Sisterhood of the world bloggers award

Nominated for Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award!

Saadia Haq from the Human Lens (http://saadiahaq.wordpress.com) nominated me for the sisterhood of the world bloggers award and I feel very honoured by this. If you would like to learn about the subtleties and nuances within feminism, and the importance of human rights for women and children around the world, The Human Lens offers a lot of insight.

The Rules which need to be followed:

Provide the link to the person who nominated you.
Add the reward logo.
Answer the questions your nominator has asked.
Nominate 7 other bloggers and let them know via comments.
Ask your nominees 10 questions.

My nominees are:

Carol Hand (http://carolhand.wordpress.com)
Mandy (http://healingbeyondsurvival.wordpress.com)
Mimi (http://psychologistmimi.wordpress.com)
Deborah (http://deborahbryan.wordpress.com)
Debra (http://ptero9.wordpress.com
Susan (http://stilllifewithtortillas.wordpress.com)
Maria (http://mtgullberg.wordpress.com

And my answers to the questions:

Lets start with, do you drink coffee or tea and why?

I drink tea most of the time, mostly out of habit because I grew up drinking tea. But after a week where I couldn’t have any caffeine at all, I suddenly started drinking coffee, and it’s become a habit. So both, depending on which feels right for the moment.

What’s your favorite color and why?

My favourite colour is white, because it is light, clean and airy. It makes me feel peaceful and serene, and it doesn’t demand too much attention. But I also like bright orange because it feels vibrant and happy.

What ambitions you seek in this world?

Ambitions? I don’t know. I tend to follow those spaces where my heart leads me, so I don’t always know where I am going, as much as I feel I really must do something. I like to let the process unfold, and see where it leads. But I’d like to help add to a world where people and community are able to give value to each other, and to the more than human world.

What inspires you to blog?

I like to share and interact with other bloggers. And sometimes, when I feel strongly, blogging is a release. It stops me from boring my family too much with whatever occupies my mind.

How do you select topics to blog upon?

I select topics which I feel strongly about at any particular time. Mostly to do with conversations I hear or see on social media.

Do you think blogging as social media is constructive for engaging with people?

I’ve learned an awful lot from blogging, hearing different opinions and reading the work of other bloggers. Particularly because each blogger concentrates on a different topic which I very often know little about. I’ve learned a great deal, and it helps me to look at the world differently, and hopefully to be more sensitive.

Have you received solidarity and support for writing what you write?

I’ve been very lucky, because I have had a lot of support. I’d like to thank Jeff Nguyen (http://deconstructingmyths.wordpress.com) in particular for helping to create a blogging community which has been both inspiring and kind.

When faced with opposition, what’s your reaction?

Sometimes I am curious. I wonder what is going on. Sometimes, I enjoy debating or exploring. Sometimes I see that I have missed something. And once, when I wanted to share appreciation of somebody else’s work, and had a few trolls email me for a month afterwards, I decided that nobody wins when you try to dialogue with abusive people.

Any humanitarian campaigns which you support/or would love to support?

I support the Agents of Change Project which uses social sculpture to work towards a sustainable world for humanity and the environment.

What’s your future calling?

That will unfold when it is ready, and guide me along the way. For now, I try to look at the ideas and insights I have which apply to the present, and which will hopefully add to the future as it unfolds.

10 Questions:

I like the questions asked of me, and so I share them again:

Lets start with, do you drink coffee or tea and why?
What’s your favorite color and why?
What ambitions you seek in this world?
What inspires you to blog?
How do you select topics to blog upon?
Do you think blogging as social media is constructive for engaging with people?
Have you received solidarity and support for writing what you write?
When faced with opposition, what’s your reaction?
Any humanitarian campaigns which you support/or would love to support?
What’s your future calling?

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Land as pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation

nicciattfield:

A lovely article which describes story (stored knowledge) as a way of learning, connecting and relating with the land and with community.

Originally posted on Unsettling America:

A resurgence of Indigenous political cultures, governances and nation-building requires generations of Indigenous peoples to grow up intimately and strongly connected to our homelands, immersed in our languages and spiritualities, and embodying our traditions of agency, leadership, decision-making and diplomacy. This requires a radical break from state education systems – systems that are primarily designed to produce communities of individuals willing to uphold settler colonialism. This paper uses Nishnaabeg stories to advocate for a reclamation of land as pedagogy, both as process and context for Nishnaabeg intelligence, in order to nurture a generation of Indigenous peoples that have the skills, knowledge and values to rebuild our nation according to the word views and values of Nishnaabeg culture.

