This is an ongoing and new series devoted to the South African Secular Society (SASS) and South African secularism. The Past President, Jani Schoeman, and the Current President, Rick Raubenheimer, and the current Vice-President, Wynand Meijer, will be taking part in this series to illuminate these facets of South Africa culture to us. Jani and Wynand join us.
Here we talk about communication, accents, and ethnic diversity, and more.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s talk about communications with different groups. How do you approach different groups in communication?
Wynand Meijer: We would generally identify a group via their online presence, and from there, arrange an in-person meeting. Whether we will be able to get to know of this group via a debate or a Meetup, or an event that’s posted, we would engage, sit in, and once we’ve established either a repertoire with the group, or we’ve seen what they are about, we would approach them and ask if they do know of the Secular Society.
From this point on, we would start with a networking opportunity to see if there are any overlapping interests. We are not looking at making a group part of South African Secular Society or get the members into the society, but we do like to expose each other to, or bring an exposure level to these groups, so that Group A gets to know of Group B, and vice versa. That allows for groups to stay totally autonomous from each other, however, share interests.
It also allows for a better disbursement of resources, where various groups can start various types of interests or topics and inform each other of what is happening. This allows, then, for an easier interaction and a bigger variety of content. Specifically, with groups that we work with in Durban, as well as groups in Cape Town, where we would notify each other, “Listen, we’ve got this event coming.” We would notify our people and vice versa. They would inform their following of similar interests.
We have found that this model is very beneficial, but it is a bit of a long-term project. You start seeing the value of this four, five months down the line, where groups are now more familiar with each other, as well as the content that they bring to the table, and at the same time, you would get the other group’s people showing an interest in what you do, and also start following what you have.
The success, can I say, has been very good. Also, good networking relationships have been built with this. This also allows for greater expanding to various regions.
Jani Schoeman: If I may add a few things. What we have previously also done is do collaborating events with these organizations or other groups that we’ve engaged with. Sometimes that’s very fun. If you have a small group, and they’re also a small group, then if you do a collab together, then you get to meet a lot more people that you never see. It’s not just the regular faces. That’s always nice.
There was one other thing I wanted to mention, but now I forgot. Meijer, when you speak, then I always pay attention because you speak so well, and then I forget what I want to say [Laughing].
Meijer: [Laughing] Thank you, Jani. Just to give you an idea, Scott. How this has bloomed, if I can call it that. For instance, this evening, we’re going to a talk, close by here, from the Sceptics in the Pub group, that is also a like-minded group, and we’re going to talk about happiness, the various topics in and around that. Everybody’s going to bring that to the table.
Sceptics in the Pub is also doing an outing on the 25th of May, to the South African Breweries, which is a whole beer thing where everybody just goes to, and have this outing, and enjoy it. A while back, we had an outing with the NHN. It’s a very weird Afrikaans one. It’s “Die Nuwe Hervormings Netwerk”, which is a bit of an older demographic society. We went and explored some caves with that group.
There are various interest groups of different types of activities that you can partake in, and it’s not always done under your banner, but as Jani mentioned, it’s a collaboration, at the end of the day. That allows for a lot of activities of various kinds, and various people, demographics, everything, that you start to see.
Schoeman: I just remembered what I wanted to say. I was also thinking of NHN specifically, on my second point. When we got to know them, when we had our first meeting with them, it was very interesting for me to see an older generation, how they approach the secular world or the secular idea.
Also, it’s a very Afrikaans group. Our group is half English, half Afrikaans, but we all speak English because Joburg is mostly English and it’s accepted that everyone just speaks English as the default language. It was very beneficial to me, and insightful to me, to get to know how this other demographic of people approach secularism, as well, in South Africa.
Schoeman: Scott, are you frozen?
Jacobsen: No. I’m just Canadian.
Schoeman: [Laughing] Alright.
Jacobsen: Be careful. Arya might kill me.
Let’s then focus a little bit more, or deeper, into the subject matter of communication, of community building, as well as to a point Rick Raubenheimer, the current president, made in a prior session. It dealt with not simply a diversification in terms of gender dynamics within some of the secular groups within South Africa, which is a larger concern to some within the international secular community.
Also, he noted within South Africa, diversity in terms of ethnic background. How can secular groups in South Africa continue what many in the international scene see as a prominent historical development in South Africa in terms of going from one rather negative stage, in terms of ethnic relations, into one that’s much more positive, moving into the present and hopefully, into the future?
Schoeman: That was a very long phrasing of the question. If you can maybe boil it down in a sentence for me?
Jacobsen: Sure. How can secular groups in South Africa better represent the broader base of the population in terms of ethnic background?
Schoeman: That is a difficult one. I don’t know if you have some ideas, there, Wynand. It’s been something that’s always been on my mind. When we’re doing things, I’ve tried to cater for people of all ethnicities, and try to find something that’s interesting to everyone, but I don’t know how we can more actively try and bring diversity into the group. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to develop more. Wynand, your thoughts?
It is difficult to think of active ways in which to attract more diversity to our group. I don’t know if there’s been any development on that. It’s something that I’ve found difficult. Although, we do have people of many different ethnicities coming to the meetings, but I think we can do better.
Meijer: Some of the things that I’ve observed is that our ethnic diversity tends to be more of the Indian.
Meijer: We get a lot of in-person activity from people of an Indian background, Eastern background. For the native population, I have noticed online, that there is a presence but even online, the presence is not that big.
One of the reasons, I suspect, is also the background itself. They also have a very strong religious background, and not only in a Christian or Judaic type of background, but also the “bygeloof”.
Schoeman: Yes. Ancestry, and all of that.
Meijer: The ancestry. It’s crap. Now me on-the-fly translator just broke.
Meijer: What do you call “bygeloof”?
