The Other-wise Initiative

Living and working in post-apartheid South Africa with one of the most democratic constitution in the world, unfortunately does not mean that the deep rifts that divided people in the past have disappeared. Despite the admirably peaceful transition to democracy and remarkable work done by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission our society will carry deep scars of our racist past for a very long time. We have not become an integrated society over-night, racism and other prejudices live on in many people’s attitudes and action. Apartheid has been very successful indeed in keeping people of different races apart and it has been my experience that unless I actively and consciously seek ways to meet and spend time with people from groups other than my own, I will continue to live in ignorance of their lives, their histories, their cultures and their experiences. Over the years it has been mostly colleagues within the fields of psychology and social work who made it possible for me to form relationships and, in many cases, friendships that brought me some understanding of the experiences of people that I would consider “the other” in terms of ethical group, religion, social class, sexual orientation etc. Through my connection with them I started becoming “other-wise” and this other-wisdom contributed much to my ability to work in cultures and communities very different to my own.

In an effort to make this other-wisdom available to other South African colleagues I decided to consciously pursue ways of ensuring the participation of a diverse group of colleagues in the training activities that I offer. I have done this by offering bursaries to colleagues from the groups that had been oppressed in South Africa in the past, but also to colleagues who work for organisations that provide services in impoverished communities or people living on the margins of society. In this way the voices of “the other” are represented in the discussions and sharing as we work with examples from our own lives and work contexts so that all of us gain from the diversity of experiences, values and beliefs that are represented by participants.

One of the oppressive practices of the apartheid regime has been the poor education opportunities and facilities that have been available to black people in South Africa. I have made a commitment to contribute to the transformation of post-apartheid South African society by participating in ways that might add to the redressing of the imbalance of power and privilege from which I, as a white South African have benefited in so many ways. One of the ways in which I hope to “do sorry” for the injustices of the past is by keeping fees for training activities as low as possible and by offering bursaries to participants who were part of oppressed groups in South Africa in the past.

I have been joined by others in this effort of including diverse voices in the training activities. The Institute for Therapeutic Development has been extremely generous in making bursaries available for the workshops organised for overseas trainers. Many of our colleagues from overseas, David Epston, Michael White, Kaethe Weingarten and Johnella Bird have been accommodating regarding their fees or have donated their time in order to make training accessible to all participants. These workshops have enhanced our connections as colleagues and have strengthened us in terms of skills development.