May 10th marked the anniversary of President Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration. Reading his speech twenty-eight years later was sobering. Whereto the rainbow nation? I wondered. His dreams, for what he coined our rainbow nation, seemed realistic aspirations. “Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for glorious life for all.”
Do these words of hope have the power to lift our spirits now to rekindle that aspiration? Especially since our daily deeds seem not to be in alignment with his vision. I think they do. In this article I therefore share some of my thoughts about a way forward that is inclusive of all our people. Including the foreigners living in our midst. And of our indigenous knowledge systems and the holders of this knowledge. I even wonder if it wouldn’t be beneficial to extend President Mandela’s vision beyond South African borders. After all, his inclusive vision inspired people across the world.
An end to “Othering”
In their book, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, Rosamund and Benjamin Zander shared their impressions of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as an example of a nation doing its best to “put the impulse for revenge at one remove and to bring forward the enemy as a human being, a part of US, it was a framework for the possibility of social transformation.”
The TRC, they report Mandela as saying, “helped us to move away from the past to concentrate on the present and the future.” In the efforts of the first president for a free and democratic South Africa, the Zander partnership saw the transformation “from the “I” to the WE…the intentional, ongoing dissolution of the barriers that divide us, so that we may be reshaped as a unique voice in the ever-evolving chorus of the WE.” The process of making the shift from “I” to “WE” is a daunting one. Yet we have done it once. And we can do it again. Can’t we?
Being a contribution
Moving a step closer to living from a “WE” reality I have been challenged to become a contribution. I thought I was, yet the feedback I have received from various sources, and taken to heart, is that my contribution was weighed down by the desire to save the planet from global warming. And by the desire to do so in a spectacularly authentic – and unrealistic – way.
A hope I had, which I occasionally shared, was to build a business that empowered people at the bottom end of the socio-economic strata. My special interest was in youth development. In the twelve years that I have worked on this -on and off and eventually called, Emhlabeni Wabantu – I have come up blank. I ended up in so many cul-de-sacs and last week I put it to bed. It was dependent on a national curriculum that simply hasn’t materialized. So, it either needs another accredited curriculum to ground it or it needs to be scrapped…
During the last ten months, I took time out. I entered into a deeper stillness. Climbed the peak to the top of my interior mountain. And self-identifying as a jewish-soul I knew I wasn’t meant to stay on mountains for too long. Like Moses, many jewish-souls feel restless unless they return to base. Come down with some offering that makes the world a better place. Come down with a Jewish-heart ready to build a tabernacle as a portal from which to bring down the abundance of the Master of the Universe to all the nations of the world. And this means, amongst other things, growing businesses, that at the very least, support an individual or a family. And at their very best, establishing businesses that employ large numbers of people. Or establishing networks that make doing business a life-giving success.
According to the Jewish indigenous knowledge system, the highest form of giving is to provide a person with the means to avoid financial dependency. Put positively, it is to ensure the success of each person’s ability to make a dignified living. To do this Jewish communities, across time and all over the world, have relied on building covenantal relationships. The covenant, of course, is a Jewish concept which Mr. Mandela picked up in that first speech,
“We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
Jewish written texts emphasize two seemingly opposite actions that have to be undertaken in relation to one’s own community. The first is to work in order to take care of oneself and one’s dependents. The second is to pay a community tax to provide for people who fall on hard times and are unable to take care of themselves. At first glance there is no obligation to extend this care to people outside the Jewish community. Yet a closer reading surfaces a sub-text: Remember that once you were slaves in Egypt and that the G-d of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, heard our cries of distress and with a mighty show of power, that transcended nature and the manipulation of nature, took us out of Egypt. Therefore, be kind to the stranger in your midst… A whole set of laws describe in detail how this is to be achieved in the land of Israel. Outside of it, the constitution of each country is binding on its citizens.
