A day of Rest.

Sunday morning i had the privilege of attending a public conversation between Lukhanyo Calata [author of ‘My father died for this’] and Wilhelm Verwoed [author of ‘Bloedbande’] as the final session of the Restitution conference that took place this weekend.

i dropped some soundbites on Facebook as it was happening and some other things that the reflections prompted in me and figured it might be helpful for people who weren’t on their social medias to gather all of those in one place. What follows are either direct quotes or the best paraphrase i could come up with in the moment trying to get what they said on to my screen.

These are some good and important things to think about. Feel free to SHARE this whole post or to cut and paste some of the quotes on to your own social medias to get people thinking and engaging. i will also add some of the comments people made to some of the things shared as in many cases they were super illuminating:

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It started with this ‘little’ moment in the intro which i thought was particularly significant:

Lukhanyo offers Wilhelm starting spot cos of his age and Wilhelm names the overly gracious respect but then says how important it is that the conversation does not start with an older white Afrikaans male and so Lukhanyo will go first.

These little and not-so-little things are so huge and important in the dialogues in South Africa right now and it’s so important that we begin to understand them and create spaces for them.

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‘Restitution unlike charity is relational and involves sacrifice. It involves two parties of equal status. Operating for a justice framework rather than a charity framework.’ (Summary of statement made at Restitution Conference)

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‘One of the things we need to do is have more relationships that are more equal. ‘ (Wilhelm Vervoed)

– a lot of relationships between white and black are still paternalistic in nature – people who say about the person who cleans their house “she is like family to us”. Oh really? Then go clean her house!!!

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‘I think the Afrikaner and English communities would gain so much by opening up (ubuntu) and lose very little.’ (Lukhanyo Calata)

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‘It is a bit messy. It is going to be messy for quite some time as we find each other. If you add the years of apartheid to those of colonialism we have a long journey ahead of us still in this.’ (Zinzi Mgolodela)

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While this was going on something triggered this awareness in me [which i have thought before] of one reason why white people have not taken restitution a lot more seriously:

i think one of the reasons white people struggle so much to come to the conversation is because so many of us have this false idea that apartheid was a bad thing.

Apartheid was not a bad thing. Banging your knee on a table is a bad thing. Being involved in a car accident is a bad thing. Failing an exam or losing your job is a bad thing.

Apartheid was a horrific thing. It was deeply depraved, it was dehumanizing, it was evil, it was ugly, it was violent, it was indefensible in any way at all, it was pungent and nefarious and wicked and wrong. Apartheid was a crime against humanity.

i think too many people are failing to engage because we only think it was a bad thing.

We need to take a moment to go back and remember that and let the pain and horror of those memories shock us into an awareness of just what we are dealing with and how imperative it is that we start taking more responsibility to dismantle and unlearn and create and build and restitute and heal and listen and be uncomfortable and awkward and sacrifice and pay the cost.

Otherwise, we just don’t get the magnitude of this.

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As Nobuntu Webster points out below a lot of the ‘was’ needs to be refrained as ‘is’ because too many people are still living in the realities and consequences of apartheid today. There is still much work to be done.

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My friend Vezi Mncwango shared this story:

A few years ago I made an innocent inquiry about the history of my clan from my Aunt who was well versed with our history. What I found out about what my ancestors had done was absolutely horrific and bloodcurdling.

My first instinct was to completely divorce myself from this atrocious history; except even the sound of my surname would constantly remind me of what had gone down.

Somehow this knowledge seemed to imprison me in my cognitive world…how could I ever escape it, I often wondered. I also wondered if I should tell my wife and kids about my grim discovery.

It was not until I owned up to this history by sharing with my wife and children that I felt I had been released from my imprisonment. We discussed what this history implied for us and agreed what we would do about it.

Your trajectory of thought Brett is immensely important. Until we create clearly articulated relationship with our history; it has a way of being a nemesis that locks us out of our historical realities. When we divorce ourselves from our history, we exhibit schizophrenic tendencies of truncated history since we will claim the good and ignore the bad.

Humankind has consistently ignored her own history at her own peril. The history we ignore is the history we are bound to perpetuate.

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We ended the meeting by reading out this piece together which was powerful:

Was handed a ‘Litany of Restitution’ this morning which says the following. Is this something YOU can commit to?

It is a line and response reading with every second line coming from the congregation, but i will write it as one piece:

We stand together humbly before each other. We are united in hope.

We are committed to face the past. We need deep courage for this.

For the actions and attitudes of Restitution we humbly strive.

With words that do not result in action we are no longer satisfied.

For excuses and reluctant leadership they are not enough.

For accusations, fear and blame we renounce these.

For our forgetfulness and short memory we are truly sorry.

For demanding that those who have been hurt bear so much forgive us.

Form those of us who have grown up after apartheid we offer up our privilege.

For those of us who were complicit with apartheid we have considered our ways.

For those of us who were dishonored by apartheid we open our hearts to true sorry-ness.

Give us a new vision of South Africa that we know to be possible.

A South Africa where the weak are protected and none go hungry or poor.

A South Africa where the riches of the land and soil are shared and everyone can enjoy them.

A South Africa where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect.

A South Africa where peace is built with justice and justice is guided by love.

Give us the inspiration and strength to build it. To this we are committed.

[c/o Alan Paton, apparently]

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The search for honest and significant restitution is a quest to answer the question, ‘But what can I do?’ well. I have been compiling a list of 40 Tips for white South Africans which seeks to help us get other parts of our lives together over here. So jump in and join that conversation if you haven’t yet.

 

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.

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