Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Big Thank You to the Frankel 8

Two of the Frankel 8
In a year in which public life has sunk so low, only a few beacons stand out. There have been some protests which served to lift our spirits temporarily, but in the end seemed to have very little effect. And then there has been the court case brought by the Frankel Eight, over 30 years after their alleged abuse as children, which provided a landmark ruling and which will have significant consequences for survivors of sexual abuse in South Africa both now and in the future. The proscription period of 20 years for charges of sexual abuse has been ruled unconstitutional by the High Court! If this judgement is confirmed in the Constitutional Court it will open the way to a change in the law.
Countries vary with regard to the proscription period or statute of limitations as it is sometimes called. For example, Canada and the UK have no time limitation for cases of child sexual abuse; whereas the US, Europe and Australia do.

Miranda Friedmann
Miranda Friedmann (From Women and Men Against Child Abuse) laid out in a recent radio interview how events in the life of a survivor may contribute to "late disclosure" and their only be ready to lay charges against a paedophile abuser after 30 or 40 years (as is the case with the Frankel 8). This happens for survivors who actually remember being assaulted. How much more likely is late disclosure when a survivor discovers in therapy that they have unknowingly dissociated an experience of assault, which then became occluded from their consciousness for many years. This is not an unusual occurrence in my 40 years of practicing psychotherapy.

If I think back to the patients for whom this was true, very few of them would have brought a case against their abuser anyway. However, the realization that one could, and what that would be like would certainly add a component of empowerment to the healing process. As an example, I know of one person, assaulted countless times by Catholic priests over thirty years ago, who, in trying to bring a case, has been met with delaying tactics, helplessness, inaction, derision and ridicule. He is now hugely encouraged by this ruling.

I was abused by anti-Semitic nuns while in St. Joseph's Hospital (now the Vincent Palotti), Pinelands
Cape Town in 1945 or 46. Since the High Court ruling I have had a few wonderful peer counselling sessions, imagining bringing a court case against a couple of dead Palatine nuns and a hospital that no longer exists! I can afford to be lighthearted about this now - I have had the benefit of hundreds of hours of attention over several decades for what happened to me in just a few days. For incest survivors and victims of paedophiles, for whom the abuse can extend over years, and for whom the effects are so long lasting and damaging, this ruling is a big milestone in their journey of recovery whether or not they choose to take legal action.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday 26 July

Hello from the famous Hotel Mille Collines (featured in the film Hotel Rwanda and in the book Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche). This was the treat I planned for myself today. The first time I came to Kigali I thought this place was far too grand for me - and it kinduv is. But I've wanted a swim all week, and I figured a hot walk uphill to get to this pool was better than the uphill walk I would have after my swim if I went to the Circle Sportif. So I have had a great day here, taking advantage of the free WiFi and trying to catch up on the readings for the 2nd week which is all about peacemaking, keeping and building. This is a bit dreary for me - it doesn't have the adrenaline rush of trauma and conflict!
The outstanding features of the first week of the course which concentrated on causes and actors of genocide were of-course my fellow students, our lecturers, the way one is forced to think about genocide and perpetration, and a terrible but extraordinary movie that we only watched because our eminent history lecturer had an emergency meeting with his vice-chancellor. (More about these below)

One of my goals was to meet with my fellow mental health professionals and at my instigation we had a formal meeting after class on Wednesday when 5 of us met and introduced ourselves and the work that we do. We have two men who are facilitators of a form of Social Therapy which has networks all over the country. People are recruited (I don't know how) and they meet for a week. The groups are mixed - from different social classes and gender and most importantly victim/survivors and perpetrators or the children thereof. With the safety they are able to create, people hear about each others experiences and with the expression of feelings that occurs, some kind of reconciliation happens. Another man is a psychotherapist, spiritual healer and cultural activist. He has lots of stories about how breaking cultural taboos causes mental illness - the biggest taboo being the killings that have occurred in the post-colonial era. The other woman, besides myself is a clinical psychologist, who has studied at the University of Johannesburg. But she has done many other things including being a local councillor here in Rwanda.