There is an extra element that I missed in my study of my Jewish ancestral knowledge system. It is the element of doing. The element of action. During lockdown, praying and studying became my actions. Yet Freedom Day was around the corner and I wanted to do something practical. I picked up on the following from the Zanders book:
“Mandela’s post-apartheid, fully representational South African government confronted the dilemma that faces every nation emerging from a long period of savage violence. What attitude do you take toward the perpetrators, the people whose very existence intensifies bitterness and hatred in an already wounded society? What policies do you adopt to heal the nation?”
The Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) was instituted as a way to heal the wounds of apartheid by replacing the desire for vengeance and retaliation with ubuntu. It specifically targeted crimes perpetrated by the apartheid state on its citizens. Perhaps based on the dictum that the truth sets us free, it was meant to assist families of victims achieve closure and to move forward with their lives… It was hoped that white people, realizing the extent of apartheid criminality, would bring an end to a pervasive culture of wealth and resource entitlement.
Yet in the ensuing years what we seem to have sown, and are harvesting, are the fruits of an all-pervasive culture of entitlement that has fed on a culture of victim-entitlement. White entitlement seems not to have diminished. All other entitlements seem to have grown. Competing entitlements appear to have created a vicious cycle that is destructive of all our aspirations for a prosperous nation grounded in a covenant of mutual responsibility. I have been stuck with this, and in this mode of viewing our South African reality, for too long. I therefore challenged myself to do my best to get beyond it…
Back to Nature-Reality
The floods in KwaZulu-Natal stirred a sense of greater purpose within me. Yet still feeling personally uninspired, I cast around for an inspired idea. While I wanted a local project to highlight for support, Sadhguru’s initiative was suggested to me as a worthy one. Along with Vandana Shiva, Sadhguru has an impressive environmental track record in India. This year he extended his concern for earth-sustainability by mobilizing for soil regeneration to be placed on the global agenda. And included in every government’s policy. His Save Soil movement, which he started over twenty years ago, is pertinent to us too. I hope you will agree:
(For a brief introduction you may want to just watch from 0:45 to 1:30.)
How Trees Improve Soil
Trees’ most important contribution to soil growth is leaf litter. This forms a protective blanket or mulch which, when broken down, fertilize the soil. In addition, the natural process of decomposition allows for natural soil aeration to take place. This in turn ensures the health of other plants growing within a guild of companion plants. In a round about way, planting to improve soil assists in purifying the air…
While most trees improve soil quality and health, trees with shallow roots provide an additional benefit. They prevent flooding and soil erosion. The Ficus (Fig) genus that I am showcasing today is an example of this – in their search for water mature trees hold the soil in place for up to three times the circumference of their large canopies.
Trees for Flood-hit KwaZulu Natal
The Ficus genus is the one I have been dreaming about of late. According to Nature’s Wealth: Health and Healing Plants Based on the Teachings of the Rambam, fig trees “are a symbol of peace and prosperity”. Figs, the author writes, have a long and productive life. That they produce fruit after only four years is a plus. Yet because fresh figs have a very short life span, “our ancestors perfected a method of drying them, the basis of which are still used today.” The authors list many uses and benefits of figs, including that the value of figs in the diet is “three times greater than that of bread”. (I am assuming they mean bread baked with organic flour, yet this would have to be verified.)
Fig Trees and the ethylene-oxygen cycle
Interestingly enough, fig trees can play an important role in assisting the ethylene-oxygen cycle. Ethylene is essential in the ripening of some fruits, including figs. In this genus, the oxygen needed to start the ethylene cycle is made by wasps when they pierce the fruit… And each species of figs has its very own species of pollinating wasps!
