2020: The year we rebirth our humanity

A young woman at work recently asked a poignant question: ” Has God given up on us, because we expected 20-plenty but all we got was Covid-19 with plenty of misery, anxiety and loss”.

She was asking a question echoed by thousands across the world. The year 2020 arrived loaded with great expectations. We aptly termed it twenty-plenty, rich with hope for growth and prosperity.

However, the events of the recent months are contrary to what we expected. There has been great disruptions to our lives in ways we could not have imagined. Our collective stories and experiences about the loss of lives and livelihoods due to Covid-19 is tempting many to believe 2020 should be relegated to the dustbin of history with all those toilet papers we panic bought, as a wasted year.

Yet, while the year comes with hard questions without ready answers, it is also a year rich with hope and possibilities as we reimagine ourselves and the world going forward. And for many of us, we realise that a better future starts with us centering our common humanity as a template.

Nowhere in recent history have we stopped to reflect of the true state of humanity and the gaping fault lines like now. The pandemic has opened our hearts and forced us to see things we were “blinded” to.

Around the world and certainly here in South Africa, acts and stories of human generosity and ingenuity abound. Unlikely heroes are rising out of obscurity. We are redefining and recognising the value of essential workers, the ones putting their lives on the line for all of us. We are witnessing people digging into their pockets to share with others. We witness governments committing huge resources to alleviate poverty and assist businesses. Businesses are repurposing to serve the desperate needs of the moment. Priorities are shifting to put lives before profits.

The lesson of the moment is that when we are left with nothing but each other, we are compelled to reach inside to what truly matters. It is a year of great gains in spite of the losses. It’s a time of rebirth for our souls.

So while I also don’t have answers for the hard questions, this I am sure of: 2020 is a year of God’s plenty. It is a year we rediscovered our common destiny and made positive changes in our spheres of influence.

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” – Mother Teresa

God bless Afrika and her people.

pearl p mashabane

“We thank the virus for water…”

pix courtesy: sowetanlive

A week into lockdown, residents of a rural area in Mpumalanga were interviewed on tv and one said: “We thank the virus for water”. Read.

Their body language did not betray the apparent absurdity of the statement. They were genuinely happy and thankful. Watching the clip, I imagined that if Covid was a person, they would shake its hands and give it a hug.

Their remarks might sound unfortunate and callous to us. But as we step into their shoes, we see a painful tale of years of begging and protesting ad infinitum, hoping to gain access to basic services. They grew weary and accepted that democracy has favourites. They settled to living with viruses of inequality.

Then one day, a virus with a new name enters the stage. It’s arrival breathes enough fear to jumpstart the conscience of our leaders. It reminds them that access to clean drinking water and sanitation are basic human rights – a matter of dignity, life and death. Within a week, clean water that has eluded them for years, arrives in their communities. The people thank the virus for the water and not the officials. This is says a lot.

It also makes me wonder; will people work hard to help flatten the curve if the end of Covid-19 potentially means an end to water delivery and other basic services like shelter for the homeless?

The answer must come from those who are responsible for service delivery. Are they committed to providing certain and sustainable access to water and other basic services post covid? Or will the old excuses return to take the proverbial bread out of the people’s mouth?

Will this moment amplify our humanity in policy and practice Or will we collectively return to our old viruses?

“If there is hope in the future, there is literally power in the present” zig ziglar

God bless Africa!

pearl p mashabane

Waking Up in a Strange World…

During the months of January and February, I sat with a persistent feeling of a shift coming that I couldn’t articulate in words. The feeling brought an anxious restlessness and sense of urgency in my work and reflections on meaning making. I had many theories for this experience, chief amongst them being an early mid-life crisis or maybe a new gig coming up. Nothing could have prepared me for what would unfold a month later: South Africa and the rest of the world in Lockdown due to Covid-19 and life as we know it, turning upside down.

Before March, we knew of the Corona virus but as something far removed from us at the bottom tip of the African continent. I imagined that it would float briefly in the northern hemisphere like its cousins SARS and MERS did and life would go on.

Lo and behold, we are waking in a strange world and now in our second week of a 21 days lockdown. The virus was spreading at a pace that didn’t allow for proper change management to happen and so we panicked our way around as everything closed down except for essential services. The meaning of essential services remains contentious as we swing between shock, sadness, anger and adjustment to the new abnormal.

