Posted by: Andries Louw | 3 March 2010

Today I was hijacked and I love South Africa!

Yes, you heard me correctly and I’m not mad and I’m not in denial. Today I experienced firsthand how the informal networks in my local communities collaborated to help, support and care for me as a victim of crime and how these networks linked with the police to hunt down suspects. No arrests have been made yet but I will not be surprised if it happens within the next 24 to 48 hours.

This morning I was on my way to visit a friend in Alexandra when I stopped at a red traffic light around 11:10. Before it turned green I saw a hand coming through the open window and I heard a voice instructing me to leave the key and my cell phone and to hurry up and get out of the car quickly.

The voice, which strangely enough didn’t sound aggressive, belonged to a young man in his early twenties. I looked down at his other hand that was pointing a firearm at my abdomen inside the car. I thought it looked like a toy gun but I didn’t want to take any chances so I just followed instructions. He had two buddies on the other side, one also with a firearm, or was it a toy gun?

They quickly sped off with my car which also contained a bag with some cash, my wallet with all the important cards that are so irritatingly difficult to replace and my beloved cell phone – eish…

The first person to help me was a total stranger who operates an informal public phone business right there on the corner where I was hijacked. He allowed me to call my wife free of charge. The firestation let me make a few more phone calls.

An eyewitness told me that he knows one of the suspects. He accompanied me and two friends to the police station. My friend who lives in a shack with his parents paid the taxi fare for the four of us. They stayed with me all the time and allowed me to use their cell phones as needed. One of them, a new friend, called me again tonight to hear how I was and how my family was.

They gathered excellent information about the suspect and my car was recovered around 14:30, just a few blocks away from the crime scene. The Alexandra police were very helpful and professional.

The gardener/caretaker at the property where we rent a home drove to the police station twice to assist me. On our way home he dropped me at our local community police chief who passed all the relevant information on to a community policing contact in Alex to be followed up. I was informed that an arrest could be expected soon.

My dear wonderful lovely wife Cecile not only organised lunch and a bottle of water to be delivered to me at the police station but also took care of a lot of other calls and arrangements. She even organised me a new temporary cell phone nr complete with sim card in my old phone. Email me at learnmylanguage at gmail dot com with your name to get my new nr.

I was never scared. Instead I felt loved and cared for. I’m very grateful that I wasn’t hurt. After today I love South Africa even more because the majority of our people hate crime and injustice.  Tonight I feel an incredible peace and a special solidarity with the victims of crime who have come off far worse than me. Most importantly I sense that we will not be overcome with hopelessness and dispair. By the grace of God we will overcome.

Posted by: Andries Louw | 13 January 2010

Fire destroys shacks in Alexandra

This morning I heard on the news that a fire destroyed a number of shacks in Alexandra township. I live in Linbro Park which is just across the N3 highway from Alex. I went to the Alexandra Fire Station to obtain more information. The day staff had the details in their log book. It happened shortly after midnight at no 62 Eighth Avenue. The cause of the fire was still unknown. When I arrived at the scene around 11:00 am one man told me that between 20 and 30 shacks were destroyed.

It was a sea of bent currugated iron sheets, charcoaled wood and other unrecognisable objects on a bed of black ash. Local residents were working hard to clean up after the fire. These men were pushing objects away in an effort to open up some space. Others were dragging out damaged sheets of corrugated iron, used as shack walls and roofs. Already some “new” planks and poles were being erected which seemed to be corner beams for new shacks.

This lady (photo right) told me it was the fifth time she had lost everything, either because of a fire or a flood. She was trying to salvage what she could of her precious few posessions. She pulled out a piece of her floor, the bottom of a plastic bucket melted into it, with white grains of maize meal etched off against the black ashes. That picture, along with the one below symbolised to me the plight of millions in our country and around the globe to whom the words “Give us today our daily bread” are very real.

The tapes in this photo are probably the most valuable items she could take with her after the fire.

This man was able to retrieve a primus stove, used for cooking. At his feet are the remains of a mattress.

Whatever could not be used any more was stacked onto this pile of rubbish.

These corrugated iron sheets, used as shack walls and roofs, were so bent and damaged by the fire that they became useless. They were dumped on the pavement to be taken away later.

Later in the day I called one of my friends who lives in Alex. He told me that some help already started arriving although the details were unclear. I am planning to go there again within the next hour along with a friend from Linbro Park.

Although nobody died or was injured, this fire was a grim reminder to me of the huge challenges we face regarding housing and poverty. It seems to be a never-ending cycle that will never be broken. But it must challenge us to ask questions about our own lifestyle and about our solidarity with vulnerable people.

