3 September 2019
Someone Else’s Neighbour, someone else’s child.
Rev Berry Behr
None of us is unaffected by the horrific killings of Uyinene Mrwetyana, Jesse Hess, Janika Mallo, Leighandre Jegels and so many others. Women are scared, there is pain in our hearts, and too much fear. Amahle Tabethe aged 8 is still missing. It’s been 4 months. We cry for the pain of people we have never met. Our men cry with us; they too feel the desperate trauma and the need for transformative change. We are at war and if the war is to end, it is going to take effort from all of us.
This is a call not to wallow in the fear and the horror, but to uplift each other and to unite. We are still an immensely geographically fragmented society and it is easy for me living in Table View to think of Manenberg residents as someone else’s neighbours. Gangsters and their victims are someone else’s children. Lavender Hills is far, and what happens in Elsie’s River doesn’t really affect our lives. It’s easy, yes, but it’s not that simple. This is our city, and the word “our” is by definition inclusive. The horror is in the air that we breathe and there is no escape. We all feel the emotional turmoil, vulnerability and suspicion. Life will go on, but it is never the same. We are never the same, although we think the only people affected are those who are there, wherever “there” is. Until suddenly one day “there” is here in a quiet post office in suburbia and “they” are us.
What is our best response?
This is an invitation to take meaningful action, no matter how small. I believe in friendship as a superpower, because I believe that when we make friends we start to understand each other, and we see humanity in each other. At Cape Town Interfaith Initiative our job is helping Christians to understand Muslims, Muslims to understand Jews, Jews to understand Hindus, Hindus to understand Wiccans. When we make friends with each other, we protect each other from violence and harm. We stand up for each other. We have compassion, and we care. But how do we go about making friends in a fearful world?
- Show up. Commit to showing up at marches for peace, especially in unfamiliar areas. I marched in Athlone and felt the pain and shared the hope. I went again for a prayer vigil for Nene, Jesse, Meghan, Lynette and so many others. Cape Town, we need to support each other.
- Make the effort to learn about Others. Get on the Bus! On Heritage Day, CTII’s bus will take an interfaith group on an interfaith tour. All ages and religions will be on board as we go from Shul to Temple to Church to Mosque, learning about each other’s religions and asking the questions you never dared to ask. We will be learning, making friends and having fun.
- Participate and support – even if it means getting up early on a Saturday. On International Day of Peace (21 September) we meet at 07.30 at the African Brothers Football Academy in Scott Street. United in Peace we shall Dance a resounding send off to the SOUL Circus as it leaves on the road to Cairo. Imagine 21 day camp-outs in a series of communities where they will present upliftment and upskilling programmes. The ultimate vision is in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, specifically goal number 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions by 2030.
- Be an active citizen. Add your voice, sign the Charter for Compassion. Join any of the many organisations working so tirelessly to hold back the wave. You have a skill, a brain, willing hands. Join us!
- Watch your words. What you say is as important as what you don’t say. Don’t make gender jokes, don’t tolerate them. Don’t joke about rape, or sex, or body shame friends. An associate wrote: “The world has enough hate, and people have enough self esteem issues.” The problem with jokes about gender and race is that someone always loses and the system of otherising wins. That makes you complicit in broader social consequences.
- Ask yourself, what will happen if I don’t speak up? I have two daughters. How will I ever look them in the eyes if I stay silent? I also have a son. I want him to be able to look fear in the eyes, and make the women around him feel safe. I want him to be safe.
- Look for opportunities to celebrate. Share the joys of this world, they are a god-given tool for healing and they exist even in the midst of sadness – like the unity emerging from the tragedies. Treasure your loved ones.
- Men are not the enemy. Perpetrators are men who must face the consequences of their actions, but these men are the pawns of the enemy. The enemy is an institutionalised social and political system in which injustices are so entrenched that often we don’t even recognise them. The enemy is an archaic and inhumane system of domination. Let’s adopt an attitude of curiosity towards our unconscious biases, and be grateful when we become conscious of them. Recognising the problem empowers us to solve it.
If you do not want to be involved in creating the peace we say we all want, then please don’t complain about the crisis of compassion we are facing. The least you can do is think and speak kindly about those who are doing their best to help. Your thoughts will create a field of positivity that will not only make you feel better, but will serve to encourage the rest of us.
Rev Berry Behr is the Chairperson of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative and the Coordinator of the Charter for Compassion in South Africa. www.capeinterfaith.org.za