We didn’t go gently into our lockdown. It is an unknown path that comes with many challenges for us, a country that is rated the most socio-economically unequal in the world and with the highest number of people living with HIV and TB. And while making sense of the invisible new enemy amongst us, the rating agencies downgraded our economy to a sub-investment status. Thus while a lockdown comes with sacrifices and discomforts, for us this moment magnifies the extend and impact of our inequality.

As we try to observe the orders to stay home, we realise too many don’t have a home. There are over 50 000 homeless people on the streets of Gauteng province alone. Also home is not the safest place to be for those living in abusive homes – gender based violence stats in SA are staggering. Some want to stay in but there too many people in one room or shack. Hunger and lack of sanitation is pushing many people back to the streets, to crime and into the arms of the virus. Others still don’t understand what is going on as the bulk of our awareness messages are in English though we have 11 official languages.

Yet against all odds, we are trying to flatten the curve. We are slowly adapting, learning and accepting our new reality. Society is rallying up and positive changes are taking place in the midst of uncertainty. Some of us are also finding our way back to the page to reflect on a world that is changing before our eyes. We don’t know what lies on the other side, we ride on the wings of hope and intentional action for a better world.

God bless our world!

pearl p mashabane

Zimbabwe’s Second Independence: The rebirth of a nation?

Zimbabwe is pregnant. And this week she is ready to give birth at the polling stations. Her midwives will come from Beitbridge, Harare, Bulawayo Matebeleland, Masvingo and Mashonaland. Others will drive or flight in from lands near and far to ensure a successful delivery of baby democracy on the 30 July 2018.

Given Zimbabwean’s penchant for giving their children “interesting” English names, the baby birthed this week will be called: Second Independence or New Zimbabwe.

She will succeed First Independence who was born 38 years ago and went mad and rogue after his addiction to power. He sucked the country dry until there was nothing left. He ate his own people and drove many to foreign lands for peace and survival.

Today, on the eve of the rebirth of a nation, former president Mugabe gave what is reminiscent of the biblical patriarchs transitioning speech. First he waxed indignant about his painful demise from power and how guns have been used used to direct politics. He spoke as frankly and eloquently as we have always known him to be, with the characteristics ramblings of old age.

Then he delivered his “Blessings of Jacob” to the 23 successors who have availed themselves to birth the country’s miracle baby.

He declared fervently that he will not vote for his party’s candidate, Mnangagwa. “I said I can’t vote a party or those in power who are the people that have brought me to this state. I can’t vote for them.”

Of the other candidates he stated: “I have said the 2 women presidential candidates don’t offer very much. So what is there? It’s just Chamisa.”

Thus the patriarch’s proverbial “blessing” went to the only other viable candidate: the MDC’s 40 year old Nelson Chamisa, who is the youngest presidential candidate in Zimbabwe’s history.

He implored the good Lord to help bring a better day for Zimbabwe tomorrow and declared that guns never again be used to change governments.

We who bear witness to the prolonged labour pains and anguish of our sister country have no say on who Zimbabweans choose to birth their second liberation. We can only hope that many will rise early, travel far and wide to the labour rooms of the nation and cast their votes. We pray that their decision will be informed by their hopes and not their fears. That they will be led by their conscience and that peace and freedom will prevail.

May tomorrow bring a better day for the refugee mothers that I pass begging for survival on the harsh streets of Johannesburg, bearing toddlers as sympathy props.

May tomorrow bring a better day for graduates and professionals who have turned to menial work that undermines their true potential.

May tomorrow be a red sea parting moment that signals for those who have been scattered afar to return to the warm fires of home and rebuild the ruins.

May tomorrow be a cutting of ties with the past and birth a new future. Indeed, may tomorrow bring Zimbabwe and Africa good news.

Ishe komborera Afrika!

Pearl P Mashabane

An African Woman’s Winter Song.

It is July and Johannesburg shivers in winters icy grip. I lie cocooned in shrouds of blankets, nursing memories of summers past.

Winter is often harsh in South Africa. The freezing air creeps through our thin house walls and crevices, piercing through the body like needle pricks.