Posted by: Andries Louw | 5 December 2009

Death of a journalist, death in our nation

I only learned about the death of journalist Chris Louw last night on Facebook. I am shocked. His apparent suicide sends shivers down my spine. To me his death is a metaphor of a dark, sinister paralysis brewing among many South Africans, particularly some Afrikaners. The death of this brilliant, brutally honest journalist on 30 November has left a smell of death hovering over a section of our population that we dare not ignore.

Chris caused waves when he published his gloves-off “Boetman-is-die-bliksem-in” letter in Beeld on 5 May 2000. Written as an open letter to philosopher dr Willem de Klerk, brother of ex-president FW de Klerk, he hit an emotional nerve as he lashed out against the old generation Afrikaner leaders who led his generation into a senseless, unwinnable war against the ANC. The young generation was then expected to train black executives to take over their own jobs, a deal negotiated by the old Afrikaner generation.

How does one translate “Boetman is die bliksem in”? It just doesn’t carry the same raw rebellious emotions in English. “Little brother is very angry” sounds pretty tame.

“Boetman” is a term often used by older men to address younger men in a derogatory way. It is loaded with the emotional baggage of a generation that was told to shut up and do as you are told to, a generation that wasn’t allowed to speak its mind.

Made up of the words “Boet” (little brother) and “man”, it poignantly captures a feeling of being recognised as a man according to your age but still being treated like an immature little brother. To be “die bliksem in” is a blunt and disrespectful way of saying you are blind with anger, so angry that you will hurt anyone who is in your way.

“Boetman is die bliksem in” conjures up images and emotions not dissimilar to those of a young boy who had been sexually molested but has grown up and now seeks revenge.

Chris was a member of the Dakar group who initiated talks with the ANC while still in exile in 1987. But his writing has become increasingly critical of the ANC government lately, as he grew more and more disillusioned with them. In his last letter to the newspaper Beeld, published a day after he died, he wrote (my translation): “Do the corruption and crime represent growing pains or death pains? If one looks at the rest of Africa, it rather seems as if the country is irrevocably on its way to the grave.”

We have serious problems in South Africa, many of which are time bomds waiting to explode. But our reaction to the chaos around us will determine whether we go to the grave or grow through the pain.

In his opening address at the Amahoro-Africa gathering held in June in the Magaliesberg, not far from where Chris died, Claude Nikondeha from Burundi talked about pain that can go one of two ways. Quoting Richard Rohr, he said “Pain, if not transformed will be transmitted.” (Listen to the audio here. Get all Amahoro talks here).

We need to find ways of dealing with our pain as individuals, as families, as communities or else we will take ourselves to the grave as a nation.

Posted by: Andries Louw | 16 November 2009

Cancer Cows cycle 94.7 on ice-cream bikes

Yesterday I rode the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge in Joburg along with 26 000 other cyclists making it one of the biggest races in the world. On the way I met these heroes, volunteers who are raising money for CHOC, Childhood Cancer Foundation South Africa. The videos were taken with my cell phone as I rode alongside them.

I was impressed by their commitment, their level of organisation, their numbers, over 100 volunteers who rode in cow suits or CHOC gear, as well as the number of sponsors involved. The ice-cream carts, pulled by two cyclists with tubes in front and pushed by another two from the back, were often overtaking other riders so they regularly had to shout “Keep left!” as can be seen in this video:

The combination of the cow suits, the ice-cream bikes, the bells and their sheer numbers ensured that the Cows’ presence was felt throughout the day. Spectators chucked bank notes into the ice-cream carts along the route but the serious fundraising is on-going on this website

As I was entering the inner-city of Joburg I spotted the first ice-cream caravan. Rob Riccardi who was doing the hard work on the one-gear ice-cream bike was one of the people who started the initiative last year. One of his friends had lost a child to cancer so he and some buddies decided to raise funds for CHOC.

They overshot their target which was to build a CHOC house near the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital so their next goal was to furnish the house and buy a bus. The CHOC Houses across South Africa are homes to children receiving daily treatment from the major hospitals so it becomes their home away from home.

Many of these kids come from poor rural families and often their parents can barely afford to get their children to hospital. The bus will make it easier for them to visit their children as they are suffering the terrible side-effects of chemo-therapy.

Being involved in fundraising for non-profit organisations myself, I was really inspired by these people. I was struck by three timeless principles I witnessed in action yesterday:

1) The power of a personal experience and a story to propel people into action for a cause.

