Let Us Now Praise... Spring 2020
Belinda Crawford is a postgraduate theology student at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Her work focuses on questions of identity and belonging, drawing on biblical materials to illuminate and engage with contemporary struggles.
A COLOURED’S SOUTH AFRICAN CHILDHOOD
I grew up and in many ways still live in an oppressive patriarchal society. As a coloured (biracial) female South African, I have a different story from the familiar one of the divide between Whites and Blacks. Being coloured during the apartheid regime was different from just being racially black, white, or Indian. We were illegal hybrids labeled “amperpass,” an Afrikaans term meaning “almost like the master” because of our fair complexion.
In the early days of apartheid, poor white adolescents were sent to “industrial” schools to learn a trade so they would not have to do the demeaning labor assigned to Blacks. Coloured adolescents were eventually also admitted to these institutions, known as “reformatory” schools. Reformatory schools were managed by the departments of both education and prisons. As the number of coloured students increased in the reformatory schools, skill training gave way to practices that fostered social isolation and psychological slavery, tactics that in some cases led students to commit suicide.
I became part of the state system when I was two years old, since my mother was not able to keep and raise a biracial child. I grew up in a segregated and isolated world that seemed normal to me until I understood the true history of the treatment of coloured people during the apartheid regime. Even after the end of apartheid, though, little has changed for coloured people in South Africa. South Africa’s motto of “the rainbow nation” does not include the marginalized coloured population. I am neither Black nor White, and thus I often feel I do not belong in either the “black world” or the “white world” in South Africa. I lament this reality, experiencing an ongoing sense of pain and brokenness.
My mother, Thembi Mjweni, a domestic worker, was abandoned by my white father and shortly thereafter handed me over to the state. I only learned my story when I was twenty-three years old. My mother told me, “Before you were born, I was a domestic worker earning R12.00 per month (0.52 GBP) Your father deceived me into believing if we had a relationship, he would ensure I got an identity document and access to housing and social welfare. These promises were never fulfilled. Your father left me to fend for you and myself.
This was not only difficult for me as a Black woman but even more challenging as I could not take you home to my village. You were too fair, with curly hair and little red lips, to be amongst Blacks. My heart was shattered. But I believed your growing up in a non-black environment would give you the ability to speak English, have an identity document and go to a Coloured school. I named you Nokuthula (meaning ‘peace’)”.
My mother could not speak up for herself, as she could not address the elders in her village nor the government. On both sides, she was doomed for being an illegal sexual object for my father.
In my teens, I was placed in a Coloured place of safety in the Northern Cape while waiting for a vacant space in the reformatory for girls in Cape Town. The place of safety was a temporary residence for a maximum period of 6-12 months.
Every afternoon caregivers would read out names of girls who would leave the place of safety for reformatory either that night or early in the morning. The cold breeze of anxious silence would snatch my breath as names were called. I would pray my name not be spoken. The place of safety was a home away from home whereas reformatory life had no freedom. Isolation from the outside world was what it was known for.
Matrons would tell us of the rigid routines of reformatory in order for us to appreciate the liberties we enjoyed, like going to public school, enjoying excursions, wearing our own clothes, playing sports, partaking in social activities such as painting and knitting and even going to church on a Sunday morning. All of these were prohibited in reformatory.
These moments of transition from safe place to reformatory were tearful and heart breaking. After your name was announced, a farewell song would be sung for you “Dis’ nie vaarwel nie maar net totsiens” ( this is not farewell, but just goodbye) “tot ons weer ontmoet” (till we meet again). You greeted friends for the last time, packed your clothes and prepared for the escorted trip to reformatory in Cape Town.
When I arrived at the reformatory, I looked for similarities to the place of safety and found none. The primary goal was to punish, reward, and reform girls, turning them into exemplars of White South African female passivity. I was one of 250 predominately Coloured girls and was welcomed with a number (14436). I was sixteen years old.
The clothes I brought were taken away in the matron’s office, and I was left with my toiletries and hairdryer. I was given shoes, socks, underwear, two uniforms - green for school and blue for the weekend, two night dresses - one for winter and one for summer, three stay home dresses and a bath towel, I was told I would see my normal clothes on the day I left.
