What to do when your country is hurting?

(The Blog’s dedication story)

In 1994 South Africans were going through the first general election and hope was soaring…

… and I learned how deep and wide our wounds really are and how difficult the road to recovery. It is also the year I found the source of one of the most powerful healing agents: stories.

In January of that year, I was a third year at Stellenbosch University. I was the only woman in a class with 23 guys, I was the only person with low vision (6/60) in a world of people with 20/20 vision and I was the only white student in the black and coloured residence, Goldfields.

You see, since 1992 white residences had been opening their doors to ‘deserving’ and ‘academically promising’ black and coloured students, and the slow integration began. But the traffic was going only one way and I did not think this would work as way for us to heal our rifts. Sure, it was important for the privileges of the white community to be shared with everyone, but what of the value and riches of the black and coloured communities that would be left behind? Should these be disregarded? How could we build a nation, if everyone wanted the same things instead of sharing what everyone had, not just what the white minority had – and I don’t mean material wealth only. We need to understand each other and learn to appreciate each other and until this point, the appreciation was only going one way. That did not seem fair, nor workable as a means to democracy.

So, I applied for Goldfields.

Goldfields was unique in more ways than just being the res designated to black and coloured students. It was also built differently, situated differently and organised differently. It was built not as a multi storied hostel-like structure in the centre of town, but as self-contained, double story units with sic students on each floor sharing a small kitchen and seating area. Twelve or so units were built around a grassy yard where the boys would come to play sports and the girls could watch from their windows or cheer from the fringes of the field. It was set slightly out of the centre of town, but close enough to my faculty building so that I could walk it in 15 minutes. As an ‘older’ student, I thought it idyllic.

My first year roommate, hated it.

She wanted to be with her friends in the middle of student life in the middle of town in the white residences.

She also hated it because instead of us being served 3 meals a day like at the white res’s we were only served supper and had to provide breakfast and lunch for ourselves. This meant we had to share the fridge between six of us and food was never safe in it. The little money she had for food was often wasted when her food went off in our room, or got stolen from the fridge.

She hated it because varsity was tough for her. She came from a very rural setting in the Northern Cape and the adjustment to the ‘cityness’ of Stellenbosch and the whiteness of its entire system was hard for her to adjust to.

She also hated it because she got stuck with the only white student in the res, well-meaning, but clueless and a third year. It was the most unequal match ever. I was a local girl from Stellenbosch, having grown up there. My mom was 5 kilometres away, not 500. I knew the town, I knew the University, I was confident and, truth be told, arrogant in my great adventure as the white student in black res. She just wanted to survive varsity and now she had to deal with me.

I did everything wrong.

I thought that living with people different from me would change me and help me understand. On some level it did (I don’t flinch and become paranoid if I find myself surrounded by black and coloured people at e.g. a taxi rank – something few of my fellow white South Africans can pull off).


All I learned was to persist in my privileged white ways in spite of my surroundings.

So, the food gets stolen. I bring in a little fridge from home (thank God I managed to share it with her) and food is safe. When I visit my mom on the weekend and come back to find that she shared my bed too, with friends of her who found place in the white res, I am unable to just share and accept. I make a scene about people sharing my sheets and now I had to wash them (not because the girls were coloured, but because I wanted clean sheets when I get back from home). Of course I don’t communicate this well at all and the only message she gets is “don’t sleep in my bed, it gets dirty. She also wears my clothes without asking and I cringe. I understand tht sharing is the way people get to have more than what they would have if they only used what they themselves owne, but I want to be asked. And I do not understand the difference between people sharing food, (or taking it) and sharing clothes, or taking it. Sharing food is not okay,, but sharing clothes is – between whom?

She brings back ‘huisbrood’ (home made bread from the Nammakwaland) when she comes back from vacation she offers me a piece. I know this bread is valuable to her, it is her umbilical chord. She desperately wants my approval and watches be eat it. It tastes of animal fat and it is dry. I don’t like it, but instead of lying, thanking her for her generosity tell her that I don’t like it and with that, I see her face fall. She wants me to approve and like her, but I reject her like every other white in the cosy apartheid system.

And yet,

When she tells me about her home and her school, the awkwardness is gone. I laugh at the antics of her and her friends. I am shocked at the lecherous behaviour of a fat school teacher and how they find ways to deal with it resiliently. We laugh like any two people discovering that they are both human.

I remember this moment of story-telling as the only time that the shit of my privilege and her uncertain struggles fall away.

I wish I can tell you there were hours of these moments. I remember only one.

I wish I knew then how to create more such moments.

I wish I was not the agent of her pain, but in many ways I was, bringing the hegemony and sustemic injustice into her room unable and possibly unwilling, to see its insidious, parasitic invasion of all that was dear to her. It would have been easier for her to have a coloured friend staying with her. IT would have been less painful if there were no white invader in her world when she needed comfort and companion ship.

Dearest roommate, I dedicate this blog to you.

To everything you taught me unwillingly and unwittingly, especially to the story moments we shared.

Dear Reader, may we share more of these and heal our hurts.

How I will know if a story you send me fits?

Quite frankly: if the story moves me, I will post it.

Especially if it also

  1. Challenges stereotypes,
  2. Builds connection between people, factions, groups   or between ideas
  3. Leaves me more hopeful than before reading it and
  4. Is well told.

I may also post a story from time to time that moves me to raging frustration or stone cold indifference, just to keep it interesting.

Send me your story here.

Storytelling for Leaders

Through the ages from ancient myths to modern fantasy, Bible stories to Grimm fairy tales, story tellers from the earliest times until now has harnessed the power of story to move others and to convey meaning that otherwise seem abstract and complex.

Now discover the secrets of story for yourself and learn to use it to draw people together and to show them your take on the world.  Employ it to impact them on a core values level and create conditions for shift to happen.

Neuro-scientific research now substantiates the kind of experiential learning made possible when using stories as an effective model with a good ROI.

The Playing Mantis Story Strategies for Leaders course teach you to

  • Employ stories as tools for inspiring followership and support for your ideas.
  • Create ‘aha-experiences’ that instigate authentic action in your team or your clients.
  • Package large amounts of information, complicated material and abstract ideas succinctly and clearly.
  • Use story as strategy to understand how people adapt to new information or behaviour.
  • Discover and hone your own personal story telling style and voice
  • Frame your personal experiences as stories with impact.
  • Use voice and gesture to communicate subtleties and deep meaning.

You will learn about the:

  • Seven elements of the well told story.
  • Six principles of impactful delivery.
  • Five kinds of resistance that stories help overcome.
  • Four tensions that engage the audience and draw them into the story
  • Three levels of character that ensure audience identification

What participants say:

Your unique way with stories and characters opened a fresh perspective on my own character and story. I was moved by the way in which the stories brought the participants straight to the heart of their search for meaning.-Dr Jeanette de Klerk, Office for Moral Leadership, University of Stellenbosch

I have learnt the building blocks to structure a presentation from presenting a problem to providing the solution. I also know how to involve the audience and to avoid common pitfalls of starting a presentation.-Richard Kunz – Lecturer at the University of Kwazulu Natal

Thank you so much for a wonderful session. Everyone I talked to enjoyed the workshop and found value in it. One of them wrote in an email:

“The session with Petro and the notes she gave were very valuable to me. They represent part of my own personal wish list. I am inspired by her simple steps and spent the time on the plane reflecting on what she said and how I could use the steps effectively in current projects. I also want to use them to write stories for my grandchildren. I am truly inspired.”

Thank you for your passion, creativity and authenticity. We enjoyed you. – Alinda Nortje, Executive Charperson, Free to Grow

Course details

The Playing Mantis Story Strategies for Leaders consists of 6 half-day workshops that you can select from or combine in what-ever way that suits your time and budget constraints. Between sessions participants get the chance to try out their skills in the workplace and develop their craft over time so that they become competent and well-rehearsed story tellers.

We suggest that you begin with sessions 1 and 2 as a starting point and only add other sessions if it works for you. You can add a storytelling event as a goal to work towards if you wish.

