The Cure

(A short story)

Ziyanda woke up at 10:58, 2 minutes before her 11am alarm. She was getting weirdly good at that – waking up just before her alarm. She turned her laptop on and added it onto the bottom of her CV under the heading of ‘skills’ as ‘able to wake up just before alarm’. She wasn’t quite sure what kind of employer would be impressed by such a thing, but to be honest, she needed a bit of a morale booster, and adding skills to her CV seemed to help somehow.

South Africa was in the middle of a country-wide lockdown. No one was allowed to leave their house unless they were an essential worker, or to buy essential goods, like food or medication. It had now been four weeks since Ziyanda had had contact with another human being in the flesh, and it was affecting her in interesting ways. She was mostly okay, the introvert in her grateful that her calendar was completely empty for the foreseeable future. But it was all beginning to take its toll.

She found herself having long conversations with herself in the mirror. Staring into her fridge for hours on end. Slipping into random outbursts of maniacal laughter. Weeping over the basil seedlings on her balcony that appeared to be dying. Spending hours looking for exercise videos that she never actually did.

It was definitely an interesting time.

Today, she woke up a little grumpy and with a strange, throbbing headache. She didn’t often get headaches so she wondered where it was coming from. These days, all symptoms came back to COVID-19, the dreaded illness that had brought about this situation in the first place. Since the beginning of the pandemic, she had had COVID-19 at least 4 times. Self-diagnosed of course. Luckily for her, each bout seemed to go away after a couple of days, but she was irritated that it had come back again today, this time in the form of a throbbing headache.

She decided to take her last two pain-killers but couldn’t do so on an empty stomach, so she went to the kitchen and made some pancakes, which she took up to her bedroom and ate in bed. According to her, the usual life rules did not apply in these covidy times, and so eating in bed was a perfectly okay thing to be doing. As she ate the pancakes, she noticed that her headache was changing. Not going away exactly, but changing. The throbbing was not painful anymore, but rather, seemed to be shifting in shape and colour. She finished the last of the 6 pancakes (again, normal life rules — particularly those regarding how much or how little food one should eat — had gone out of the window), lay back on her bed, and closed her eyes, focusing in on what was going on with her head.

As she paid attention to it, the throbbing seemed to slow down. She focused in on each throb and began to see that each looked to be an entrance way, a portal into a different world. Freaked out, she opened her eyes and quickly took the painkillers. Thankfully, the headache went away almost immediately. She shook off the strange experience and chalked it down to bloody COVID-19, and continued with her lockdown activities. That night, similarly to all the nights before, she promised herself that she would go to bed early so that she could get into a healthy sleep pattern, but, like all the nights before, at 1:30am she found herself, still awake, watching Instagram videos of people cutting soap into cubes. These Instagram videos had become a sort of obsession. For some reason they seemed to bring Zi peace. It was as much how the video looked — cascades of tiny soap cubes pouring down in a magical soap cube waterfall — as it was the sound, which was hard to describe but a sort of crescendo of tiny crackles as the soap was cut and then fell to the ground. She admitted that it was a slightly strange obsession, but it was far less strange and more socially acceptable than her last. Pimple popping videos. Yep, soap cubes were much better. And although at times she missed the satisfaction of watching gloved fingers squeezing huge pimples or cysts until yellowish pus flowed out, on the whole (apart from some occasional revisits in moments of weakness) she had managed to curb that habit.

Finally, at 1:46am, she shook herself out of her soap cube-induced hypnosis, and forced herself to bed, setting her alarm for 9am.

She woke up in the morning at 8:57am feeling quite pleased that her skill was proving consistent. As she got out of bed, she noticed that the throbbing headache was back. She opened her jar of painkillers and shook it upside down just to confirm that there really were none left. To her dismay, the jar had not magically replenished itself overnight. She had never seen magic, but she believed it was only a matter of time. If she was honest, she was still very much waiting for her Hogwarts letter to confirm that she was indeed a witch as she had long suspected. It was taking its time though. Too late already by a good few years. She wondered if perhaps the administrative staff were on strike or something. She guessed that inequality and oppression were not restricted to the non-magical world (although she hoped that she was wrong). In any case, today clearly wasn’t the day she was to experience magic for the first time, so she resignedly braced herself to ride out her headache without the welcome relief of medication. She got up to make some toast, ate it, and then lay back down in bed and closed her eyes. As soon as her eyes were shut, she felt the throbbing take a shift towards the strange again. She opened her eyes quickly. This was weird. She lay there for a bit, looking up at the ceiling, wondering what COVID-19 was doing to her brain. And then, her curiosity overtook her, and she closed her eyes and decided to see what was going on in her head.

