The following is the chapter on South Africa from David Oddie’s book, A Personal journey with Art and Conflict: Weaving Indra’s Net.
Somewhere over the Rainbow
Mary Lange in South Africa
I am what I am because of who we are. (Gbowee, L. 2011).
Reconciliation means that those who have been on the underside of history must see that there is a qualitative difference between repression and freedom. And for them, freedom translates into having a supply of clean water, having electricity on tap; being able to live in a decent home and have a good job; to be able to send your children to school and to have accessible health care. I mean, what’s the point of having made this transition if the quality of life of these people is not enhanced and improved? If not, the vote is useless (Tutu, D. 2001).
Naught for your Comfort by Trevor Huddleston was the first socially committed book I read. I was not a believing Christian but I was deeply moved by Huddleston’s moral authority and principled stand against apartheid in South Africa during the 1940s and 50s. Trevor Huddleston was an Anglican priest who in 1943 was sent by his order, the Community of the Resurrection, to work in Sophiatown, a shanty town in Johannesburg. He soon challenged the brutal injustices of apartheid and spoke out with clarity and courage. Local black people bestowed the title of Makhalipile on Huddleston, which means ‘dauntless one.’ His moral outrage and principled action met with denunciation and threats from the authorities and, after thirteen years he was diplomatically withdrawn from South Africa by his religious Order. Leaving South Africa was heartbreaking for Huddleston who continued to take a leadership role in the struggle against apartheid, later becoming President of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the UK in 1981.
In 2009 Desmond Tutu was interviewed for the BBC News, Defining Moments programme, and describes first meeting Huddleston:
The biggest defining moment in my life was when I saw Trevor Huddleston and I was maybe nine or so. I didn’t know it was Trevor Huddleston, but I saw this tall, white priest in a black cassock doff his hat to my mother who was a domestic worker.
I didn’t know then that it would have affected me so much, but it was something that was really – it blew your mind that a white man would doff his hat. And subsequently I discovered, of course, that this was quite consistent with his theology that every person is of significance, of infinite value, because they are created in the image of God. And the passion with which he opposed apartheid and any other injustice is something that I sought to emulate (Tutu, D. 2009).
Later, when Tutu was fourteen, he developed tuberculosis and was close to dying. He was visited every day by Huddleston and they later became good friends in the struggle for justice in South Africa. Tutu named one of his sons, Trevor, after the priest. The anti-apartheid movement became a major global force and drew passionate support from students and others. I remember as a student, in the heady days of the late sixties, my university being reduced to a standstill by a ‘sit-in’, as a response to the institution’s investment portfolio in South Africa.
Tutu was rewarded with a Nobel peace prize for his tireless commitment and this global acknowledgement probably helped to keep him alive: a number of other prominent church leaders who challenged apartheid were assassinated . Post apartheid, Tutu’s chairing of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee was a further inspiration. When I conceived the idea of the ARROW programme, it was inevitable that South Africa would become an important reference point and, hopefully, we could identify an appropriate partner to work with us. Again, serendipity played its part. A colleague at my University College recommended I get in touch with Mary Lange, who at the time was completing a Masters programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Durban. Mary’s diverse talents and extraordinary energy were soon recognised by her department, Culture, Communications and Media Studies (CCMS), where she is currently a research affiliate. A CCMS brochure describes ‘Mary the dynamo, who is multi-talented, a culture and heritage programme facilitator who does drama, a visual anthropologist who educates students in the field.’ I contacted Mary and I was delighted by her immediate response and enthusiasm.
Mary skilfully built a creative relationship with the university, which would provide a focus for the ARROW programme and a research reference point for students in CCMS. From the start Mary was deeply aware of the underlying principles motivating the ARROW programme and understood the need for ongoing grassroots activities with young people in their communities. She therefore began a dialogue with the Bechet School in Durban.
Bechet High School was selected as it reflects a good cultural and religious cross- section of Durban, it was not a previously or presently privileged school and was in real need of resources, enhancement and support. The school was situated in a non-high risk security area accessible to the University. Students invited to participate in the project would represent a cross-section of gender, race and religion.
