Finding Humanity on an inspirational Hill

Humanity by Joseph Ndlovu 1995

The video footage of Spanish tourists being robbed in broad daylight on the streets of my beloved Joburg, with passers-by looking on indifferently, left me waking up this morning with a sense of despair. It was a stark reflection of troubling events unfolding, both close to home and globally, and made me want to bury myself under the covers and shut the world out.

The apparent lack of care for others saddens me. I see it displayed by those idle bystanders, by a city council neglecting the once-proud City of Gold, in a country that still widens the gap between rich and poor and in the devastating, dehumanising conflict in the Middle East dividing people worldwide.

I recognise the behaviour; wanting to hide under my duvet is not just to keep the world out but also to keep the world safe from me. When I feel this overwhelmed I tend to seek certainty in ‘right or wrong’ judgments and I become irritable and impatient with others. This in turn leaves me disappointed with myself and worsens my bad mood.

Then I saw the image of ‘Humanity’ on my fridge, the rich tapestry created by Joseph Ndlovu. “ express principles of justice, human rights, and reconciliation” reads the back of the postcard that I kept as a memento of the remarkable Art & Justice tour of the Constitutional Court. ‘Humanity’ was commissioned in 1994 by two judges who spent their décor budget on this first piece of the exceptional art collection. The Court is the highest in the land and safeguards the legal, social and political transformation. The beautifully designed and open court complex is built on Constitution Hill, site of the former Old Fort prison, and echoes the atrocities committed during Apartheid years. “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice” said Martin Luther King.

The postcard transported me to that inspirational Hill and I imagined standing on the ramparts of the Old Fort, taking in the panorama of dynamic Joburg. From that vantage point, I could suddenly see the positive developments happening in the world: People defending humanity in the Middle East, instead of taking sides. South Africa uniting behind a Springbok rugby team that is much more diverse than the team that won the 1995 World Cup. Concerned Joburg citizens coming together to debate how to save their city.

My thoughts turned to my neighbourhood, where the unruly taxi drivers can also show unexpected care. They were the ones who came to my rescue when I faced muggers at my car window. And when I stood frozen midway crossing a busy street with four lanes of charging taxis, some taxi drivers halted their vehicles so I could reach safety. I remembered the driver leaning out of his window shouting, “Hey Umlungu, I’m single!” Passers-by laughed with him at my “Sounds tempting Bhuti, but I’m not!” bringing joy to the day.

Chuckling at the memory, I decided to throw off my duvet, straighten my back, and once again face this bewildering world of ours with a smile in my heart.

Artwork: Humanity by Joseph Ndlovu, 1995 (Constitutional Court Art Collection)

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