Additionally, ethylene also influences plant “responses to a variety of stresses, such as drought, flooding, pathogen attack and high salinity. During flooding, for instance, ethylene induces the formation of aerenchyma tissue (consisting of air-filled cavities) for oxygenation.” When dreaming of the fig trees I had no knowledge of this. Perhaps there is more to planting fig trees than simply improving soil and preventing erosion – while looking forward to harvesting fruit…
Indigenous South African Ficus Species
South Africa has its own indigenous species of the Ficus Genus. The following five species of indigenous fig trees may be of value for some of the flooded areas in KwaZulu- Natal:
Ficus burkei Tree no 48
Ficus burtt-davyi Tree no 49
Ficus craterostoma Tree no 52
Ficus ingens Tree no 55
Ficus sycomorus Tree no 65
Interestingly, according to Keith and Meg Coates Palgrave, in Trees of Southern Africa, the sycamore fig which grows in biblical lands (the Middle East) must have been introduced there from Africa. This is because its unique pollinating wasp does not occur there. This means that sycamore figs grown there “do not ripen naturally”. How’s that for fig tree and own-wasp symbiosis!
Fig trees and Indigenous Knowledge Systems
I have gleaned information about fig trees and figs in the Jewish indigenous knowledge system from Nature’s Wealth: Health and Healing Plants Based on the Teachings of the Rambam. It is perhaps useful to know that the medicinal information in this book was passed down orally through a line of Cohens. The Cohens are descendants of Aaron, the first high priest in ancient Israel. They were also physicians. Rabbi Moshe Cohen Shauoli, an author of the book, shares some of the knowledge transmitted orally through his family. While it is of interest to Jewish people, it might be of interest to indigenous knowledge holders from non-Jewish communities as well.
I would be interested to know what knowledge is available about endemic and indigenous fig trees in local indigenous knowledge systems. Perhaps others would be interested as well. Certainly, it is worthwhile researching before planting fig trees in KwaZulu-Natal – if you are not Zulu. If you are, and have had this knowledge transmitted through your family, you know what to do. Go ahead and do it!
If, however, you have lost that knowledge, seek out elders and indigenous knowledge experts who still have it. It would be good to ensure that their voices are heard. And that their input is used for sustainable design in the region. For those less privileged, it might be worthwhile checking with local botanical and conservation experts, including tradition healers and authorities before planting.
Practical Steps for Sustainability Success
While I hope that the above is useful information, it makes no difference in reality unless trees are actually planted in the flooded areas of KwaZulu-Natal. While we grow more indigenous knowledge agencies, there are various organisations actively involved in tree planting whose skills and access to resources might be helpful to the region. The oldest one I am aware of is Fruit and Trees for Africa. It offers training in permaculture, which is a multi-layered and comprehensive approach to agroforestry. Its projects are on a small scale, focusing on skills transfer at the level of schools and community projects. Its steady incremental approach demonstrates an ethic of sustainability grounded in practical and community empowering education.
This active learning, combined with a step-by-step methodology, is a hallmark of Jewish education. Because it is part of the Jewish people’s indigenous knowledge system, it is practiced by observant and non-observant Jewish people alike. Perhaps even unconsciously. The good news is that the methodology is most definitely scalable…
Permaculture: an inclusive methodology for a sustainable future
Because permaculture is a methodology that is not text dependent, it provides children and adults whose best learning achievements come from kinesthetic and oral interactions, with demonstrable skills. For example, if you can make a pile of natural-fertilizer-enriched compost that is then used to grow the tree you plant, you have achieved a learning outcome… As an added benefit, you have also engaged in an action that grows the soil and feeds a tree with nutritious and medicinal potential…
Isn’t it time this type of learning is recognized? Surely, while we wait for the education system to improve the reading, writing and arithmetic achievement of children and adult learners, is this not the best methodology to introduce in under-resourced communities? Highly resourced schools use it anyway – for all practical learning outcomes. In the very best of schools, regardless of the social and economic status of the teachers and their learners, achievement is always demonstrable. If you have the potential to learn a skill, when you demonstrate it, you pass. If you fail the first time, you repeat. And you repeat until you can demonstrate success.
And if a particular skill set is inappropriate for you (not everyone is meant to farm or work with soil in some way), you look deeper for the gift that you have to correct the mistakes of the past. In this way you simultaneously contribute to the on-going creation of a better future when you learn the appropriate attitudes, values and skills for delivering your contribution to a sustainable earth.
