After a thrilling performance of Kanala, where I laughed and cried, within minutes of each other, I am left stunned as the curtain comes down. The final scene is one of shock and dismay, even if you know where it is going. The 11th February 1966 and everything changes. A community destroyed. A slow but brutal dismantling. Humans dehumanised as they are ‘told where to live’ by the government and pushed to the outskirts of town.
A brilliant show that reminds me in the most creative ways how twisted and cruel the apartheid government was in their scheming, Kanala with a crew of extraordinary talent, gives a joyous glimpse into life in District Six, and then ends with the forced removals. I am surrounded by coloured people as we file out of the theatre – I feel aware, not ashamed in a self-flagellating way, but aware that I am the skin colour of those who did this. I say to my friend, “After what happened in this country, I am amazed white people are still here.” And not just here, but so many unmoved and arrogantly clinging to an entitlement that is absurd given our history. The deep sadness of what our country faces hits me again. The Great Undoing that is needed.
The parents of the friend I am with were forced to leave their home because of the colour of their skin. After the show we talk about decolonisation and how her son’s school still uses names like Van Riebeeck for the team houses, something she has just addressed. I wonder, “We were the last country to get independence in Africa, it is a pity there was no DIY manual … like, remove the statues, correct the history books, change the street names … how did we leave so many names in place for this long? Names that hurt people each time they see them. I know we have done some, but there is a lot more that we need to do.” Then I confessed with a blush that I used to think it was a waste of money to do name changes and we should rather spend that money on sanitation or whatever. Now I know a little better.
I imagine the pain of having to see a people and system and culture that caused your family and ancestors so much pain, being honoured by statues or art or names of streets and towns. Twenty one years later, we have a long way to go. I come home thinking about how much better some of us who communicate, can do in this area. Me, in particular. How can one bring truth across in a way that reaches people and leads to genuine change and sacrifice for the ‘common good’ and restoration. I pop onto Facebook as I eat supper, and there on a community group people are bemoaning the fact that art at UCT is being evaluated and sifted through to assess what is appropriate and what is hurtful and represents colonisation in a glorified manner, and thus needs to be removed. Sad faces. Angry faces. Rude comments about ‘they’. And I am reminded again of how polarised some of our spaces are.
I am reminded of a piece of art that alludes to the slave trade I saw recently in a place of honour in someone’s home. Seeing it felt like a punch in the stomach.
What seems so obvious. What seems to be the only way. A “post-war” change so needed. And there white people are making a fuss and commiserating together at the “ignorance”. I am stunned by the thinking. What lack of compassion and awareness leads to someone thinking art that hurts and reinforces centuries of lies about human value and more, should remain in place. What oblivion? This act of sifting through the art to remove what should have been hidden years ago, is compared to tyrants who burned art and books and artifacts in power hungry rages. This is not the same. This is a removal of icons (and statues) that reflect people being demeaned legally and systemically – something which many are working hard to make right today.
And there are many who are working hard to make things right. So many. I am encouraged by my friends, and broader community, and many strangers, so many of whom are in the ‘third way’ (neither polarisation, forging the harder way that is together and born out of humility and love and fierce commitment to fighting against injustice and for community) which seeks to bring transformation – genuine change – that is good for everyone and is driven by com passion — (com = with and passion = feeling) – feeling with fellow citizens. It is those who have chosen to be part of the ‘great undoing’ in ways that will bring restoration, restitution, reconciliation, relationship and healing, even when it is uncomfortable, who give me hope.
And I have to fix my eyes on those people tonight. Those who have chosen to walk away from ignorance, whose faces are turned towards their neighbour, and who have heard the pain, and seek a just society, and even when they do not fully understand (which is most of the time unless one has lived through something), care enough to listen, to change, to try to imagine what it would feel like to be in different shoes, with a narrative that didn’t include wealth, privilege, and resource, but is built on decades of oppression, unjust powerlessness and economic deprivation.
I am reminded that we cannot undo the past. No amount of money can fix how much has been broken, although it is the first step. But we can humbly be part of the future. If we choose to. And I am so grateful for those who have chosen to and who walk humbly forward in community, listening when its painful, sacrificing when its needed, loving no matter, and courageous when it is unknown. I ask God to help me be one of those and keep being one of those, in my frailty and mistakes, losing people along the way – those I have hurt by my mistakes and ignorance, and those I have offended by my truth. And I remember Micah 6:8 and breath deeply. And trust God in this Great Undoing.