Racist dogs and reconciliation in SA
HELP! MY GRANNY’S DOG IS A RACIST!: Is Reconciliation and Social Cohesion Finally Dead?, by Fr Patrick Noonan. Write-on Publishing. 2018. 143pp
Reviewed by Mmanaledi D Kgongoane
Franciscan Father Patrick Noonan has done much in the service of racial reconciliation in the post- apartheid era. His first book, They Are Burning The Churches, is now considered something of a national treasure in recording the history of the protests and struggles of apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.
Having celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Catholic Church’s establishment in our country, one may examine how the Church has helped or hindered social cohesion and reconciliation in South Africa.
It is a climate where many white South Africans are emigrating due to their lamentations on the state of our country, as well as their thoughts on how much they “used to have hope, but now we just want to leave before it all burns down”.
For me, as a black South African, it was important to find out why Fr Noonan, this Irish-born South African citizen, would want not only to stay in this country but even include his narrative in the tapestry of modern-day South Africa.
His personal story, a unique one, is well recorded in his third book, Township God, in which he explains how he had to examine “my position in life, my whiteness, religious vocation, understanding of Church teaching on social issues, on being a follower of St Francis, on township values”.
This is by no means a small feat of love. Few native-born white South Africans have contrition for the past, including within the Catholic Church.
And it is indeed tough to grow up in a world where once the black majority was in service of you and the white government enforced your importance, and then find yourself in a place where black society blossoms, with black lecturers, black doctors, black government, a black president, black celebrities and TV shows, and, yes, black nuns, deacons, priests and bishops.
Not only, does the government ask you to make a seat at the table for the people who once washed your dishes, but also Jesus asks you to move over and hold the hand of the security guard.
In my parish, I have observed what I call “The Wince”. When politicians express their anger towards white privilege, or when black people ask for more positions of power in the Church, or the bishop asks for money, or the black families move into the pews, many white people show a little wince on their faces.
It is very much the same wince and silence that swept the hall when Fr Noonan, at the launch of the book under review, brought up the R-word.
In his provocatively titled new book, he examines the lifestyle and grooming of dogs in white South Africa and calls into question why they are treated as more precious than the average poverty-stricken child in a township
If white South Africans have The Wince, black South Africans have The Glare. It’s the silent glare that is seen when our music is not included at Mass, when the assumption is made that we have all dabbled in witchcraft, when our hands are not shaken during the Sign of Peace, when the insinuation of our laziness and corruption is talked about during a sermon, when no real support and interest is shown for Bl Benedict Daswa as it would be for praying the Rosary.
And we apply The Glare when white people are “tolerating white demagogues and vilify a black demagogue such as Julius Malema”, as Southern Cross editor Günther Simmermacher rightly notes in an editorial which is reproduced in full in Fr Noonan’s book.
It takes true power to admit some ugly truths about yourself, and equal amounts of power to forgive ugliness acted upon you.
Who is Jesus, if not a lover of truth as well as forgiveness? He speaks to my heart in Setswana and to others in English, all with the same things: forgiveness and truth.
I have come to love the man who demands truth and forgiveness from me, not just love and adoration.
Help! My Granny’s Dog Is A Racist! is uncomfortable reading. It’s at times intense, and often a critique on the Catholic family, our societal inequities and the future of the youth, and how they could help perpetuate ugly old skeletons.
But the book also shows how, through the bravery of contrition and honesty and embracing the ugliness of our past, we can appreciate the beauty of our present. This is the gift Fr Noonan through this book gives to Catholics, the youth, the Church and our country.
Here is a true “opportunity for reconciliation”.
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