As she focused in on the throbbing, it began to slow down dramatically, and again, each throb morphed into what looked like a portal to another world, that disappeared and then showed up differently with the next throb. The more she concentrated on this strange phenomenon, the more she felt as though she was actually inside her head, and looking through these portals into this strange other world. She found that she could move around somehow, so she moved closer towards it so that she could see more clearly. Was that a person? Again she edged forward until she was almost touching the portal, and then…

She opened her eyes and she was sprawled on a pavement that she did not recognise. She looked around wondering where the hell she was and how the hell she had got here. As she recovered her bearings somewhat, she saw people on the streets and wondered to herself what had happened to the lockdown. She noticed a couple of people looking at her strangely as they walked past, and she realised that she must be a curious sight, lying on a pavement looking confused. So she got up and walked around to see if she could figure out where she was. As she walked around, she noticed that people had not stopped looking at her strangely even though she was no longer lying on the pavement, and then realised that she was still in her pyjamas. Great, that’s embarrassing, she thought to herself. Although her pyjamas were not hugely pyjamary and had been known to pass as actual clothes in certain situations. But clearly, that was not working here. And then as she looked a little closer at the people walking around, she noticed something odd. Everyone was wearing some kind of uniform. The same shoes, the same pants, the same t-shirts- just with a few occasional variations in colour.

She suddenly felt even more self-conscious, and wondered what kind of place she had landed up in. After walking for a long time, she noticed that the streets were getting emptier and emptier, until at some point, she realised that she couldn’t see anyone, whichever way she looked. That’s weird, she thought to herself. At that very moment, she heard a voice coming from some bushes nearby.

“What the hell are you doing?”, the voice hissed.

Zi went closer and bent down to get a look at where the voice was coming from. She couldn’t make anything out until an arm stuck out of the bush and yanked her inside. Surprised, she found herself on a blanket inside a thick ring of bushes. She saw the person that was attached to the arm that had so rudely pulled her into here without her permission. It was a boy that looked roundabout fifteen years old.

“What do you think you’re doing?”, she yelled.

“Shhhhhh”, he whispered, looking terrified. He peered through the bush, making sure no one was nearby.

“Well? What do you think you’re doing?”, she repeated, but in a much softer voice, picking up on his fear.

“What do you think you’re doing?!”, he said, indignantly, turning the question back onto her. “Walking around on the streets past curfew, not a care in the world? Do you have a death wish?”.

“Curfew? What curfew?”, she questioned, giving him a quizzical side eye.

He looked at her as though sizing her up, not quite able to tell whether she was serious or not. “What do you mean, what curfew? Where have you been for the past few months?”

She was starting to feel anxious and wishing she could go home. “I… I don’t know where I am or how I got here… The last I remember I was lying in my bed at home and we were in lockdown…”.

“Lockdown?”, he asked in disbelief. “The lockdown ended four months ago…”.

He rummaged around in his things for today’s newspaper, found it, and showed her. It was dated just over six months into the future. Ziyanda put her head in her hands and tried to breathe. What in the world was going on?

It seemed that the gateway in her head had spat her out into the future.

The boy reached out and put his hand on her shoulder, slightly awkwardly.

“There there”, he said, trying to comfort her.

She looked up after she had composed herself somewhat, and gave him a shaky smile, “Thanks. I’m Ziyanda by the way.”

“Cool. Nice to meet you”, he replied, “I’m Amos”.

“Ah, like the prophet?” She asked.

“I guess…”, he replied.

“I always liked that guy”, Ziyanda said.

“Thanks… Ya, he was pretty intense but I like him too.” He chuckled. “So are you doing okay?” Amos asked Zi.

“I mean, wow, I guess so… feeling pretty shell-shocked, but I’m adjusting”, she replied.

Amos reached into his bag and pulled out a bunch more newspapers.

“Here”, he said, as he handed them to Ziyanda. “I’ve been collecting these over the last months. To be honest, it is hard to know how accurate a picture they paint of what’s been going on. Apart from within the Resistance, the media has pretty much been captured. But they should at least give you an overview of where we are.”

She thanked him, her mind exploding with thousands of questions — what or who was the Resistance? What or who were they resisting? Who has the media been captured by? She didn’t even know where to start. So she found the newspaper showing the earliest date and started there, reading her way through the pile. She spent a couple of hours catching up on what had been happening in the six-month gap in her memory. It was a rollercoaster of emotions as she experienced the past months in fast forward, gasping upon finding out that the army was to remain in place post-lockdown, in shock discovering that those who had been living on the streets prior to lockdown, remained imprisoned in the hastily erected mass sites, where their free labour was now being extorted, weeping at the war being waged on the poor, and the huge numbers of deaths from police and soldier brutality. And she read story after story of those that had been arrested and imprisoned for their attempts to resist the ever-increasing powers of the state.

When she had finally managed to at least scan through the pile of newspapers, she looked up in disbelief.

“Well this is a disaster”, she said.

“Yep”, Amos replied, “Sorry to break it to you”.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, as she let everything digest. And then Amos offered her a peanut butter and jam sandwich, which she took gratefully, and chomped down realising how hungry she was.

It was getting dark.

“So, do you sleep here?”, Ziyanda asked Amos.

“Sometimes”, he replied. “I managed to escape the city’s concentration camp a couple of months ago and was in hiding for a while. And then I joined the Resistance, and mostly sleep at one of their headquarters, but I move around quite a lot so that I can report what’s going on. We’ve got eyes and ears all over.”