All 250 of us looked the same. There were no males, and no outside social activities. There was, however, stringent discipline. Unless I was handpicked by someone from the surrounding community to clean their house for R4.30 (0.19 GBP) for a half day and R7 (0.30 GBP) for a full day, I had to remain within the confines of the institution.
In reformatory I was well nourished, three main meals and two snacks. I was domesticated through strict routines. The school had three types of skill training: home-economics, needlework, and hairdressing. I received family planning as a preventative measure so that I would not fall pregnant should I be released on vacation
Failure to comply with the rules and routine meant punishment, which meant going to court - the matron’s office - and being disciplined. If anyone made an attempt to escape, or physically fought with other girls. she would be locked up in a very small room called the “cell”. This room had only a single bed and a very small window, just enough for sufficient sunlight and air.
When I entered reformatory and given the number 14436, I was informed this number meant I was double. There was another girl numbered 14436, and I was her double. All the clothes and bedding given to me were numbered 14436. The traces of 14436 will forever be upon me.
On the 3rd of December, 1993, at the age of 18, I was released from reformatory. For most of my life thereafter, I’ve been caught between who I really am, and how I am perceived, trapped between categories and definitions which don’t fit me. I used to think this was a curse, but now I see it as opening me to less confining worlds.
As a female caught up in the bonds of an oppressive political structure, not trained for any skill that would afford me the ability to survive in my society, and deprived of the traditions and culture of my two heritages, my restlessness about my life as a Coloured woman in South Africa continues.
I don’t look like most of the people around me; I can’t identify culturally with any particular group in South Africa, a country in which identity is culturally crucial. I often feel disconnected with so many and so much around me. This has, however, encouraged me to express my frustrations, anguish, and deep sense of pain to help my fellow coloured South Africans who know the marginalization that I have experienced, using my faith to shape others in my community.
A R C H I V E : Previous "Profiles of Activists" Feature
Belinda Crawford, Spring 2020
Rachel Jacobs and the Future Machine, Winter 2020
Rachel Jacobs &The Future Machine
Let Us Now Praise... Winter 2020
Rachel Jacobs is a practising artist, academic researcher, interactive games designer, writer
and arts facilitator. In 1996, she co-founded the award-winning artist collective Active
Ingredient. Her 2014 doctorate in Computer Science investigated the contributions of artists engaging with climate change. Rachel is currently an Associate Researcher at the University of Nottingham and Visiting Research Fellow at Central St Martins (University of the Arts London). Her current project, Future Machine, is designed to help communities across England respond to environmental change.
The Future Machine: A Biography
Environmentally Engaged and Collaborative Artwork
Devised by Artist/Researcher Rachel Jacobs
Rachel Jacobs and the Future Machine
HOW DID IT COME TO BE?
The Future Machine is part of a larger artist-led research project studying the long-term impact of anthropogenic climate and environmental change on mental and physical wellbeing. The Future Machine began with Rachel Jacobs and the arts collective Active Ingredient she co-founded in 1996. Rachel’s previous work includes: Performing the Future in 2017-18, The Prediction Machine which was built in 2015 and is continuing to tour nationally, along with Relate (Timestreams) and A Conversation Between Trees . These two international co-productions took place across the UK and Brazil between 2011-2013.
Since 2016, 'Building a Future Machine' workshops have taken place in Nottingham, Loughborough, Liverpool and Cambridge. Over one hundred visions of a Future Machine were created. Ideas on what we have lost and gained in the past and what we should protect or risk losing in the future are described in a paper published in the Journal for Risk Research (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13669877.2019.1569104?journalCode=rjrr20)
Input from public workshops was part of the design process. Engineers and programmers designed digital systems, working alongside the artist, carpenters and metal workers. Conversations with climate scientists also informed the work.
WHERE WAS IT LAUNCHED?