2) The power of networking and relationships to achieve bigger goals than you can reach on your own. I rode with the herd for quite a while and whenever they stopped at watering points it was clear that there were lots of friendships and a true sense of camaraderie.

3) There was space for anybody to contribute, from spectators to supporters at watering points, to cyclists. Most of the volunteers were average or below-average cyclists. But there were also some Super Cows, top cyclists who first raced hard and then did the 97 km route all over again. Andre from Centurion (picture below) was the first Super Cow, pulling an ice-cream bike wearing a cow suit after he finished in an impressive 2 hrs 22 min. The winning time was 2 hrs 14 min.

Andre, the first Super Cow

In another post I would like to explore this theme a little more so watch this space. What fundraising experiences have you had? If you rode the 94.7 did you see the cows and what did you think?

Posted by: Andries Louw | 31 August 2009

Ice-cold Coke in a shack

I have been visiting Alexandra sporadically over the past few months, getting to know the place and its people. Whenever I go there I’m looking for language helpers to work with me in my language-learning business. I’m also looking for non-Christians who might be interested in reading the Bible with me.

Alexandra is a township consisting of mainly poor and some middle class residents, living in small old houses, flats, shacks, new government-built RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses and some fairly new privately built houses.

The Michelangelo Towers in Sandton

One of the intriguing features of Alexandra is its location. It lies right next to Sandton on the west, the upmarket Johannesburg suburb, home to luxury hotels such as the Michelangelo Towers, the InterContinental  Sandton Towers and various multi-national corporations.

I love Linbro Park - Country Living in the City

Linbro Park - Country Living in the City

On the east the township is bordered by the N3 highway and right next to  that is Linbro Park Agricultural Holdings where we live. We are renting a house on a small holding, one of five dwellings on the property. Many of the residents here ride horses and they drive around with bumper stickers saying “I love Linbro Park – Country Living in the City”.

I am currently reading a fascinating book about the history of Alex which explains this rather odd location of the Black township, slap bang in the middle of White suburbia. I will blog about that later.

Two weeks ago I took my family on a drive through Alex. It was Sunday afternoon around 16:00 and everywhere small groups of people were walking with Bibles. We also saw a large group of Independent African Church members making their way up a hill in their white and green attire.

We parked our car on the pavement next to a shack. Less then five minutes after we started walking we were invited for cold-drink. A young lady with a big smile wanted to know what we were doing here. We told her that we came to visit our neighbours because we live just across the highway. “But then you must come inside!” she said.

Children play in the narrow spaces between shacks

Cecile, Marisje, Andiswa and Anelia outside the shack we were invited into

Her shack was about the size of one of our two bathrooms. Within seconds she had a one litre bottle of ice-cold Coke and was pouring it into glasses. I don’t know where it came from but the speed at which she had it ready was pretty impressive. Then Anelia, our four-year old daughter asked “Where do you keep your food?” We all burst out laughing. She didn’t ask the question out of curiosity but because she was hungry.

Cecile asked our guest if she had a tissue for the baby. She replied: “No, but let me quickly go and buy one.” We said “No, that’s not necessary” but a little later she was back with a roll of toilet paper.

Like so many previous occasions of visiting people living in simple conditions, this was once again a humbling experience for me. In my next post I will write about our second family visit to Alex. The new header image on my blog was taken during that visit, which was last week Sunday.

Posted by: Andries Louw | 9 July 2009

Petition about contaminated mine water

I just received the following information via Facebook from dr Anthony Turton, water scientist who formerly worked at the CSIR.

The gold mining industry in South Africa is proposing a water treatment plant that will take mine water contaminated with heavy metals, radioactivity and sulphates, treat it and then sell it on to consumers as part of their environmental management planning to terminate their future liabilities.

The public participation phase of the Environmental Impact Assessment is currently underway and will close on Friday 24 July 2009, after which a decision will be made to proceed or not to proceed with the project.

I signed the petition “South African Water Action” to voice my concern over this issue which directly affects the health of all South Africans. I’m asking you to sign this petition to help reach the goal of 1 000 signatures.

Click here to sign the petition and/or to obtain more background information.

Andries Louw

Posted by: Andries Louw | 4 July 2009

Signing your child away

Andi sitting for the 1st time

Andiswa sitting for the first time

Wednesday we parked at the Child Welfare office around lunch time. It was cold. I watched as Andiswa’s father grabbed her from my wife’s arms. I saw the lines on the side of his face by his eyes and mouth grow deeper as he stood there, savouring the moment.

He couldn’t take his eyes off his six month old daughter as we walked inside the building. He looked like the proud father of a newborn infant – his body language, the way he held her, the permanent smile on his face. Was he going to take responsibility?

Andiswa, born on Christmas day, is not your typical “foster baby case”. Normally welfare gets a court order to remove a child if the child’s safety is under threat. Andi’s parents brought her to the welfare voluntarily in January and requested she be put into foster care, but did not want to sign her off for adoption. In February she was temporarily entrusted to us under a private arrangement facilitated by the social workers. The plan was to place her with us as “place of safety” parents, a six month agreement but the process was delayed several times. After she had been with us for 3 weeks, Andi’s birth mother disappeared without a trace. Meanwhile Cecile was taking Andi to the Child Welfare office almost weekly for her father to see her and to discuss the way forward.

As we sat down on Wednesday, Andiswa’s father was trying to feed her with a bottle Cecile had prepared. Occasionally he would converse with his friend in their mother tongue and the social worker with us in Afrikaans. The conversation was almost predictable, Andiswa’s father mumbling along in Nigerian-English about his fruitless efforts to track down the mother.

Understanding about every third word, I could make out that he was now ready for foster care, a two year arrangement. He thought it meant he could get his baby back at any time. The social worker explained that it’s not that simple, that the baby is bonding with her primary caregivers and that the court would act in the best interest of the child when deciding whether she could be returned.

He wanted another week to find the mother before making a decision. The social worker had enough. “I think you should take back your baby and care for her until you can make up your mind”, adding in Afrikaans “This is far too comfortable for him. His child is being cared for very well, there’s no pressure on him. In fact, I don’t even need his permission to place her in foster care.”

In a moment I saw him sign away his child. A quick exchange of words with his friend was followed by “OK, let’s go for open adoption.” Open adoption allows the biological parents some access to the child as determined by the adoptive parents. Eventually he agreed to foster care as a first step.

Cecile put Andi on the table. “Look, she’s sitting!” cried my wife. It was the first time she could actually sit on her own. Out came the cell phone cameras. We celebrated the moment together.

Next week we will go to court to rubber stamp the split second decision of a father to sign his child away. This is leading to adoption. I am excited to become Andi’s new dad, yet I feel like crying. I wanted him to fight for his child, to take her back. We simply have to find ways of empowering parents to be parents.We need to change this nation, one family at a time.

Posted by: Andries Louw | 12 June 2009

Amahoro Africa: family reunion of change agents

The Amahoro Africa gathering has surpassed my wildest expectations. I was moved, challenged and encouraged. I was networked, connected, inspired and lifted up to a new viewpoint of hope and vision for this beautiful, tragic, struggling, bleeding, pulsating, dancing, dynamic, big-heart continent which I have the privilege of calling home. This was not a conference. It really was a family-reunion of visionary, thinking and praying doers who welcomed me as a new member. I now have a responsibility towards my new family to follow conversations up with action and prayer. I can’t wait to get started.

This is what I wrote last night as a comment on the Amahoro Africa website. Amahoro means peace, harmony, holism, much like the Hebrew shalom. My previous post was entitled Amahoro Africa conference: The African Reformation. Now I understand why the organisers haven’t called it a conference, but a gathering. Monday night they said it was a family reunion. It sounded cliche to me.

One of my roommates was Steven Kurikunkiko. He told me his story of growing up as an orphan in Uganda. His parents were killed in the war when he was six. In 1996 he went to Rwanda, where his parents had originally fled from, also because of a war. He was greeted by the sight of dead bodies in the streets and people walking around with chopped off hands and feet.

Steven started caring for widows, orphans and HIV positive women who had been raped during the genocide that broke out in 1994. He and his wife are renting a building where 160 widows are making crafts and are being trained as tailors. They have 15 sewing machines but Steven says if they can get another 65 machines they will be able to train some while others are selling clothes on the market.

Last night I discovered that Sean, a South African now living in London, is already supporting Steven. Sean told me about Friends-of-Steven and about the charity he is setting up that will allow people to donate towards Steven’s project and other similar ones. Then I understood why I saw Steven and Sean sitting together so often during breaks. They are friends. They belong to the Amahoro family. It’s not a cliche.

Yesterday a man from the Batwa tribe (“Pygmee”) in the DRC spoke about his village and their challenges. A church in Texas are friends with them. Before they started talking about money, friendships were built. Batwa people are visiting Texas and Texans are visiting the Batwa village.

Philbert Kalisa, founder of Reach Rwanda (see also here) told me about their work in reconciling warring tribes with each other who then build houses together in “villages of hope”. How many more stories, projects and friendships are there among the hundreds of participants who were here from West, East, Central and Southern Africa, from North America, Europe, Australia and Nieu Zeeland?

