I have just finished a three-day training program on Victim Empowerment (as a trainee, not a trainer). As a content developer and trainer assessor, it was fantastic to receive such well-planned workshop notes and material scenarios, and also to be led by two such experienced and vibrant facilitators as Evelynne and Catherine. As a new Victim Empowerment Volunteer (old title = trauma counsellor), it was essential learning and understanding.
But as a person living in the incredibly diverse society of Cape Town (and doubtless any other city in South Africa today), it was an eye-opener. And a reminder that no-one should ever judge anyone else on the basis of their clothes, the car they drive, their language, their level of formal education, or the area they live in.
Noma is a small, plump, motherly black woman who does voluntary work at the Gugulethu police station. She was quieter than the rest of us and didn’t contribute much — until she felt able to speak in her home language instead of English. In Xhosa, she was up and running, and another member of the group translated for those of us who do not speak Xhosa. Turns out she isn’t a wallflower after all – this woman is dynamic, involved, and very experienced in assisting those who need help.
Raylene is a coloured woman who works in Kommetjie. She has purple braids, long maroon nails, gold fillings, fur boots, and speaks in a confusing mixture of English and Afrikaans. She was only at school til she was 14, and she works as a cashier at the supermarket. But of all the people there, I would have picked her to go to for help if I was a victim of crime, because of her gentle and patient manner, and incredible listening skills.
I could go on – one could stereotype Riaan as a racist Afrikaner from Durbanville with his blue eyes, blonde hair, and military bearing. But he is actually a qualified trauma counsellor working in the poor and predominantly coloured fishing community in the southern suburbs, where he helps victims of rape and domestic abuse. Nomvuyiso – too young to have any insights? Wrong. Jenny – too ‘larney’, privileged and white to have empathy for a young black girl being abused by her father? Wrong. Cilla – too overtly Christian to have enough understanding to be able to help a Muslim person? Wrong. Tracy – looks down her re-modelled nose at prostitutes with missing teeth and a drug habit? Wrong. Geoffrey – Congolese, male, French-speaking, tertiary-educated, would he be able to work positively and productively with homeless people? Yes.
It’s hard to get rid of one’s prejudices, and even when we try, we don’t always succeed. But acknowledging them is the first step to changing mindsets. So, next time you think I’m too ‘posh’ with my British accent and manicured nails to listen to what you have to say, let’s have a beer together at the pub down the road and discuss it properly. We might both be surprised at how much we have in common (and you can also tell me where you got those fur boots, I’ve been dying to get a pair!)
To be continued…