This week I had to chance to chat around the issue of race with a family very much involved with the work of CAST. Cornelis (or Spyker as he is called by friends) and Murry are originally from Joburg, but have lived in the Durban area for the last 25 years. Cornelis runs a company called Nylon and Conveyor Components (NCC) in Pinetown and Murry volunteers for CAST with fundraising and events. They have two teenage girls, Clarise and Mickayla.
Ask anyone at CAST, “Where is the best place to have a braai?” Their first answer will be the Pieterse house! The Pieterse family welcomes guests from all different cultural backgrounds – most of the time you can hear multiple languages being spoken in their home. It is a place where every guest is made to feel at home, and you can’t leave without feeling like part of the family, no matter where you come from. This story is close to my heart because the Pieterses hosted me in their home for my first year in South Africa when I moved here from the States, and really adopted me into their family. I’m one of several individuals who have lived with the Pieterses over the years and claim their family as my own. I hope you enjoy getting to know the Pieterse family as much as I have!
Q: What has been your journey with the issue of race?
Spyker: “I used to be racist, but now my best friend is black. We were raised to believe that black people are inferior, that they are less than you. But it’s all about overcoming that mindset. God created us equal. It’s not something that you can do on your own. For me, I had a change of attitude in a couple of weeks. But, it all starts with simple things like seeing your workers differently.
Unfortunately it was the era we were brought up in, even up to the 1990’s. During Apartheid, there were signs on the toilets at the beach, and even different busses. I never spoke to a black person as a child, we all went to separate schools. Especially in the Afrikaans schools, we were never around those of other races.
My mindset didn’t change until 6-7 years ago when we joined Westville Baptist Church, with a multiracial congregation. But our girls never felt racism because they grew up in mixed schools, and we didn’t raise our kids that way.”
Murry: “My brother was killed in a hijacking by black men. My girls and I were also held up in our home by black men. Thankfully Joseph Bode (CAST Children’s Development Manager from Kenya) helped us process what happened when we were held up. I’ve learned that when you’re mad at someone, you have to be mad at the action, not because of the colour of the person.”
Have you experienced any criticism of your lifestyle from family and friends?
Spyker: “When we had Ambu Madilonga (Arise Youth Pastor, from Soweto) stay at our home, someone asked us, ‘Why would you allow a man to stay in the home with your girls?’ Ten years ago I would have never considered it. But now my response is, ‘That’s a person I would trust with my life.'”
Murry: “My friends don’t care. But with family in the beginning it was not okay. But then they met our friends of other races and were okay with it. The problem was they assumed the worst first.”
Clarise: “Some of my friend’s parents are racist. They say they are joking, but they are really judging.”
How have you included your daughters in this process?
Mickayla: “It just seems normal because we weren’t brought up racist.”
Clarise: “Going into the communities, everyone thinks it’s so dangerous and scary. But because of my mom’s work at CAST, we don’t think that way.”
What have you learned from this process? How has it changed you?
Spyker: “I was blinded for a long time. It’s easy to just go on other people’s point of view of race, hearsay, and past experiences. But you need to make up your mind for yourself. Understanding others’ culture, background, heritage, and history has helped. For our kids sake it has been such a blessing – to look past the colour issue. Ambu has really helped us understand ‘the other’.”
Murry: “CAST has involved us in all different cultures. Also after the hijacking and being held up, God really put people in our lives to overcome that.”
How would you encourage others to adopt this lifestyle?
Murry: “Start small in projects, for example, through CAST where you will be dealing with other cultures. Then let the Spirit guide you. God has a greater plan, and trust in Him. When you have people in your home, treat them like a family member instead of just a temporary visitor. I love having a variety of people in and out of our house. I love learning from all the different cultures.”
Spyker: “Make yourself available. Get involved with someone, interact with someone at work, church, etc. and it will come naturally. Each person has to decide for themselves to make a choice about how you see people. A lot of times peer pressure happens when one person gets everyone going with racism. Growing up, my family used to turn the TV off whenever Mandela came on the screen because we believed he was a communist. We were listening to everyone else. It took years for Afrikaners to be okay with Mandela because of the slander.
My prayer is ‘Open the eyes of my heart Lord.’ I want to ask to see things through God’s eyes, not my own. Another phrase that has challenged me is ‘Keep your hands open to God’ which I heard in a radio programme. You have to be willing to give up what God has given to you because it’s all from Him anyways. Sometimes I ask myself, ‘How can we have all this?’ It’s all a blessing from God. I want this to be God’s house. When I put up the cross in front of our house, I wanted everyone to feel welcome. It would be sad if someone walked out of our home and didn’t feel that this is truly a house of God.”
Clarise: “Be kind and treat everyone equally – don’t see colour. In heaven everyone will be together.”
Mickayla: “Be more open-hearted to everyone.”
The Pieterse family really believes this quote from Mandela: