The past few days have been focused primarily on our work with PACSA. Tuesday during the day, I was able to go to the Alan Paton Center, the building that houses the archives of the University of KwaZulu Natal. While there, I read over some documents about PACSA, including an interview with its founder, Peter Kerchoff. It was interesting to read about his attempts to awaken the white South African churches in Pietermaritzburg to their moral duty to oppose apartheid, as well as learn about his three and a half month detainment by the government. Later that evening, Professor Jabulani Sithole from UKZN (he has been working closely with us over the past two weeks) came to our B&B to teach us more of the general history of the anti-apartheid movement.
Wednesday, we found ourselves back at PACSA bright and early in the morning for a meeting with various local NGOs, refugee associations, municipal officials, and representatives from the SAPS (South African Police Service) to further develop a response plan to the recent xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals. Although no attacks have yet to occur in PMB, community leaders want to deliver aid to refugees who are house-bound (because they are afraid to leave their home due to threats of violence), as well as set in place relief processes in case attacks occur. It was amazing to see how willingly individuals and organizations sprang into action to lend a helping hand. It seemed like, by the conclusion of the two-hour meeting, every person at the table had offered some concrete addition to the relief efforts.
The rest of the day was dedicated to implementing the xenophobia relief plan. We worked to create an informational pamphlet with contact information for those who need help or would like to offer help. We also worked to create contact lists of organizations and individuals that could be called into action if the need arises. I felt like I was really contributing to the organization and making a tangible difference in the lives of the foreign nationals in PMB that are living in fear. The day was really good, except for my lunch. We asked one of our co-workers to take us to an authentic African restaurant because we have yet to find any ethic food places. Let’s just say it didn’t turn out so well. We ended up eating cow head meat, which was pretty much the most disgusting thing I’ve ever had It was really fatty and it had spikes on it…sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? Not wanting to be rude, I tried my hardest to eat it, spikes and all. If anyone ever tries to serve you inhloko, run away…fast.
Today was a sort of a roller coaster day. We had a meeting (at 8am…this real-life work and meetings isn’t as fun as I thought it would be) with Jive Media, the company that has been working with PACSA in redesigning their website. After learning how to update and manage their website, we walked over to PACSA. When we got inside the office began to speak with Daniela, we were interrupted by the receptionist, who appeared to be upset. She explained that a man had just called the PACSA office line and warned her that we should stop trying to help the refugees. The man on the phone explained that attacking the foreign nationals was the only way for South Africans to get the government’s attention, and he warned that violence in PMB would begin within two weeks.
Despite the threat, work continued on as normal. The caller didn’t mention anything specific, so everyone kind of blew it off. While we were in the middle of working on the website, the man called again. This time, however, he threatened that “blood would be shed” if PACSA didn’t watch their backs. This second call ignited fear in everyone in the office; he made specific threats, and no one could easily dismiss them. All the staff present (lots of people were out sick or at meetings/presentations) gathered in the small chapel inside the PACSA offices to pray for peace, understanding and protection.
Sitting there, holding hands, inside a tiny prayer room with people who were genuine concerned about their own personal safety was a surreal experience. PACSA is such a wonderful, caring, selfless organization. I couldn’t possibly believe that there were genuine, legitimate threats of violence against it. Coming from the safety of the US, I couldn’t even wrap my mind around that fact that there was actual danger to the PACSA workplace; the country is so unstable anything could happen. I also was struck by the strong commitment to prayer and the faith in God found in that prayer room. I don’t think I have even been around a group of people who are as dedicated to their faith and the calling than the workers at PACSA this afternoon.****
Later in the day, we headed to a meeting with Joan Kerchoff (wife of late PACSA founder Peter Kerchoff) and several other people who were active in the early days of the organization. We discussed with them their own experiences and their ideas for the book about PACSA we will be helping to research and produce. During the course of conversation, Joan spoke about the harassment—threats, pranks, wire tapping—she and her husband faced while fighting apartheid in the 1980s. Her stories really put things into perspective—what had happened at the office earlier in the day was just part in parcel of standing up for the truth and working for justice.
Tomorrow (Friday), we are off to the St. Lucia Game Preserve. Check back for a post Sunday evening when we return. Hopefully, I will have some good animal pictures to share!
**Later in the afternoon, police we able to track the call but could not identify any suspects. I will keep you posted on the latest info.