During that late nineties, I was participating in the Dusi Canoe Marathon, between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, South Africa. The annual race goes from city to city and through the rivers and mountains, of deep-rural KwaZulu-Natal.
The river was low and I was unfit. This placed me right at the back of the pack, on the second day. I was followed only by the sweeps.
Soon after I had paddled, scraped and dragged my kayak past a school – which the canoeists had sponsored – I was surrounded by about 6 knife-wielding youngsters. “Give me your watch!” they demanded.
I quickly climbed out of my canoe, and defensively raised my paddle, as I moved onto firm land. I could see two canoeists standing there and sought the safety of their company.
“Vimba! Vimba” (Stop him! Stop him!) They cried out in isiZulu.
I kept moving towards these Johannnesburg canoeists, as I swung my paddle at the boys. From behind me I heard a plaintive voice, “Give them everything that they want. It is not worth it!” I realized that I was not going to get much support from the two paddlers, and reluctantly handed over my watch.
I was then, the chairman of Stella Canoe club, and the chairperson of the Valley Assistance Fund – which had been founded by the Natal Canoe Union to fund schools along the course of the 120km marathon. And I had facilitated the funding of a local school, in that area. In fact, I could actually see the school, from where I was being robbed!
I was so outraged, that regretfully I decided to pull out of the race. I was emotionally burnt. As I walked along the banks of the river, carrying my kayak, I began to think. “How could these BLACK people rob ME? After all that I have done in these valleys, for THESE people?”
As my feet ate up the kilometers, I started to picture all of the people who had helped me in my quest to bring safety, peace and development to canoeing – and into the valleys. Up popped images of the local Chiefs Mlaba, Bhengu, Maphumulo, Shangase and more. Then came their Indunas, community leaders, canoeists, funders and local youngsters. Most of them happened to be black people.
It was at that point that I switched my thinking from “black people” to thieves. And my anger began to fade. Irrespective of their colour – I had been robbed by thieves! And this is what I told the sympathetic canoeists at the overnight campsite.
An interesting aside, which places the courage of our three canoeists into perspective… (Yes, you can laugh!) A few hours before we were set upon, a 14 year old girl was accosted by the same group of thieves. Young Lorna took her paddle and chased the thieves away! So much for the courage of the “Give them what they want,” brigade!”
James, a friend of mine, was driving his van through the Free State province, when he saw a WHITE hitchhiker. So he stopped, found out where he was headed, and told the guy to get on the back of the van.
As the miles unfolded, the hiker signaled that he was cold. James, in his kindness, stopped and let him into the front. As they drove, James was on the phone to people in the Prison’s department. The hiker sat silently beside him.
Suddenly, on a deserted highway, the passenger pulled out a gun, and told James to pull over. “I have just come out of prison. You are very lucky, my friend, that you are helping people, in prisons. Otherwise I would have shot you and taken your van.” He said in a thick, Afrikaans accent.“ He too, had changed his view of James.
So was this a WHITE AFRIKAANS person, who came close to killing James, and stealing his vehicle – or was it simply a hijacker? Again, I know many white people, and Afrikaans – speaking people. Good folk. As good, as the people, in the valleys. So, I prefer to say “hijacker.”
There is a lot of freedom, in seeing thieves – as thieves. And not as a race, colour, or culture. Sadly when we view people through our prejudice, it is far too easy to hate en-masse. And that is not a mind-set that I want to have.
Racism brings with it fear, suspicion and hate. It also brings separation and isolation. Each of these are emotionally-debilitating. My feeling is, that it is a way of being, that has been around for far too long.
Set yourself free, if not for your sake, then do it for your children.
Brian V Moore – 7 March, 2014
Celebrating Humanity International