Hillbrow is a one square kilometre area that formed part of the original Johannesburg. Johannesburg’s history stretches back to a Sunday in March, 1886, when Australian, George Harrison, stumbled upon surface outcrops of gold-rich conglomerate on a farm-land near the centre of Johannesburg. Gold changed the face of Johannesburg. Before 1886, it had been a struggling Boer republic, but 10 years later, it was the richest gold mining area in the world. As news of the gold find spread throughout South Africa and the rest of the world, men made their way to Johannesburg. President Paul Kruger appointed a commission to survey a site for a township to service the new goldfields. A triangular two-and-a-half square kilometre piece of “uitvalgrond” (ground left over) from the three Boer farms – Braamfontein, Turfontein and Doornfontein was identified and duly mapped out. The booming mining town required cheap, unskilled labour and so within just a few years, many thousands of men were leaving their homes from all over the world to join the unskilled migrant workers who flocked to Johannesburg for the low wages on offer. From its early beginnings, white “Randlords” (a term used at the time to describe the entrepreneurs who controlled the diamond and gold industries in South Africa in its pioneer phase) lived in opulence while the predominantly black Mineworkers were subjected to humiliating, degrading and exploitative conditions. Many historians argue that the system of racial discrimination is rooted in the migrant labour system. The popular song by Jazz musician Hugh Masekela, entitled Stimela (the coal train) describes quite well these tumultuous times and what they must have meant for the men who flooded to Johannesburg:
"There is a train that comes from Namibia and Malawi
There is a train that comes from Zambia and Zimbabwe,
There is a train that comes from Angola and Mozambique,
From Lesotho, from Botswana, from Swaziland,
From all the hinterland of Southern and Central Africa.
This train carries young and old, African men
Who are conscripted to come and work on contract
In the golden mineral mines of Johannesburg
And its surrounding metropolis, sixteen hours or more a day
For almost no pay.
Deep, deep, deep down in the belly of the earth
When they are digging and drilling that shiny mighty evasive stone,
Or when they dish that mish mesh mush food
into their iron plates with the iron shank.
Or when they sit in their stinking, funky, filthy,
Flea-ridden barracks and hostels.
They think about the loved ones they may never see again
Because they might have already been forcibly removed
From where they last left them
Or wantonly murdered in the dead of night
By roving, marauding gangs of no particular origin,
We are told. They think about their lands, their herds
That were taken away from them
With a gun, bomb, teargas and the cannon.
And when they hear that Choo-Choo train
They always curse, curse the coal train,
The coal train that brought them to Johannesburg"
Over 125 years later and they continue to come, migrant workers flock to “eGoli” (the city of gold). For many who flock to South Africa, the city centre of Johannesburg, and in particular Hillbrow, is the starting point. Many who come are fleeing economic meltdowns, poverty and conflicts which have besieged the African continent. While gold is no longer mined close to the centre of Johannesburg, its bedfellow, the South African Rand, still lures men from across the continent. Many of the remnants of the multi-tentacled legacy of the migrant labour system still linger and have left the city and its people scarred.
As I dream of Shalom for my community, I am cognisant of the haunting voices from our history, reminding me that forces larger than I have for centuries been at work dehumanising, violating, destabilising, demonising, and opposing God’s vision of Shalom.
So it is now official that the Branken family are full time in our community work. The model we are using to fund our work is mainly through the contribution of friends. At the moment, we are still quite short of our monthly budget and so would really value you considering a monthly contribution to our work or a once off financial contribution to get us started.
Here are the details of how you can contribute.
4 years ago today on the 15th July 2012...
As we were arriving home from church, about a block away from our home, there was a large crowd gathering. I got Trish to drop me off and went to see what was happening. I noticed that a man was standing on the 8th floor ledge of a building. The windows behind him to gain access back into the building were closed. People were just standing around watching and taking pictures with their cell phones.
I phoned the emergency services and first spoke to the fire brigade who said "what can we do?". When I said "get out here and help the man", they put the phone down. I then spoke to the police. At this point the crowd had started shouting at the man... some even encouraging him to jump. The police then also put the phone down as they could not hear me over the crowd. I then tried them again and this time they agreed to come through but they could not tell me how long they would take. I realized I needed to intervene before the man jumped.
I went to some security guards, told them I was a social worker and asked them to come with me. We ran up the 8 flights of stairs and realized that he was on the ledge outside a locked flat. The flat tenant was not there so we broke the security gate and door of the flat and went inside.
I spoke to the man from a distance and then got closer to him. I tried to keep him calm and just kept sharing love with him. He had a large gash in his neck and he told me some people were trying to murder him and that he wanted to tell his story to the court. I told him I would help him to tell his story. About 20 minutes in to talking to him, the police arrived - they told me that they did not have a negotiator nearby and asked me to keep talking to the man. I shared with him God's love. We spoke for over an hour and I ended up praying with him. He was encouraged and even asked me to look him up on Facebook while he was on the ledge. As I looked at his profile on my blackberry, he seemed to relax and agreed to come in. He then came in through the window to the cheers of the crowd below.
