Tag Archive | South Africa

Shelter from the Storm

2:00 a.m., one Thursday night, somewhere in a bar in South Africa. Despite the early morning hours and the remote location of the place, the bar is well frequented by both men and women of different ages and ethnic backgrounds (this is noteworthy as in South Africa places of leisure and gastronomy are usually not as socially diverse). The atmosphere at the bar is lively as people are chatting to each other, engaged in pool billiard or relaxing in the lounge area next to the spacious bar.

A smart-looking guy in his early fifties, casual clothes, round spectacles resting in his curly hair, sits on his bar stool sipping from his double scotch, puffing a cigarette, chatting to the bar lady and to the young woman sitting next to him, looking at ease. Amidst the casual, lively and animated atmosphere, the young woman in her late twenties wearing a light greyish dress and a pink cardigan – giving her overall appearance a rather conservative touch – looks somewhat out-of-place. As she carefully observes her surroundings she meets the one or other curious and quizzical gaze directed at her. After some time, a woman in probably her late thirties wearing a tight black dress approaches the two. With a big smile and raising her hand to greet, she faces the young woman and introduces herself: “Hi, my name is Laury*. Sorry, I’m new here and I don’t know you. Are you working here too?” Obviously uncomfortable and caught by surprise, the young woman laughs and denies the question that presumably was posed to make sense of her out-of-place presence. She was just visiting and having a drink with a friend, she replies awkwardly.

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The Postcards that I’ll never Write

So here it is – boom – the last day of my research stay in South Africa. And I haven’t found the time yet to properly reflect upon and write about my workshop, but I will soon.

However, this was not only a research stay, I spent one year of my life in South Africa, in total. Right now I am sitting on the veranda of the commune that for the past three months formed my basis, my home, looking at a bunch of postcards that I bought a week ago. I know now that I will never send them. What could I possibly write?
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The Art of Walking

Have you ever noticed that your surroundings influence or change the way you walk?
And I’m not talking about something too obvious like from one second to the next performing a moonwalk but rather the more subtle changes in movement like straightening your posture or altering your pace. These slight adjustments may even occur unconsciously and can easily be overlooked by passers-by. They are, however, very significant as they can tell you a lot about how people assess situations, literally, in passing. Why have I decided to take up this topic now? Because one night while walking home on my own, I noticed the huge differences in the way I walk at home in Konstanz as compared to walking in South Africa. Read More…

A different Reality

Things you usually don’t expect to happen: Having your air-condition explode three meters away from your head while you are asleep. (Saying that, I’m okay, it was more of an implosion, nothing happened to me.)

And here’s the story. After the internet connection broke down in my apartment on Saturday evening I decided to go to bed earlier than usual as I had to be up and about early the following day due to my counselling seminar in Johannesburg. It was at around 11 p.m. when I woke up with a start because of a loud noise inside my apartment. Slowly coming to my senses I noticed a strange smell. When I tried to switch on the light on my nightstand nothing happened. The whole place was without electricity. I grabbed my phone which was the only source of light, put on a jumper and went quickly outside into the corridor where I found a couple of my neighbors chatting, their faces illuminated by the screens of their laptops, tablets or mobile phones. Some reported light bulbs had exploded in their apartments. Others have had sparks coming out of the fuse or the TV. Apparently, the motor of my air-condition had exploded because of too high voltage and it took me around half an hour with windows wide open to get rid of the nasty smell and be able to go back to bed. Read More…

Thank you for Sharing

Before I walked into my first session of a nine weeks course in basic counselling I would not have thought that I was going to encounter a sentence that is probably the mantra of any self help group on the planet:
Thank you for sharing

But first things first. I have decided to participate in a counselling course in order to get a better understanding of the profession of counsellors, of how they are trained and which pedagogic frameworks they use. In other words: I want to ‘go native’. By this expression anthropologists refer to the phenomenon of immersing oneself in other people’s every day lives and as a consequence gradually losing one’s outside perspective. This process allows for developing a profound understanding of the topic in question. After having gained considerable insight into the everyday practices of domestic violence counselling in women shelters, I decided it was time to include a different perspective on the matter: How do you become a counsellor in the first place? And what is currently the state of the art in the profession of counselling?
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The Potential We See

After the last happy-go-lucky post about celebrating Heritage Day at the shelter, today I want to turn to a less cheerful subject. A question that I have often been asked since I have taken up my research on domestic violence and counselling is simple and yet most complicated to answer: Why do women stay with or go back to their abusive partners? Or more general: Why do people stick to relationships that are harmful to them?

I’m afraid, I won’t be able to give a straightforward answer to this question. But I can offer you a story that I am still processing. Read More…

Celebrating Heritage Day at a Women’s Shelter

Every year on September 24th, South Africans celebrate Heritage Day. The public holiday that has its roots in Zulu culture (for more info visit the South African History website) was introduced in 1996 by Nelson Mandela to honour the multifaceted cultures that together form the Rainbow Nation. In order to celebrate and highlight the commonalities that can be found among the cultures despite all their differences, on Heritage Day, it is common for people to have a Braai, the South African Barbecue, that usually stretches over several hours and basically consists of preparing and eating tons of meat.

However, at the shelter, we had a different programme. Read More…

September 11th 2014: Watching the Verdict in the Oscar Pistorius Trial

Two days ago, I arrived back in Pretoria for my second phase of fieldwork and as I am writing I am sitting in my apartment in Pretoria watching the proceedings of what will probably be the last day of the murder trial against Oscar Pistorius. The case of Oscar Pistorius has accompanied me during my research on domestic violence and counselling services in South Africa from its very beginning and the subject has come up in various interviews and conversations. Often times, people had strong opinions about the accused, mostly judging Pistorius guilty. Yet, some could not understand the fuzz that is made about the case as you can find similar cases happening in South Africa almost on a daily basis.

Today, the verdict will be handed out in the Oscar Pistorius trial. Again, the proceedings are broadcasted live – both on Channel 199 on DsTV and online, for the world to watch. The media coverage of the trial is enormous and what has become clear is that as previously, Oscar’s behaviour and bodily reactions will be under close inspection. It seems like everybody is hoping to see a hidden truth, to be able to read from Oscar’s body what really happened, to find out if he is a victim or a perpetrator. Read More…

The Narrative Construction of Identity and the Production of the Truth

This post largely stems from a paper that was presented at the conference “Doing Truth”, hosted by the University of Konstanz (11.-13/07/2014).

As I wrote in my last post, the trial against Oscar Pistorius is about assessing whether or not Pistorius acted according to an error in persona. It is not about the action itself – he alleges to have fired the fatal shots – it is about his intentions. He claims that what he did was a terrible accident, meaning he did not intend to shoot his girlfriend. Moreover, he rejects the notion that he wanted to kill whoever, in his opinion, was hiding behind the door. Hence, just like in the auricular confession as described by Alois Hahn (1998) the murder trial is about assessing the true motives and intentions of Pistorius.

The following transcript of the trial illustrates the manner in which the different versions of the events, that are presented at court, come to clash:

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A Nation in the Courtroom

“Coming live from Johannesburg, South Africa, the Oscar Pistorius trial channel” When I switch on channel 199 “OPTCB” on my Dstv these days I’m no longer sitting on my sofa at home in Pretoria but I instantly become a witness of the court proceedings in the trial against Oscar Pistorius. In the early hours of […]