Using the resources made available through the DFID funded What’s it got to do with me? project, Mary was able to launch an extensive programme of workshop activities. At that time the school did not have any formal provision for arts activities, so the benefits were mutually beneficial. Mary ran an ongoing series of workshops each week which, as well as including an in-depth exploration of the initial ‘how do I see myself, how do I see you?’ exercises, also included a rich diet of Indian dancing, gumboot dancing, Xhosa wedding dancing, and freestyle dancing with young people from locally diverse cultures; a storytelling youth theatre production Enlightening Lightning, which was included in a tour to the UK as part of a shared training event. Another ongoing project Playing for Peace was based on an oral history methodology using indigenous games as a springboard and was shared by groups across South Africa as well as the ARROW partners. The Bechet ARROW group also negotiated with Desmond Tutu’s office in Cape Town for them to interview the Bishop themselves. During the interview, which was a sheer delight, Tutu was his usual bubbly self, interspersing insightful comments with moments of laughter and communicating a heartfelt interest in the young people themselves. Extracts from the meeting were later shown at the opening of the Desmond Tutu Centre in Plymouth.
Following the dismantling of the apartheid regime the proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation programme in South Africa caught the imagination of people around the world. To some extent this mono-perspective masked the reality that South Africa is a complex, multi-cultural ‘rainbow nation’, with a dizzying diversity of traditions, languages and cultures. The post-apartheid momentum released many other deep and underlying tensions. Mary understood the need for ARROW to link its activities with wider cultural and heritage issues and partners. She began working with the Bergtheil Museum and others in Durban. Alvine Calboutin, Curator of the Bergtheil Museum, explains:
Part of the museum’s work in the new South Africa is to find directions
we can take to foster understanding within the country towards different cultures. In the past museums have been seen as very ‘white’ places. In fact there isn’t even a name for them in the Zulu language, and it was felt they were inappropriate places for non-whites. Although the museum was already thinking of ways to take work outside and into the community, the work with ARROW not only does this but it takes it even further to an international level. You tend to get bogged down in your own country, and it is freeing to realise that others are undertaking similar work internationally (Calboutin, A. 2008).
The process of reaching out and broadening ARROW participants’ cultural awareness and understanding was further enhanced through the establishment of a partnership with South Roots Theatre Company from Worcester in the Cape. Shanette, Artistic Director of the company at the time observed:
Without slavery coloured people would never have existed. As the coloured we have a huge role to play in reconciliation. We represent both sides. The coloureds have a role to play as both the victim and the oppressor, we have both white and black blood in us. In the past it has been much easier to identify with our black roots. It is much more difficult for us to identify with our white roots. We also have a role to play in asking for forgiveness on behalf of our white forefathers (Shanette. 2008).
Mary and her colleagues at Bechet and UKZN created a dynamic energy which would continue long after the initial DFID funding was exhausted. From the start Mary had a deep understanding of what ARROW was about and, during discussions about the central theme of interdependence, Mary introduced me to the African concept of Ubuntu. The term appears in the Epilogue of the Interim Constitution of South Africa (1993), ‘there is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for Ubuntu but not for victimization’.
Ubuntu is an expression of our humanity that encompasses and inter-relates the needs of the individual with those of the wider community. Desmond Tutu described Ubuntu as :
The essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity (Tutu, D. 1999)
During an interview Nelson Mandela continues this theme:
A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve (Mandela, N.1999).
Writer and academic Michael Onyebuchi Eze explores the idea further in language that further endorses the aspirations of the What’s it got to do with me? project:
A person is a person through other people strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance (Eze, M.O. 2010).
ARROW in South Africa was initiated as a grassroots, community and outreach project. It was always Mary’s intention that it would also facilitate related research projects. Consequently, ARROW South Africa projects have provided opportunities for teaching, learning, and research activities by secondary school learners and staff, international students from the UK, and postgraduate students from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. The latter has helped to consolidate the central relationship between the programme and the university. To get a sense of the mutual benefit of this relationship it is worth quoting publicity material from the Department of Community, Communication and Media Studies(CCMS) at the University:
Since ARROW SA was established in 2004, students from CCMS have been involved in helping to coordinate the weekly sessions, and in conducting research on various ARROW projects. Seven CCMS Honours students conducted primary research at ARROW for their module Development, Communication and Culture, while in the second semester eight CCMS students worked with the Bechet pupils for their projects for Communication for Participatory Development. The research covered various issues, ranging from evaluating theatre approaches and drama productions at ARROW, to investigating the effectiveness of the ARROW website. The common thread is that the students’ work adopts an action research approach, where research is mutually beneficial to all parties involved. While the CCMS students have the invaluable opportunity to work with a real community organisation and are presented with a site for their fieldwork, ARROW benefits as the students’ research monitors and evaluates their work, and recommends possible ways of ARROW improving its operations. In this way, CCMS supports ARROW as an outreach project while simultaneously integrating it with its research and teaching components.