Zi looked at him with a dazed look, not saying anything for a few moments, and then, “I have so many questions… but I don’t know that I can keep my eyes open for much longer”.

“Of course”, he replied, “You must be exhausted. Please, sleep. I’ll be keeping a look out.”

He handed her a blanket which she gratefully wrapped around herself as she lay down. With her eyes closed and the night as silent as a graveyard, she thought about how completely crazy this situation was… and then she drifted off to sleep.

She awoke with first light in the morning. After a moment of disorientation, she realised where she was, and went through a fast forwarding of all the emotions she had felt last night. Amos sat close by, flipping through the pages of a book. He looked over at her, “You’re awake. You sleep okay?”, he asked.

“Really well actually”, she replied.

He threw her a t-shirt and pants, similar to what he was wearing and what she had seen everyone else wearing yesterday.

“Put this on”, he instructed, “we need to get going soon”.

He turned his gaze as she quickly got dressed in the clothes. Once she was done, he handed her a jungle oats bar.

“Eat this”, he said, “we’ve got a bit of a walk ahead.”

“Where are we going?”, she asked, wondering why she was putting her whole life in the hands of a complete stranger. For some reason, though, she wasn’t at all afraid of him. He felt like a younger brother.

“We’re going to the headquarters of the Resistance”, he told her.

They waited for the right moment and emerged from their place of refuge into the streets that were still quite empty, save for a few people getting in some early morning exercise. She ate her jungle oats bar, savouring each chewy mouthful. They walked together through the quiet streets in silence for a while.

Ziyanda broke the silence by asking one of the million questions that was floating around in her head. “So what’s with the uniforms?”.

Amos responded, “Basically it is one of the ways that the powers that be keep track of people. Each area is assigned a colour, and everyone living within its’ bounds has to wear that colour. Movement is highly controlled — pretty much you have to stay within the area that you live in, unless you have a good reason to go outside of it. So the uniform basically lets the police know when you are outside of your area. And then if your chip doesn’t show that you have a reason to be there, that is cause for immediate arrest”.

“Chip? What chip?”, Zi asked, her eyes wide as saucers.

“Oh shit, sorry. Yeah. This is a tough one to swallow, brace yourself… A couple of months ago the government ordered a mass rollout of this new technology that they said would allow them to keep the population healthy by allowing them to monitor citizens. Basically microchips that monitor temperature, location, immunity and a million other things were inserted just above people’s collarbones, and the police and soldiers were given devices that can check peoples’ information. So they can immediately tell when you are not where you are supposed to be.”

“But I don’t have a chip. What will they do if they stop me?”, Ziyanda was starting to hyperventilate.

Amos looked over at her, “Yeah, that would not go well. I don’t have a chip either. We’d be in the same boat. But I’m not going to let us get stopped by the police”.

This wasn’t the reassurance that Zi needed. Her breathing only got faster.

“Look, you need to keep it together”, Amos hissed. “The police are not our only worry here. In fact, the state’s most powerful tool of surveillance is the normal citizens”. He laughed a quiet laugh, completely devoid of humour. “They are incentivised to report anything strange. And they do. I know people who are behind bars because they were found in the wrong area, and had the police called on them by ordinary people!”.

Ziyanda took a few minutes to intentionally slow down her breathing, and when she felt a little more centred, she asked Amos, “So when you say people are incentivised…?”.

“There is a whole ranking system”, he replied, “Points are given or taken away depending on what you do. Where you live and what you have access to all depends on your rank. And all that information is held on your chip.”

“So Foucauldian…”, Zi mused quietly.

“What?”, Amos asked.

She replied, “Foucault was this French philosopher who wrote about power and control in society. He wrote a lot about how surveillance is used to get people to not only police themselves, but each other too.”

Back in her own time, Ziyanda was part of a reading group who met every Thursday morning at 7:30am to discuss texts that they had all read that week. They were currently gnawing their way through Marx’s Capital, but prior to that, had read a couple of Foucault’s works, including Discipline and Punish.

“I need to introduce you to the RACs”, Amos said, chuckling.

“Who are they?”, asked Zi.

“Oh sorry, the Revolutionary Academic Caucus. They can be somewhat pretentious, hence the name, but they’re alright. Their task is basically to do the intellectual work for sustaining and progressing the Resistance.  I’m pretty sure I have heard them throwing around the name Foucault. You’ll probably get along”.

Ziyanda wasn’t sure whether or not to take that as a compliment. Amos seemed to view the RAC with a healthy amount of the feeling that accompanies an eye roll.

“Shit, police”, he muttered suddenly under his breath, and with a touch to her elbow, steered Zi surreptitiously down another street.

“Please remove that panicked look from your face”, Amos said through his teeth.

“Sorry”, she hissed back at him, doing her best to plaster on a ‘natural look’.

He looked at her and burst out laughing.

“Much worse”, he said.

“Heeey!”, she retorted, “I’m trying!”.

They both felt a little more relaxed after some laughter, and settled into step with one another, in an easy camaraderie.

