Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Sensitive Subject

(Today's post is a bit sensitive, dealing with issues of race, division, and my own shortcomings. I mean no disrespect in what I write, and I hope that you will treat this post with respect as well.)

When we first moved to South Africa six years ago, one of the first things I was told was, "As soon as Mandela dies, all of the black South Africans are going to kill the whites. They're just waiting out of respect for Mandela." It was a shocking and terrible rumour. I certainly didn't believe it. Yet I heard it over and over and over again.

I have always prided myself on not giving in to fear, and let's be honest - South Africa is rampant with fear. Fear of crime, the government, personal safety, the future, etc. The newspaper headlines each morning only add fuel to the fire. "Grandma raped and stabbed to death"... "Baby killed by vicious dogs"... "Teenager attacked and disemboweled"... Still, despite the crime statistics and the personal experience of falling victim to crime, I have refused to live my life in fear. Until the other day.

It just so happens that on the morning everyone woke up to the news of Nelson Mandela's passing, we had plans to visit some friends in Soshanguve, a township outside of Pretoria. For the first time in six years, I was afraid. I battled with myself the whole morning and waffled between feelings of justification and guilt. I need to protect my children (justification)... How can I make decisions based upon a stupid rumour (guilt)... Use your common sense. Wait until a day or two has passed (justification)... What would my friends think (guilt)...

We made the decision to drive out to Soshanguve as planned. I'm not going to lie or look like a hero; I was scared. I hate to admit that, but it's true. The thing that pushed me over the edge was not courage or some altruistic sainthood; on the contrary, it was the legacy of Nelson Mandela himself. If I chose to act out of fear, out of suspicion of the "Other", then I would only perpetuate the division and fear that plagues this beautiful nation. But to give people the benefit of the doubt, to reach out when there is risk (real or perceived), to see each person as a fellow traveller on the journey of life, is to strive for the reconciliation and unity for which Nelson Mandela fought. More importantly than that, however; it is to see the inherent value of every individual as being made in the Image of God and worthy of respect, dignity and honour.

As it turns out, we were fine. The rumours still fly around, but I am learning not to let fear dictate my actions, especially when it would have me act against my values and beliefs.


Elisabeth said...

Beautiful, my friend. Thank you for your honesty.

Stel said...

Good to hear your voice again!
It is horrible, and the rumours are fuelled by few; it's one of the things of my country I'm truly ashamed of. I try to remember that most people are inherently good, but it is difficult when you're surrounded by negativity and hysteria. I hope that all of us in SA could see this week that the beauty and can and will rise above the rest.