Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

Archive for the tag “South Africa”

To Braai Or Not To Braai

How are you celebrating Heritage Day today? Have we lost the essence of what this day was really meant to be about?

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Photo Credit: Blyzz via Compfight cc

For the last couple of years, there’s been a debate raging over how we as South Africans should celebrate Heritage Day.  For many, it’s an opportunity to partake of that widespread South African tradition, the braai, ukhosa, or chisa nyama, but for others this seems like a cop out.  For these South Africans, honouring this public holiday by slapping some meat on the braai is the equivalent to celebrating Christmas by wrapping some tinsel around a tree.  It lacks substance, depth, and meaning.

But how do we as South Africans celebrate a joint ‘Heritage Day’ when our heritage can look so widely different depending on our cultural upbringing? 

Maybe we should start by going back to the roots of this public holiday.  Did you know that today, 24 September, was formerly celebrated as Shaka Day in Kwa-Zulu, in memory of the legendary King Shaka Zulu?

Initially, the proposed Public Holidays Bill presented to the new Parliament of South Africa omitted Shaka Day, but it was later decided to make this day National Heritage Day where all South Africans could celebrate the diversity of cultures, beliefs and traditions that make up our country.  So even from its inception this public holiday was a topic of contention.

In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, former President Nelson Mandela stated:

“When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”

The Heritage Day ‘pot’ was stirred even further though when in 2007, Jan Scannell (or Jan Braai, as he’s come to be known) came up with the idea to create a Heritage Day initiative that would unite all South Africans in a common cultural activity – the act of cooking meat over an open fire.  And ‘Braai Day’ was introduced as a way in which all South Africans could celebrate Heritage Day together.

This idea has grown in popularity to the extent that many people now refer to Heritage Day as Braai Day.  Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu has given his endorsement by becoming the National Braai Day patron.

He was quoted saying, “… what Jan Scannell had in mind with the Braai Day initiative… is nurturing and embracing a common South African culture, which is shared across all races and genders. Not one South African person can tell you that they have never witnessed a braai.  Even in rural areas they light a fire and put their meat on it to cook.” (The Times, 12/09/2008)

This debate is likely to simmer on for years to come, but perhaps it’s not so much about what we do on this day but about how we behave towards our fellow South Africans during the other 364 days of the year.  Are we interested in learning about other cultures?  Asking questions and listening to the stories of how other South Africans celebrate their heritage?  Maybe if we did this, when Heritage Day rolled around we’d have a more diverse group of friends around our braai to celebrate it with.

What do you think?

Living Under The What?

There are only a few days to go until the Live Under the Line challenge kicks off! Wondering what this is all about?

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If you’re lucky enough to have a R10 note nearby indulge us for a moment by taking a good long hard look at it. Think about what you could spend it on. You could probably buy a chocolate or a newspaper with maybe R2 to spare, but what if that R10 note was all you had to survive on for the day?

You could buy a head of broccoli or a bunch of carrots from Pick ‘n Pay but it wouldn’t get you much further than that. What about transport, shelter, medicine, and clothing?

The international poverty line is the minimum level of income deemed adequate by the World Bank for survival. Currently, this amount is set at $1.25, which equates to about R10 (depending on the exchange rate).  After doing the above exercise you’re probably wondering how on earth anyone can survive on that.

But, according to the Human Development Report Office (HDRO), there are estimated to be over 13 million South Africans who are living below the international poverty line. That means that one in four of us is surviving on R10 or less a day to meet all of our basic needs.

In a country with such extreme inequality it can be difficult for those of us who are educated and employed to imagine what living under the poverty line must be like. In many ways it’s beyond our scope of imagination. That is unless we actually try to do it.

The Live Under The Line (LUTL) challenge is a call to consume no more than R10 a day on food for three days – from 6am on Monday, 9 September, to midnight on Wednesday, 11 September 2013.

We realise that this will in no way be an honest reflection of what life is really like for those living under the poverty line but we do hope that it will give us just a small taste of how a quarter of our country lives every day, and that in the process we will have our hearts freshly stirred to better love our neighbours.

Visit the Common Good website for more info and to download recipes, guidelines and prayer pointers.

Here are also a couple of great articles we’d recommend you read in the lead up to the challenge:

“Why My Family Is Going Hungry” by Julie Williams

“Through The Eyes Of A Child” by Ena Hewitt (A blog about a family’s experience of living in a township for a month)

“Live Under The Line: Do You See?” by Garrett Loubser

“Learning To Live On Less” by Kirsten Wilkins

“How We Came To Pay A Living Wage” by Nigel Branken

“What Did You Have To Say?” – Feedback from last year’s challenge

What are some of your thoughts in the lead up to the challenge?

Why My Family Is Going Hungry

Every mother wants her children to be healthy so why would you choose to feed your family on a daily budget of R10 per person? Julie Williams shares why they’ve decided to take on the LUTL challenge.