As I walked with him to the ambulance most of the, by now massive crowd cheered in excitement, I could not believe, however, what other people were saying to him. They shouted at him saying that he was stupid to try to take his life and swore at him and generally insulted him. All the time I held the man.
In the ambulance, the very caring emergency staff treated his neck and then we took him to check his wounds at the emergency unit at the Hillbrow clinic. Some of his family members were there and they agreed to stay with him. The doctor I spoke to said that she would refer him to the hospital and admit him as she was concerned he would try to take his life again. I then left him in the care of the hospital staff and his family.
About 2 1/2 hours later, I received a call from a family member to say he had run away from the hospital and was threatening to jump again. A friend, Sifiso, and I rushed back to the building, but we were too late, he had jumped. His body was still breathing and so we touched him and spoke loving words and his life ebbed away. We spent a little while comforting his father and brother who were in disbelief about the events and then we returned home.
I am deeply saddened by all that happened today, but know that he experienced some love during all the trauma. These are difficult times with few workers to care for the hurting and broken in this city.
Rest well Delight Ndlovu!
We went out onto the streets on 14 July to stand in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe as they marched to the embassy demanding change in the country. I have never been to a march with so much emotions. It felt as if people were worn down after so many decades of corruption and abuse of power. The cries of people in this video reminded me of many of the biblical cries of the Egyptians in exile and Moses crying out... "Let my people go!"
Just a few days before I spoke to Advocate Gabriel Shumba to ask what we could all do to support Zimbabweans at this time. Here is the interview with him where he gives some background to some of the human rights abuses and crimes against humanity in his country and calls for international solidarity.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:22-27
James is a counter-culture book in the same way that Christianity is a counter-culture religion. It calls us to have a faith which is not only declared but rather that is radically lived. The most eloquent Christianity is not that which is preached from our pulpits, proclaimed or prophesied from our platforms, but rather that which is practised by our people. Christianity which shakes up the world is courageous, it is intentional, it is sacrificial and most of all it is extremely loving.
When we look at all of society around us, we find that so many are caught up in the values of greed, consumerism, materialism, individualism, and racism. These values have deeply scared our relationships, our lifestyles, and our psyche. Sadly when the world looks at the church, they often see no difference in us. Often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians - Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives.
Gandhi was once asked if he was a Christian, to which he replied, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” In more modern times, things seem to be no better - a recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2) judgmental, and 3) hypocritical. This is especially disturbing when we consider that Jesus taught us that they will know that we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35).
If we as church leaders are going to produce counter culture, upside down kingdom, Christ-like Christianity, we are going to have to do some things differently. As challenging as it sounds, as difficult as it is, we are going to have to become more like Christ. His values need be reflected through our lives in the way we treat people and care for those on the margins. We need to be a people who are markedly different, practicing what he taught. Imagine if all in our church were living out the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), practicing it and demonstrating it. This Christianity is infectious and dangerous because it challenges everything the world trusts in. If we are honest, however, this kind of Christianity is the only hope for the world because it is a sign that a new world filled with justice, peace and righteousness is not only possible, it is already here and has been breaking through into the present for almost 2000 years as the radical followers of Christ have practiced his death and resurection.
As NT Wright says, “When God saves people in this life, by working through his Spirit to bring them to faith and by leading them to follow Jesus and discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope, and love, such people are designed – it isn’t too strong a word – to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos. What’s more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate salvation; they ought to be part of the means by which God makes this happen in both the present and the future.”
When people look at us, may they find us to be both signs and agents of hope of a kingdom breaking through into this world. May they though our lives, see, smell, taste, touch, feel and hear what His kingdom is and through that, encounter the beauty and splendour of our loving King.
This logo designed by Josiah Wedgewood in 1787 was designed for a UK based slavery abolitionist NGO. "Am I not a man and a brother" then became a catchphrase for the movement to end slavery in both the UK and America. It calls us to recognize the humanity of those who were enslaved, many of whom were from Africa.
This work for dignity is rooted in the belief that human beings are created in the image of God and as such have infinite worth. When we dehumanize people and treat "them" as "the other", it allows us to diminish the value of precious image bearers of God and treat them in ways that fail to recognize us and the image of God in them.
When we say#BlackLivesMatter in the USA, we are joining in this historical call to affirm the humanity of #BlackLives, many of whom are the descendants of those who were victims of the dehumanizing slave trade. We are joining the centuries long struggle and calling for the treatment of all people as valuable image bearers of God. We are saying that the systemic racism that allows dehumanization, prejudice, stereotyping and all the abhorrent abusive and violent acts that follow must end because #BlackLivesMatter... they did in 1787 and they do now in 2016! #BlackLivesMatter!!!
A "computer to each home" was started by my buddy Benjamin van Zyl... The idea he had was to refurbish second hand (but not e-waste/ too old) computers and get them into as many homes in our neighborhood as possible. Today we handed out 11 computers to neighbours who have been attending our computer course... The computers were refurbished by another neighbor. Payment was made by a commitment to #PayItForward