Full Text: PDF

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The toys our children create

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This morning, I read about a new type of doll which has been launched overseas.  This doll, Lammily, is based on the figure of a normal nineteen year old girl and was very well received by the children who were introduced to her.  Declaring that Lammily looked more like a sister than a model, the children saw her as having the possibility of becoming, amongst other things, a teacher, and could relate to her.  While reading about Lammily, I thought about how often children give personality to the toys they can relate to.

Lammily has been created as an alternative to Barbie.  I didn’t (and don’t) know a great deal about Barbie.  I didn’t play with dolls, no matter how hard everyone tried to find one I would like.  And my daughter was fascinated with trolls.  Barbie wasn’t interesting to her, and when somebody very kindly decided to give Barbie as a present, Barbie didn’t get any chance at all to settle in before being banished to a dark corner under the bed.  She stayed there for a couple of years, gathering dust before being collected, with other discarded toys, into a basket and taken to a charity shop.

The glitz and glamor Barbie supposedly represented was lost on Danny.  Instead, she built up a family of trolls, parents Adam and Patrick, and children Rollo and Razza, and these trolls became an important part of her understanding of social justice.  Adam and Pat were married way before this was seen to be legal in South Africa (their marriage took place when Danny was three years old).  When gay marriage was discussed on the radio when Danny was six, and she wanted to know what gay marriage was all about, we explained to her that Adi and Pat were in a gay marriage, both being boy trolls, and the government were making space for gay people to get married too.

“Oh.” Danny said.  “That’s stupid.  Adi and Pat love each other.  It is only for them to decide whether or not they should get married.  It is none of the government’s business.”  I couldn’t have agreed more.

Adi and Pat did all kinds of interesting things, including eating up all of the shortbread biscuits while nobody was looking, but they were a part of our family for quite a few years, until Danny outgrew them.  They remain in her bedroom, hair streaming out above their smiling faces, but they are far more silent these days (and far more restrained).

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(Drawing by Danny Attfield)

Perhaps because Barbie was never really very interesting to me, and perhaps because she never really played a role in the life of my child, I haven’t worried about Barbie’s influence on body image.  I wouldn’t imagine, considering that Barbie is a doll and I am a real person, that Danny would grow up with the idea that Barbie represents anything real when it comes to women’s bodies.  Surely, the women around her would seem far more real when it comes to body image?  I don’t look anything like Barbie.  Likewise, I have never really worried that Danny would grow up wanting to look like a troll (although if she did, coloured highlights are probably easier to acquire than a picture perfect body)

At the same time though, I can understand how images and ideals which are portrayed over and over again, in layer upon layer of magazine images (mostly photoshopped), movies posters and adverts could create unrealistic perceptions of what bodies really look like, and what is seen to be normal.

Perhaps we are presented with the image of goddesses at every turn, and perhaps normal women cannot be described as screen goddesses, but why does the emphasis always have to be on what we look like?  We live in such a rational world that we tend to forget that our bodies aren’t images at all.  We are alive, living beings, and we live within a greater and more than human world, and our bodies are sensual, nurturing, mobile, emotional and tangible aspects of how we feel, live and interact with the world around us, a world far greater and as important as we are.

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We live in a living world full of relationships, intimacy, humanity, emotions and a state of health. There is a wonderful and sensual world which exists all around us.  We can experience joy and wonder at the red tips on green leaves, the way that an orange tastes when combined with chocolate, or the beauty of a chameleon as he hides within some leaves.

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Toys and games are tools.  They can encourage dialogue and imagination, but they have no life of their own.  The only power they hold is that which we give them.  We can encourage children to see the beauty or normality in the physique of a plastic doll, or we can show them the beauty of flowers, an interactive world, and their own beauty as part of a greater cosmos which lives both outside of them, and within them.

