against the status quo.

Before moving to Mamelodi, close friends and family shared strong reservations about the risk involved in our venture. This was particularly in exposing Julia and Jessica to all the perceived riskiness of a township. “If you want to take a decision to move to a township, please don’t take your kids along.”

Apparently we were being reckless and irresponsible parents by willingly opening our children to the multitudes of social ills that ekasi life is ‘synonymous’ with from illness, lack of seat belts on taxis to violence and child rape. If we had listened to this discourse, either Mamelodi for a Month would have been dead in the water before it started or Ena and I would have had quite a soulless experience of living in Mamelodi sans children.

The other mindset which came through as an undercurrent to our month was that “We were making a mockery of poverty and essentially had no right to live in a township.” The significant media interest we received definitely added fuel to this fire. Why should a white family living in a shack for a month warrant so much attention when this is daily life for millions of black South African families? To this assertion, Ena and I would agree.

However, the anger in these messages could have been enough to stop the bravest plans in their tracks. To get a sense of how this social commentary played out, read a couple of the tweets below that came our way before the Month in Mamelodi began and ask yourself how you would have responded to them?

These were some lessons that stood out in swimming against the current. They are important takeaways in guiding future experiences:

1. Trust Yourself: Listen to others but not at the expense of trusting yourself. If you are doing something for the right reasons, do not be afraid to transcend conventional thinking. It is not about trying to please detractors. Significant decisions will always have critics.

2. The Litmus Test of Real Life: Despite the misgivings of some of the ‘intelligentsia’ regarding our Month in Mamelodi, we never met a single detractor in Phomolong. Rather, we were overwhelmed the love shared by the people around us. They completely understood and appreciated why we were there. Real life should be the litmus test not academic or social discourse.

In all of this, the question that stands out is: in a country as culturally and historically complex as ours, should it really be so tough for people to cross over boundaries? Should the social conversations not be more encouraging of authentic intent to bridge chasms?

The reality is that divides are in our heads not our hearts and perhaps it is time to be led more by our hearts.

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