Yesterday I stumbled across a short preview of a documentary about the forced removals of the coloured community of what is now Harfield Village.
Of course, I knew about the Group Areas Act and I knew that there had been removals of people. But my idea of when things happened is clearly a little off. The removals that happened in these areas took place around about the time of the birth of my two eldest siblings.
This happened in living memory then. The people in the clip are telling their stories. It got me thinking about the violence and gang warfare in some of the areas which became their homes after their removals. (For Capetonians – there is a big difference between Harfield Village and Mitchell’s Plain!). Is it any wonder that there is such violence in these communities? If these stories have been stewing for forty, fifty, sixty years, is it any wonder that the pain has found its only possible expression in violence. Which itself creates a new cycle of pain and violence.
A few weeks ago I found myself navigating some traumatic experiences in the past of my family as the news was filled with xenophobic and anti-white rhetoric. And in the aftermath, my reaction to unwitting comments by a few friends was definitely inflamed. Some time later one of the friends said to me – you have to explain this, you can’t presume that I understand. And while she is right, I also hate having to tell an old story yet again.
As I walked across campus to get my morning cup of coffee, I found myself looking at people a bit differently this morning. The main question in my mind – what is your story?
South Africa is a traumatised nation. I don’t know what the solution is, and I don’t know where the remedy lies. But I suspect we will all get a little bit further if can learn to appreciate that there is such pain in so, so many. Some of the pain is old pain, but there is still so much violence, that much of it is new.
As my own institution begins to engage in a dialogue around transformation, I wonder whether it wouldn’t help us all to at least consider that each person speaking might just have a story to tell. Let us not make the terrible mistake of presuming that we know, or presuming that we understand.