Families huddle around electric, gas and paraffin heaters. Many resort to coal stoves that release lulling toxic fumes and never awake from their sleep. Others are aroused by angry flames engulfing their homes, leaving them to battle it out with nothing but the clothes on their backs . Such is the depressing legacy of our winters.

It is amidst this gloom that a summer’s song bursts forth from my garden. I am startled. What is there to sing about when the cold chills down to the bone?

I wiggle out of bed, drapped in a thick duvet and shuffle myself to the window. I wonder if this morning has birthed a miracle. Perhaps summer has arrived in the long hours that I spent hibernating in blankets, awaiting spring to resurrect me back to life.

Through the sheer curtains, I see her sitting on a bony branch of a fig tree. Her melody reaches the heavens.

I look around and the sky still hangs grey and the sun has still gone absent without leave. The day is as dull and discouraging as it has been the past week. The air near the window feels like I am standing in front of a freezer. I feel irritated at the hollow promise of a miracle. The simple bird must be deranged. It must have totally lost its mind for singing a song of joy in a dry and gloomy season.

I return to bed and cling to my blankets for comfort. The yellow bird amps up its long trill, oblivious to the comatose world around it.

I wonder why it has not migrated like other birds and like other things in my life that have died or migrated in the past season. Things that have let winter creep straight into my heart, leaving me with a sense of desolation.

And I wonder why she is singing in my yard as if to intentionally taunt me. I return to the curtain and the bird has moved to the skeletal mulberry tree near my window. I can see her more clearly, puffed in her yellow plumage with black and white stripes. She jumps with energy through the dry, gray branches. She is definitely high on something.

Yet I am transfixed by her unseasonal song.

It then dawns on me that the yellow bird is singing a song of thanksgiving. It is giving praise in a season where waking up early yields no fat worms.

Yet it doesn’t surrender to depression. It doesn’t mute its melody. It is sure it will have enough for the day. A verse blossoms in my heart:

  • Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
    Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life“. Matthew 6: 26-27

I feel the coldness in my heart suddenly thawing. I shed off my heavy drappings and lift my arms up and join in her song.

I often sing English songs. But today the song that germinates from my heart is an old Sotho worship song sung by many African mothers.

“Hale mpotsa tshepo yaka

Ke tlare ke Jesu…

Le re ke boneng ho yena,

Ke bone phomolo

Thabo eleng ho Morena

Ha ena phetoho”

(When you ask me the reason for my hope, I will point to Jesus. You ask what I have found/seen in Him? I say I have found peace. The joy found in God is unchanging)

The bird gives praise from a barren tree and I offer mine from a barren soul. We both praise God in our storms. As she flies off, my heart swells with gratitude for the gift of life, daily bread and the strength to sing. And often in life, that is miraculous enough.

As strength begins to fire my soul for the day ahead, I count my blessings and think about the millions of African mothers across the country who wake up from makeshift homes at the birth of each day and have to commute long distance to work for meagre wages.

Others wake with the birds and bake fresh cakes to sell to labourers in the morning. They don’t have the luxury of sleeping in a few more hours on an icy morning.

I marvel at their resilience against the brutal bites and cuts of winter. I wonder if they each have a yellow bird singing them into life every dodgy morning. I suspect they have memorised a song of hope for all of life’s seasons. A song that gives them strength and courage to keep going and put bread on the table every day.

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength

Isaiah 40: 29-31

God bless Afrika!

Pearl P Mashabane

In search of new leaders: We are the messiahs we seek.

Leaders are dealers in hope. This is something I have been learning in the past few years of working with transformation challenges at different organisations. However, no matter what social space we are in, there is a similar cry about “lack of leadership” in society, companies and particularly in politics.

The hunger for leadership is echoed everyday by the rich and poor alike in the streets, media and around family meals. Academics are becoming paralysed with their analysis of this topic, while books on leadership dominate bookstore shelves.

Thus it comes as no surprise that the new leadership in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Angola et al in the past few months is like a dawn of a messianic moment for many.

These changes have brought a new sense of optimism. The level of hope imbued on the new leaders is almost overwhelming. They are seen as the new saviours. The ones who are going to deliver miracles that eluded their predecessors. Here in South Africa, “Ramaphoria” is the new term used to describe the dizzying highs people are feeling with the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa after the murky years of Jacob Zuma. Expectations are soaring high.