The Future Machine was first launched in Finsbury Park, north London, on 12 October 2019. Four more journeys will take place in inner city Nottingham with artist Frank Abbott; post -industrial Cumbria with artist Wallace Heim; rural Oxfordshire with artist Juliet Robson; and Cornwall and Somerset with artists Caroline Locke and Matt Watkins. An exhibition of the machine and all it has witnessed is planned at Furtherfield Gallery (London) in 2021.
Prior to the Finsbury Park launch, five workshops took place as part of the Time Portals programme at Furtherfield Gallery. Over five months, forty participants came together to talk about environmental change in general and Finsbury Park in particular, considering the Future Machine as a way into a more optimistic future.
Finsbury Park encompasses three London boroughs (Haringey, Islington and Hackney). One may enter the park from one of three gates and never see anyone who enters and exits via a different gate. The Machine traveled from gate to gate to greet different communities with projects in the park, pulling them into the procession.
First up was Pedal Power, an inclusive cycling club for people with disabilities who cycle together twice weekly.
Edible Landscapes, a garden paradise containing only edible plants and maintained by people dedicated to conserving the environment, encouraged people to pick autumnal hops and berries with which to decorate the Machine and give it a ritual element. Prior to the launch, a collaboration was forged with Alex Dayo and his fellow musician Dave Kemp from the drumming school in Finsbury Park. Alex created sounds for the Machine wherein tone and pitch reflect the increasing weather volatility of record-breaking heat, rain and wind.
Alex Dayo, Musician and Composer
Future Machine in Autumn
Sixty plus people, undeterred by October rain, came to meet the Machine, walk beside it, push and pull it around the park and speak to it. Attached to the Machine is a recording device into which people confide their visions of climate, present and future. Voices were often prayerful, whispered hopes and fearful dreams set down in a challenging time.
Future Machine will be returning to Finsbury Park every Autumn, for the foreseeable future.
[Suzy Rosenthal contributed to this report and we thank her.]
WHAT IS IT?
The Future Machine is a magical device created via a series of conversations with artists and citizens across England. As the name suggests, the creation looks ahead, aiming to help address an uncertain future on a planet in crisis. Its interactive technology allows stories to be recorded and printed on the spot from the words of participant viewers. These narratives are intended to help individuals imagine creative ways to address global climate change.
As well as looking forward, the Future Machine reminds us of a less contaminated past. Juxtaposing the two contexts is meant to inspire us to find ways into an inhabitable communal future. The sleek simplicity of the machine’s polished ash casing with its copper transmitters and receivers – like ears on either side of the frame – take us back to an increasingly distant time when our planet was less spoilt. Music transmitted from the copper speakers, a tribal drumming and percussion soundscape, enhances the notion of the Machine moving through shifting weather landscapes.
The Machine will travel to the same places every year to witness changes in the environments of each locale, and to document the responses of local citizens. Its creators aim to have it on the road for at least ten years. The goal is to explore how site-specific art, science, technology, ritual, myth and storytelling can help frame positive responses to anthropogenic (human made) environmental change in these dangerous climate times.
Let Us Now Praise... Autumn 2019
Millie Guest is a passionate climate advocate. She co-founded Parents for Future UK https://www.parentsforfuture.org.uk It aims to involve parents in the struggle for climate justice. Empowering them is to encourage meaningful action to help ensure their children's viable future.
Let Us Now Praise... Summer 2019
Ruth Catlow is an artist-theorist , researcher and curator, co-founder with Marc Garrett of the Furtherfield Gallery and commons space in North London.
Ruth focuses on the intersection of arts and technology as it applies to emerging practices in art, decentralised technologies and the blockchain. Among other collaborative activities, she develops academic and cross-sector partnerships and is an international keynote speaker on art and technology. Ruth is editor of Artists Re-Thinking the Blockchain, a collection of essays exploring this emerging reality. We spoke with her in the commons space in Finsbury Park, North London, in July 2019.