“So how did you escape the Mark of the Beast?”, she asked Amos.

“The what now?”, he replied, confused.

She responded, “Lol. The Mark of the Beast. I am referring to the microchip, but it made me think of these books that I read as a kid”. She chuckled at the memory. “The Left Behind series. They are basically fiction novels that make wild interpretations about the end times, using the book of Revelation from the Bible. Anyways, there is this guy, Nicolae Carpathia — I don’t think I will ever forget that name — who is supposedly the Antichrist, and makes everyone get a mark on their forehead, and decapitates everyone who refuses. It’s pretty wild. Anyway, in my family we jokingly refer to anything that bears any similarity to that as the Mark of the Beast”.

Amos looked at her, one eyebrow raised, “Damn… why were you reading those books as a kid?”.

She shrugged.

They continued walking in silence for a few steps.

“How did I escape the Mark of the Beast?”, he mused, clearly reliving the memory. “So the mass rollout was set to happen when I was in the camp. We had been hearing rumours that something like it was coming, but they no one ever said anything to us directly. But I had a couple friends in the media who came to the camp and warned me about the chip instalments. About a week later, the people running the camp told us that the following day, they would be running medical screenings on everyone, and I just knew that this was it. I shared my misgivings with a few friends that I had made in the camp and asked if they wanted to escape with me. Most of them laughed it off and said I was crazy. Some believed me, but decided to stay anyway — which I understood. A few people had been shot for trying to leave, and if they didn’t die from the bullet wounds themselves, they died from the infection after being treated in the horrific facilities at the camp. So it ended up just being me. I couldn’t face that kind of captivity. The kind that follows you around from under your very skin”. He looked down, “So I got out. That night. Made a hole in the fence, ran, and never looked back. And thankfully found the Resistance along the way”.

He looked at her and smiled.

She smiled back at him and reached out to touch his arm. “I’m glad you got out. That’s quite a story”.

They carried on walking in amicable silence.

At some point the suburban scenery shifted to industrial. Large warehouses and factory buildings loomed, and the streets grew more and more deserted.

“A lot of these industries closed down in the wake of the economic downturn, and so there are a bunch of unused buildings around here”, Amos said, by way of explanation.

They continued to walk into the heart of Industria, until at some point, Amos took a turn and they found themselves at the door of what looked like an abandoned factory. Amos pressed a miniscule button to the left of the door, which Zi would not have even known existed had she not seen him press it. Clearly it sent some kind of signal to let someone know that they were outside, because a few seconds later, they heard a voice coming from inside.

“Password?”, it questioned.

Amos whispered back, glancing sheepishly at ZIyanda, “I solemnly swear I am up to no good”.

She put her hand over her heart and fake cried, “I think I’ve found my people!”.

A woman who was clearly a friend of Amos opened the door. Her face lit up and they gave each other a big hug. She then noticed Ziyanda and looked at her suspiciously.

“Who is this?” she asked Amos, still staring at Zi with a measure of hostility.

“It’s Ziyanda”, Amos replied, “We can trust her. Zi, this is Qhawe”, he said, gesturing to the woman.

Qhawe’s suspicion remained, but the level of hostility dropped slightly.

“Can I check you?”, Qhawe asked Ziyanda.

“Umm…”, Zi looked questioningly at Amos.

He nodded at her, “It’s okay, she just wants to make sure you don’t have the Mark of the Beast”.

Qhawe burst out laughing, “Left Behind?”, she asked.

“Yep”, Ziyanda replied with a chuckle.

“I am still psychologically damaged from those books”, Qhawe said, still laughing as she checked Zi for a chip.

“Oh my gosh, me too!”.

Amos looked at them laughing, “Y’all have issues”, he joked.

“No lie there”, Qhawe joked back.

After she was done with her check, she gave Zi the all clear and let the two of them inside.

Upon entering the building, Ziyanda stopped in her tracks.

“Wow. This place is incredible!”, she exclaimed.

They had entered into a massive warehouse type room, which was split into different sections. Part of it was a library, housing shelves and shelves of books, there was a section of desks with computers on which people looked to be deep in some serious work, towards the back there was a giant kitchen, there were various storage spaces for different equipment, there was an area with sleeping pods… it was a little overwhelming. The place was buzzing; people scattered throughout, all absorbed in different activities.

“Whatever happened to social distancing by the way?”, Ziyanda asked, wondering why people were not staying two metres away from each other.

Qhawe looked confused.

“Oh dang, sorry”, Amos said, “I didn’t really explain… Zi is from the past, lol. When I say it out loud I can’t quite believe that I believe it…”, his voice trailed off.

“It’s true, I swear”, Ziyanda pleaded, “I had a headache during lockdown, something weird happened, and I ended up here. Yeah, when I say it out loud I can’t quite believe that I believe it either…”, her voice trailed off too.

Qhawe looked at her for a few seconds in silence, and then shrugged, “Well, I’ve always kind of believed in magic. Still waiting for my Hogwarts letter”, she said, with a smile.

