For the past few weeks I’ve been under extreme pressure, not sleeping nearly enough, working towards deadlines and eventually feeling more tired than I think I’ve ever been in my life. Last week we trained a group of 43 new caregivers for our HIV/AIDS home-based caregiving project ( www.shbcare.org ). I usually only attend the last day, when we have a celebration function at which time we welcome the newly-trained caregivers into our group and commission them to go out and serve their neighbors. This is usually a very touching ceremony, but on Friday morning, when I had to leave to join the new caregivers, I was so exhausted that I could not imagine how I would get through the day.
I arrived at the community in the Mantambe area and greeted the trainers who were waiting outside for my arrival. I then entered the community hall where the newly trained volunteers were singing in their typical Swazi fashion. But even that couldn’t do much to lift my spirits – I was just too tired to care. But I put on my smile and as the crowd was singing I started greeting them all with a handshake – the first one, then the second one, the third, the fourth and then the fifth one. And then, as I shook the hands of the sixth person, she let go of my hand, put her arms around me and hugged me. And then the next one did the same. And the next one. And the rest of the 43 new volunteers all did the same. This is not Swazi custom. Swazi’s are normally very reserved in the way they greet and even more so when greeting someone of the opposite sex. But as each one hugged me, I could feel my energy returning and the rest of the ceremony was a huge celebration.
That afternoon, after returning home, I tried to tell my wife what had happened. Failing to be able to share the emotion I had felt, I summarized it by saying that I had never in my life experienced so much love concentrated in one place. Nobody else had known how I had felt that morning, but as each one hugged me, it honestly felt as if it was God Himself putting His arms around me.
Feeling fairly revived on Saturday, I thought back to what had happened the previous day and realized that, as one starts serving others, this action in itself leads to advantages for oneself. This was probably an unique experience and I can’t expect to feel the same when next we train a group, but I will always cherish in my mind what had happened on this past Friday.
There was an ambitious businessman in a certain city who had built a huge grease factory. People from all over the world came to view this factory once it was completed and in full production and the ambitious businessman was only too pleased to show the visitors the entire process, from the point where coal was offloaded from ships to the point where the grease was eventually pumped into huge tanks.
One day a visitor arrived and asked whether he could be taken on a guided tour through the factory. The owner of the factory escorted the visitor to the outside of the factory where coal from a ship was being offloaded, making use of enormous machines. The coal was then placed onto conveyor belts running on thousands of rollers. From there the coal was dropped into a mill where the large pieces of coal was broken up into smaller pieces. From there the coal ran on lengthy conveyor belts, once again supported by thousands of rollers to the next process and from there to the next and then to the next. The visitor marveled at the conveyor belts crisscrossing throughout the factory with millions of rollers on which these long belts ran.
He also marveled at the huge machines used to break the coal into increasingly smaller particles and the other chemical processes used to eventually convert the coal into usable grease and he marveled at the size of the tanks used to store the grease. He had never seen anything like that in his life. It was mind-boggling.
Afterwards, having a cup of coffee with the owner, the visitor was however puzzled by something. “I’ve seen how the coal is offloaded. I’ve seen the processes through which the coal had to go until it finally became grease. I’ve seen the tanks into which the grease is pumped. The only thing I haven’t seen is your facility from where the grease is dispatched to the consumers.”
“You clearly don’t understand,” the ambitious businessman answered him. “Didn’t you see those huge machines and the millions of rollers on which the conveyor belts run? They need to be greased often to keep them running efficiently. We don’t have any grease left to dispatch!”
My son recently started sharing something about his journey as a child who grew up in Swaziland, later attended school in Apartheid South Africa where he became increasingly racist and then later, after school, becoming more convinced about the sin of racism. I want to link onto his second story – about his experience at school: “White kid in a white school.” In this story he refers to me taking a leading role in the fight to get the schools my children were attending opened up for all races.
A few things happened in the late 80s and early 90s (I can’t remember the exact years) that will always remain in my mind. A colored child (meaning a child born of mixed Black / White parents) wanted to attend the Whites only high school (which is the school which my own children attended and where my wife was also teaching on a temporary basis at that time and where she is now a permanent teacher.) A group of parents were up in arms (literally) about this. They confronted the headmaster armed with revolvers and pistols (I saw this with my own eyes) and demanded that the child be taken out of their school. The headmaster refused, but the effect was that this poor boy had to sleep with a bullet-proof jacket (he was living in the dormitory at school) with a policeman on guard outside his door and even during schooltime, a policeman had to be on guard outside the classroom to ensure that nobody attacked him. It was a terrible time.
As all South Africans knew that the first democratic election was inevitable (it was eventually held in 1994), plans were made to lessen the impact of the elections. One was to try and ensure that no “non-White” children would be allowed in the “Whites only” schools. The only way in which this could be done was by combining different Afrikaans schools, from the first grade to the twelfth grade, in one school. The school would then be filled to capacity. Knowing the real reason behind this, I decided to speak up against this decision at a parents’ meeting where the decision had to be approved.
On the evening of the parents’ meeting there was a lot of tension in the air. There were probably around 500 or 600 parents gathered at, what we know as a “primary school (Grades 1 – 7), mostly there to ensure that their school would remain “White”! I had done my homework and had determined that the government had put a moratorium in place which actually prevented schools from combining. And I decided that this would form the main part of my argument. These people would not be convinced on sentimental or ethical grounds. The discussion started and it was clear that the feeling was unanimous that the two schools should combine. When the floor was given the chance to respond, I raised my hand and was eventually given the chance to speak. Although I knew that I was right, my knees were shaking as I faced the hundreds of parents and said that I disagreed with the proposal. I can’t remember all the arguments I used, but the hostility that I encountered as I spoke, I will never forget. I started stating the reasons why I thought such a decision would be wrong, while listening to angry noises being made by the rest of the parents. Halfway through, the principal stood up and ordered me to sit down. I was told that I could put my arguments on paper and hand it to the governing body.
Deeply humiliated I took my seat. And then, in my anger, I decided that I was up to the challenge. A few individual parents met me outside and told me that they supported my viewpoint. That evening I went home and wrote a document stating all the arguments and emphasizing that lies had been told to the parents, as the governing body knew well about the moratorium. (To his credit, I have to mention that the principal called me the following day to apologize for his behavior the previous evening.) What happened after that, I do not know. The possibility of combining the schools was never mentioned again. I received no answer from the governing body. But I knew that I had done the right thing.
Today, almost twenty years later, I can hardly believe that this had taken place. The schools in our town are mixed and the pupils seem to get along quite well with each other. Nobody ever thanked me for saying what I had said and frankly, I don’t think much would have been different if I had not done what I had done. But it is good to know that I had been put into a situation where I had to make a stand against a 99% majority and that I was able to overcome my fear in order to say what I believed God wanted me to say. That I won my case was definitely an added bonus!