Photo Credit: slightly everything via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: slightly everything via Compfight cc

Next week, our family, together with thousands of others in our city, will embark on a three-day challenge to Live Under The Line (LUTL). This means that for three days we will attempt to identify with those living below the poverty line in our country by living on a daily budget of R10 per person per day.

In reality, this exercise is a lot like Bear Grylls attempting to summit Everest and getting dropped off via helicopter 10 metres from the top, then claiming all the glory before getting flown off again to safety.

I’m well aware that for the more than 13 million people in our country for whom living below the poverty line is a daily reality, their R10 has to stretch impossibly further than food (transport, housing, water, electricity, education, clothing, medicine). But still, attempting to convince my boys that life is still worth living without Honey Cheerios in the morning feels like an equally impossible challenge.

So why bother? Why sign up for the impending storm of tears when my little ones discover that juice is not a birthright and that chicken does not grow on (cheap) trees?

Precisely because these are tears that need to be shed. In fact, they are well overdue. It’s an unquestioned principle, that as parents of reasonable means, we do all we can to ensure our kids are protected, well-fed, nurtured and provided for in every way. But I’m beginning to realize that in my attempt to protect my kids from all pain, I run the very real risk of numbing them to others’ pain. Of starving them of empathy as they fill up on their daily snacks.

Beneath all compassion and kindness, is an ability to consider others as you do yourself – to imagine what it must feel like to walk in others’ shoes. How can we learn this except by trying on those shoes from time to time? However uncomfortable they may feel.

These three days won’t end world poverty, but I pray that in our household, they will end a kind of poverty of the soul. That as we go back to living our lives of relative comfort, we will better understand what we have been given, and the immense responsibility that comes with it.

Author’s note: We have a 9-month-old in the house who has flatly refused to embark on the LUTL challenge. She has claimed amnesty by virtue of having to already live under a pile of brothers.

– Julie Williams is a part-time freelance copywriter, mother of three and pastor’s wife. She serves on the Common Ground Church leadership team together with her husband, Terran. 

P.S. Considering doing the LUTL challenge with your family? Download The LUTL Family Guide for helpful tips and advice. We also recommend reading, “Learning to Live on Less”, for one mom’s feedback on  how the challenge impacted her family.

Giving The Gift of Reading

Thanks to a generous donation by the Peninsula 77 Round Table, we were able to purchase boxes of brand-new books for our Kewtown Primary Literacy Programme – opening up a whole new world of opportunity and imagination!

We think it's safe to say these books have been a huge hit with the learners and volunteers alike!

Members of the Peninsula 77 Round Table with Mr Balie, the Kewtown Primary principal, and volunteers and learners from the Kewtown Primary Literacy Programme

Since starting in May 2011, the Kewtown Primary Literacy Programme  has aimed to improve the reading ability of Grade 2 learners at Kewtown Primary using the successfully tested Shine Centre model, which pairs volunteers with one or two Grade 2 learners for a session once or twice a week.

The learners enjoying story time :)

We wonder what this story is about?!

The Literacy Programme is currently providing one-on-one tutoring to 10 Grade 2 learners at Kewtown Primary with the help of 11 volunteers.

And the volunteers hard work is paying off! The last assessments showed that the literacy levels of those currently in the programme improved by an average of 20% whilst those not in the programme improved by an average of 10%.

The learners enjoying the new books :)

The learners enjoying the new books 🙂

But what would a literacy programme be without a range of beautiful and inspiring books to help nurture within each learner a love for reading? The donation from the Peninsula 77 Round Table has taken the Literacy Programme to the next level by providing a fresh and much-needed supply of books to help the volunteers encourage and motivate the learners.

“We are so grateful for the new books as now we have variety for the children and they are excited about the shared reading time again,” -John Kensley, volunteer

The literacy programme centre at Kewtown Primary

The Literacy Programme centre in the Kewtown Primary library

“These books are exactly what we needed to make shared reading a fun, exciting time.” – Gavin Copeland, volunteer

A huge thank you to the Peninsula 77 Round Table for this donation which will impact the lives of so many children. Not only will these books help the volunteers to tutor the learners so their literacy levels can improve, but they’ll also help develop what will hopefully be a lifelong love of reading. A gift that will keep on giving!

Literacy Programme learners waiting to tuck in to the celebratory cupcakes :)

Literacy Programme learners waiting to enjoy the celebratory cupcakes 🙂

Interested in volunteering? Email us to organise a visit to the Literacy Programme where you can find out more before signing up.

What’s it really like to be a woman in South Africa?

Inspired by Women’s Day, Sam Rawson shares how meeting a homeless mother in a parking lot challenged her understanding.

