Who Matters? — An African experience.

I’ve been pondering the response to the killing of George Floyd. The incident took place in the USA; however, it unleashed worldwide protests amidst a global pandemic. Many people, including me, had more free time due to lockdown restriction. This meant more time to follow the news and reflect on what’s going on in the world. I’ve also followed the response from different media outlets and considered my own feelings and attitude towards those that are different from me. The pastor at our church even had a socially distanced panel discussion on the topic of racism to help facilitate these challenging discussions in a South African context.

I’m also part of a homegroup that was meeting over Zoom at the time due to Covid-19 gathering restrictions. Our team is racially mixed, which made it somewhat helpful to follow-up the panel discussion with some collective reflection. I told the following story when my opinion as a white male growing up in Apartheid South Africa was asked.

First time in ‘Africa.’

When South Africans say they’re going to Africa, then they’re usually referring to a sub-Saharan African country outside of South Africa. Because for some reason, South Africa doesn’t really qualify as part of Africa.

I was 10 years old when I went to ‘Africa’ for the first time. My family and I visited our aunt’s family in Swaziland in the summer of ’87, where they were missionaries. I remember the rolling green hills of sugar cane, the sweet smell of the sugar factory, the endless church services and my first black friend.

The Swazi boy that I befriended that summer was about the same age as me and lived close to my relatives. I only spoke Afrikaans at the time, and he only spoke Swazi; however, we wanted to play together. We somehow managed to learn a few words of each other’s language by pointing at things or making gestures and then say what it is in each other’s language. Language learning was the first game we needed to sort out to come up with other games.

I remember being curious about his school, the food they ate, what their house looked like, etc. He was visibly and culturally different to me, however, the more I got to know him, the more similarities I found. We both liked inventing games, and we were both having a lot of questions about each other’s lives. So, his similarities made me feel comfortable around him, while his differences made him fascinating. I believe this experience in my formative years helped to prevent me from developing a fear of those that are different to me.

Visiting building sites was also helpful. My dad is an engineer, and he always managed to fit in some kind of site inspection on family outings. That was his approach to efficiency and multitasking. The whole rainbow nation would be present on the building site, even if certain groups were always doing the same type of work. My dad was still friendly and respectful of everyone he came across on the building site. No matter who they were or what they did, he always managed some small talk with people by asking them about what they are doing.

Child psychologists have determined that what a young child experience and observe from adults are the two most essential elements in her/his development. That would include our attitude and treatment of those that our in-group has determined as being different from us.

And my point is?

We are shaped by what we experience and observe in others. As we grow older, the stories of people we trust also start playing a role in how our worldview is shaped. The older we get, the more difficult it becomes to change our worldview, even when our worldview is not based on facts or truth. I was fortunate to have had relatively positive experiences of people considered different from me in every country that I worked in. However, I must admit that the mindset of many people in South Sudan was a bit frustrating.

I also know that many people have had bad experiences, know family members and friends who were a robber or even killed by people different to them. It becomes, therefore, more difficult for them to not to fear the other. This even when statistics indicate that they are less like to be affected by violence than any other racial group. Some people believe that white people in South Africa are being targeted by violent crime. However, that thesis was dispelled by Silber and Geffen in 2009.

I’m glad that racial segregation in South African schools have ended, even though there might now be segregation based on wealth. My hope and prayer as that we think about the importance of interacting with people different to us. However, if that is too difficult for us, then at least let us create those opportunities for our children. This might help them to grow up less fearful and enjoy the richness of being part of a rainbow nation not only in word but also in action.

Those that Matter

The people with whom I have a positive experience with matters to me. They are the ones who inspire, comfort, educate and challenge me. Some of them I’ve known for years while with others, I only had a short conversation. Most of them look like me, but some of the ones that left the biggest impression on me were very different to me. I hope to tell some of their stories in the months to come.

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I’ve always been interested in the NGO and development sector. I believe that giving children a good childhood is essential for the social good.

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Gerardus Adema

Gerardus Adema

I’ve always been interested in the NGO and development sector. I believe that giving children a good childhood is essential for the social good.

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