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Toys can teach children the value of brightly coloured hair, or they can teach the value of love.  How our children interpret the world doesn’t exist in isolation.  Toys and games have no power of their own, and they never will, if we dialogue, share, read and encourage empathy.  We can show our children the beauty of the world, other people and their own freedom of choice.  If we do that, then the world will change, and a piece of plastic will hold no real power except for the imaginative worlds our children create around them, the dialogue this inspires, and the meanings they give them.  By relating with our children, we can show them a world where toys and flowers reflect back a child’s own beauty, meaning and interpretation.  It seems possible.

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“You are also bright and special like that…”

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“When I look at the flowers…how bright that color…you are also bright and special like that…” AoC kids (5/11).

In 2010, I was thinking about what it means to be a person within a greater social organism, and how we find a sense of self, or ‘I’ within the social sphere.  I’d been learning about the social world’s massive impact upon people, and it had been overwhelming.  After exploring for two years, I realized that we are individuals who shape a social world which in turn shapes us.

So imagine my surprise, when a 12 year old girl explained, in her reflection of a two hour process:

“I wore the life jacket and learned how to act as an individual and interact with others.”

Perhaps I am not the most clear and concise person in the world when it comes to concepts I’m still trying to explore and understand.  But when I’d explained my research and explorations to friends, trying hard to put across what I was interested in, I got a lot of blank looks and unusual comments. for a short time, I worried if I’d become immersed in madness.  It ended up going quite well, in the end. The external examiner said favourable things (what a relief).  I began to feel quite clever.

Yet one Tuesday morning a few months ago, a young girl grasped the concept and shared it with me and all of her friends.  When I asked her how she had come to this (very insightful, I thought) conclusion, she looked at me as though I was clearly not very bright, and she said “We were standing in a line, with the same jackets and meter sticks, but we had our own questions.  We are individuals who are part of something bigger.” She didn’t say “Duh!” but she looked like she might.

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I’ve been so fascinated by the insights of teens and children, this past year.  Ghandi wrote that we should be the change we want to see in the world, but one of our teens decided that for herself, after listening to her own ideas and reflections and deciding that they were important enough to act on.  Children have spoken about cities as an expression of creativity or soul, (recently also expressed by one of my favourite writers, as well as by James Hillman, who says that we live in psyche).  Children have spoken, with quite exceptional insight, about issues of social injustice, illness, stigma and the life that so clearly exists in the world around us.

Listening to children share concepts you only really grasped with a university education, as though they are all a bit obvious has taught me that shared insights and meanings belong to everybody, and are owned by no one person.  I have had to take a step back from my own belief in the importance of expert knowledge and start listening.  Any thoughts on the need to empower anybody are long gone.  When children come up with concepts you spent two years exploring, express them perfectly, and wonder why anybody would need an explanation something which is really quite obvious, you realize that insights can never be limited or constrained.

Do we need to give people a voice?  No, we don’t.  Nobody with the ability to sit down and speak needs to be given a voice.  This is something which has recently been shared, with such a lot of sensitivity and a little bit of frustration by bloggers from the Human Lens. It’s also something Ken Gergen shared, when explaining the importance of acknowledging the insights already present within any community. Gergen stressed that expert knowledge and the language which comes with this, may be more intimidating than helpful.  Communities need to be given space to share and add insights that people with authority or power don’t know, and unless we are willing to acknowledge this, experts may be the ones who lack true understanding.

As people we have the power to see, observe and respond to the world around us. While I remain stunned by the insights children give, I am starting to recognize the importance of giving space for those voices. It is no longer possible to claim that any other person in the world can learn a single thing from me. Instead, I’ve started to realize that I can share, explore, question and listen, but each voice, no matter how young, or how unfamiliar with the process, shapes a different aspect of any conversation.

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Recognizing that I offer my imagination and my willingness to listen and to learn, over and above any sort of cleverness has been a relief to me. I realize I need to do very little. Other people have just as much insight as I do. Although I spent years learning that the world exists in hierarchies and that this has divided people, I also realize how this has never actually impacted on the ability of anyone, anywhere, to have a voice, or to create change. All we have to do is speak, share, imagine, question and listen to each other, and we can create a different perspective of the world. It isn’t so much that people in power dominate, but that there are dominant voices. There are also possibilities that exist within every moment, and new voices who can always share. All we need to do is to let them be heard, so that we can shape new conversations, and so seed the possibilities for change.