In each of the 6 sessions you will

  • Gain a theoretical understanding of story principles
  • Watch and analyse a youtube clip of corporate storytelling examples.
  • Learn practical story telling techniques
  • Tell and assess a story of your own
  • Assess and learn from the stories of other participants

The six modules

Module Theoretical principle Practical technique
1 Seven elements of the welltold story How to shape a story
2 Six principles of impactful delivery Using your voice and body
3 Five types of resistance Audience interaction
4 Four tensions that drive action Pause and pace
5 Three levels of character Using the stage
6 Story sharing event Integrating your skills

The Threshold Guardian

About this story

I created this story for my own company, Playing Mantis Coaching and Facilitation Development. The brief to myself was to write a story that could introduce the theme of threshold guardians for coaches and facilitators. The workshop was aimed at helping them externalise and deal with obstacles in the way of their professional development.

The Threshold Guardian

As I near the door, he looks up, greets me with enthusiasm and that dazzling smile of his. Do I detect a hint of naked mockery in the glint in his eye? Is it just an odd reflection in those glasses that he wears with such distinction? He faces me with his immaculate suit always perfectly tailored, not a spec of dust on it and his equally immaculate hair cut. In his hands he holds a smart device with the most popular project management app flashing its notifications and announcing the latest updates.

“Ready to try again I see Miss Kirsten – after all these years he still does not recognise either my marriage or my degree. “Dr. Janse van Vuuren” I correct him, but he just smiles at me knowingly. They don’t count in his book. For him the only thing that counts are the details of the task: any task.

A written text: are all the typos removed, all the references correct and all the formatting consistent? A household task: Does everything look like it did before I engaged with it – the counters like new, the floor squeaky clean, everything sparkling and germ free? Everything in their place – even things that have no place. An organisational task: Are all stakeholders on board, up to date, informed, happy and ready to say ‘yes’? Are the schedules worked out, up to date and are they being adapted and kept so as things develop? Administrative task: have all the papers been filed, all the names listed and dates filled in, all the contact details completed, all the events responded to all the emails sent? A marketing task: has it been spell checked, visually designed, linkedinned, facebooked, tweeted and all comments retweeted, liked and otherwise acknowledged?

I drop my head, but not before I notice the curve of his perfect mouth.

“Is your blog up to date? Every entry SEO’ed and keyword maximised? Are the children happy, well behaved, socially active, physically active, up to speed academically, socially, physically and health wise? No coughs, no runny noses, no tooth decay, no rashes, no tantrums,no crying, no talking back? Do they know that they are loved? Is the husband happy, working hard, helping in the house, getting enough love, being listened to enough? Are you sleeping enough? exercising enough, meditating enough? Eating properly? Spending enough time with family and friends? Getting to church often enough? Visiting your ageing parents often enough? Contacting far away friends and family enough? Are your finances healthy? debts being paid, bills being settled, savings growing, taxes up to date, budget balancing? Do you look professional? Hair suit your face shape? Clothes suit your skin colour and body-type? Toe nails and finger nails looked after? Make up neat? Clothes ironed and clean and fashionable?”

“Well, it’s just…“ I see his strong jaw line suggesting confidence.

“Are you still authentic, being yourself and able to shrug off the little rejections of live? Are you able to compete just with yourself and nobody else? Do you know you are good enough? Do you know that you are cared for and loved? Do you have faith? Do you believe that there is good in everyone? Do you love your neighbour as yourself and do unto others what you would them do unto you? Do you laugh enough? Are you happy? Well… ARE YOU?”

I lower my eyes and catch his masculine scent, he smells of determination.

“No? Sorry honey, next time then. And he turns his attention to the device in his hand with a shake of the head. You do not have the right kind of energy to enter here. Your karma does not align with what is needed here. You do not have the right intention, the right attitude, the right background, the right beliefs. You do not have the instinct for surviving here, or the talent for making the right decisions here.”

“No, but…” I sense the slender taught muscles of a lean body under the perfect tailored suit, ready for action.

He looks up: “Yes, I know that everyone on this side of the gate cannot tick all these boxes either, but they never tried to enter from the same place as you are trying to. They came through a different door, a door not available to you because there is no route from where you are to any of the other doors. You are where you are and you cannot get through this door from there unless you tick these boxes. You cannot tick the boxes, so you cannot come through. It was not meant for you.”

The suit, the hair, the mouth, the jaw, the scent, the body stands there smiling, not turning away.

And so I must tear myself from him in recognition of my defeat —  again — another failure to my record. Hoping I could find a different door but I never do. Always I return to this door draw to it by that smile, that  suit, that  hair, the mouth, the jaw, his scent, his body, my failure.