Ruth Catlow on some uses of Blockchain in artworld business
Gohar Shahnazaryan, Ph.D
Let Us Now Praise... Spring 2019
Dr. Gohar Shahnazaryan is Director of Yerevan State University Centre for Gender and Leadership Studies (www.ysu.am/gender) and Co-Director of Women’s Resource Centre NGO (www.womenofarmenia.org) in Yerevan, Armenia. She has a PH.D. in Sociology, and is Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Sociology at Yerevan State University.
Through the Open Society Institute, Gohar was a fellow at the Institute of Slavic, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and continues to be affiliated with Berkeley’s Sociology and Gender Studies departments.
For the past ten years, Gohar has coordinated large-scale projects on women and gender issues. Projects include women’s leadership development, referral systems for survivors of gender based violence, educational projects on women’s rights, women and peacebuilding. She is a leader in expanding the feminist presence in Armenia. Dr. Shahnazaryan is the author of more than twenty publications on gender issues in Armenia.
About Women’s Resource Center
Founded in 2003, The Women’s Resource Center of Armenia (WRC) is the first resource center for young women created in post-soviet Armenia.
WRC’s main goal is empower and encourage women to be active citizens of the Armenian community. The Center is participatory, run and governed by women. WRC is the first NGO to address the issue of sexual violence in Armenia. A volunteer-based hotline and crisis center has been in place since 2007.
Meeting with partners from Croatia at WRC office
A conference on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights organized by WRC
WRC works to develop sexual assault crisis centers in rural areas as well as regionally, and builds coalitions on all levels, including in partnership with the government. Monthly trainings on sexual and reproductive health and rights are ongoing, based on workshops held at WRC for 15 years, and collected in the book My Body, My Rights.
One of WRC’s crowning achievements was to develop a safe, empowering learning space for all women in Yerevan and in the conflict area of Nagorno Kharabagh. In 2016, the Center was given the UK based Star Foundation For and With Girls award. This award enabled the purchase of a property for the Center, making it completely accessible to all women, including those with disabilities. The Center regularly collaborates with women refugees, LBTQ women, women from rural areas and conflict regions. Providing support and teaching skills helps womenstart their own business. The emphasis is on independence and engagement in community mobilization for social change.
15 year anniversary of Women's Resource Center
WRC has become a beacon for women’s rights, collaborating with state agencies to develop laws essential for gender equality. The Center was instrumental in passing amendments to the Law on Sexual Violence in the Criminal Code of Armenia, along with drafting the Law Preventing Domestic Violence.
About Women’s Fund Armenia
Last year (2018) saw the establishment of a Women’s Fund to support movement building in Armenia. Women’s Fund Armenia is determined to assist in the development of a feminist discourse, and to address the major challenges of women and girls in Armenia. See the footnote for further information on the goals of the women’s Fund.
Scope of WFA interests involves, but is not limited to:
Support to newly established women’s initiatives in developing strategic planning and setting priorities;
Support to implementation of projects related to sexual and reproductive health, especially in less urban regions of Armenia;
Support of projects dealing with issues that are taboo in Armenia, particularly, raising awareness about sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls
Support of initiatives designed by women and girls from marginalized, vulnerable and underprivileged communities;
Support of initiatives designed and led by adolescent girls;
Research on women’s and gender issues;
Raising awareness about militarization and nationalism on women’s rights and choices;
Implementation of projects to support activists and representatives of NGOs to avoid burnout, as well as activities aimed at self-care and capacity development;
Support to translations of feminist literature;
Organization of study tours for feminist and women’s organizations to visit similar organizations and get acquainted with their work;
Support to feminist art and creative activities
Let Us Now Praise... Winter 2019
Jo Roach is Founder and Executive Director of Pedal Power, a bicycling club for persons of all ages with learning disabilities. It began with Jo and her daughter, Susie, over twenty years ago. Bicyling is one of Susie's joys, and Jo made certain she could cycle regularly.
Other learning disabled persons began to come along. Now over 2500 members come to one of Pedal Power's four weekly sessions in North London. Trainers work to insure that every session is fun filled with a sense of freedom.
Introduction to Jo Roach and Pedal Power, in a few of her own words.