I'm getting behind so I'll just mention the name of the movie so you won't be left too much in suspense. It was "The Act of Killing". Joshua Oppenheimer, a documentary filmmaker made it about killers of communists and ethnic Chinese in Indonesia in 1965. These perpetrators won that "dirty war" so they are proud and boastful about what they did and were happy to re-enact their modes of killing. It has won a lot of prizes and there are many interviews online with Joshua O. because it is so horrific and almost unbelievable. The most telling interview of him that I read tells the story of how he came to make this film. He had been working with some survivors on the rubber plantations and he didn't think what he was filming was all that interesting - the sites of mass graves etc. The survivors themselves suggested he film the killers and so he did!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Rwandan Vignettes contd

I don't know how to change the order of these posts on my new tablet, so read the one below first. To cut a long story short - I decided not to go to Tanzania this weekend but I did go on a motorbike taxi - Fred on one and me on another - to order my wedding outfit (iterero) in a little shop at the end of a whole floor of wedding shops. I also found out how the ritual goes for a traditional wedding - the one I'm going to miss. The brides' parents bring out the wrong sister to the groom's wedding party and they go through the ritual of saying, "No she is not the one we came for," until the correct one is brought out from her father's house. Only then does the groom come forward. The picture here is of Fred helping me to choose the material for my garment in the shop.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rwandan Vignettes

I feel I should write about the course today but it wasn't quite as interesting as my adventures in Kigali. I went to get a SIM card before class. The woman who had to fill in my passport details on her computer got distracted. Why? Because she said, "I can't believe how old you are! You look so strong...." I smiled. (I found out later that the average lifespan in Rwanda is 65 - so no wonder she was surprised.) She asked if I had lots of children. "No," I said trotting out my usual facetious response, "I forgot to have them." "You forgot?" She was wide-eyed and open-mouthed, "But didn't your neighbors remind you?" That was not a response I've ever had before!

It says a lot about Rwandan society and I told this story in class when we were discussing the intimacy of the violence that characterized the Rwandan genocide - neighbour killing neighbour, teammates killing former team members, Hutu husbands killing Tutsi wives on pain of death themselves - the local genocidaires knew their victims, had drunk banana beer with them and had traded cows with them. (Jean Hatzfeld: "Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak." (2006))

Fred, my Rwandan "son" - we adopted each other about 9 years ago - came to meet me after the course finished for the day. He is getting married in 3 weeks time. That's not wholly correct - he has been through month's of family negotiations and rituals and last week had a civil ceremony. He had yet to tell me the plans. He is a rather secretive person - as a genocide orphan, he is not used to confiding in anyone. He has a habit of surprising me. In Cape Town he was always opening new businesses in Belville and only telling me when they were up and running. So I ask him what are the plans for the wedding?
"Well we still have to have the introductions where the families meet."
"I thought you'd done that already?" I'm a bit taken aback.
"No, it's the traditional wedding. Do you want to come to that?" he asks.
"Sure, of-course. Don't I need a special garment? I've been asking around..."
"Yes," he says, "but that can be arranged - you are on my list."
"When is it?"  I' m wondering how much time I have to do this.
"This weekend."
 Good God! "Why didn't you tell me?!"
A little giggle, "it's in Tanzania."
 "WHAT?" I'm astounded, exasperated and clutching my head at the craziness of all this. He never told me his bride was from Tanzania!

Apparently, for Rwandans its no big deal to cross this border. The 35 members of his entourage are all sorted - he has hired a bus for them and they don't have to pay and, most importantly, they have been preparing themselves for this for months! I will have to pay twice, travel for about 14 hours all told in 30 degree heat, and stay overnight in Tanzania - uhrrr!!! I can't do it!!!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Not Yet "Beyond Trauma" - Genocide Travels

I'm in Kigali for the second time in a year. I'm going to use my blog as a kind of journal to keep me reflecting and communicating because I'm on a 2 - week course entitled "Genocide and Mass Atrocities: Actors, Causes and Responses to Violence." It's run by the Aegis Trust who not only set up the Genocide Museum here but who are now in the archive, busy digitizing the evidence of the gacaca courts - 25 million of handwritten pages! and something which has never been done before. We were sent readings for the course about 2 months ago and were told to read everything before we came. It has been a steep learning curve and I've loved it! I'm not quite done yet - a few more papers to go! Today was the first day - there are about 45 - 50 of us here sitting in a big U - shape.
A large Rwandan contingent - academics from faculties of Law and Education, government employees, people involved with local governance, heads of small NGOs concerned with community mental health, marginalized  Batwa - the small indigenous people of Rwanda - and Rwandan culture. There are people from Kenya and Uganda, from a Genocide Studies Department in Amsterdam, a group of Swiss anthropology students, a British guy from the Royal Commonwealth Society and me. I have found out that quite a few of the Rwandans have studied short courses in South Africa. We have a deal with Rwanda that their students pay the same rate as South Africans so guys have studied governance at the University of Pretoria and the assistant head of the Law School studied in "Potch" - his abbreviation!
There is lots of discussion; many different viewpoints. Phil Clark, the Australian course leader from SOAS is very encouraging and validating of comments and questions so we are seeing an open space being created. We touched on the sore point of whether we would be allowed to say ANYthing i.e. talking about who is Tutsi or Hutu or that there was not a genocide? Our Rwandan lecturer put it as a question: Is genocide denial a hate crime or part of freedom of speech? In Rwanda denying that there was genocide in 1994 is a criminal offense and chargeable in court. You cannot deny, minimize or trivialize the genocide. This is also the case in some European countries with regard to the Holocaust but not in the USA. There it is considered part of freedom of speech. With regard to definitions - whether mass violence is genocide, a crime against humanity or a war crime - these should not be seen as describing a hierarchy of suffering. "Rather" he asked, "can you talk about these in a neutral way without being biased by the experience you have gone through?" This seems to be the difficulty the Rwandan refugees that I have met in the dialogue groups at the Cape Town Holocaust Centre seem to experience. They are not able to do this.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Rhodes Had To Rise in Order to "Fall"

