Racism, or Personal Freedom – a Perspective

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 thieves

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!”

A Hijacker

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

Brian - Day 2 Dusi 1992

10 steps to creating a free and non-racial democracy.

As we head into 2013, and we are approached for team conflict resolution interventions in corporate, government and other business arenas, I am astounded at the levels of prejudice, cross cultural incompetence and general inability to build relationships in diverse teams.

Much of the prejudice is so archaic it is almost ancestral in origin, in fact some of it is from colonial days. Some of it comes from the sad era of Apartheid. And sadly much of it is being created on a daily basis in homes and the workplace.

Our people are divided. Our politicians and government perpetuate the divisions daily – by political affiliation, race, colour, language, clan – even though they profess to be developing a non racial democracy. New forms of formalised Apartheid and political protectionism creep in every year.

And this is reflected in the attitudes and actions of our people. Racial superiority and inferiority according to what race you were born into and where you stay, is rampant.

Ours is one of the few countries in the world where the race question is foremost in the minds of people. Be they mothers and fathers, business owners, civil servants, procurement specialists, or workplace employment teams, “What colour is he – or she?” Or more blatantly as if they are talking about another creature, other than a human being – “What is he?”

This simply must stop.

If we are to give our children, and ourselves, a fair chance at living in, and building our beautiful country we need to change. To be different and to become more human.

Our team conflict resolution programmes do this (brian@africa-dreams.com) – but only for the people that we interact with – and their families. The Ubuntu Girl – Soja Kruse does this – but again the extent of her reach is limited. (ubuntuabundance@gmail.com)

So how do we, as a nation of human beings begin to bring about the long term change that is so deeply needed?

10 steps

  1. Accept that there is a problem in the way that we think, talk and act towards people of other religions and cultures.
  2. Resolve to make changes in your own behaviour, and do not accept negative behaviour from people within your circle. (You may have to find some new friends!) Set yourself some change goals.
  3. Accept that in doing so, you will leave a wonderful legacy for future generations.
  4. Stop using negative, prejudiced words and names.
  5. Stop judging – get to know more about cultures, religions, traditions and belief systems. Have fun whilst learning. Invite people home and visit their homes, celebrations, funerals and traditional events.
  6. Learn new languages, from other people. Start with greetings, thanks, goodbyes and body language. (Misunderstood body language is often an immediate block to respect and business relationships.)
  7. Learn how to cater for people from different backgrounds. Do not judge from your own experience. There may be challenges and fantastic opportunities arising from differences in culture, religion, health and personal preference.)
  8. Learn what respect means to others – and show them respect in the ways that they wish to be respected.
  9. Actively make decisions without bias. This may mean that you have to think very deeply before you decide important things. (We are often polluted by our own belief systems and upbringing. Clear the smog, simplify your required outcomes and make informed and responsible decisions.)
  10. Celebrate each noticeable change.

It is time that we began to celebrate the wonders of our similarities and our differences. Not only in South Africa, but in Africa and the World. We are in our 19th year as a free democracy, it is time now to grow up and live to our full potential!

Opening Hearts and building friendhsips.

“Bonjour”, I greeted the salesperson in Paris. Next to me the voice of the little man spoke clearly, “Bonjour! Ça va?” I smiled as the lady beamed at him and said Ça va bien! Et vous?”

As we moved through Italy, Switzerland and Austria he perfectly copied the words that he heard! “Buongiurno! Buonasera! Arrivederci! Guten morgen. Guten abend! Ciao,” echoed by my side. The local people were always delighted and excited and showered him with friendship and love.

In London, we were walking towards the underground train platform. I heard what I thought could be Zulu being spoken by two men. I excitedly moved up alongside them to hear if it was true. Suddenly a loud voice boomed out next to me, “Sanibonani! Dumela! (Zulu and Sesotho/ Setswana greetings.”)

The men stopped and looked at him, in disbelief. I then greeted them in Zulu and they beamed. Contact had been made. South Africans together in London. We spent the entire tube trip chatting, in Zulu, about home and their lives in London. The little man had opened the way again!

And little he is. Just a month away from his 4th birthday our son Lliam can greet in about 20 languages! Including English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Sesotho, Sepedi, Setswana, Tsonga, French, Italian, German, Xhosa, Chichewa, Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Gujerati, Arabic, Hebrew, Chibemba and Township slang!

And if you know Lliam you will also know that he will greet people in any of the World’s languages. He only has to hear the greeting once!

Yes, he has learnt the power of greeting people in their own language to the extent where he asks people, “How must I speak to you?” A simple question indeed. “How should I greet you?” It is the starting point of all across language/ culture friendships and the beginning of a lifetime of language learning.

He has also learnt to greet respectfully in many local languages. People who are older are called uncle or aunt, mother or father in their own languages. When he meets our local car guard, he says in Afrikaans, “Hallo Oom.” And to his uncles and aunts he greets in Hindi, “Namaste Maamah/ Maamee.”

He has yet to get his tone and his volume right and as he grows up he will learn the importance of both in respect. Nevertheless he is already on a path towards great friendships and relationships. Arthie and I know this well.

When we go to a new country, we always learn the basics of greetings, thanks and goodbyes. This opens up opportunities for us to learn more and to spend more time developing friendships and understanding.

The next step is to take the time to learn how to pronounce people’s names properly. Arthie and I met a Nigerian man in London. The name he gave us was very western. “What do people call you at home we asked? “Olatunde.” he responded. With a little practice we began to use his name.

Upon our return to South Africa we found an e-mail from Olatunde inviting us to work in his country. We were delighted to have become his friend in such a short time.

Lliam has been our greatest teacher from birth and he carries that on every day in the way that he is. Is he naughty? Is he cheeky? Yes, of course, he is a child after all! And his life is one of testing and breaking physical, societal communication boundaries and barriers.

In his purity and total lack of teenage and adult fears he crosses many perceived borders and achieves many amazing things. He has danced with the Zulus, to the bagpipes and to Hindi music. He has sung his way through the streets of Venice, Paris, London and Edinburgh. And he never stops learning!

And that is perhaps his greatest lesson to “bigger” people.

On an overnight train from Paris to Firenze (Florence) I overheard a young lady say to the Italian bar person, “Just speak to me in English. I don’t speak your language.” All she needed to know was the price of the goods. It was clearly displayed on the till!

I watched as she battled to get service later. The young lady met frustration with frustration and eventually returned to her sleeper car. We found the bar person to be very friendly and open. All we did was greet and thank her in Italian. And we read the till for the cost of service!

We live in a multi-lingual country and a multi-lingual world. To live in the hope that we will only build strong and lasting relationships in our birth languages is to live in denial. And to believe that “my language is the only language”, is to deny ourselves the experiences of a wonderfully diverse world.

As tiny children we all learnt thousands of words in a language which was foreign to us. Even the concept of language was not yet in our understanding. Look how swiftly we learnt our mother tongue and how easily the language came to be a part of our being. Why then are so many of us are scared to learn a new greeting or language?

And getting the greeting right is one of the easiest ways to touch another soul and open another heart.

Take a lesson from Lliam and begin the process of learning to greet correctly and learning to pronounce peoples’ names and you too will find a new warmth in the world. A warmth that started with you.

Brian V Moore – January 30, 2005 for more please visit http://www.africa-dreams.com/MembersFreeStories/OpeningHeartsBuildingFriendships.html