Learning about South Africa’s devastating history while living in Soweto, a township where blacks were forced to move into during the apartheid, has been an enriching and powerful experience. A few days ago, we visited the apartheid museum in Johannesburg. While the museum experience was a painful one, it was necessary in order to understand what the blacks, coloureds, and the Indians went through just a few decades ago. My heart aches for the innocent people that were robbed of their humanity, respect, and dignity. I cannot begin to understand how a group of human beings could impose such intense brutality, hatred, and oppression on another group of human beings. We are all the same in our flesh and blood. I found myself purely hating the Afrikaners, who after the negotiations between the black and white parties began, tear gassed and shot down hundreds of school children. How can people do such harsh things? Why on earth did the oppressive and inhumane apartheid laws last 46 years without the rest of the world stepping in?
As horrible as apartheid was, only a small handful of white South Africans actually stood up against it, with the vast majority of whites in full support of it. Thinking about this, I have to wonder what side I would have taken had I been a white South African during the apartheid years. I would like to believe that I would have been among the handful who stood up against the injustice and oppression, but I cannot be sure. Going against the grain is always a difficult thing to do. Chances are, if I would have been present at Jesus’ trial, I would have shouted along with the crowd to crucify him. So who am I, really, to point fingers? At the apartheid museum, I realized that evil lives in all of us, including me, and therefore, I am capable of all the brutal crimes the whites committed against the non-whites in South Africa. By acknowledging the evil inside me, I am able to choose good over evil, justice over injustice, and peace over violence. This does not make me in any way less angry at the Afrikaners, but it does help me to see the plank in my own eye and remove it before taking out the specks from my sisters’ and brothers’ eyes. We all need God’s mercy and forgiveness.
On Tuesday we had an interesting experience at the local high school. South Africa is celebrating Heritage Day this week, so the students put on a bit of a show for us, complete with traditional costumes and dancing. When our turn came to share parts of our heritage, we sang a few songs for them. Everyone was clapping and trying to sing along. It impresses me how proud they seem to be of their own culture, and how much appreciation they show for our culture as well. The most memorable part of the day, however, was the taste testing that followed. The teachers had prepared a feast, which consisted of a number of traditional dishes that made their mouths water and our stomachs churn. I tasted chicken feet, mopani (fried worms), mohodu (cow intestines), and a few other things that I found barely tolerable. I can only remember a few times in my life that I have actually gagged on something I was eating, but the worms definitely increased that tally by one more. Most of the time, though, we eat pretty well. My host mom Ester is a wonderful cook. She feeds us lots of meat and papa, a thick carbohydrate paste made of white maize meal that we eat with our hands. Sometimes we get beans, beets, potato salad, or mashed pumpkin on the side, and every once in a long while, she cooks a little spinach or some mixed vegetables. I have been missing my veggies, so by the time I get home, I might be willing to eat only greens for an entire week straight. We do get enough fruit, though, almost every “tuck shop” and roadside stand sells apples and oranges. Several times in the past two weeks, I have wished we had a little more variety, but after tasting some of their strange South African delicacies on Tuesday, I am no longer taking for granted their simple staple foods that I have come to enjoy.