*           *           *


But not today. Today I do not turn to leave. Today I stand quite still. What if the door of my yearning could be turned into the door for his escape?  What if I do not accept his tick boxes as criteria for my success? What if there was, in fact only one criterion, one measurement – how long I can remain in his presence without squirming, without taking action of any kind…?

I stand fast and smile with a mocking glint in my own eye, or is it just the reflection of those glasses that he wears with such distinction? My eyes travel from his hair cut to his eyes and from this angle there seems to be no glint. I continue the slow appraisal, appreciating the dazzling smile of that perfectly curved mouth. Slowly I trace with my gaze the line of the jaw and I purposefully withhold my touch. He does not talk, but with confidence and precision he takes a step closer.

I catch the scent of his breath and the fragrance of him. I delight in it, but I do not move, my breathing slowing down. I feel the warmth of that body so ready for action, for conquest and still I stand letting my eyes travel back up to meet his and I hold them.  He breaks eye contact first and leans in closer his mouth brushing my temple ever so slightly as he whispers: “You do not comply.”  “Oh? According to whose measurement? As far as I am concerned I am succeeding with flying colours.” I say clearly, though perhaps somewhat breathlessly.

“Your boxes need ticking.”

My words come out measured and decisively one after the other. “I have but one box to tick, sir, and you don’t get to do it.”

We stand like that for another moment or so and then he drops his head to rest his forehead on my shoulder. He swallows hard and he seems to find it hard to tear himself away.

“You win” he says and turns his body aside to let me pass.

As I do so I notice that his collar is skew, his tie is loose and his shirt is becoming untucked. Sweat is running from his brow and his hair looks disheveled. His smart device is dead without any power. He was in a fight it seems.

How long have I stood my ground?

Long enough.







Can Image Theatre help us find ways to change organisational life in South Africa?

Does this pig have wings?

On Friday 18 Sep 18 facilitators and coaches from the Playing Mantis Pig Catching group came together to experiment with Image Theatre.

Pig catching is what facilitators and coaches do when we search for that moment of shift and transformation that helps people move.

Image Theatre is a form of applied theatre designed and practised by Brazilian director and activist Augusto Boal. It uses body images to express collective perspectives on a chosen issue and to explore ways to transform these perspectives and experiment with alternative ways to act.

What we want to do

Our intention for the workshop is to explore the shift in Leadership styles and Organisation Development that we are noticing and that many of us are supporting. The shift seems to be characterised by a movement from command and control styles of leadership to participative sensing and responding styles; from looking at organisations as machines to seeing them either as living organisms, complex networks like the human brain or works of art; from organisations that focus on a single bottom line (profit) to one that has a triple bottom line (people planet and profit).

We are particularly interested in a transition in South Africa from organisations that cam rise above colonialism, apartheid and corruption to ones that work towards social equality, prosperity for all and happy working people from leaders to workers – in short, organisations that support the South African 12030 vision.

We choose to work with Image Theatre as methodology this time in order to explore the metaphors, symbols, language and images that help us talk about the shift and about our vision for leaders and organisations in South Africa.

An account of a transitional moment – a flying pig:

Image 1 - SilosWe are halfway through our workshop and we are exploring one of the typical ways in which organisations are described: the silo syndrome. We work in groups of 4 and begin to build group images. We do not go one person at a time. We simply step forward all at once and create the image. While we

maintain our image the facilitator (Hamish Neil from Drama for Life) asks us to look around and see all the images in the room.

In most groups people are standing either with their backs to each other, but touching, or facing each other but standing separately, doing their work. Hamish instructs us to reverse everything we are doing and create the opposite image. He gives a countdown and everyone moves together. We find ourselves in an ideal opposite configuration. Most people are standing in circles hugging each other. In two of the groups three are turned towards one another hugging or reaching out while one person is turned out and doing something different from the group.

Everyone gasps or laughs. “Does this always happen?”

“Yes,” I say, “people always end up in circles holding hands or hugging. My instruction to Hamish was to make sure we do not end here.”