However history has taught us that we dare not put our hopes in politicians or personalities anymore. Whereas they have a duty to inspire and create an enabling environment for the realization of the growth and development of their people, at times to a point of peoples very lives depending on their “graces”, we have to tread carefully.

Real power, agency and the ability to organise and hold public representatives accountable rests in our hands. We should not forget that. Putting too much hope in positional leaders is to gamble with our destinies. It also has elements of conferring supernatural powers on mere mortals who can only do so much. Power belongs to the people. Me and you.

Collectively, we are more resourceful, resilient and powerful than we think. Nelson Mandela put it aptly when he said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

I am aware that I am writing from a position of privilege as I type these words. I am relatively cushioned against the dire effects of bad leadership, though I have my own shocking tales to tell. Yet I dare say them because I have seen countless of people making it beyond all odds. The odds of political upheavals, racism, sexism, violence, poverty and trauma.

I am sometimes convinced that those who have the most odds stacked against them seem to rise out of the proverbial ashes more often than those who are accustomed to being cushioned. This is not a glorification of struggle, but a praise of the strength of the human spirit. It is a testament that we have what it takes to create a preferred reality to a certain extend.

So even as we take a gulp of fresh air welcoming our new leaders in Liberia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola and in some institutions, I hope we have become a little wiser. We are the leaders and saviour we seek. Our fate rests mostly in our own hands.

We dare not outsource our souls and lives to the messiah’s of our own fantasies.

May God bless Afrika!

With love

Pearl Pebetse

So long Uncle Bob…A new hope for Zimbabwe!

The 21st November 2017 marks a historic day in Zimbabwe. The world’s oldest president, 93 year old Robert Mugabe has resigned with immediate effect after 37 years in power. It is one of those moments that our grandchildren will one day ask us “Where were you when Robert Mugabe resigned”.

I am in Bloemfontein, at the University of the Free State. I am watching the news unfolding on TV.  Mugabe is on all media channels. One of my colleagues jokes that Mugabe is everywhere, she is afraid she will find him in the fridge too.

The streets of Harare are swarming with people. There is jubilation and songs of freedom. There is unbelief that this has happened in their lifetime. People are screaming New Independence, even in the face of uncertainty about what the future holds.

Earlier in the day, a Zimbabwean colleague remarked that it doesn’t matter if a  baboon or a dog steps in. At this moment, anything would be better than a lifetime under Mugabe. It was a tough and brutal journey. They are ready for change. And today Zimbabweans have gained the freedom they longed for; patiently and peacefully.

I am excited for the people of my sister country, many of whom have been forced to flee the untenable conditions into nearby countries. Many of them are well educated, but they had to learn to scramble and settle for anything  that ensure their survival. They watched their country, once known as “Africa’s bread-basket”, turning into a basket case; the only country without their own currency and unemployment at 90%.

Today marks the end of an era, a turning of a new page.

I must declare that a part of me has mixed emotions. I had developed an affinity for “uncle BoB’s” smarts and eloquence. I saw him as one of the unapologetic pan-africanist  who spoke uncomfortable truths to some world powers. I seldom missed an opportunity to listen to him delivering speeches at the UN General Assembly.  He was at one point a revered revolutionary and visionary leader who ensured Zimbabweans had the highest literacy rate on the African continent.

Obviously somewhere along the line things went terribly wrong and it was downhill thereafter. That’s when he should have bowed out, when his legacy was still intact. Now he will be remembered as a dictator. An addiction to power never ends well.

I am glad he has bowed out or pushed out. It was long overdue. It came at high price for the people of Zimbabwe who have lost life and limb and thousands being scattered all over the world.

I am especially mindful and hopeful for the many mothers and children who have been reduced to beggars on the street corners of Johannesburg and the gifted civil servants who have had to swallow their potential and be exploited as cheap laborers. The day you have been waiting for has dawned.

May this day mark a birth of new miracles as you start the hard work of reimagining a new future and restoring “Africa’s Bread Basket” to new levels of glory. May you find your voices and life’s song again.

Long Live Zimbabwe! May God bless You!

pearl pebetse