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Reference:

Kenneth J. Gergen,Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community. New York: Oxford University
Press, 2009
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Agents of Change

Agents of Change (AoC) is a Social Sculpture process in which all people are invited to think and shape responses for the transformation of the causes of Climate Change, in view of shaping a human and ecologically sustainable future. AoC South Africa has being doing this wonderful work and invites all interested people to participate. Thank you to Danny Attfield for making this lovely film.
AoC is a creative initiative of the Social Sculpture Research Unit, Earth Agenda and University of the Trees.
http://www.agentsofchangeproject.blogspot.com
http://www.social-sculpture.org

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“Change starts with you…”

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Last week, I wrote about taking time out to watch butterflies.  This weekend, I was lucky enough to do that again, when Agents of Change went to Two Rivers Urban Park.  There’s a great deal of life by the river, and our teens took time out to watch the beauty around them.

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Sunday was a little bit unusual for us, because we had Mia and Butho, from a tv channel come and film some of what we were doing.  Different questions bring different answers, and different aspects of awareness.  What was so moving for me was a question asked of Rita, one of the teenagers who is very involved with the project.  When asked what she’s learned from being a part of Agents of Change, Rita explained “I’ve realized that change starts with me…”  and the message she’d like to send to other teens?  “Be the change you’d like to see in the world!”

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Having young people take part in a process of exploration and connection has been very, very rewarding.  Our teens have spoken about Ebola, and the need for compassion and treatment for people who suffer.  They have shared the importance of family, the burden the water carries when we litter, and the need for care and compassion for our world.  Very often, they have seen pollution through the eyes of the water, birds or animals, and this very deep empathy has been both touching and inspiring.

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Learning from our teens is an incredible privilege to me, as a facilitator.  They have taught me the value of giving space to look, share and see the wonder of life.  But they’ve done more than that too.  They’ve taught me the value of really listening, and giving time for thoughts and insights to develop.  Each have ways they would like to bring change, and dreams of what they would like to do with their lives, including sharing, healing and expression.  But the wisdom, compassion and insight they bring has been striking.

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How do human rights, critical theory and watching butterflies connect?  I think when we learn the value of life, deep insight and awareness of all those voices different from our own, we feel wonder and respect.  When the world is alive, and I get to see the insects move their wings, children share (in profound ways), or birds hover above the water, waiting for food, I see myself as a part of that life too.  I realize the importance of sharing, caring and taking part in something so much bigger and more inspiring than whatever I might have on my mind at any time.

When I go into a space of wonder, compassion and openness to others, as well as to my own voice, that’s when I feel most alive, and most able to contribute to the world.

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The world is alive, and when see this, and we take time to value each other, to recognize the life both inside of us and outside too, then the old messages, the dead spaces and the belief that oppression or exploitation is all there is begins to fall away.  We are alive, we can contribute, and we can be the change we want to see in the world.  We can bring in a new form of democracy by recognizing the wisdom and the creativity which is present all around us.  By listening, respecting and deepening the voices who share with us, we can bring a new reality to life.

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We are so much more than any simple definition or stultifying category.  We are more than helpless beings on a dying planet.  We are alive, and we are agents of change, who can forge new paths, and new ways of being, contributing differently through our thoughts, our choices, and our deepening sense of awareness.

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Sometimes we share with each other, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to share with a wider world or community too.  DSCN1648

Thank you so much to Mia and Butho, for creating a wider awareness of what it means to be an Agent of Change!  And to our lovely teens…may your message be heard.  “Change starts with you!”

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Daring, sharing, caring greatly

Last year, I read Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly.  I’d seen the Ted Talks, and her emphasis on the importance of vulnerability when it comes to innovation, along with her obvious courage, was inspiring.  She seemed kind, warm and humorous, and she was open to sharing her own learning, her struggles, and the people who had backed her in the process. She spoke of the vulnerability hangover, the fear of putting your best work out there, and the value of those who are willing to stand beside you in the arena when the rest of the world criticizes from the side lines.

