At the moment there are around 1500 people in the group and climbing every day.
Which may not seem super exciting to many people when a group like #ImStaying arrived on the scene just a couple of weeks ago and is on the way to 500 000 people.
Conversations is not a group that started in opposition to #ImStaying as some may think.
While at the same time i believe it was started to some extent from a place of dissatisfaction or uncomfortability with the way that #ImStaying was going about its business. So #ImStaying provided the catalyst for a group of people who were looking for something more.
Which i wrote this blog post about. Which many of you read. And this is not a statement being made on behalf of the group, but simply some of my reflections as a group member and moderator.
“Can’t you just be positive?”
My friend Tamsyn Elaine Allison and a few of her friends are extremely positive and hopeful about South Africa.
She invited me to be part of the group early on because she sense that i was as well. But in addition to the positivity we had something else going on inside of us: the knowledge that what South Africa needs right now is positive and hopeful people who will commit to doing the hard and uncomfortable but necessary work that is required to change this country around.
She says it best: While we love the idea that positivity is needed for social cohesion, we also acknowledge that some difficult, and painful, conversations need to happen for meaningful change to occur. This is a collaborative space for social learning to occur. We are unapologetically Intersectional, anti-racist, and egalitarian. All faiths are welcome, but we are secular.
When #ImStaying stated that they are all about positivity and there will be no talk about race, religion or politics, that confused us. How do you possibly convey a message of positivity while at the same time declaring that things must stay as they are? For millions of people in South Africa, the way things are is really not a lot of positive.
Conversations for a Just South Africa
The group actually started out as ‘Conversations for a Better South Africa’ before it was decided, after some inspiration from Gaopalelwe Phalaetsile, that Just feels like something that can be more practically measured or focused. And with the understanding that “For All” silently follows the group name.
So on Friday i was invited to be a moderator/admin of the group [Facebook terms – we much prefer something like ‘Facilitator of Mutual Growth and Learning’ and we started trying to figure out how the thing works [Spoiler Alert: We still don’t have too much of a clue, but it kinda is!].
Conversations feels like a work in progress. First of all, it is not about the ten to twelve of us that are moderators [only three of whom are white i believe, and only three male, both of which are significant!] but about everyone who chooses to jump in and commit to the hard conversations. The group is for people who love South Africa and want to be positive, but realise that hard, messy, painful, confusing, awkward work is needed to get us closer to being there.
We are against name-calling and the negative use of laugh emojis which often suggests sarcasm or ridicule, but beyond that so far have really tried to do as much as possible to keep conversations flowing.
We encourage deep listening and would love it if new members would commit to a few days of wandering around the group just taking in what is going on, before adding comments and then finally adding posts.
We love questions that dig a little deeper such as, “If you say the woman who cleans your home is family, how come is she the only family member cleaning the toilet?”“Why is the notion of colourblindness unhelpful when so much of the mess we are in as a country was directly linked to colour? and “Are you as a man able to read some of the reasons why women deeply fear men without feeling the need to respond and defend and let her know you are not that kind of man?”
Understanding – Collaboration – Action
Mainly we are about gathering people from all walks of life to sit with some difficult topics and seek to learn and offer learning. To hear difficult things without taking offense or running away. To push into what my friend Craig Stewart calls ‘The Disequilibrium’ – place of discomfort and uncertainty where answers aren’t obvious. In all areas where South African is broken and in need of repair.
We are committed to the idea that the conversations that happen online HAVE TO move to action to bring about change. We are not interested in academic or philosophical conversations for conversation sake. We are all hungry for change.
And you are welcome to disagree with us and the way we are going about things. There are a number of groups doing similar things to create space for difficult conversations and we celebrate any space that does so. There is absolutely no need for competition here.
BUT one thing i will say, and strongly, if i may, It is absolutely NOT okay for you to suggest that we are any less positive or hopeful than the hundreds of thousands of people who make up #ImStaying simply because we have dared to critique it. We are some of the most positive and hopeful people i know. Because we are committed to doing something about it.
Come and take a look. Wander around for a bit and get the lay of the land. And we do hope you will stay. And not get defensive or run at the first sign of discomfort. Which i can almost promise you will be there. True reconciliation and transformation requires us to be present… and to continue to pitch up. Hope to see you diving into some Conversations for a Just South Africa.
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.