Photograph by Tony Carr
In an ironic twist the Rhodes statue which was finally removed from the grounds of the University of Cape Town (UCT) this week - 9th April 2015 - had to be "lifted" in order to "fall". But it could have fallen :
 the occupiers of "Azania House" (the administration building) could easily have arranged it if vandalism was their intention. It clearly wasn't. There was much more at stake - the conscientizing of the whole academic community - not only at the University of Cape Town but nationwide. I think all those critics I have just read on the news24 website who were disgusted by the students' behaviour yesterday should realize this.

Furthermore, I watched on video as one young man bashed at Rhodes' carved face with a wooden plank, while another tied a bucket with red paint round his head and I wondered what was happening for them. It was as if they wanted to  destroy forever the greedy colonialist vision that his gaze over the Cape flats symbolized - the installation of white hegemony from Cape to Cairo. It's scary for many people to see this. But actually it's human to feel rage at centuries of injustice and at present humiliations. Its just that so few of us have ever been allowed to express this kind of rage, we get scared by it. I once saw some enlightened parents give their angry little boy a plastic baseball-bat to go hit against a tree. What was so different last Thursday afternoon? Its not just children who feel rage - we all do. By the time we are adults it's usually suppressed and our bodies pay the price. So if a couple of young men expressed their violent rage by bashing at Rhodes' head, I for one, am grateful to them - no-one was hurt in the process - they got to feel empowered and it was the perfect moment to savor their victory.
Photograph by Tony Carr

 Every young person should have that feeling at some point in their lives! I doubt they will ever forget what they did and what was achieved by the Rhodes Must Fall campaign.

Many of the occupiers of Azania House slept in the conference room named belatedly to honour Archie Mafeje. Having known Archie, who wrote from experience about white liberal hegemony at the universities of Southern Africa, I think he would've been pleased to have played a role in this first big step to effect a change, but he would in no way be satisfied with it....

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Quiet Demise of Zonnebloem

Sometime earlier this year, I arranged a meeting at St Marks District Six and when I gave people directions I told them to follow the signs to Zonnebloem. I was a bit surprised therefore when on my way there, I saw the sign had been changed to District Six. This was the original 1867 name of the area close to the Cape Town Central Business District (CBD) which for over a century housed a mixed community and then was declared to be for whites only in 1966.
It gave me a bit of a lift - Wow! the City had given the area back its rightful name - or so I thought.....

A few weeks later, I am walking around the Cape Town Art Fair and I chance upon a video made by Haroon Gunn-Salie. And what is it about? It is a film of 2 hoodies going out at night with ladders and rolls of wide tape replacing all the Zonnebloem signs. I am rather amazed to see this evidence of what actually had transpired. Far from this being a decision taken by the City Fathers (or in Cape Town's case, the Mothers) it turns out to be a "site-specific installation" by a young artist and his friends. And do you know? Its been up since August 2013 and not a single one has been removed! and I guarantee none will be. In addition it is probably illegal to do what Gunn-Salie did, but you will never hear of a court case about it. A terrible wrong - the apartheid government's forced removals in 1968 of thousands of people from a vibrant community - which was then euphemized by calling the area Zonnebloem (Sunflower) - was quietly addressed by a brilliant artist who sensed the time was right for a return to the place-name - "District Six". No-one has been offended or excluded by his action. In fact his works on the forced removals of District Six have won him great acclaim.

The University of Cape Town students currently protesting about the statue of Rhodes (Southern Africa's arch-colonialist) so prominently placed on campus, or even Max Price, the beleaguered Vice-Chancellor, could do a lot worse than consult with Haroon Gunn-Salie about what to do with the Rhodes statue and what to put in its place!