“Me too!”, Zi exclaimed, kind of weirded out at how similar they were.

“So social distancing…?”, she asked again.

Qhawe indicated that Amos should speak.

“A cure for COVID-19 was found just over a couple of months ago. Just before they rolled out the microchips in fact”.

“Before?”, Ziyanda asked, shocked.

“Yep. That was part of the reason it was so insane. I guess the powers that be wanted to make the most out of the pandemic, and they realised that once the cure was developed, they only had a limited amount of time to solidify their evil plans”, Amos said bitterly. “They actually used the cure as a carrot to force people into getting the chips. No chip, no cure. Super messed up. Thankfully our people managed to hack into their systems and find the recipe or whatever you call it. And now we can make our own”.

“Damn”, said Ziyanda, “So what was the cure?”.

“Well”, Qhawe replied, “You know how the virus can’t survive long in light?”.

“Um, yes…”, Zi replied, unsure of where this was going.

“They managed to find a way to get the light inside the body and kill the virus cells”, Qhawe explained.

Zi’s jaw dropped, and she put her hands over her mouth in shock. “No way? Trump was right?”.

And then she saw Amos grinning through the corner of her eye. She punched his shoulder, laughing.

“I’m kidding”, Qhawe said, cracking up, “I’m no scientist. I have no idea what the cure is; just that it does not involve light or disinfectant.

“Come on, let me show you around”.

They walked right through the length of the floor, past all the hustle and bustle, until they reached the back doors. Qhawe opened them up and signalled for them to go outside. Upon stepping outside, they were met with the biggest food garden that Ziyanda had ever set her eyes on. It stretched almost as far as the eye could see. Row upon row of all kinds of vegetables at different stages of growth. It was incredible. Qhawe led them up and down the different rows, showing Zi the spinach, the potatoes, the butternuts, the chillies, the tomatoes and much more besides.

“This is so incredible”, Zi couldn’t help exclaiming at each different plant. “I wish my mom could see this. She loves growing vegetables”.

They walked past different people working the garden, and a group of people in some kind of agricultural learning session.

Qhawe explained, “This is maybe the most central aspect of the Resistance. The idea is that if we can grow our own food and sustain ourselves apart from the toxic system, then perhaps we have some chance of creating a different world. So one of the requirements for joining is that you have to go through a course about growing food, and spend at least one day a week working the gardens”.

Qhawe paused to look around, and then resumed, “You know, I never thought I would enjoy it, but there is something about growing your own food that makes you feel connected to something bigger than yourself”.

She looked at Amos and Ziyanda, and smiled.

“Ya”, Amos agreed, “This is where I find my magic. How a tiny seed becomes a whole plant is something I will never quite get my mind around. And there is something super centring about watching a plant through all its’ stages”.

“Mmm”, Zi agreed. “I’ve never had a vegetable garden per se, but back in my time I grew some things on my balcony. I had a chilli plant and my favourite thing was watching the progression of the chillies. From bud, to flower, to tiny green chilli, to bigger green chilli, and then the magic of the chilli turning red. The best”.

They smiled at each other, and continued walking down the rows, making their way back to the building.

As they were walking through the building again, they passed a woman with long blue braids, big-framed glasses and dungarees.

“Oh Zi”, said Amos, “This is Wewe. One of the RAC members. Wewe, Ziyanda. I told her I wanted to introduce her to you guys after I caught her talking about Foucault”.

“Hey!”, greeted Wewe, giving Zi a warm hug. “Yeah man, this is panopticism on another level! Come hang out when you are done with your tour!”.

Zi promised that she would, and the three of them continued walking.

“I want to introduce you to the hackers!”, Qhawe said.

They made it over to the section with the computers, and sat down next to some people who were working there.

“Vuyo, Tina, Sthe, Damian, this is Ziyanda”, she introduced. They all turned towards her, and greeted her warmly. “Vuyo, show her what you are working on”.

He turned his computer screen so that she could see it.

“So we are currently trying to figure out the best way to take the Resistance forward. At the moment I am working on a campaign which will hopefully counter some of the propaganda that the government has been force-feeding everyone. We are planning to hack the government’s Facebook video feed, and post a series of videos that will hopefully get people asking some questions. Yes, there are some sections of the population who are doing just fine, but for most of us, this is a nightmare. If we can get enough people to admit that and commit to acting for change, they will have a hard time stopping us. Here is one of the videos we are planning to release. We managed to hack some security cameras to get the footage”.

He clicked play, and the video started. It showed footage from inside a massive residential estate which contained golf courses, swimming pools and all the amenities that you could possibly think of, and then the shot panned out to show the estate to be surrounded by army vehicles and armed soldiers facing outwards. The scene then changed to show the camp that Amos had escaped from, which contained thousands of people in close proximity, doing forced manual labour, also surrounded by army vehicles and armed soldiers, but this time with the guns facing towards the enclosure. The film went on to show people getting violently arrested and brutalised on the streets, and the terrifying militarisation that had been enforced throughout.

