Some notes from the workshop on "slow violence"

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A workshop based on Rob Nixon’s (author of Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor) premise that “(i)n a world permeated by insidious unspectacular violence … writing can make the unapparent appear, rendering it tangible by humanizing drawn out calamities inaccessible to the human senses” (Nixon 2011:8) takes place at Stellenbosch University from the 31st of March until the 2nd of April 2015.

Lou-Marie Kruger, psychologist, researcher and convenor of the workshop, shares notes by some of the presenters of the workshop.

ZIW, DAARDIE LIG

Andries Bezuidenhout
Sociology, University of Pretoria
Workshop on Slow Violence
Stellenbosch University, 31 March – 2 April 2015

 

ZIW, DAARDIE LIG
(na ’n gedig van Celan)

Bord by die Shell-garage sê: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.
Steeds te donker vir lees, maar ons, skarrelaars, al hier.
Honde en elektriese heinings snork nog –
soms ’n blaf, ’n klap as ’n vonk van draad verwissel.
Hoor my, ek’s ’n digter. Vir my het hulle sakke uitgesit
op sypaadjies langs strate so oud dat waens daarin kon omdraai.
Nou net gesinsmotors van Duitse oorsprong
en ek kom getrollie om als deurmekaargemop uit te sorteer.
Plastiek, blik, glas kan jy afwas by Shell se kraan,
maar papier, o papier: witter as sneeu, ja witter as sneeu
moet dit wees, want vuil papier kan jy nie was nie, net brand.
Droë papier vir die depot, ’n paar bob vir ’n bondel boekmooi gebind.
Ou nuus, foto’s van verskytende sterre, slierte uit ontwerperskakhuisblikke,
versteekte agendas van hulle met note,
maar sonder kom- of koffievlekke soek hulle dit
en besmette papier kan jy mos nie was nie, net brand.
Moeilik om bloedspatsels van woorde te onderskei, so vroeg,
nog donker onder hierdie plataankatedraalboog.
Lig kom nader, ek moet wikkel anders word ek soos Chappie
deur die armed response buite die dorp afgelaai.
Wou nie sê wat hulle met haar aangevang het nie,
net dat hulle eers ’n straatkat gesokkerbal het
en dat die dier later ophou kerm het.
Hoe recycle jy ’n kat?
Baar lewe, bar lewe, sê Chappie,
selfs Seven-Eleven-casuals ruik op ons neer.
Maar ek’s mos ’n digter, als oorgedra op oorskietpapier
wat ek teen oggendskemer kan lees en dan verbrand.
Uiteindelik die son, eers vurige bloekomkoppe,
harspanpalms, skedelsipresse, dan my katedraalduisternis
losgeknoop – gloei blare, gloei bas.
Ziw, daardie lig.

 

THE FLAW OF LOVE: A SIGHT-SPECIFIC INTERVENTION
Carina Venter
Musicology, University of Oxford
Workshop on Slow ViolenceStellenbosch University, 31 March – 2 April 2015

 

[Things I wanted to be]
At the age of four I wanted to be a boy
At the age of three I wanted to be six foot tall
At the age of seven, a tennis player (until I moered my mother in the face
with a racket, it really was an accident, I mistook my mother's face for a tennis ball.)
At the age of ten I wanted to be a sterrekundige (made the announcement on RSG)
At the age of 20 and 21 a missionary
At the age of ten or eleven I wanted to be able not to be certain things
In the same year I no longer wanted to be blind
At 24 I wanted to be the best smelling book in the world, bound in leather, a book sitting in the Merton upper library
At seventeen, a cellist
At 27 I wanted to be dead
At the age of three I wanted to be good
So many things I wanted to be.
At present I want you to be me.

THE SLOW VIOLENCE OF POVERTY: NOTES OF A PSYCHO-ETHNOGRAPHER
Lou-Marie Kruger
Psychology, Stellenbosch University
Workshop on Slow Violence
Stellenbosch University, 31 March – 2 April 2015

 

Wilmien Wilders is 43 years old. The nurses at the clinic referred her to me because she is severely depressed. Her file is very fat with medical ailments.

10 April: Vaginale afskeiding. Swelsel in lies. Afspraak vir Papsmeer. 16 April: Pyn op die bors. Afspraak by Stellenbosch Hospitaal. 3 Mei: Papsmeer. Amatryptiline. Afspraak gemaak met Lou-Marie. (10 April: Vaginal discharge. Swelling in groin. Appointment for a Pap smear. 16 April: Pain in the chest. Appointment at Stellenbosch Hospital. 3 May: Pap smear. Amatrypiline. Appointment with Lou-Marie.) "Appointment with Lou-Marie" means that the nurses don’t know what to do with her.

Wilmien walks into the consultation room, sits down and cries. Big tears. "I am hungry, very, very hungry," she says. I wait. "And me and my husband, we are separated from bed and table. I don’t have a feeling for him anymore."  As a psychologist I deal with bad relationships all the time. But I do not know what to do with hunger.

I ask about the relationship first. The couple got married on 28 September, 20 years ago. They have two children, not close to each other in age. Two sons, a 20-year old and an 11-year old. Wilmien says that it will be nothing for her to divorce her husband. He drinks and he smokes dagga and he does not give her any money. "Ek wil op my eie gaan" ("I want to go on my own"), she says. "Ek weet nie wat ek vanaand gaan eet nie. Ek sal maar die kleintjie na die skoonmense stuur. Hulle gee altyd vir hom kos. Hulle is erg oor hom." ("I don’t know what I am going to eat tonight. I’ll just send the baby to the in-laws. They always give him food. They are fond of him.").