Hamish invites the two groups where all are turned in and hugging to explore this image. “Stay there for a while. How does it feel as time passes? Still comfortable? Without breaking the configuration, start moving across the floor. Now jump. Go get the photo copier and fetch the printing…

Everyone is laughing.Image 2 - Hugs

Moans and groans emit from the groups.

“Too much breathing into the centre.”

“I am worried about the garlic I had for supper.”

“Can i please just go back to being a silo.”

It is clear from the activity that no-one can get any work done in this configuration. They are increasingly uncomfortable and getting too hot.

We can understand why silo’s happen.

We acknowledge that there was no big stick beating people into silo’s. It happens because it works on some level.

This ideal image is often a respite from the original problem image, but not sustainable. By working with the image its unfeasibility as a long-term solution is recognised. As with the original silo image, is important that this image too is arrived at through spontaneous action and not planning.

Now we are instructed to work together to discover what image goes in between the first two. What is the image of transition between, in this case silo’s and huggy-huggy. We are given some time to talk with each other and work this out. When we have our transitional image, each small group shows it to the large group one by one. Again on lookers say what they see before the group responds.

“Can we also explore what the next step could be after ‘huggy-huggy’, instead of exploring transitional images?” someone asks.

Hamish answers that this is not usually helpful because it does not take us into difficult places. It does not help us process. From the ideal embracing image, people might just go back to the silos because that is what they know. It is true that people want respite from the silo’s and the isolation, but they can’t sustain it, so they may just go back. It keeps us in dreamland where we can plan and desire and vision things that do not get real. We have to take them where it gets messy so that they can find something new, something that is not there, something that can bring shift.

“Is this about ‘thesis, antithesis and synthesis?” comes another question..

Hamish answers: “Be careful to try and neaten up the mess too quickly. It is not helpful to begin to judge and see some images as ‘better’ or ‘more synthesis” than others yet. Just stay in the direct response and action space without making sense of it yet. Stay in the bodies, don;t go into the head yet.

From the transitional images we learn that here there is the most aImage 3 - interconnectednessmount of eye contact, dybamic movement and interaction. There is more laughter, more frustration, more mess and more noise. There also seems to be a theme of disconnection and reconnection running through. Two of the images resemble dancing and the other two show lots of open arms but not so much touching.

We decide to pick up this exploration again next time we meet on 27 November. We want to go deeper into the transitional images and understand more about how they might inform our own transitional work.

Join us on 27 November for Moving people Part 2.

Time: 7 to 10 am

Venue: 305 Long Avenue, Ferndale, Johannesburg


Pig Catching on Sep 18: Moving People

What is this shift in leadership and Organisation Development that everyone is talking about?

  • Some call it a change from Command and Control to Sensing and Responding
  • Others say it is Autocratic to Participative Leadership
  • Some try to explain it by using metaphors for the kinds of Organisations we want e.g. no more machine like organisations, rather organic ones, or ones that work like the human brain. Still others say an organisation should be looked at as  a work of art…
  • There are also those that talk of a Vision and Values based culture versus a virtuoso culture, or a profit focussed organisation versus one that aims for a triple bottom line i.e. people planet and profit.

Whatever the shift is that our new changing world is asking for, we are the ones that support the transformation.

This month’s session is devoted to coming to grips with this shift collectively. I invited Kathy Barolsky from Drama for Life to facilitate a session with us using Image Theatre as tool to access stories, language, metaphors and symbols that will help us make sense of this shift in leadership and OD that we are all part of. In doing so you will also get insight into the tool called Image Theatre as a means for extracting and eliciting stories from participants.

Bring your curiosity, your open minds and your questions.


Date: 18 Sep

Venue: 305 Long Ave Ferndale
Coffee, tea, muffins and fruit on arrival

Time:    7am for 7:15 -10am Pig                 Catching
10:30-12:30 Research conversation (for all who are  interested in Strategic Narrative Embodiment)
NOTE: We will start at 7:15 sharp to make the most of our time.

Facilitator: Kathy Barolsky (from Drama for Life)

Cost: R250 (Includes a write-up of the session)

Dress: Comfortable clothes you can stretch and move in

Click here if you want to attend

pm-logoMore on Pig Catching

Pig catching is what coaches and facilitators do when we chase the moment of insight that brings shift and transformation in our clients.