Three of the CCMS student projects focused on an initiative called Ripples of Empowerment, which used the technique of Forum Theatre to educate the Bechet students at ARROW about health issues. Ripples of Empowerment epitomizes the type of collaborative community engagement that CCMS favours. The Forum Theatre was conducted and led by two facilitators from DramAidE (Drama in AIDS Education), who are both also past CCMS students. Current CCMS students were involved by conducting research on the Forum Theatre project, thereby adding an academic and theoretical dimension to the project, to broaden and deepen its scope. The beneficiaries, in this case, were the ARROW Bechet students who were not only educated about health issues, but also were empowered by learning Forum Theatre skills. The plan is for the Bechet students to use their new theatre skills to benefit fellow pupils, as well as a community organisation known as the Izulu Orphans Project (CCMS 2010).
By the time the financial resources from DFID had run out, Mary had created a framework within which the partnership of ARROW, Bechet School and the University could continue to diversify and flourish. In order to build on the extraordinary momentum generated by Mary, her colleagues and the young people, the urgent need to raise funds was identified as a priority. Mary needed a mechanism that would enable her to achieve this end, without jeopardising ARROW’s autonomy. To avoid ARROW being subsumed into either School or University as an ancillary project, Mary decided to create an independent NGO, ARROW SA. Mary went about this with her usual zeal and gathered together a Board that included key people from School, University, the ARROW group and the local community. In achieving this status for ARROW SA, Mary provided a model of practice for other ARROW groups. When I first conceived of ARROW I had doodled lots of images and shapes to try to encapsulate its form and structure. I had started with a series of concentric circles, with the secretariat of myself and two colleagues at our University College in the UK in the centre. Moving away from this centralist image I then progressed to a tree with a subsoil rich in ideas and practice, the trunk of our basic infrastructural and administrative support and then all the diverse branches representing grassroots groups, partners etc. Mary’s establishment of an independent, autonomous but affiliated group indicated prophetically the way forward and anticipated the eventual transformation from ARROW to Indra, inspired by the metaphor of Indra’s net.
The ARROW SA Bechet School group now meets twice a week and continues with their wide ranging arts activities, educational programmes and storytelling. ARROW SA also continues to collaborate with Bergtheil and other museums on joint culture and heritage programmes. More recently the group has engaged in a traditional jewellery making project with Durban institute of Technology (DUT) students and traditional crafters in the Kalahari Desert. Young people who were originally ARROW students are now involved as facilitators.
At a recent Congress event in Derry, Northern Ireland, ARROW SA presented a vivid image of the cultural complexity of South Africa, within which young people are struggling to establish their own identity. The team presented a vibrant piece of dance, music and theatre to communicate and share this complexity with their peers from around the world. The presentation acknowledged the very real progress made since 1994 but was searchingly honest about the deep problems still faced by the country and by its young people. The information disseminated by the young people’s presentation in relation to Aids/HIV, poverty, unemployment, education was indeed depressing. South Africa faces an uncertain future and several of the original champions of the struggle, who put their lives on the line for the cause, express concern and ambivalence. For example, Desmond Tutu in an article in the New York Times in 2003 was quoted as saying:
Can you explain how a black person wakes up in a squalid ghetto today, almost ten years after freedom? Then he goes to work in town, which is still largely white, in palatial homes. And at the end of the day he goes back home to squalor? I don’t know why these people don’t just say, ‘to Hell with peace. To Hell with Tutu and the truth commission’ (Tutu, D.2003).
Mary has a keen awareness of this dilemma and is sensitive to criticism regarding ‘the relevance of funds spent on congresses and exchanges which include disadvantaged youth who often don’t have food on their tables at home; whether funds should rather be raised for social upliftment projects’.
Naomi Klein, in her exhaustively researched book, The Shock Doctrine, makes the case that the stranglehold of corporately dominated, global economic and financial control, which was deeply integrated into the previous apartheid system of governance, continued virtually unabated after the supposed dismantling of the system. Powerful mining and industrial corporations escaped with minor reparations for fear of sending an anti business message to the markets. This situation made it practically impossible for the ANC to deliver its original Freedom Charter. At the ANC‘s national conference in 1997 Mandela lamented this ‘trap’:
The very mobility of capital and the globalisation of capital and other markets, make it impossible for countries, for instance, to decide national economic policy without regard to the likely response of these markets.
In these challenging times for young people in South Africa, it would be easy to feel despondent. However, the burning spirit of hope, courage and determination seen in the young ARROW SA participants, which is nurtured by Mary and her colleagues, is a source of inspiration to their peers in their own country and the wider, now Indra, network of which they are a crucial part. And that sort of hope is ultimately inextinguishable.