On the wall of the consultation room instructions for inserting a female condom. Cheerfully coloured pictures of how you can get the HIV virus and how not. A hand-written note from the nurse to herself: Josie, hoe populêr is Jesus in JOU lewe? (Josie, how popular is Jesus in YOUR life?)

I ask about work. Wilmien lost her job as a factory worker a few years ago. She had the job for 12 years. "Ek weet nie eintlik wat gebeur het nie, dinge het begin sleg gaan en ek het eendag vir my supervisor gesê: 'As jy vir my ’n gat grawe, sal jy self daarin val.' Toe laat hulle my gaan." ("I don’t really know what happened, things started going bad and I said to my supervisor, 'If you dig a hole for me, you will fall in it yourself.' Then they let me go.") She has not worked since: "Wie gaan nou vir ’n 43-jarige werk gee?" ("Who is going to give a 43-year-old work?"). I am also 43. I look at her. She looks much older than 43. She is wearing a few layers of clothes. She lifts up her jacket to show me how loose her clothes are. Her body is bony and small and scarred. But tough. Her face is crinkly with slanting eyes and high cheekbones. The laughing lines of her eyes make her seem amused, even though her mouth stays sad. "En in daai jaar is my ma ook dood. My steunpilaar." ("And in that year my mom died. My pillar of strength.")She tells me that she also has "hoë bloed en ’n hart" ("high blood and a heart"). I look at the fat clinic file. "Ek sien nie meer kans nie" ("I don’t feel up to it"), she says.

I ask about her history. (Does hunger have a history? Does it matter?) Wilmien was the oldest child and has three brothers (Paul, Jacobus and Patrick). All four children are from the same parents. When Wilmien was still very young her father lost his eye while pruning trees and received compensation from the government. With this money he bought a plot in Treurwilgerstraat (Weeping Willow Street) and this is where the family lived for most of Wilmien’s childhood. Her father died when Wilmien was 14 or 15 and the family lost the house.

I have my history, but Wilmien Wilders is still hungry. The only thing I can do is to make an appointment for the next week.

In the next few weeks we talk about empowerment, without ever using the word. After our first session, she comes weekly, always on time, always with the amused tears, telling me how hungry she is, how angry she is, how sad she is. Together we make plans. We agree that her biggest priority is to get a job. She cannot divorce her husband if she is not independent. She does not want to go back to the factory. We decide that she should go to Bergzicht to take a house management course. We have to figure out how she will get money for the taxi fare (R10) for the initial appointment at Bergzicht. Psychologists do not give their patients taxi fares.

She gets the fare somewhere and enrolls for the six-week course. When I see her again, six weeks later, she is in the waiting room when I arrive. She runs to me with wide open arms in soap opera style. I say "Wilmien" in soap opera style. She laughs the deepest laugh as she hugs me. The crowd in the waiting room stares at us. "I finished my course," she says. "Ons het gister diplomas gekry." ("We got diplomas yesterday.")

In the kitchen of the clinic (no consultation rooms available on this day) I ask: "What have you learned, Wilmien?"

"Everything," she says.

Ek het geleer ’n mop is eintlik ’n dweil. ’n Mop is net ’n mop in Engels. En ek het geleer hoe was mens wasgoed, al die wit goed saam en al die gekleurde goed saam. En hoe om te stryk en hoe om ’n chocolate koek te bak. Maandag het ek vir die eerste keer in my lewe ’n chocolate koek gebak, maar toe eet die groot klong dit op. Toe’s ek darem kwaad. Ons het geleer om te kook. Nie net kos nie, ook goed soos macaroni en lasagne. En ek het baie verskillende mense ontmoet en ek het goed reggekom met die juffrouens.  Die meeste van alles het ek gesukkel met die kooi. Maar vir my stryk het ek 30 uit 30 gekry. En ek was 22 jaar laas op skool. Ek dink ek gaan in January die frail care kursus ook doen. Die afskeid gister was net baie swaar. Ek het selfs trane gestort. Ek kon nie wag om vir Lou-Marie te kom vertel nie.

I  learned that a mop actually is a dweil (Afrikaans for mop). A mop is just a mop in English. And I learned to do washing, all the white stuff go together and all the coloured stuff together. And how to iron and how to bake a chocolate cake. I baked a chocolate cake for the first time in my life on Monday, but then my big boy ate it all. Then I was very angry. We learned how to cook. Not only food, but also macaroni and lasagne. I met a lot of new people and I got along well with the teachers. Most of all I struggled with making the bed. It is very difficult to make a bed. bed. But for my ironing I got 30 out of 30. And I was in school 22 years ago. I think I am also going to do the frail care course in January. The farewell yesterday was just very difficult. I even shed some tears. I couldn’t wait to tell Lou-Marie.

All in one breath.

’n Koek, ’n kooi, ’n klong en ’n dweil.  (A cake, a bed, a boy and a mop.)

On the way home, I also shed some tears.

Our sessions end, because soon after her report-back, Wilmien gets a job. Weeks later I drive home with my daughter and at the corner of my street in Mostertsdrift I see Wilmien. I stop and call her. She seems delighted to see me. She explains that she got a job in this street, a few blocks up from my house. "Ek sukkel net, want ek mag nie op die mense se stoele sit nie, so ek raak moeg. Maar ek sukkel darem nie meer met die kooi opmaak nie." ("I just struggle because I am not allowed to sit on the people’s chairs, so I get tired. But I do not struggle to make the bed anymore.")

"Wie is dit?" ("Who is that?") my daughter asks when we drive away. I do not know how to begin to answer the question.

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