Can broken communities heal and change?

“The army is on the streets of Cape Town!” “And every week between 40 and 60 people are murdered not too far from your house.” These were the facts that confronted Capetonians end of July 2019. Our City a war zone? It’s unbelievable and yet somewhat true!

This is serious. Although not on that scale, it makes me think of the war in Palestine where neighbours kill neighbours. Or the Rwandan genocide where in 100 days in 1994 ethnic Hutu extremists killed 800 000 people. And then also the Jewish genocide when 6 million Jews died. Human nature can go to extremes. We can be brainwashed to lose perspective of what we are doing.

Most of the time these type of killings are mobilised by deeply rooted fears, frustrations, wounds and sufferings, and then ignited by an event, a charismatic leader, a movement, or it starts small and becomes a pattern. It often happens in contexts of territorial disputes, poverty, injustices, or economic domination (rich versus poor). It almost never ends well.

I was recently helped to put myself in the shoes of a man / father living on the Cape flats. In his experience he has no hope of earning a living for his family. He feels robbed of dignity, seen as a problem, not acknowledged, not in count. Everywhere in his community he is faced with gangsterism and he is often faced with the reality of either joining them or die. He does not see his life as worth much, although he might get some dignity of becoming a “big man” in a gang (and then most probably die young). So to rob and kill and get killed or be imprisoned is just part of life. Apparently 80% of coloured men either have been, are, or will be imprisoned.

So, I heard hopelessness, divinity, desperation, low self-worth. A small taste of a bigger reality that I did not want. But it lifted my level of awareness.

Otto Scharmer, a leader in transformation theory and practices, has proven that situations like this can be changed. Military interventions (alone) are normally not successful. There are better ways. All the stakeholders must first go deep before they go forward – implicating a deeper level of awareness and mindfulness. (Rwanda has apparently made huge progress, but is still busy with that process.) This happens when all stakeholders firstly engage on listening journeys, sharing what they see and hear, and then see and co-create a different and better future. It requires an open mind, heart and will. You have to let go of your own judgements, cynicism, and fears. Eventually all involved have to let go of aspects of who you were, how you used to think and feel. Then you can let come and build prototypes and realities of what can be.

It all may sound very complex. Today, my appeal on all of us, is simply this: Let’s humbly face the realities of our dear land, stop pointing fingers, connect our hearts to the pain and brokenness, allow a change to take place in us. And stop holding on to and trying to re-create what we thought should have been and perhaps was. Then, let’s dream about, pray for, work for and let come of new possibilities that will be different and better for all of us. Let’s step up, take hands, do our little part in the bigger network.

Like I said last month, fantastic things can happen when we, like David facing the giant, can see with different realities, know who we are and what our calling is, and use our resources to slay the giants. David, of course, also knew who his God is – the One who can do all things and holds the future in his hands.

I gain hope when I hear stories of courage and faith – of people reaching out, starting small, helping where they can, taking hands to get resources, and stay the course.

Maybe you make a fantastic difference where you are, and perhaps take hands with others who are also stepping out. Or what do you think?