South Africa – the week that followed: Where to from here?

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South Africa – the week that followed: Where to from here?

South Africa, how are we doing? How is Justice being fought for this week?

It’s been a week since a bunch of you wore black in protest. It’s been a couple of days since a bunch of you marched, a bunch of you didn’t march, some of you held hands in a chain [or if reports are correct, went to go and hold hands in a chain and didn’t hold hands in a chain, but did scream and chant and hold posters and engage and take pictures]  and the rest of us sat on our computers and told people who marched or didn’t march how bad they were. Or something like that.

i’ve said it before and i will say it again, last week felt like a deeply engaged week and while not all of it is ever good, last week felt better than most. From an engagement perspective.

i have written about how Consistency and Next Steps are of vital importance. And shared a good number of ideas as to what some of the What Next questions might look like in terms of smaller actions. While continuing to remind us as a collective that there are systems and structures that must be dismantled so that we as a nation can live better together.

What i would love to do in this post is really check in on you [How are you really doing? Feeling? Experiencing these things?] and also share some thoughts on a number of things that are related.

While i don’t expect everyone [or maybe anyone] to agree with everything i say here, if there is a section that feels helpful, please free to cut and past that section out of this whole and share it with whoever might benefit. It is more than okay to agree with some stuff here and disagree with other stuff and a great and helpful skill in life is being able to hear a bunch of stuff, sift through it, hold it up to the light and to the mirror and then hold on to the good and discard the bad, or unhelpful.

Maybe that should be point one, because i think some of us struggle to do that sometimes:

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[1] Sometimes a BOTH/AND is more helpful and contains more truth than an EITHER/OR

Many of us in life tend to deal in extremes. Activists maybe more than most. We are quick to draw a line around the circle and establish [at least to ourselves] who is in and who is out. “Everyone marching is completely wrong” or “Everyone marching is completely right”

In this piece of post-march reflection, i shared how as much as the hand-holding chain or march on Friday didn’t feel like a good thing for me to be a part of, i completely saw how my sister in law Shana’s decision to go and what she learned from it and her next step after it, were super beneficial and i think will be a great catalyst to her engaging more deeply with issues or race and justice from this point on.

Anyone who has been engaging with this race and justice and poverty and South African united stuff for any period of time knows by now how seriously complex and complicated it all is. It’s never just black and white, and if we think it is then we might be leaving out our coloured and indian friends and pushing them to the fringes of the conversation.

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[2] Engagement that leads to Action

The engagement people are having at the moment seems super exciting, significant and helpful to me. A lot of it is taking place on social media on walls and in groups and in inboxes… but some of it is also happening in lounges and across dinner tables and in botanical gardens and with children [love this one! Parents this is an amazing opportunity to start engaging with your children at whatever level they are at and probably a bit above as well] and between strangers.

There is so much good in this. On Tuesday a few of us met in a botanical garden in Durban and shared stories and listened to each other’s pain and frustration and hopes and dreams and it was as easy as making a Facebook status and picking a venue. Create spaces where people who don’t normally connect can just sit together and share stories – there is so much power in that as a starting point.

But it can’t end there. There are many things in South Africa that need to change and so this can’t all remain in the conversation arena, but i do believe that is where some crucial relationships and connections can be forged which will make more significant action more possible and easier to achieve. It’s another of those BOTH/AND situations, not Either/Or…

So i would encourage everyone to be looking ahead to the next conversation they can be a part of. Could be with work colleagues or neighbours or good friends or family members… and it can just be going around the room sharing ideas and experiences which might trigger things in other people [in a good way!]

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[3] Critique vs Criticism 

This seems to be quite a tricky one. Because people tend to confuse the two. Everything needs to be critiqued, but not everything needs to be criticised. And sometimes when you critique something you realise it needs to be criticised. And sometimes not.

Take Monday’s wearing black. Someone issues a statement that people are going to wear black as a form of protest against president Zuma and corruption.

Some of the questions that a healthy critique will do might be:

# Who made the call for people to wear black as a form of protest. If it was white people then might there be a problem that the way we choose to protest has been called #BlackMonday.

# What is the point of wearing black? Is it to bring attention to something? Is it to protest against something? Is it perhaps to mourn something? Or are we trying to show defiance?