The Pig Catching event is hosted by Playing Mantis Coaching and Facilitation (Pty) Ltd

NOTE: no real pigs get harmed during the course of our work, we play only in the metaphoric sense and all our pigs have wings)

All our pig catching sessions are geared to learning new techniques for helping our clients to insight, break through and sustainable transformation. More specifically, we look at using methods and techniques from the performing arts. We have found that this is an untapped world of wealth where metaphoric work, embodied experiences and group imagination can bring about powerful transformations.

Click here if you want to attend

EVENT: Pig Catching on 8 May

What would the tools you use say if they could talk?

Catch a Flying Pig
Catch a Flying Pig

If your technology, your materials or props could talk to you, they might have interesting opinions and suggestions about your facilitation, your coaching or even the way you run your business.. They may have ideas about how to improve the potential for catching pigs. For those who don’t know what I am on about, read more about catching pigs below.

This session will be especially helpful if you have questions around tools, materials and technology relating to your coaching/facilitation practise. Questions like:

  • Do you want new tools to help you make a pointIs your newsletter stuck?
  • Is your marketing system not working for you?
  • Is your computer frustrating you?
  • Are you wondering what form your facilitator guide or workbook should take?
  • Would you like to use more props?

We look forward to being inspired by you!


Date: Fri 8 May
Time: 7 am to 9:30 am
Place: 305 Long Avenue, Ferndale.
Cost: R200 or R150 if you are still in the first year after attending the Playing Mantis Essentials Master Course in Coaching and Facilitation.
Coffee, tea, muffins and fresh fruit on arrival.

More on Pig catching

Pig catching is what coaches and facilitators do when we chase the moment of insight that brings shift and transformation in our clients.

NOTE: no real pigs get harmed during the course of our work, we play only in the metaphoric sense and all our pigs have wings)

All our pig catching sessions are geared to learning new techniques for helping our clients to insight, break through and sustainable transformation. More specifically, we look at using methods and techniques from the performing arts. We have found that this is an untapped world of wealth where metaphoric work, embodied experiences and group imagination can bring about powerful transformations.

Click here if you want to attend

A wedding Fairy tale

Burning Hands and the Fire Fairy

Petro telling a wedding storyI have told stories at three of my sibling’s weddings as a gift to the happy couple. Now it has become one of the most rewarding aspects of my speaking business. Here is an excerpt from a story I told in December of 2013 at a fantasy themed wedding near Stanford in the fair Cap.

The groom’s surname is ‘Brand’ meaning ‘to burn’. He is a south-African and the bride is from Germany. They met in Namibia. I told the story as part of the ceremony. I began as the groom waited in front for the bride to enter…

Burning Hands and the Fire Fairy

One day in the City of Gold in the Kingdom of the Freedom Sun a boy was born with burning hands.

“How do you know he has burning hands?” the people would ask the old  village hag.

Everyone knew that such a gift was given to one boy child every 500 years. They also knew that a gift like that only surfaced once the chosen boy is a man grown.

Then the old hag would gaze into the distance and recall the ancient prophecy:  (Music)

“Every 500 years our Freedom  Sun must revive, every 1000 years Love must come alive

When 5 and 5 makes 10 Burning Hands and his Fairy will come again.

Lest the flames of Freedom dwindle

and the fires of Love un-kindle”

“We know we know”,  the villagers would cry and the old hag would put up a withered hand and chant:

From the man who knows the law and tills the earth, on which our dear sun daily shines

And the woman who can straighten hunched backs and align skew spines

Will come a boy with burning hands

And you will know him by the mark of the Brands”

“The mark of the Brands?” They would ask and she would point a bony finger to the dimple in the boy’s cheek and with hushes and sighs this would settle the matter.

Far from there in the cold North a Fire Fairy was born in a Fir Forest, stepping forth from the heart of a snow flake that fell from the stars.

(Bride enters as music reaches its first cadence. Once  Bride has joined Groom in front, the story is resumed)

The rest of the story belongs to the bride and groom and lives in the memories of the guests who could identify themselves and their loved ones in the characters and the details of the story…

“Petro’s story provided a beautiful framework for our non-traditional wedding, reflecting our personalities and inviting people to share into our love story.” – the bride

Do you want a fairy tale for your wedding? Click here.