True courage is about getting into the arena to try, Brene Brown argues.  It isn’t about overcoming all obstacles, and it isn’t about being all things to all people.  It is about sharing creativity, insights, or those qualities which mean the very, very most.  And sometimes, when you are covered in dust, when you can’t see your way, when the colors around you blur, and when you feel dizzy, daring greatly is that much easier when you have support.

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It may be the unconditional support they offer which makes animals so valuable to people.  Animals trust us, we can care for them, and when we do, that care is often returned in abundance.

When I read Brene Brown’s work on Daring Greatly, and the importance of having somebody stand in the arena with you, it made perfect sense.  At the time, my daughter had been watching (and reading) The Hunger Games, and the scene where Katniss refuses to kill off her district partner, Peta, preferring to eat poisoned berries alongside him rather than have the games turn one against the other was truly memorable.  They survived, and Katniss was told to emphasize the loving relationship between them for all she was worth.  Nobody defies the rules of the game like that, after all.  But Katniss didn’t need to emphasize care.  The viewers had seen it played out before their eyes, and it moved them enough to see the humanity within two contestants over and above the rules of the game.

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I’ve been lucky enough to have unquestioning support during some very difficult situations.  There have been times when I have done things which were unintentionally very short sighted, or, at times, completely thoughtless, but the people who stood by me and offered support have meant so much.  Knowing that somebody else cares without judgement helps a lot when you want to give up, bury your head in shame, or even when you feel bulldozed or cornered by somebody else’s opinion.

Those people who are there for you when life is good, and when it is bad, the ones who stand by your side when you are in the arena, you feel overwhelmed, and you don’t really know what you are doing and where to turn, are the people who mean everything.  They are the people you can trust, and the ones who make the critics in the grandstands seem less relevant.  They are the people who keep you going, who make you willing to try, keep trying, and give the best you have.  I am grateful for the people in my life who are always there.  They mean more than I could possibly admit.

Maybe, when the critics come out and jeer at us, and we have sand in our eyes, connectedness, empathy and respect for our deeper humanity is what really matters.  And the people who give that to us are the ones who help us get through.

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A fair process?

As the Oscar Pistorius trial drags to a close, and twitter is filled with people calling out for either mercy, or a long prison sentence, I have been thinking a great deal about my own life experiences, and what this means when it comes to the law. I know very little at all about law, justice or what happened in Oscar Pistorius’ trial.

I know nothing at all except how to  watch the BBC Series Silk, where a feisty defense attorney, Martha, gets her clients a ‘not guilty’ verdict, purely by creating reasonable doubt.  Martha argues that everybody has the right to a fair trial, and this includes, in her words, a ‘horrible man’ who has a previous history of assault, and who, it seems, has gone into an 85 year old man’s flat, battered him, yawned, and left.

Silk brings up a lot of different arguments.  This burglar, Garry Rush, was set up by the police, and Martha convinces the jury of this. Did the police know he was guilty?  No, it seems not, because they removed DNA evidence from a door handle before arresting him.  If the arresting police offer had firmly believed the offense was carried out by Garry Rush, perhaps he would have left DNA evidence on the door handle, and allowed it to be tested so that his suspect could be tried and convicted.  But he didn’t.

Perhaps he didn’t want to miss the chance to remove a dangerous man off the streets.  And he would have been right.  We later learn that this man did indeed commit the crime, stealing a medal and later sending it to Martha Costello.  But if Garry Rush was not the criminal responsible for brutally beating an old man, perhaps a different but equally harmful baddie would have been left to roam the streets, attacking another old person but confident that he would not be caught.

Silk points out the grey areas of the legal system, and the right to a fair defense.  It hasn’t taught me a lot about law, as much as some of the struggles lawyers face.  What is the story which is presented in court, and what is the truth behind this?  What are the presumptions juries bring with them?  What are the subtleties within each case? And as a lawyer, do you have to do your job anyway, no matter what, so that your client has a fair trial, even if you go home and grieve about it afterwards?

The truth, it seems, is nuanced, and as viewers of a television program, we get to look into the background, into the doubts and uncertainties, and the lengths that some criminal barristers will go to to either defend or prosecute a client.  As television viewers, we know that the story sometimes unravels for us in the court room, and we learn more clearly what happened.  But sometimes, we also learn what didn’t.  That’s the benefit of television, where you get to go behind the scenes, and the truth may not come out in court, but it is revealed in our private homes, to us, privileged to see all of the different perspectives and then the end reality.