None of those questions in and of themselves are criticising the idea to wear black, but the answers to some of those [and other better questions] might.

The same with Friday’s march where one question might be:

If it seems like the march is largely being supported by middle class to rich white people, is it possible that could cause some friction with people who have supported other marches [like #FeesMustFall #Marikana #SanitationDelivery] where this group was largely absent?

And so on. The importance of Critique is that it asks some of the ‘Why?’ ;Who?’ and ‘How?’ questions without necessarily imposing judgement. Why are we doing this? Who is involved? Who might be feeling excluded? What final outcome are we hoping for? Who gets to speak? Who gets to be quiet and support at the back?

i believe the biggest enemy of Critique is defensiveness which is often driven by our tendency to make everything about us. If someone suggests that the march is not a good idea, i might [as someone who has decided to march] hear that what is being said is that i am ridiculous or stupid and take it personally, rather than stopping to listen to why someone has hesitation about the march. Whereas we should be mature enough to hear that someone disagrees with us, listen to their reasons and then still decide that we think marching is the right way to go.

It can be really difficult to separate ourselves from our strongly held beliefs and be able to honestly hear and wrestle with and chew on ideas that challenge those. To really listen. To engage deeply. To ask the tough questions. And then make up our minds once we have heard everything, change what needs to be changed and hold strong to our convictions. But we have to learn to do this.

And again and again and again i will probably be repeating the mantra that might help us the most with this:


We so so so so so so have to get that one. i don’t think i’m there yet. It’s too tempting to make all the discourse and the arguments and the reasoning about me and us, without truly listening to those who are actually victims of injustice and marginalisation and more.

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[4] The “Not All”is understood

Another big tripping over point in many of these conversations is when someone makes a statement and right away someone else responds with “Not all…”

So someone says “White people want to march on Friday and yet have never been around when we marched for Marikana or #FeesMustFall or Sanitation in the townships.” 

Someone quickly responds with “That’s not true. My family and friends and I were at all of those marches.”

Can you see how quickly the original argument/statement is derailed?

It’s true that the original statement is a generalisation [one definition of generalisation might be that it is a thing that is generally true] and so the person making it is obviously not trying to suggest that not one single white person marched for Marikana/#FeesMustFall/Sanitation… but what they are saying is that there is a huge majority group of people who decided they wanted to march on Friday, but were never moved to march on any of those previous occasions. “Not all” is understood. And throwing it in only tends to derail and confuse and move away from the original point being made.

We need to be able to tune in to what is really being said and respond to that. There is a lot of truth in the accusations of hypocrisy for a large number of people who chose one march over the other [some who were there for thirty minutes with their expensive coffee, taking selfies and then leaving] and so when i, brett fish anderson, hear a statement like that, i am able to process it like this:

i was not at any Marikana protests

i did attend a #FeesMustFall march and spent a lot of time and engagement with the students particularly through my role as a PJW volunteer

i did join one march/vigil for Sinoxolo who was found murdered in a toilet in a toilet in Khayelitsha

Conclusion: Some of this is very true. i have now watched the Miners Shot Down documentary on Marikana but at the time it was an incident that passed by without too much attention from me. i am fairly engaged with the student stuff but i can and am planning to do more with the sanitation issues [like sitting down with my friend Wayne Eaves when i get back from Durban to discuss more practical action we can take – Wayne heads up the Warehouse focus on that, appropriately titled Sanitation Hygiene Information Theology or S.H.I.T. talks]

So listen to a statement: What is true for me? What isn’t true for me? What can i ignore? What do i need to change? What needs further engagement or research or conversation? And so on.

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i have one more point to share on comparing protest marches, but i think that one is going to need its own post. But hopefully there has been some food for thought in here already. And hopefully we will be continuing to spur each other on to good works. Works that reach beyond what is comfortable and easy and cost-free… which i think is another question: What is the cost of my engagement with issues of Justice?

[to be continued…]


About the Author:

Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.

One Comment

  1. Anatomy of a march - Brett Fish April 12, 2017 at 10:14 pm - Reply

    […] follows on from ‘South Africa – the week that followed: Where to from here?’ so if you didn’t read that maybe start […]

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