As it went on, Ziyanda’s headache started to come back. She made it to the end of the short film and commended Vuyo on the powerful work, and thanked him for sharing it. As soon as he turned around to get back to his work, she whispered to Amos with great urgency, “Can I talk to you somewhere?”.

He led her to a quiet spot in the building.

“What’s up? Are you okay?”, he asked her.

“The headache’s back. If this means what I think it does, I’m not going to be here for much longer. I think I have a chance to go back”. She paused for a few seconds. “Having lived in all of this, is there anything I should do when I get there? Like, to help with what you guys are doing here?”.

Amos thought for a minute, and then his eyes lit up. “Wait here! I need to get something”.

Zi stood there for a few minutes, trying not to close her eyes for too long, her headache worsening, throbbing. He came back holding a vial of beige looking liquid, and a piece of paper with a name and phone number on it.

“This is the cure for COVID-19. Take it with you, and when you get back, call this number. It is for one of the top medical scientists in the Resistance. If you can get this to her, and let her know it is the cure, she will be able to break it down into its components and replicate it. And if we manage to find the cure before them, this could be the bargaining chip we need to advocate for a different world”, Amos said excitedly.

Ziyanda looked nervous. She hated phone calls, but figured that this was important enough for her to take one for the team.

“Okay, I will do my best!”, she promised. She looked at Amos, the reality of it all dawning on her. He had become a brother. She felt like they had known each other for years; both of them did. “I’m going to miss you!”, she exclaimed. “I will find you I swear, and force you to be my friend”.

He laughed. “I don’t doubt it”.

They smiled at each other for a few seconds, and then gave each other the biggest hug.

“So how does this work?”, Amos asked.

“I need to focus”, Ziyanda replied. So she sat down, vial firmly in hand, and closed her eyes. After a while, the throbs of her headache began to shift. She focused in on them, going inside of her head. After concentrating for some moments, she began, once again, to see each throb becoming what looked like a portal, and worlds beginning to take shape on the other side. She went closer to the portal, attempted to reach out and touch it, and then…

With a thud, she landed on something soft. She opened her eyes and looked around, breathing a sigh of relief. She was back, in her own room, on her own bed. She shook herself, hardly believing her own experience, but looked down to see the vial of beige-looking liquid grasped tightly in her hand. Immediately, she grabbed her phone and began to dial the number on the piece of paper.

Before pressing the call button, she took a few moments to prepare herself, going through what she would say in her head. Finally, she bit the bullet and called. After a few rings, the person on the other side picked up.

Zi began, “Hi. My name is Ziyanda, and this might be hard to believe but I think I have a cure for COVID-19. Is there any way I could come and see you?”.

 

The end

I hate this country in which one’s race is the single most significant determinant of one’s fluency in funeral songs

Because Death is racist and blackness requires being prepared for him in and out of season

 

I hate this country where rain means different things to different people

How some can celebrate the filling of the dams, while others’ homes, belongings and belonging get washed away

 

I hate this country where nothing makes any sense

Where people talk about a housing crisis, while multi-million rand mansions stand unoccupied for most months of the year

 

I hate this country that too often feels like a knotted mess that cannot be undone

Because the oppressor/oppressed dynamics are so entangled within our beings that in the process of untangling it feels impossible not to lose pieces of ourselves

 

I hate this country that means vastly different things to different people

Simultaneously occupying lists of the best places to live in the world, and the most dangerous places to live in the world

 

I hate this country that is so two-faced in its reception of people into its borders

Welcoming some with open arms, while perpetually making others feel like the unwanted stepchildren who don’t belong

 

I hate this country that doesn’t even bother to hide its idolatry of capital

Where money can buy you education, healthcare, dignity, and even humanity, but if you can’t afford it you can forget about it

 

I hate this country that doesn’t even bother to hide its racism

Where white peoples’ right to play golf is prioritised over black peoples’ rights to health, food, housing and sanitation

 

I hate this country where having a vagina far too often represents a death sentence

And penises are weaponised to maintain the oppression of womxn and children

 

I hate this country where the church is just as dangerous a space for womxn as anywhere else

And theology is twisted to uphold the strongholds of patriarchy and violence

 

I hate this country where proximity to whiteness is proxy for the amount of attention one’s murder is given

And the brutal violence experienced daily by so many is deemed unworthy of outcry

 

I hate this country that is too often the stuff of nightmares

Where you can become as woke as you like, but there is no waking from this mess

Is the Church Decolonisable?

What can help us answer that question, is to consider another: was there ever an ‘uncolonised’ church, or has the church simply historically been a tool for colonisation?

If there was such a thing as a pre-colonial church, or a church untouched by colonisation, then perhaps there is a possibility of decolonising society’s current expression of it. If, however, the church, since its inception, has been imagined as a tool for colonisation/control/domination/social reproduction, then the idea of decolonising it does not even make sense. Such a church is incongruent with a decolonial imagination.

Here perhaps we need to do some work of separating the institutional church that emerged as the dominant and enforced religion of Constantine’s Rome, from the church that we see in the biblical book of Acts that began in a particular context as a gathering of people seeking to be neighbours to each other as they followed and expressed the calling and spirituality of Jesus in the world*.