In real life, we get to know what gets told in court. We get to learn the multiple sides, and we don’t always get to know the truth of what happened.  This is particularly true when that truth exists inside the mind of a single man.  What was he thinking at the time he shot his girlfriend?  Only he knows that, and whether we agree or disagree with what he presents to the court, we will never really know more than he is willing to share.

Psychologists have had a guess at what may have happened, based on messages written during a fight.  The media have pointed out the fact that a woman expressed fear of her boyfriend, and have declared that in a world where a woman is frightened, and then shot, the court should have seen this message as a red flag.  People have asked why he did not call out for his girlfriend to ask where she was, why he shot at the intruder instead of trying to escape, and why a man who was  so determined to run as an able bodied athlete should use his disability now in order to stay out of prison?  But nobody knows what happened except for him.

This trial has brought up my own subjectivity in many ways.  The women’s movement has shared (particularly in the Guardian) that women are most often killed by their male partners.  Some have pointed out the danger of the court finding Oscar Pistorius not guilty of murder.  In a world where women are in danger, and men kill women, a not guilty verdict when it comes to murder may mean that more men are free to kill their partners, and then claim to have mistaken them for an intruder.  The fight to get domestic violence recognized as a crime and to have charges followed up has been difficult enough.  What happens if a woman is killed, even unintentionally in a fit of rage, and courts are no longer seen as a deterrent, they ask?

There are so many perspectives to take into account that it is hard to understand the impacts of any judgement on wider society.  It’s possibly harder to understand as an outsider to the criminal justice system, with no real understanding of the subtleties of law.  The only real understanding I have is the right to a fair trial.  And lately, I have been wondering how objective this will ever seem through the eyes of the public. I have been wondering this because I listen to the versions offered up by the prosecution and defense with my own story in mind.

About ten years ago, when my daughter was still very little, our home was burgled while we were out.  Very little was taken, and the greatest impact seemed to be on our cat, who started to hide behind the furniture.  I thought that the situation was over, until one morning a couple of weeks later, when I felt really tired.  I had been awake with my daughter for a great deal of the night, and fell asleep next to her.  Scott came in to say that he was going to be going to work, but perhaps Danny and I should have a sleep in.  I went back to sleep and woke up what felt like a long time later.

When I woke up, I heard somebody walking around.  First through the living room, and then in the kitchen.  I saw shadows pass under the bedroom door, and heard somebody rummaging around in the bathroom.  I was half awake, very irrational, and I certainly didn’t like the idea of somebody else in the house while my daughter was there.  Instead of waking her up, trying to leave or calling for help, I flew into a fit of rage, walked towards the bathroom without any fear of consequence, and kicked the old fashioned door open so hard that the stained glass shattered against the bathroom tiles.  I shouted (while blocking the doorway) “GET OUT!!!!”  My poor husband nearly swallowed his toothbrush. I saw him, said “Oh, it’s you.  Okay.” and went back to check on my daughter.  He hadn’t called out to let me know it was him, but then I’d been silent until throwing the door open.

This was never, ever anything I thought I would do if I encountered an intruder.  I thought I would run away, go out the back door, climb onto the roof, hide, call for help, press the alarm button, or generally do something far less mad than I did. And this experience shapes my understanding of the trial, and what I see as normal.  I didn’t shoot at anybody, and I had no urge to shoot at anybody.  But I haven’t had any urge to shoot at my partner in an argument either, and to imagine doing so feels impossible.  My question focuses on the role that role that guns and gun laws play in what happened?

My experience is different to that of many other people, and it brings bias.   Perhaps some people have had experienced with locking themselves away from a partner, and this is what they see.  Some people may well understand that fear of danger may be greater within a home than outside one, and a burglar may be less frightening than a partner. All of these different aspects shape how we interpret the stories and happenings which go on in the world around us.  It is probably why a judge should interpret the evidence before her, in order to ensure as fair a trial as possible.  And why there should be a right to appeal, if justice is not seen to be done.

Do all people in South Africa have the right to a fair trial?  That’s an important question.  Equally important is the fact we do know:  a woman lost her life in the most terrible of circumstances.  And that is the true tragedy of this case.

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