Schoeman: I don’t know what’s the direct translation of that.
Meijer: What do you call it when you walk under a ladder?
Schoeman: A superstition. Is it a superstition?
Meijer: Yes. There’s quite a big superstition element in their upbringing as well, which goes together with the religious part, and the fact that it’s, for lack of a better word, also very a conservative type of– What’s the English word for “eng”? I’m not saying narrow-minded.
Schoeman: It’s close to the heart. I’m trying to think, also. “Eng”. [Laughing] You’re bringing up some Afrikaans words that I haven’t heard in a while and haven’t needed to translate.
Meijer: A very narrow type of view of the world. In other words, “There’s only this path,” and the whole community works in this. It’s very much a group thing. So, when you try to leave that, your social standing within your community is highly, highly affected.
As family is a very large part of it, it’s not something you just want to get out of. I think a lot of the times, it’s easier to break ties with your family coming from a white background, for lack of a better word, than it is from a black background, or a South-African native background.
I think that social part makes it very difficult for people coming out of their shell and coming to join. That’s why the online presence would be more prevalent than an in-person Meetup.
Schoeman: You’ve just awakened something in my mind. I’ve never thought of the actual black-specific type of barriers that they may have in their culture when transitioning, or when stepping out of religion because as you said, they have many, many superstitious elements in the traditional African culture and/or religion.
I don’t know how much about religion in Africa, Scott. If you’re following the traditional African religion, it’s very ancestral based. There’s a lot of which doctors and things involved. It’s like this very primitive – no, not primitive. It’s a lot based in-
Meijer: Money rats.
Meijer: Money rats is one of the main things. You can send somebody money, and they will send you a rat that will bring you money.
Schoeman: It’s a lot not like Christianity at all. It’s very much based on the land, and objects and things like that.
Meijer: On ever traffic light, you can possibly get a pamphlet for penis enlargement.
Schoeman: Yes. I don’t think there’s a strong culture of critical thinking, in general, at all.
Meijer: Those social challenges, I think, makes it much more difficult for individuals to come out and be part- as they will be shunned and ostracized from their communities and their families. For them, it is a very big risk at the end.
Schoeman: I don’t think there’s as much of an independence vibe in their culture, generally, as there is with Caucasians. I don’t know, maybe Indians. They are very much into family, and looking after each other in family, sticking together type of thing. If you happen to be different, I think, and black, you’re more likely to hide that, or you just don’t have the option to come out.
Meijer: That is not only just for secular views but also for sexual orientation as well, that we have noticed. Yes, on all ethnicities, you would get that resistance or kickback from your immediate society, but I do think certain structures have a bit of a stronger bond to break at the end of the day.
Jacobsen: Also, even with the context of Indian culture and black culture in South Africa, what about Afrikaners, or white culture in South Africa, in terms of their own barriers? I know, Jani, you have provided some commentary in some of the earliest conversations we’ve had, on some of the evangelical upbringing. Are there any other contexts that you’re aware of – Wynand or Jani?
Schoeman: Within whites or Caucasians-
Schoeman: No, I just know that there’s a big difference between if you’re a white Afrikaans person versus if you’re a white English person. If you are white, and English, then I think it’s less taboo for you not to be religious. On the other hand, if you’re white and Afrikaans, it’s taboos in most cases.
I don’t know about English people, what denominations they are more likely to be in, here in South Africa. Maybe they are more into the evangelical side of things, or maybe Pentecostal a bit more.
Afrikaners are more into very traditional, conservative values. It’s almost always the NG Kerk. Not always, but most of the time. So, they hold their family values very dear, and their religion very dear to them. It is tabooer, I think, overall, as an Afrikaans person, to step out of the faith.
Meijer: However, I do need to interject, there. Just an observation, is that a lot of Afrikaans-speaking people are becoming more verbal around this, not necessarily taking banners and doing protests or anything like that, but you do get the feeling that you are no longer alone. That’s a big thing that I have noticed.
A few years back, it would be, “There’s nobody else like me. I’m weird. There’s something wrong. Maybe I’m just wrong.” As you can start getting into these communities, you can see, “Listen, there’s a lot of people that are much more verbal than you would anticipate.” I do think that is good in its own view, as well.
This is not only atheist-related, but I think it falls into this whole sphere of “nones”, where “not affiliated”, “not interested”, the whole “none” category. That is starting to show in a lot of the conversations, and it’s becoming more. I don’t want to say easier.
Sorry, just to go off on a tangent on this. A decade or two ago, bringing up the topic of sex would be not a taboo topic, but, “It isn’t something we discuss.” Now, it’s easier that you can almost start talking about sex, and things that you can buy in a sex shop. It becomes part of conversation, where a few years ago, you would not even talk about it- a few decades ago.
I’m starting to see the same thing with religion, where you can easier just start asking questions and get a response. There’s reciprocation. It isn’t that somebody would not be interested and not talk to you. Living in the metro and metropolitan areas. That view might be totally different when you go to the rural areas.
Meijer: The platteland, where you’ve got a population of 500, with 5 churches and 3 liquor stores.
Schoeman: Now that you’ve said that, Meijer, the topic of sex and all that stuff. I know this now because I’m in this whole world now of infertility. Even that. I found out as soon as I had my miscarriage last year. I found out that, “You’re not supposed to tell everyone.” That was weird to me, but from my family’s side, my sister said something weird. She was like, “That’s why you never tell anyone you’re pregnant until 12 weeks.” I was like, “Why the fuck wouldn’t you?”
It is changing, and slowly but surely. Slowly but surely.
Meijer: I think that that split that we are seeing, we are going to see that, soon, hopefully in the ethnic cultures, as well, which will make them join.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity, and your time, Wynand and Jani.
Schoeman: All right.
Meijer: Thanks, Scott.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.
Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.