I found new hope for Africa and my African identity took on new meaning. Time to get our hands dirty!

Posted by: Andries Louw | 8 June 2009

Amahoro Africa conference: The African Reformation

The Amahoro Africa conference starts tonight at the YFC campsite, CYARA in the Magaliesberg. Looking at the schedule it seems that the two dominant themes for this annual gathering of leaders from Africa and beyond will be the Postcolonial Church and the African Reformation.

I will be attending and am planning to blog and tweet more about it in the coming week(s). (Follow me on Twitter here). Roger Saner has started blogging about Amahoro a few days ago. He posted a very useful introduction to Amahoro here and published some interesting thoughts that already elicited a fair amount of discussion here and here. Steve Hayes posted much of his contribution to Roger’s posts here and here. Nic Paton posted on Amahoro here. Graeme Codrington had posted a few podcasts and summaries of addresses from the Amahoro 1 conference in Uganda, 2007 here.

I would be interested to know if anybody else has also posted on Amahoro or is planning to do so in the coming week or weeks. Most of the mentioned discussions have centered around the concepts of postcolonialism, apartheid, racism and the African/Western conversation.

I am very much looking forward to attending Amahoro, not so much because of the keynote speakers (although I have reason to believe that their inputs will be very good), but especially because of what I expect will happen between the participants and because of the networking opportunities. I hope that we will somehow be changed in God’s presence and be moulded together in our journey of discovering our true identity as the church in South Africa and Africa. I hope to discover more of my own African identity even though I am a white Afrikaner. I hope that I will be able to listen well and seek to understand before seeking to be understood.

I also hope that we will be able to re-discover what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ and what it means to be the church, irrespective of our backgrounds. It is our shared identity of being in Christ (died and raised with him) that should move us to confront the injustices of colonialism, apartheid, racism, sexism, exploitation of the poor etc.  And it is our shared identity of being in Christ that should move us to create new communities of hope, life and reformation. As leaders we should deal with these issues in our own lives, repent and forgive on behalf of others who might be unwilling to do so and create examples of the African Reformation in action.

According to the Amahoro website, this is what Amahoro is about:

Amahoro Africa is working to see the Gospel of Jesus bringing transformation to communities across Africa.  We facilitate holistic transformation by encouraging, resourcing and connecting emerging African leaders who are committed to the tangible manifestation of justice, mercy and goodness in their local context.

In his letter to attendees, Claude Nikondeha, director of Amahoro Africa writes:

Those who will be assembled for The Gathering are on a trajectory of transformation in their communities and countries.  They are working for something more than the salvation of the soul, but investing in the restoration of all things.  They are working for change on the ground, be it in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa or the Dominican Republic.  They understand that the work they do is their response to the Gospel imperative, to bring good news to the poor and broken of the earth. But our good works and good efforts need roots and nourishment to sustain us in our Gospel-inspired work.  To do the work of transformation without the accompanying spirituality is to run on empty.

Read his full letter here.

Please pray for this conference and for everybody attending.

Posted by: Andries Louw | 29 April 2009

Four mind-switching hours about church multiplication

I rate the past 2 nights’ church planting sessions with David Watson as 4 of the most mind-switching hours in my life… seriously. I wrote this tweet (a twitter post, in case you didn’t know) on Friday. You can follow my tweets here. On Thursday I started following David on twitter. I can highly recommend it. Here are a few good ones as an example:

Spent afternoon talking about the difference in selecting people to start a church and planting the Gospel into social unit to start church

Most think you start a church by gathering people from various social groups to form a new social group called a church. NOT.

You start a church by introducting the Gospel into existing social units when God will use it to redeem what is already there.

44“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’[a] Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.

21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

It ends with the parable of the house on the rock vs the house on the sand, the house on the rock being “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice”.

I will need to write quite a lot more to try and process the input I have been receiving over the past few months. It includes a week-end of training by David Broodryk from Midrand, South Africa who is being mentored by David Watson and a day seminar by Neil Cole (USA) about simple / organic church.

One of the golden threads through all of these sessions was that I shouldn’t educate myself beyond my obedience. That is a fine line to tread, but one that makes sense. I have started to put some of the basics into practice but still have a long way to go. That is one of the reasons why I have lately been blogging less frequently. I need more time to change my lifestyle!

If you want to learn more about what David Watson and his associates teach, please work through the following on-line resources. That way you will get it from the horse’s mouth:

Also watch David Broodryk’s Kingdom People website for upcoming missional discipleship & church planting training in South Africa. Click here to subscribe to his discipleship news email list.

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