New frank look at racism

OPEN TALKS: Pastor Afrika Mhlophe listens to a point being made at an inner-city racism discussion held at the South End Museum, facilitated by Gary Koekemoer. Picture: MARK WEST
OPEN TALKS: Pastor Afrika Mhlophe listens to a point being made at an inner-city racism discussion held at the South End Museum, facilitated by Gary Koekemoer. Picture: MARK WEST

Monthly discussions started to address deep divisions in PE, writes Estelle Ellis

What started as a discussion over a cup of coffee has now become a series of conversations on racism that will hopefully blossom into a huge reconciliation project in a much-divided city.

This is the aim of Trevor Jennings, who is driving the project and wants to see more frank discussions on racism taking place.

Jennings said he felt white people did not share a common understanding of the past and needed to get on the same page before they could begin to address endemic racism in the city.

“I feel that before white people can talk to others about racism we need to have a shared understanding of what happened,” he said.

“Originally I got Dutch Reformed Church pastor Danie Mouton, Gary Koekemoer, Professor Mark Anstey and Professor Charles Wait to come to my house for a cup of coffee to talk about a way to approach racism differently.”

The original cup of coffee has now developed into a monthly discussion on racism held at the South End Museum.

“I think one of the most touching moments for me so far was when a pastor from Uitenhage walked around the museum, came to me and said, ‘We need to have a major church service here for all the people of the city to ask for forgiveness and reconciliation,’ ” he said.

“I think we are at a point in our city now where we have to go big in talking about racism.

“We are on the edge. This is a divided city and we need to fix it – and yes, talking about racism also means talking about redistribution of land,” Jennings said.

Pastor Afrika Mhlophe, who attended this week’s meeting, said talking about race also meant talking about identity, and it meant reaching out in a very divided city.

“A while ago I was addressing students and during a 15-minute break I encouraged them to walk around Summerstrand and look around. Afterwards they all still talked about it,” Mhlophe said.

“I want to encourage them to dream about these double-storey houses and living there one day.

“I tell them that it is OK to dream and that there are black people living here [Summerstrand].”

Mhlophe said that at his Kwazakhele church he would sometimes have to reprimand the ushers, who went out of their way to find a “good seat” for white people attending the service.

“I keep on telling them they are just the same as other members of the congregation.”

Facilitator Koekemoer said he wanted to encourage everybody to do one thing a week to overcome the divide between races in the city.

“Port Elizabeth is the most divided city in South Africa,” he said.

“Even after decades of ANC rule nothing has changed. We need to change that.”

Koekemoer said he himself would like to write a letter to apologise for being complacent about racism since 1994.

Jennings said there was an open invitation to everybody who wished to discuss racism in the city.

“Anybody can come. We share our thoughts on this on a monthly basis. It is very much an experimental group to find out how we can take this forward.

“Mhlophe and I will go the church route. We think churches are a fertile ground to address racism – but we are open to any other plans. We are going to find a way.

“There is no way that five or six people can discuss racism when the whole city is fraught with racism. We need to get the debate going.”

  • The next meeting will be at the South End Museum on September 29.

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