Jo Roach reading Bread and Butter & For My Daughter
In addition to Pedal Power, Jo is also a poet. Her poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies including Oxford Poets (2007).
Her poem For My Daughter, was presented at a recent conference on Profound and Multiple Learning Disabled Persons.
Read more about Jo's and her poetry here,
Pedal Power and the work they do at www.pedalpowercc.org
Sophie Chirongoma, PhD
Profiles of Activists Feature, Spring 2018
...lecturer, Midlands State University, Zimbabwe
...advocate for African women and children's rights
...active member of Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians (the CIRCLE)
I come from the Karanga society, a predominately patriarchal culture which values males over females. The rights of the girl child and her aspirations are neglected in favor of boy children. Women are considered insignificant players, and their education and health care are neglected. I was fortunate to have been born into a family which valued boy and girl children equally. My parents sacrificed to insure my sisters and I were educated and well cared for. Often they were criticized for 'wasting' valuable resources on their daughters; girls were seen only as wives and mothers, not as persons contributing to a larger world. I remember my father taking me to the local clinic on his bicycle or accompanying me on a four hour bus ride if I needed medical care outside the village. Even when they had to sacrifice what little money they had, school fees were always paid. In spite of my good fortune, I saw how women and girls were denied access to education and health services.
I chose to pursue an academic path in which I studied African religion and culture, working to understand how these key pillars of African society operate to disinherit women and girls. I advocate for girls and women's access to education and health care; not being forced into child marriage; access to birth control; protection from domestic violence. I use education as a tool to enlighten people, to help them interrogate and change deeply held religio-cultural traditions which dehumanize both men and women.
SELECTIONS FROM SOPHIE'S WRITING
Voices From the Third World: Inter-Faith Dialogue Listening to African Voices (ed) K.C. Abraham, Volume XXV111 No.2 (2005) “Women Curbing Ecological Degradation: Hope for Transformed Lives Inspired through Inter-faith dialogue between Shona Religion and the Christian faith in Masvingo, Zimbabwe” pp39-60
Women in God’s Image: Images of God the Mother Nos 10&11 April & September, 2005 “Motherhood and Ecological Conservation of Mother-Earth” in Karen Buckenham (ed) (City Printing Works Private Ltd: Pietermaritzburg) pp.8-12
CHAPTERS IN BOOKS
Women, Religion and Health: Essays in Honour of Mercy Amba Ewudziwa Oduyoye “Women, Poverty and HIV in Zimbabwe: An Exploration of Inequalities in Health Care” in Phiri I.A and Nadar S (eds) (Orbis Books: Maryknoll, New York) pp173-182 (2006)
From our side: emerging perspectives on development and ethics “Ubuntu and women’s health agency in contemporary South Africa” co-authored with Domoka Lucinda Manda in Steve de Gruchy, Sytse Strijbos and Nico Koopman (eds) (Rozenberg Publishers: Amsterdam) pp189-207 (2008b)
The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church “Earth, water, fire and wind: elements of African ecclesiologies” co-authored with Steve de Gruchy in Gerard Mannion and Lewis S. Mudge (eds) Routledge Publishers pp291-305 (2008c)
Compassionate Circles: African Women, Theologians Facing HIV: “Operation Murambatsvina (Operation Restore Order): Its Impact and implications in the era of HIV and AIDS in contemporary Zimbabwe” in Hadebe Nontando and Chitando Ezra (eds) (World Council of Churches Publications, Geneva, Switzerland) pp71-94 (2009)
Bahun-Wilson, A and Chirongoma, S (2014) “Effective responses to HIV and AIDS addressed in Tanzania” available online http://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/effective-responses-to-hiv-and-aids-addressed-in-tanzania
Chirongoma, S (2015) An Exploration of the Role of the Karanga-Shona Women within the ZIRRCON Ecological Project in Masvingo Zimbabwe: Towards an indigenous eco-feminist theology available online http://www.tf.uio.no/english/research/projects/redo/redo-publications/sophi-paper.pdf
Co-authored the YWCA Safe Spaces Training Guide with Sonjelle Shilton (2016) Available online,