Despite the many impressive athletic performances we regularly witness from sports stars and other performers, the most powerful muscles in the body are not found in our arms or legs. The most potentially destructive muscle, which can also be used as a powerful motivator is, in fact, the tongue. As stated in the book of James, chapter 3: ‘The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire.’ These are strong words, yet can be very true. In our country with its cultural and religious diversity, as well as the stark chasm between the wealthy and poor, it is possible to see how easily people can offend each other with aggressive and careless words, or intolerant behaviour.
On Friday, 3 March, I was fortunate to attend a breakfast arranged by the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business, at which Dr Mamphela Ramphele was guest of honour. For those who don’t know, Dr Ramphela is a politician, former activist against apartheid, a medical doctor, an academic and a businesswoman. She is a former Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town and a one-time Managing Director of the World Bank. Despite these impressive credentials, what struck me most about Dr Ramphele in listening to her speech and talking to her, was her integrity, passion for education and hope for the future of our country. She stressed her faith in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the importance of teaching the spirit of the constitution to school children. She urged all South Africans to have honest, sincere conversations with each other, and adopt the spirit of ‘ubuntu’ in which we see something of ourselves in others, and others in us.
The Constitution includes the ‘Bill of Rights’, the cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. This Bill ‘affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom’. Regarding discrimination, the ‘Bill of Rights’ states that we ‘may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.’ It continues to state that ‘everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.’ What Dr Ramphela was expressing, was her desire for all to embrace the message that the Constitution intended to convey when first drafted. This was a message of fairness, respect, empathy and human dignity.
So where does this leave us? It is clear that we have many different spiritual, political and gender perspectives, and many differ in opinions regarding racism, sexism or even regarding which sports teams we support. So how can we be true leaders in society, or make a difference without compromising our values and beliefs? In my opinion, this is certainly not Dr Ramphele’s intention. Her key emphasis for me was to encourage all to understand and value human dignity, and to develop genuine, sincere skills in understanding those who are different to us. This involves us seeing all humans as equals, irrespective of race, educational qualifications, wealth or gender.
Although it is difficult to truly see things from another person’s perspective, it is certainly possible if we take a sincere interest in others, and listen without judging, blaming or feeling offended by their stories. This requires us to be gracious in our thinking. In Proverbs 16, we are advised that ‘gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones’ and the apostle Paul says, ‘Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone’ (Colossians 4:6). As salt flavours our food, grace flavours our words for building others up. If we choose this attitude, our words can put out fires instead of starting them.
Social media has, in recent years, provided an easy, ‘safe’ platform for people to express anger towards others or to insult people when hiding behind a screen, but this has not helped for two reasons. Firstly, it is often too easy to send angry, divisive messages to others when they are not in front of us, but the damage is just as bad; and secondly, electronic devices store and save harsh words which can be sent instantly to hundreds or thousands of other people and which cannot be removed as easily as memories of words, which eventually fade.
It is my observation that when people are easily angered, aggressive or intolerant of others it is due to brokenness or hurt in their own lives due to unhappy memories and past experiences which have affected them deeply. If we can all deal with our own hurts, insecurities or wounds by discussing them with those who care for or love us, or with a trained professional, we will be less likely to fan the flames when we are exposed to direct or hurtful words. We also need to learn to love all who are different to us by listening to others’ perspectives when they are honest and vulnerable about how they feel, and in most cases when we hear their stories we will understand why they feel this way. This involves meaningful, sincere conversations in a non-threatening environment, and being able to laugh or smile at our own habits which may seem strange to others. It is, after all, this cultural diversity which makes South Africa such a special place. I urge all of us to follow the example of respected leaders, such as Nelson Mandela and Dr Ramphele, by adopting an attitude of love, respect and dignity in all circumstances, and to do all that we can to address or heal the hurts of the past in our Rainbow Nation.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ms Hazel Gcwabaza (IsiZulu) and Mrs Diane Woodroffe (Accounting) for their dedication in the classroom during their time at St John’s D.S.G. Both of these staff members have focused on the needs of their pupils and given of their best. We wish them all the very best in the future.
Thank you to Mr Gareth Thomson, who has been teaching in the English Department while Mrs Kidd has been on Long Leave, for his professionalism, organisation and witty manner.
I wish Mrs Annsuyah Rugbar a well-deserved period of rest during her Long Leave in Term 2. We look forward to welcoming Mr Steve Watt to the Mathematics Department next term.
Although Miss Pinkie Msomi (Senior School Receptionist) will be back with us for two weeks next term, I would like to take this opportunity to wish her well with the birth of her second child, who is due in early May.
St John’s Festival (May) and 120th Celebration (August): Please be aware that the St John’s Festival (St John’s weekend) will take place on the weekend of 5 – 7 May. There will be a number of activities over the weekend, including a P.A. Golf Day and a Quiz night on Friday 5th, sporting and Old Girl activities on Saturday, and the usual Chapel Service, Picnic Proms and Market Day on Sunday. This promises to be an enjoyable weekend, and I encourage the whole community to get involved. We will also be holding our 120th Birthday celebrations late in Term 3, with various Old Girls’ functions and an official opening of the new Sports Pavilion, and a function in this new venue for all members of the St John’s community. Once again, I encourage you to diarise this day and support this significant milestone in our history.
I wish all members of the St John’s D.S.G. community a blessed Easter with your families.
MR SIMON MOORE