The free spirits of our children, are in our hands.
Thirty Zulu community leaders sat in a dusty rural school room. It was 1995 in the newly free South Africa, at a village called Molweni, near the great harbour city of Durban.
The delegates watched and listened as I showed and spoke of community management. Most were dressed in an array of political T-shirts. The recent political victory, over Apartheid’s minority, spoke clearly in their aggressive and somewhat arrogant mood.
As the training ensued, I began to notice a language and behaviour pattern that would prevent them from benefiting fully from the workshop and their lives.
Whenever I asked them to carry out an overnight exercise, they would say, “Sizozama”, (We will try.) When they spoke of me they called me an “Umlungu”, – (White.)
Their exercises were never completed and I was isolated by their perceptions.
One day I asked if they would like to be really great leaders. “Yes.” Came the response. I asked if they would stop using certain words, as this would help them to grow and lead. They suspiciously gave me permission to carry on.
I said, “The first word that I would like you to stop using, is “Try.””
“Why?” they began, ending their enquiry with, “If you don’t try, you won’t get anything.”
I asked if anyone smoked. A few raised their hands. I then asked how many of them had “tried” to give up smoking. They smokers all laughed and said they had. They agreed that they were still smoking so “trying” had done little for them.
I then asked if anyone had tried to lose weight and various plumpy people raised their hands, amidst fits of laughter. We agreed that “try” should be traded for committed phrases and words.
I then asked them to remove the word “Umlungu” (White person), from their vocabulary. Immediately there was anger in the room. People jumped up and shouted, ”Why!” I responded that it was that very type of language that denied them opportunity. One man was particularly angry.
“I will use that word to describe you and your kind,” he said,
“until the day I die.” I asked him why.
“Because I have been injected with that poison, through apartheid.” As he angrily jabbed his finger, like a needle, into his forearm.
I asked him, how our country would move from political freedom into human respect, humanity and freedom from prejudice. He replied, “The children play together, they will make us free.”
I then asked him, if the poison that now coursed through his veins, was like a disease. And, if it were a disease, was it like flu or HIV Aids. Would he be able to treat the symptoms when they arose, or would he die from the terminal poison.
“It is like Aids!” He said angrily, “I will die like this!”
I then asked, “If you had AIDS, would you go to your children each day, draw your infected blood and inject your disease into them?”
“No!”, he said, horrified.
“Then why do you do that with the poison of prejudice?” Each day you will go home and talk negatively of someone by colour. Or you will say things like, “Us blacks have a problem.”, or “The whites have all the luck.” Other people may say. “Us whites have a problem, the blacks are getting all of the jobs through affirmative action”.
And from some Indian and Coloured people, “Once the white bread was on the top of our sandwiches, and the brown underneath. Now the brown is on the top and we are still just the sandwich spread!”
And each time as these things are repeated, an impression is created in the minds of our children. And one day when they realise that they have been grouped by big people into a colour, they will begin to believe that life holds nothing for them. They have been poisoned by us and the disease will not be stopped.
There were gasps of shock around the room. A man began to moan, “Hau! Hau!” in surprise and shock at the reality.
I asked once more. “Who will set us free from prejudice?”
They answered, as one, “It is us.”
Where are we today, in 2016?
21 years have passed.
Penny Sparrow’s dumb, ignorant and prejudiced remarks have opened up Pandora’s box. The racist demons are screaming in rage – and even Hope seems to have fled.
Yet there is still HOPE. And we are that vital ingredient.
Us adults have not woken yet up to our responsibilities to the future our children and humankind.
We are the hope and the light for our children.
Children are born open to all people. They are open to all knowledge and learning and live in the moment. All people are their family, as they are an integral part of a great world.
And it is our responsibility to keep that wonder and openness alive. It is our job to ensure that our prejudices are not injected or drip fed, into their beautiful spirits.
You and I must take responsibility to keep our prejudices to ourselves and eventually remove them from our own souls. We are responsible to stop the ancestral isolations that we learnt from our parents. Pity them for they were first poisoned by their ancestors.
All of us, in particular teachers, have an incredible responsibility. Children come to us pure, or a little blemished and perhaps, misguided. We have been chosen to hold their free spirits in our hands.
Let’s go forth guardians and do our duty. For only then will children be born, as children of the universe. Free to learn, love and appreciate all things and everyone.
Brian V Moore 12 11 2002, Durban – South Africa.
+27 79 643 4457