Best among people are those who benefit mankind
On a larger and more comprehensive scale, Gift of the Givers has proven to be a blessing for communities wanting disaster relief. Over the years it has gained the trust of South Africans across all identities – for Gift of the Givers is a resilience-building bridge with a commitment to uplift communities with essential infrastructure.
Best among people are those who benefit mankind, is emblazoned on their website. This is what the Jewish indigenous knowledge system refers to as G-dly wisdom that is transferable across cultures. It bridges differences, enabling people to interact with each other from a place of personal integrity, combined with a desire to make the world a better place for everyone. It is essentially respectful of diversity and focused on being a contribution, including providing earth-sustaining infrastructure.
Gift of the Givers opposes entitlement. It refuses to activate greed. It refuses to bow down to avarice. It is focused on doing acts of lovingkindness. It has what it takes to do this consistently and humbly, in a Muslim way.
I pray that Hashem may bless each of us with the grace of completing an act of earth-kindness today. May it assist the transformation of the world into a G-dly place – one action at a time, until the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is filled, for our rainbow-nation as a whole…
Family Businesses: Mitigating black tax
On a different, yet related note, many South Africans, of all races, are eager to empower themselves through their own entrepreneurial efforts. This is a good thing with many potential positive benefits – and for black people in relation to black tax as well.
Employed black people, men and women, feel obligated to support unemployed family members and extended families. While the pressure on black professionals is fairly well documented, the reality is that this tradition is historical and unrelated to earnings. It is the social network that provides some form of security to unemployed adult family members and their dependents. You could say that black tax is an ongoing expression of ubuntu and is thus a blessing that sustains extended families. Yet with rising unemployment, combined with unrealistic expectations of unemployed family members of their employed members, it seems unsustainable in the long term.
Could family businesses provide one way of mitigating this challenge? So that the energy shifts from it being a burden in the post-industrial era, to being a blessing once again? Could this add to what is already in place, namely, micro-businesses?
I was inspired by the following video. It showcases Jewish business ethics in specific Jewish family businesses. (Showcasing Jewish indigenous knowledge systems has become increasingly important to me. This is because I feel that my ancestral knowledge system is sometimes maligned due to ignorance – not just ancient prejudices and unfounded hatreds.) My hope is that it might be useful to non-Jewish families concerned about the livelihoods of their family members – and considering family business start-ups.
It is a long video, and before you invest time in watching it is important to share that it is set in Canada. I am not sure how compatible Canadian business law is with South African business law… Yet the challenges discussed might be useful for anyone wanting to consider my suggestion as a possible means of mitigating the effects of lockdown on employment in general. And on “black tax” as well.
Matriarch-led Family Businesses
I particularly like the above clip for additional reasons. It includes other elements that are important to me. The first is the ability of women to offer leadership in family businesses.
The second is that it demonstrates a link between woman-empowered businesses and an additional degree of care for workers in the full supply-chain.
And in one specific case, for the environment.
The fourth element is that it demonstrates care that comes from an individual’s soul-purpose and is independent of having to conform to legislation. In other words, they would take the extra step whether it is expected of them or not. The ‘mandate’ comes from a higher level of consciousness – which I think many women can identify with more easily than men. I think this makes women-led businesses potentially more inclusive, innovative and earth-sustaining in the long term.
This is particularly true in cultures that value feminine input as well as leadership. No doubt matriarchal cultures are better able to succeed using this model. Yet even our modern western patriarchal culture has become more appreciative of the feminine in leadership positions. It is a trend that some South African women want to benefit from – including access to financial investment in their earth-sustaining businesses.
Acting locally for Mandela Day
It is now two months before Nelson Mandela Day 2022. As usual, I want to be planting trees on that day. Fruit trees of some kind – including indigenous ones.
What would you like to do?
