Week 1 11-15
My week with Transform was a week of introductions and getting to know Johannesburg in particular Hillbrow. On monday the 11th of february me togther with Nigel, Becky and Trish covered the agenda for the whole of Transform and our work as Intern social work students. i found the meeting very fruitfull and interesting. I would like to reflect on the most salient thing that stood out for me in these week was on 14th of february were we had the street visits. it was interesting to see how the journey started before we embarked into to the street, it was amazing to meet the group of guys offering their time to meet up with the homeless groups have talks with them and pray with them. out in the streets i was very shocked to hear the issues of what the homeless people go through everyday with the Police and that the Law of South Africa does little to protect the Rigths of its people. ofcourse from a social work perspective its very important that we challenge the law and advocate for social justice, equality and equity for its people. by following the right legal chanels and procedures to achieve all this.
By Jennifer Huisemas
Intern Social work student
Today I witnessed the police confiscate goods from people selling them on the side of the street. The Police drove up and parked their car. Then of a sudden the people who were selling the goods got up, grabbed their stuff and ran away, all except an old lady who could not run. She tried to go away but the police caught up to her and took her three bags of about 200 pairs of shoes. I then watched the police pour the shoes out of the bags and put them in their own bags. The bags were put in the police car and the police drove off. I was thinking about it and was wondering why they took the goods away from them. I know it is illegal to sell goods on the side of the street but they are just trying to make a living. I thought about how their children would suffer because their parents would not be able to pay their school fees, they would miss school and not get a good education and the poverty cycle would just continue.
Another "fun" day... just came back from a heated discussion with a headmaster and principal of an inner-city private school who have reneged on a deal from last year to release three children's school reports for non-payment after a payment plan was negotiated and has been complied with to date. This is preventing the children from being admitted to a local government school in 2013. The government school will not accept them into the next grade without the reports.
In the meeting, the two school governors, after aggressively hurling insults at the father, decided that they would resolve this best with their fists and threatened to hit the father of the children to encourage him not to "make trouble for school" and to not "make trouble with lawyers". The principal said "the white people say a beast with a long tail can not cross over the fire". I think this saying means that if you have done something wrong you must just accept what happens to you.
The only way to eventually ensure "peace" in the meeting was to stand in front of the father to prevent punches from being thrown by the headmaster and principal. Even with all my years of restorative justice and conflict resolution experience, I failed to move the parties towards resolution.
Tomorrow we, together with the Centre for Child Law, will continue the struggle. The centre has already written a letter of demand to the school stating that if the school does not release the reports we will go to the High Court to seek an order for the release of the reports.
Before we went out onto the streets last night, we read together the sermon on the mount (Mat 5,6 and 7). These simple counter culture words from the greatest sermon even preached stirred every one of us. As we went around the room talking about the passage I was struck again by the power of the words.
We discussed what it is to truly live a life of blessing as enjoyed by the meek, the merciful, the poor, the peacemakers, the pure in heart, the persecuted and those who hunger for righteousness. We discussed non-violence and what it means to not resist the evil one, to turn the other cheek, or to give to anyone who asks in the context of a sometimes very violent Hillbrow. We discovered that this idea was rooted in Christ's radical idea of enemy love which calls us to even pray for those who persecute us. We grappled with the teachings on forgiveness, contentment, not worrying and were challenged by the simplicity to trust God for daily provision of food and clothes like the birds of the air and lilies in the field.
The value of not judging others and makings sure we see our own brokenness before dealing with the comparatively small sins in the lives of others is challenging. We talked about getting back to the heart of gospel as interpreted by Jesus when he constantly said "you have heard it said, but I tell you...". We need to allow the words to impact more than our actions but also our hearts.
As we reflected on how these words in this sermon that have been described as the greatest influence on many of our heroes, we too were impacted. We discussed how many took these words seriously and as a result changed the world... from the early Christians who were willing to face extreme scorn and rejection, throughout early church history to Francis of Assisi who declared these verses as his rule for the Franciscan order. Even more modern day reformers like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandi have been shaken to the core by these words.
We imagined what would happen to our city if just a few of us would radically commit to live out these the most important words in the Bible.
We had a wonderful evening on the streets visiting old friends and making new ones. I had the privilege of praying for a man with a big boil that was very painful and preventing him from sleeping. God healed him. It was such an honor to be present and witness God touching lives. I enjoyed spending time praying for guys, many of whom long for reconciliation with their families, freedom from addictions and are also desperate for circumstances to change. We prayed and encouraged them.
Unfortunately we also heard many stories of police abuses over the festive season. One man had a massive "scar" across his face from being hit with a whip by the police. There was also a quite horrific incident on Christmas Day which happened to the group of guys we normally visit outside the KFC. A group of men came and beat some of them up, stabbing 5 of them. One guy who had been on the streets for just three days died of his injuries. The group were very traumatized and have moved from the KFC.
It was good to be there for our friends and hear their stories. I am really growing to love these times and these people!
I came back earlier from trying to help the family of a guy who died this afternoon. His homeless friends had been trying to get help for him for the past four days. They had tried taking him to the hospital, but were apparently chased away. They had tried several times to call an ambulance, also over the last 4 days, but not one came.
A homeless friend of mine saw me at Mac Donald's, where I had taken the children for ice-creams and asked for my help. We started to walk to the place, but I did not want to take the kids there as the area was not safe. I said to him I would come back later.
I did not realize how serious it was and so only managed to go back at 5:30pm to find out he had died at about 1pm. He was lying in the back yard of an abandoned building under a large pile of rubbish. His family members, from Soweto, had been sitting on the pile of rubbish, where his body lay for the past 4 hours trying in vain to keep the rats away. They had also been trying to get the police or ambulance to come out, but as is usual in Hillbrow, they did not respond.
We carried his emaciated body off the pile of rubbish and put him on the side of the road and covered him with a blanket. We managed to get the police to come out and I phoned the ambulance again. The ambulance arrived just after 8 to declare him dead and then his body was taken away.
The man was just 30 years old. his sister says he had stopped taking his ARVs and had run away from home. His father is apparently a wealthy man with 3 homes. He had a room for him in one of them but the man had run away repeatedly.
Below is a video is the view from our third floor balcony on new years eve at 11:55pm. It was fireworks mania. Below that I have posted a bit of the story of what happened earlier in the night.
We saw too much brokenness last night! When I arrived back from the shops in the car at about 4pm, there was a man just outside our building injecting himself with heroine. At about 5pm (before the throwing started), we also saw police arriving in an unmarked car, and then beating up 3 men playing cards on the side of the road (probably gambling).
At about 7pm the throwing started... loads of bottles (glass and plastic with water) and some rubble was thrown... it was mostly aimed at cars and pedestrians... it was pretty hectic! As soon as a pedestrian came along, the bottles started flying from every direction and they started running for cover. I saw one mom with her child in arms running away. We saw a few cars hit and one of the guys saw an old lady hit... but for the most part the people were not getting hit.
At about 2am police arrived again (in a Rattle). They went to the building across the road from us and went up the stairs to the third floor. They forced the people from the bottom three floors down the stairs and then tried to force them to try sweep up some of the mess that had been made. Bottles were still being thrown at them and the people were pleading/ screaming in desperation with the police not to force them onto the streets.
A orgy of violence!!!
What is the gospel solution to this?
Here are some pictures...