[notice]A fortnightly column on marriage, family and relationships.[/notice]
In the last article we shared about how treating others affects how and if God promotes us. We focused on Luke 10:27 that says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul. You shall love your neighbour as you love yourself.” In light of what has been dominating the headlines recently in South Africa, I will like us to zero in on Jesus’s second command in this verse, “You shall love your neighbour as you love yourself”.
The first time I was aware of the concept of “umelwane” (a neighbour) was when we moved from Port Alfred and settled in Port Elizabeth. In Port Alfred I didn’t think of my neighbours as neighbours because as a child my focus was on playing with my friends. My neighbour’s presence and location spoke of friendships; kid’s activities such as climbing trees; playing with cars and racing with my friends (their kids) down the dusty streets of our little neighbourhood. There was something familiar about my street that I loved; the sense of community; the fact that everybody knew each other and similar experiences shared. It was more than the fact that we spoke the same language; IsiXhosa. We were tied by the fact that we were all residents of Eposini. This is where I first attended church and was introduced to Bible stories. Going to church services was a Sunday ritual and a Thursday and Sunday ritual for my mum who attended a women’s service on Thursday. My family was indeed part of the Eposini community. I went to school at the local primary school; my parents worked and we were part of the church community.
When we arrived in Port Elizabeth in the mid-eighties in search of a better life, as my parents put it, we settled in the township of Zwide. This is when I think I first really understood the term neighbour as I didn’t have any friends in the beginning and we had to begin the process of knowing our neighbours.
In the late 80s my parents moved our family again now to the black suburb of KwaMagxaki. Beautiful houses were being built there and everyone wanted to get themselves a house up on the hill. Again we had to get to know our neighbours. We changed many neighbours over the years that we stayed there and my mom has had to get to know many other people as they have moved in and moved out…
What can be said about one’s relationship with one’s neighbours? Here are two or more families who most of the time do not know each other but are forced by circumstances to get to know one other. They are forced to live “together” although not in the same house but because of how close their houses are to each other they are forced to depend on each other. They share the same water; electricity; same sanitation system; access to the same street; they share the same municipality. When these municipal services are affected all the neighbours suffer. When there is no electricity in the area the neighbours are affected. When there is crime in the area neighbours call on each to protect one another hence the need for neighbourhood watches.
Growing up and now owning my own house I know too well how important it is that one relates well with one’s neighbours. My husband and I had the fortunate or unfortunate task of building our own house. We had a contractor who in the process of building showed himself to be untrustworthy. Long story short we moved into our house before it was finished. We didn’t have doors; some of the things we decided would be finished after we moved in. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon when we moved into our house. Because we had not paved the driveway we had to move our furniture while fighting off the mud. The electricity was not turned on yet and our neighbours (A white family who have moved into this neighbourhood in 1973) were there to help us. For the three and half weeks when we didn’t have electricity this precious family lent us their long extension cord as they shared; reached out to lighten our load and extend a helping hand to us. They could have easily turned their back on this black family who have come to settle in their neighbourhood but they constantly asked how they could help us. To this day we do not know how we could have survived without them helping us.
In our seven years since living here we have our own fair share of stories from living in this neighbourhood. When we had multiple break-ins we had to lean on each other for help in dealing with the problem. When we were short of water and when one’s electricity was switched off we again leaned on each other for help. This help went a long way in helping each other’s families.
As adults we might not be as close as we should but the children through their playing always remind us that we indeed share this space that we have decided to call home. Every now and then their ball lands on my neighbour’s lawn and my children have to lean over the wall and say: “May we have our ball back?” I have heard this line from my neighbour’s children as well. Watching them grow up has at times reminded me of my own childhood growing up in Port Alfred. To this day whenever as a family we go to visit my mom in Port Elizabeth we always go to Port Alfred. One of the things I do is to connect with my old friends. Some are still alive and are still living in Port Alfred and unfortunately some have died. One thing that continually takes me back are the memories and the fact that we shared our childhood together. This is something that no one can ever take back; from the bruised legs from climbing tress to the many happy moments shared and many cries we caused to each other that eventually involved our parents…one thing that ties us is that we have a past; a past that we can never erase.
In South Africa in the last couple of weeks we have been woken up to the reality that our past as a nation has the potential to divide us. We have a colourful past that is full of crimes done to one another. We have been bruised some more than others. We have shared cries and shared happy moments together as a nation. There are many things that have united us as a nation. Many things that have given us moments of pride as we share this common space called South Africa. There are moments though that we can never run away from; moments of extreme hurt; sadness and crimes done against one another. All of this happened in this country of ours. Like my family long time ago, some left to seek a better life elsewhere. Some are leaving as we speak as they are losing hope in the dream of the rainbow nation. There are many among us who are not happy about the state of our nation. With the removal of statues; renaming of streets and buildings one question most of us have is: “What is happening to our country?”
Our shared past
What we have to all face is the fact that we share this beautiful land. We do have a past and that past might be filled with bruises and cries but we do share it and that we will never change. How we revisit it is up to us. We choose what we can take out of the memories of our past but one thing is certain is that when we as neighbours do not lend a hand to each other; when we refuse to acknowledge that more binds us than not; we collectively have challenges that affect all of us — crime; electricity; possible water shortages. When we do not rise up and fight for safety in our streets as a COLLECTIVE the only people who will suffer are our children.
Much has happened yes to divide us along racial lines but one thing that we all share is that we are, ALL OF US citizens of South Africa! How we relate to each other now; at this crossroad in our democracy will determine the kind of South Africa we will leave for our children. Raising my children in a multicultural and multiracial community I have had the honour of witnessing how young hearts relate to each other. The children welcome each other with such loving hugs and affection when they see one another. Their young minds have not been exposed to the greater reality that is South Africa. They do not see Black; White; Coloured and Indian. They only see friends. If they turn out to hate one another years down the line it will be because we as their parents and South Africa failed them.
Leviticus 19:18 says: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.”