By Jennifer Charlton
Although stories dominating the headlines concerning KZN reflect political division, mayhem and murder, that is not the complete picture. In contrast, there are many wonderful stories of ordinary people reaching out to help each other and build bridges.
Church leaders in the violence-stricken areas of Phoenix, Inanda, Ntuzuma, KwaMashu and Umhlanga/Durban North (dubbed #PINKU) came together in a two-day process at the end of September in a renewed effort to build bridges after the unrest that ravaged the region in July.
Hosted by the NPC, Heartlines, and African Enterprise, and supported by the KZN Christian Council and Diakonia, 30 leaders from various denominations and all four major racial groupings grappled with the question of how to foster greater levels of trust and understanding amongst themselves and others.
The programme, called Bridge Leadership Engagement, comes out of Heartlines’ “What’s Your Story” initiative, which uses personal storytelling as a tool to break down barriers and unlock creative strategies for change.
The groundwork for the “Bridge” was laid through a process that started shortly after the unrest, where church leaders started gathering on Zoom every Thursday afternoon for an hour, sharing, listening and supporting each other.
Deviating from their usual projects, Heartlines also put out a call for donations to set up a fund to support micro-businesses that had been affected by the violence and looting.
Having raised R750 000 in a short period of time, Heartlines called on its partners in the area to put forward names of micro-businesses known to them which could benefit from smaller contributions of up to R15 000. To date, Heartlines has paid out 48 grants in the KZN area, totalling R595 000.
The workshop was facilitated by two of Heartlines’ most seasoned mediators, Seth Naicker and Olefile Masangane, alongside Heartlines’ regional representative, Craig Bouchier.
Reflecting on how 30 key individuals, from strong networks, were prepared to spend two days and a night away from home and their day-to-day commitments, Naicker said that there had been a sincere re-awakening to the need for maintaining justice and reconciliation in the province.
In his own words: “People realised that they can’t just respond when the fire is burning”.
The “Bridge” process includes creating safe spaces for participants to be able to share their personal stories. For many of the church leaders who are used to listening to others’ pain and helping them, it was an opportunity to literally and figuratively take down their own masks.
One pastor, Clement Moses, from the Cornerstone Community Church in Phoenix, said: “We could unmask ourselves here. We often hide behind our masks, and it looks as if everything is so good, but dealing with your own story is another thing, understanding yourself first is really important”. Pastor Lucky Mchunu from Calvary Christian Church in Ntuzuma said, “This is the first time in my life I am engaging with pastors from other cultures”.
On the evening of the two-day event, participants watched Heartlines’ film Beyond the River, which depicts a young black man and an elderly white man sharing their stories whilst competing in the Dusi Canoe marathon, which takes place in the very area where the workshop was held.
“We must never underestimate the power of a well-told story,” Masangane said, commenting on the impact that the film had in terms of sparking deeper conversations amongst the participants.
On the second day of the process, participants worked in groups to plan strategies for tackling the issues facing the communities in which they work. Five key issues that they identified were poor leadership (religious, political and societal), negative mindsets, systemic injustice, lack of love-in-action and despair.
Reflecting on the process, Pastor Lyndon “Monty” Gregory from the City Hill Church Newlands in Durban, said that it was a “great opportunity to interact, to hear about challenges that we haven’t even heard about, and to consider what other people have to say.” The leaders made a personal declaration to go back to their churches and address the issues that they could.
Kerry Janse van Rensburg from Project Exodus, in Durban North, said that she had benefited greatly from the process. “The diversity of stories and the diversity of backgrounds was really enriching. It was an amazing opportunity to hear different experiences of the unrest.” She committed to keep listening, inspiring an atmosphere of diversity, and using the tool of storytelling in her work.
Craig Bouchier commented that he was inspired to see the spirit in which everyone engaged with each other and said he believed a foundation has been laid for authentic collaboration in the future.
As part of the ongoing work in an attempt to bring peace to the region, the KwaZulu Christian Council has been requested to organise a ‘National Day of Interfaith Prayer’ for forgiveness, reconciliation and healing on November 20. This day will focus on issues such as corruption, loss of ethics, crime, gender injustice, poverty, xenophobia and racism, and the backlog of grief and mental stress, shock and widespread anger following the July violence.
Heartlines will also be joining the KZNCC in organising this National Day of Prayer. Another Bridge leadership engagement has also been set up for church leaders from a wider area of KZN.
“There is absolutely no doubt that we have to continue this important work,” said Olefile Masangane, having returned to Johannesburg after his time in KZN.
“Whilst we were down there, we met with three of the grantees of the Micro Fund in Phoenix, who had lost everything during the violence. It is amazing, that with just a small injection of funds, businesses which would otherwise have folded completely, were able to get back up and running.”
However, the emotional and psychological impact of the violent looting is not going to be so easy to fix. The team were told of a pastor in Phoenix who took his own life after two men were stabbed by a mob in his yard.
It is because of this that Heartlines has also committed to working with the recipients of its grant funding to access other non-financial support on issues as mentoring, wellness and leadership.
Other Heartlines programmes include “Values and Money”, which encourages healthy habits when it comes to working with money. “Fathers Matter” also encourages the positive presence of fathers in the lives of their children. This is a topic also seen by church leaders as being a tool that can help address some of the underlying issues that led to the breakdown in personal ethics that fed into the July violence and looting.
One of the first steps in this regard will be to work with the KZNCC to hold a Provincial Fathers Matter Workshop, involving five heads of Churches from each of the six KZN regions. After this provincial workshop, they will return to their regions to mobilise local leaders and prepare for regional workshops.
Although it is never possible to attribute change to one particular initiative, Heartlines will continue to monitor the impact of interventions such as the Bridge Leadership Engagements, in the hope that inspiring people to live out positive values can help prevent a repeat of the violence witnessed in July 2021.
The funding that makes this work possible is gratefully received from the Templeton Religion Trust.
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