Once we separate these two expressions of ‘church’, perhaps we can conclude that the institutional church is inherently colonial, and perhaps therefore ‘un-decolonisable’. Maybe even irredeemable.

However, in this separation we see that there was a pre-colonial expression of church that looked like community and life on the margins of society. Church that looked like a space of intersection, where diverse communities could create home together. A space of radical challenge to the idea of individual ownership, as people came together and shared their belongings so that everyone would have what they needed. Such an expression of church is inherently anti-colonial. It does not need to be decolonised or redeemed, but perhaps remembered and recovered.

Those of us who today find ourselves seeking to be neighbours to each other in a world that is too often explicitly un-neighbourly, and to follow and express the spirituality of Jesus in society, need to develop an imagination for such radical spaces of inclusion, belonging and generosity that challenge the status quo on every level.

With regards to the church, colonialism and capitalism have done what they do best: taken an idea that is revolutionary in its very nature, turned it against its origin, and  popularised it into something that will promote the dominant narratives and ideology and in so doing, uphold the status quo. This tactic repurposes and domesticates radical ideas to fit within conservative frameworks, in a way that can act to mask its deeper intentions. If you have been socialised into such a framework — specifically when it comes to the church — the work of untangling is complex, and at times feels like losing parts of yourself and your faith.

In the complexity of this journey I think it is helpful that we have an expression to look back on and draw from within the biblical text. The question is are we able to put that context in conversation with out own, to explore what might be being asked of us today, as we try to live faithfully to the call of Love?  Are we able to recover the radical Christian imagination?

 

* In reality this boundary line is not so straightforward or black and white as I have made it out to be. I understand and recognise that there are beautiful and liberatory and important and communal signs of life even within the church as an institution. I also recognise that regarding the institutional church as a unit is often unhelpful as there are so many expressions within it, but I thought it was necessary for the purposes of this post. There is much space for nuance to be considered and teased out.

That Day…

We fight not for the sake of fighting, but for that day when fighting is no longer required
Because the darkness has finally been swallowed up by light

In that day our fighting shall turn to dancing as we twirl to songs of celebration
Our attention will shift from destruction to creation, because all that had needed to fall will have fallen

And perhaps on day one we will wake up confused, unsure of who we are outside of the calling to loosen the chains of injustice
But on that day there will be an abundance of grace, and space for us to find our feet, time no longer a slave driver but a gift

On that day we will learn to find ourselves and each other outside of a world woven of suffering
We will learn to make art, jokes and conversation that depend not on pain
We will learn to create beauty from beauty

And while that day will not be tomorrow, nor even perhaps the tomorrow of many years to come
At least part of our work must be to train our eyes to see it
For if we can just glimpse it, our fight is not futile, but the gateway under construction between this world and that

Home

What’s in a room?

Well, this one’s big and blue, filled with cushioned chairs placed in long, neat rows

Stairs leading up to a stage flooded with light, bright and orange

It’s a room*

But on closer inspection, I notice white marks pitted into the blue carpet where the black legs of chairs once stood

Those scars stark reminders of the parallels in our history

Only the black legs of the removed belonged not to chairs but people, with skins too dark to remain within the parts of the country undergoing a violent lightening process

And so, like the chairs, they were moved somewhere out of view and only the scars remained

And they make me think of the way that history erases some and highlights others

And I think of the erasure of people like me

A whole generation that could have been, but were deemed illegal through the immorality act

A people neither fully black, nor fully white*, but pieces of each that find themselves fighting it out, awkwardly figuring out how to reside side by side within their hosts

Within me

I am an amalgamation of contradictions that have only recently truly learned to make peace with one another, and acknowledge each other’s value

Because diversity always increases complexity, and maybe it’s the multiplicity of layers of sometimes opposing identities

That makes it difficult for me to see the world in black and white

Instead I find myself teetering in between, taking my cues from the shades of grey, stutteringly finding a way to walk the line of uncertainty

Often wishing for the simplicity enjoyed by those who find themselves firmly planted on one side of an issue

Unquestionably certain that their eyes see things right, and that those on the other side see things wrong

But my eyes do not work that way, my vision is more blurred, but well trained to see what’s underneath the surface

A gift that at times feels like a curse, forcing me to abide in this uncomfortable in between

A nomad, my only home nestled within my rib cage

For I am at once both oppressor and oppressed, coloniser and colonised

Somehow disenfranchised within my own being

Birthed on African soil, but whisked away soon after to the land of Queen Elizabeth

Only to return in 1995, once the legal aspects of apartheid had died

Yet the spirit managed to survive

And so did I, by denying the aspects of myself that were aligned with what society deemed as black, while embracing the sides they thought of as white

And so, as he had done externally in the years prior, the coloniser in me was victorious once more

Inciting the worst kind of violence- that which is done against oneself

And the journey of picking up the broken shards, and piecing them back together, has been hard, but important

