Grace to you

In recent weeks the fining of homeless people in Cape Town made headlines. It resulted in an uproar of civil society organisations and many others. Even the SA Human Rights Commission took immediate action listening to the plight of the homeless. The debate was polarised and emotive. I thought it was great that the discussion shed some light on the complexity of homelessness. Homeless people are not a homogenous group whose challenges can be fixed with simple solutions. They might have primarily in common that they live on the streets, but that is almost where it stops. There are many different reasons why people end up living on the street, how long they are in this position, and how desperate they are to move out of this situation. The experience of different genders living in these unsafe conditions varies completely. The abuse of substances is often a big part of the problem, but even that aspect is complicated. We might have a picture of loud and aggressive behaviour in mind when we think of homelessness. We forget that homelessness also has the face of silence, withdrawal, apathy and joy. Homelessness is ingrained in our systems and history. Even though homelessness is a global phenomenon, there is a particular historical context of spatial segregation and forced removals that contributes to this problem in South Africa.

The issue of homelessness is complicated, messy and challenging. And this holds for most of the problems we are facing as a society. Sending the army into the Cape Flats to fight gangs is another very recent example when debates got lost in polarised opinions. It is easy to condemn outright the use of force as a mechanism to combat gangs. If a stray bullet would have killed my child while sitting at the dinner table or I had to sleep on the floor every night to not be killed in my sleep, I am sure I would have been among the cheering people lining the streets when the army arrived. Global syndicates control gang activity in South Africa, worsened by large-scale corruption and global drug trade. Again, the issue of gangs is complex. Complexity is not unique to our times. Social justice issues have always been complex within their context. Jesus challenged the people of his time to think and not blindly follow the rules and laws. He often did that through story-telling or unexpected actions or miracles. Complexity never deterred Jesus from acting. Complexity was not an excuse for apathy, but urgency. He understood that addressing a problem meant tackling it from different angles and with different tactics.

I am quoting M. Scott Peck:

Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multi-dimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience — to appreciate the fact that life is complex.

I believe the world of today with its massive challenges, locally and globally, invites us to think deeply, to think inside out and upside down. It challenges us to reject lazy thinking and allow for creativity, ideas and wonder to emerge to bring justice and love into the world and to the people who need it most.


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