Dumisani and Drew in front of the Nelson Mandela Foundation on June 28, 2016
The Force of Fear
While looking for a taxi near the bridge where Dumisani was mugged, we took out a few rand to pay a taxi worker. Dumisani glanced around and we paid quickly as Dumisani hurried us away. Turns out some of the local thieves had seen us and started to move in. As we walked away, I started looking at those around me differently. Could that be one of the thieves Dumisani had seen? Why were we here? No one else looks like me. I was afraid.
“This [fear] was it—the unforeseen force that obliterated reason in South Africa; the force that held the white tribe together, and kept our sweating white fists locked in a death grip on the levers of power,” writes journalist and author Rian Malan in his novel, My Traitor’s Heart.
Malan writes about his experience as a white South African in the violent years of apartheid, trying to understand how one might live and love at the dangerous margins of society.
Dumisani’s story and the many comments we have received about the danger of Johannesburg, and particularly Soweto, has invited us to ask similar questions. Malan reflects that:
“As a tribe, a nation, we are all immured inside a fortress of racial paranoia…getting deeper and deeper into a race war we cannot possibly win.…There is no military solution because the enemy is within…we cannot defeat such an enemy without destroying ourselves.…We must find a way of trusting, but who is there to trust?”
We cannot help but also reflect on the recent deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa.
Walking through Soweto and Johannesburg, thinking about the United States of America and the many many other places all over the world struggling with violence and hatred far beyond our comprehension, we echoed Rian Malan’s basic question: “How do we live in this strange place?”
This was a key motivation for our return to Soweto, and though we have not found the answer yet, we would like to offer Malan’s final story.
In 1986, he traveled to Msinga in KwaZulu Natal to meet Creina Alcock who had lived with the Zulu people with her husband and sons for the majority of her life. Despite the family’s intentions to work with the Zulu people and help heal the arid land, her husband Neil had been killed in a tribal skirmish and her adopted sons had all stolen large amounts of money from the community. As a white woman feeling alone in the poverty stricken landscape of Msinga, she found herself asking the same question, “How do we live in this strange place?”
Her answer to Malan was this:
“‘I…looked out the door, and I was suddenly terribly afraid…I felt utterly betrayed by loving. All the things I had ever been told about love just weren’t true. It was all full of false promises. I understood that love was a safety and a protection, and that if you loved you would be rewarded by someone loving you back, or at least not wanting to damage you. But it wasn’t true, any of it. I knew that if I stayed, this was how it was going to be: It would never get any better; it would stay the same, or get worse. I thought, If you’re going to live in Africa, you have to to be able to look at it and say, ‘This is the way of love, down this road: Look at it hard. This is where it is going to lead you….’ I think you will know what I mean if I tell you love is worth nothing until it has been tested by its own defeat. I felt I was being asked to try to love enough not to be afraid of the consequences. I realized that love, even if it ends in defeat, gives you a kind of honor; but without love, you have no honor at all. I think that is what I misunderstood all my life. Love is to enable you to transcend defeat.”
“You said once one/you could be deformed by this country, and yet it seems to me one can only be deformed by the things one does to oneself. It’s not the outside things that deform you, it’s the choices you make. To live anywhere in the world, you must know how to live in Africa. The only thing you can do is love, because it is the only thing that leaves light inside you, instead of the total, obliterating darkness.”
The Simunye Team is composed of Michael Bakan and Drew Descourouez.
Michael Bakan is a first-year student at Georgetown University, where he plans to study International Business and Marketing. Over the past two summers, he has traveled to Soweto, South Africa on an immersion trip through his former high school, Bellarmine College Preparatory. During these trips, Michael developed a passion for using graphic design and other forms of artwork to share the stories of his friends in Soweto, as they strive to create a better South Africa in a post-apartheid, post-Mandela world. He is excited to return to Soweto to strengthen the bonds of kinship with his South African friends and to share the voices of those who are not often heard but will play an integral role in our future.
Drew Descourouez is a first-year student at Santa Clara University. Drew traveled to Soweto, South Africa in 2014, on Bellarmine College Preparatory Immersion trip. He has since traveled to nine other countries around the world and developed a deep desire to connect cultures through storytelling and personal relationships. Drew is also passionate about youth empowerment and hopes to learn more from his friends in Soweto about how young people can take responsibility for a shared future in a globalized world.
Learn more about The Simunye Project at ignatiansolidarity.net/the-simunye-project
T: (216) 397-4777
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