Because wholeness is my inheritance

And my wholeness is the world’s inheritance

For they will not benefit from a me at odds with myself

And I intend for my life to be a gift- one inevitably layered with complexity, mystery, uncertainty, but also the light, wonder, and hope, that anyone finding themselves along that confusing spectrum of grey, can hold onto

And find themselves

Home

 

* This poem was written in and found inspiration from a big blue hall, hence the beginning…

*I recognise that ‘blackness’ and ‘whiteness’ are constructs

*This poem is really meant to be spoken rather than written, but…

 

 

Let Justice Roll

*A present day rewriting of Amos

 

My people

Those called after my name

Those created in my image

Whose origins and stories I have known intimately

And been intricately involved in

Those I knit together with love and intention

And led with cords of kindness

Whose names I have engraved into my very skin

For whom I paved the way out of oppression

And broke the chains of slavery

My people

 

How quickly you have forgotten these paths we have travelled

How quickly your memory has unravelled this shared history

How swiftly you have reduced me to a God of apathy

Neutral in the face of injustice

Do you not know me at all?

 

For you perfect your religion like it’s a play, getting on your knees to pray, memorising your sermon lines, finding flawless harmonies to enhance your worship sets

Yet off stage, you underpay your employees, and justify harsh inequality with your gospel of prosperity, silencing my prophets who proclaim liberation.

The sound of your worship is deafening when combined with the cries of the labourers that you have underpaid

The smell of your incense offered at the temple is unbearable when mixed with the teargas used to protect your privilege

Your offerings are a mockery when they have been gained through the pain and exploitation of others

Your sisters and brothers

 

Their bones cry out from the ground

The bones of the landless, the enslaved, the imprisoned, the oppressed

The bones of my people cry out from the ground

 

And even this ground cries out for the waters of justice to flow

For the water it has known has been the sweat of those who have toiled it as their own while never getting to own even a slice

Their cries and groans the lullabies it has grown accustomed to

Yes, the land knows them well

They are one and the same

Their tears have watered its barren plains

Their blood has stained its soils red

It has become the bed of their final slumber

Home to countless of their fallen numbers

The land continues to swallow them whole

 

How long will you stand by as it swallows them whole

Into its ravenous cracks that echo the ever-widening chasm between rich and poor

In spasm under the weight of injustice, creation groans

The land cries out for living waters to flow

This drought will not be remedied through trickle-down charity

 

Your last remaining hope is to seek me and live

The God who brought you up out of Egypt

Seek me and live

The God who leads you into places of rest

Seek me and live

The God who is all-seeing and all-feeling

Seek me and live

The God who believes there is nothing that is not worth redeeming

Seek me and live

The God who loves deeply those you disdain

Seek me and live

The God who stands on the side of the marginalised

Seek me and live

The God who tears down temples and flips over tables

Seek me and live

The God who proclaims liberty to the captives

Seek me and live

The God who is good news to the poor

Seek me and live

 

That justice may roll down like mighty waters

And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream

 

 

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God,

I sometimes wonder about that promise that you made to humanity, after the great flood. That you would never again erase the vast majority of humankind from the earth. How many times have you looked down at the state of things and rued that day, regretted those words? How many times, over and over again, would humanity have been near wiped out if it hadn’t been for that uttered promise? A person of your word, going back on that was never an option. There are no take-backs with you. But how many times have you wished?

How many times, when seeing the strong mete out pain and destruction on the weak? How many times, when seeing the oppressors indifferent in their violent subjugation of the oppressed? How many times, as you struggle to recognise your image within us, as we become less and less human?

And how long will it all continue this way? Is this simply our destiny that we cannot get away from no matter how hard we try? Some fatal flaw in our DNA that keeps us in this struggle for power, which leaves no one the winner? Will there ever be liberation for all, or is that just a pipe dream?

 

Selah.

 

And then there is Jesus. And he comes down to earth, giving up his power, to be like us. And in his time here, even with all his God-ness, he never replicates the oppressor-oppressed dynamics. Even as one who holds the knowledge of all things, he never colonises with that knowledge. In his careful questions, he enacts a ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’, the knowledge emerging from within those to whom he speaks. In his gentle weaving of stories, he creates space for listeners to interact with his words in a way that makes sense to them. In his non-prescriptive teachings, he displays such a deep love for freedom that he refuses to control people even in getting them there.

And then he allows himself to be murdered, so committed to freedom that he refuses to control what people believe about him, even though that would have been well within his realm of power. He dies, fully taking on the identity of the oppressed, the cross his lynching tree.

And when he comes back to life, he does it in a world that is still not perfect. Where the oppressors still walk free, and the crosses are not yet empty. But when he comes back to life, he is no longer ‘the oppressed’ but victor, overcomer. He is the sign that even in a world that continues to not be perfect, a world in which we must still fight for all to be liberated, we do not have to wear the cloak that we have worn. The one that has been handed to us, or the one we have given to ourselves. Jesus means that amongst chains we can be free. And in the same way that his final freedom represents freedom to us, so our liberation is itself liberating.

In the midst of the struggle for freedom, we are free.

A luta continua.