I’ll never forget the night I met Ayanda*. I was rushing back to my car across the grocery store parking lot when she called to me. It was dark, cold, and I was alone. All my instincts told me to put my head down and get in my car. But then I heard another cry – this time the desperate cry of a baby – and I stopped.

She came over to me with a bundle in her arms, and asked if I had any money for her and her baby. By now I was thinking, “Oh dear, why on earth did I stop?!” But I could see her belongings piled up against the wall behind her and something compelled me to not brush her off.

I asked her what her name was and where they were staying. She pointed to the nearby canal and told me they slept under the bridge. Her baby was only three months old. Feeling overwhelmed and helpless, I offered to buy her a meal and some baby supplies.

Over the course of the next few months, I got to know Ayanda’s story a bit better as I tried to help her in various ways. But it wasn’t easy. She told me differing versions of her life story that didn’t match up.

And then there was the phone call from the police station to tell me she’d been arrested and put in jail for the night with her baby – and could I bring her supper?

And then there was the time she ran across a busy street – dodging cars with her baby strapped to her back – just to avoid me because she’d been drinking.

And then there were also her repeated attempts to get me to take care of her baby for her. Me – a single girl of 24 at the time!

The initial compassion I’d felt for her in that dark parking lot began to ebb. And then sputter. And then all but die away.

Why I am telling you this story? It sounds pretty hopeless, right?

My purpose was to write a blog post celebrating Women’s Day, but as I sat in front of my computer, I kept thinking of Ayanda.

Both Ayanda and I share something very basic in common. We are both women. We were both born and raised in the same country, but our stories couldn’t be more different.

At the age of 15, I was at a good school, loved and encouraged by my family and given numerous opportunities to grow my skills and talents. But by 15, Ayanda had already dropped out of school and run away from home.

When I turned 21, I was studying at university, living in a digs with my friends, and enjoying the carefree life of a student. By 21, Ayanda had been hardened by years of living on the streets and was already living a life patterned by abuse and addiction.

The sad reality is that women in South Africa are not all born equal. The latest Census 2011 results shows that 12% of black women (aged 20) have had no schooling – zero! – as opposed to 0.6% of white women. The results also show that black women have the highest unemployment rate in the country, with 41% of black women and 24% of coloured women unemployed. This statistic is 6.9% for white women.**

As women, I think we can sometimes be quick to judge one another. I know I certainly judged Ayanda when she made decisions I saw as being irresponsible for a mother. I saw the addiction, the manipulation, and what seemed to be unwillingness on her part to change.

Why did she return to the streets after we’d found her permanent shelter?  Why did she put her baby son in danger when she could protect him?  Why did she not see what her addiction was doing to herself and her baby?

I buried my judgement behind questions like these, safe in the knowledge that I would never make those mistakes in my own life.

And yet, as I’ve reflected, I’ve realised that my questions, though well-meaning, were not the right ones.  There are bigger, more uncomfortable questions about Ayanda’s story which I neglected to ask.

Why was she forced onto the streets as a teenager? Why was she robbed of her education? Did anyone fight for her rights as a child?

These are just a few of the many unasked questions which litter our South African context, in the same way that they do Ayanda’s story.  They’re questions which I didn’t think to ask, because they weren’t relevant in my own life.  And yet, for Ayanda, to not ask them would be to misunderstand her situation as a woman entirely.

Until we can begin to grapple with these bigger issues, we may end up judging those around us too quickly and hardening our hearts, when they should be softened to the core.

In Ayanda’s case, it eventually became necessary to get social services involved for the well-being of her baby. Even though I believed it was necessary, it was still heart-breaking to watch her hand over her child into a stranger’s care.

Afterwards, she still clung to the empty bag in which she’d kept his clothes, bottles and nappies. I believe that, in her own way, and with the cards stacked against her, she’d tried to be a good mother.

How should we celebrate Women’s Day when being a woman in South Africa can look so different depending on which side of the socio-economic divide you’re born?

I’m challenging myself to judge less, and listen and love more, knowing that each woman has a very unique story to tell.

Here are some practical ways you can celebrate Women’s Day in the months ahead:

1. Drop off receiving blankets and new-born clothing for mothers at Mowbray Maternity Hospital

2. Build friendships with abused women by joining the Sisters Incorporated Bible study every Monday night (Email us for more info)

3. Help build into the lives of young women by volunteering at one of Izandla Zethemba‘s weekly support groups (Email us for more info)

4. How much do you really know about the lives of the women around you? Your domestic worker, for example? Or the cleaner at your office? Why not offer to make them a cup of tea and spend some time listening to their story?

Do you have any other ideas?

– Sam works part-time for Common Good, offering communications support. Her and her husband, Jonothan, are members of the Common Ground BoschPM congregation.

Name changed

** Source: http://www.statssa.gov.za/Publications/P03014/P030142011.pdf

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