I won’t give you any suggestions now. I will perhaps do so at a later date, depending on the feedback I receive. This is also more aligned with my own purpose, which is to offer you with a space in which to connect with your own authentic contribution. This requires time to sleep on it. Time to dream. and time to envision. Time to trust your own intuition… And go with that, provided it respects the rights of other people… and of the environment. If you are not sure, check the by-laws, provincial laws and national laws, for South African policies and laws are top-notch. Its our willingness to abide by them that poses a challenge for some people. And the ability to access the resources allocated to their protection, implementation and oversight is another, perhaps greater challenge… Yet this too can change. Can’t it? Let’s hope it does!
Regardless of whether it does or not, all the best in being a contribution to the rainbow nation on the 18th July 2022. And thereafter!
Acting globally for Mandela Day: 18 July
President Mandela’s birth date is a great time to continue building the rainbow-nation he was privileged to lead to political freedom. Yet his vision gave others hope, making a rainbow world a possible legacy as well? For him and for us, South Africa’s citizens. I cannot think of a better way in which to do this than to share the Rambam’s (Maimonides) highest level of giving charity. It is to,
“…help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.”
Maimonides was a great Jewish philosopher and sage whom I delighted in trashing at an earlier stage of my life. I have subsequently learnt that this is just not done in Jewish tradition – if one is into being blessed and a blessing… One may question. One may disagree. One may never trash an elder, a sage, a teacher, a parent. In fact, one may not trash anyone. For no-one is trash… Perhaps it is to humble me, and to correct my sense of self-importance, and to learn sound business ethics that I am to dedicate some time to study some of his writings. I had no idea I was being arrogant!
Doing business is an important arena for spiritual growth in Judaism. (The other is studying Torah). It is said that if one can remain honest in one’s business dealings it is as though one has fulfilled the whole Torah… It is no surprise then that it is said that the first question one is asked when arriving before the heavenly court is, “Were you honest in your business dealings?”
When I was initiated into the African shamanic InZuza lineage one of intentions was ensure that I not leave any of my ancestors behind. I had no idea then that the ancestors I almost left behind were my Jewish ancestors. Yet without them I would not be able to ground my business in the Jewish indigenous knowledge system. And what would the point of that be, if business and business ethics is a core Jewish thing? It is by applying these teachings to my practice that I contribute to earth sustainability, for businesses need to be financially sustainable as well as socially uplifting to be pleasing to Hashem. Believe it or not!
I am still trying to absorb this bit of knowledge for I do not have these competencies. And given that my Jewish identity remains completely subjective, I am tempted to continue to share this content for free. This might be a Jewish thing too. Perhaps my business is simply that of a sangoma – a sangoma for Hashem, focusing on earth-sustaining guidance that aligns with your personal purpose and site readings that heal your relationship with the earth. And that’s probably a fine place to start my online business, for it is my most distinctive gift.
Shared for the sake of peace and harmony on earth. And to heal the soul root of Adam.
Archaela bat Rachel: a sangoma for Hashem
(©Archaela 5782 Nisan 05. Final edit Lag B’omer; 2022 May 18 2022)
Jewish tradition forbids using G-d’s name in vain. Therefore, as a precaution against forgetting this, Hashem is used. Hashem is a Hebrew word meaning, The Name.
Rabbi Dr David Nossel: The Upside-Down Tree of Life: Lessons for Virtuous Living Inspired by the Weekly Torah Readings.
Works of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Zander, R and B: The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life https://www.rosamundzander.com/books.php
Sources and Resources
President Mandela’s inaugural speech 10 May 1994: https://www.sanews.gov.za/south-africa/read-nelson-mandelas-inauguration-speech-president-sa
Trees and natural soil aeration: https://permaculture.com.au/the-living-soil-ethylene-oxygen-cycle/
How do plants respond to ethylene and what is its importance?https://bmcbiol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12915-016-0230-0
Keith and Meg Coates Palgrave: Trees of Southern Africa.
Eight levels of charitable giving: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/eight-levels-of-charitable-giving
Jewish business ethics: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/251169?lang=bi