Category Archives: South Africa 2019

South Africa: examining criminal justice

5 June, 2019

This is a short post, but it was a heavy day:

At a place in Johannesburg called Constitution Hill, we learned about the history of criminal justice through the Number Four prison and Women’s Jail. They were open during the majority of the 20th century, a reflection of apartheid, as they forcibly separated people using walls and bars. Number Four imprisoned thousands of black men, many of whom were guilty of merely political crimes. Mahatma Gandhi and Robert Sobukwe are two well-known examples of prisoners who violated race laws. The black prisoners of Number Four were brutalized and treated unequally compared to their white counterparts, being provided inadequate food, bedding, and sanitation.

Similarly, in the Women’s Jail, Black and White women were separated and treated very differently; some of the inmates were political activists, such as the famous Winnie Mandela. Learning about the history of Number Four and the Women’s Jail raises the question: who is a criminal? A criminal justice system is designed to bring justice to those who break the law. But under the laws of apartheid, the system itself was unjust.

Similar to when we visited Robben Island a week after our visit to these prisons, we felt struggle in a deep way in these locations, where it was so evident. This quote found on the site sums up how it illuminates the strength of a human in struggle and the purpose of these sites to bring attention to this: “The buildings of Robben Island bare eloquent witness to its somber history and its prison buildings symbolize the triumph of the human spirit.”

Thank you Barbara for submitting questions in response to our last post! One we chose to answer:

–    Who were the white instigators against the movement of the Blacks? Were they the Englishman or Dutch or a combination or others?

o   At the time of the Black movement, the white people had identified as their own people, the Afrikaners. The heritage of these Afrikaners was and still is mainly Dutch and a few other white ethnicities mixed in. The Boers mentioned in one of the previous posts later turned into the Afrikaners in the early to mid-1900s, then started apartheid. The Afrikaners were the group responsible for starting apartheid and running it.

Looking forward to more : )

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South Africa: understanding the Boer narrative

What we’ve experienced, which has provoked much thought and emotion, are the many ways in which one history can be told. In the last blog post, we focused on the how the oppressed experienced apartheid, which, on this cross-cultural, is intentionally what we’re choosing to focus on first. In this blog post, we will elaborate on the narrative that the apartheid regime wanted to be heard. And it was, and still is in ways, heard loud and clear. Here we will go into depth of the white, Afrikaner historical perspective of apartheid.

So the day after we went to the Apartheid Museum, we went to the Voortrekker Monument, which told a narrative beginning in the early to mid 1800s. We traced a very specific picture that was being painted through the carvings of the walls of the monument; the bias was in favor of the Afrikaners and what they would consider their struggle.

Here’s what we gathered: the Dutch didn’t come intending to settle, but ended up doing so. The monument’s walls have stone carvings, which wrap around the main front room, depicting South African history from the Dutch (known as the Boer’s) lens. The story starts and ends with depictions of agreements, the first being between the Boers and the Zulu and the last being between the British and the Boer. Both agreements ended in “betrayal.” These betrayals had a galvanizing effect on forming the identity of who would become the Afrikaners.

In all of the depictions, the Boers are portrayed as victims of oppression under the native South African tribes present on the land they settled. This view of their victimization began when the Dutch were sent to run an outpost in South Africa for trade ships to stop at on their way to India. This victim view continues as they portray themselves in the monument as innocent, while the natives brutalize them. These natives were usually depicted as male, violent, and animal-like in demeanor. Almost every carved scene portrays Boer women at the center, helping the viewer to sympathize with the Boer, as noble protectors of women and children subject to this native-inflicted struggle.

A significant historical event that framed the Afrikaner history into a mythology was the Boer’s victory over the Zulu in the Battle of Blood River. This battle took place between nearly 500 Boer and 10,000-12,000 Zulu. During this battle, the local river was said to run red with blood, hence the name. This battle was so commemorative that it today is still marked as a significant part of the Afrikaner history.Furthermore, the Voortrekker was erected in 1936 just after the British had come and imposed many oppressive laws and even placed many Boers in concentration camps while attempting to colonize South Africa. This oppression is another galvanizing event in the Afrikaner past that helped shape their identity leading up to the Apartheid era. The Voortrekker is a manifestation of Afrikaner mythology, and a shrine to commemorate the “struggles” that the Boer settlers overcame.

photo credit: https://www.safarinow.com/destinations/groenkloof/galleriesandmuseums/voortrekker-monument.aspx

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South Africa: Soweto

Bumping along in our small, faulty-but-still-chugging bus driven by Baba, with mini Table Mountains lining the landscape of our three-day trip from Joburg to Capetown, we compile this blog, attempting to blend together these many thoughts from the past week. We’ve decided as a group to release this first week of learning over the course of four blog posts, focusing on the essential themes. Not only do we welcome your questions, but we ask for them. We will read them as a group, discuss, and answer as best we can; we’re excited to say we’re looking forward to starting the conversation.

This has been a week of seeing Soweto through the wrinkled eyes of its majority rather than through the tints of its flashy few. Coming from the lifestyle of privilege that is normal in the United States, it is so easy to magnetize to it in any new context we find ourselves… and globalization has made it so that we could access it anywhere in the world. It takes organizing and preparation to travel somewhere else in the world and plan a trip of honest encounter with the Other, an encounter of intentionality. I feel grateful to have leaders who know the context of South Africa well enough in this way to craft a cross cultural that illuminates the reality of the (black) majority, while intentionally juxtaposing the lifestyle of those who have convinced themselves to believe they’re above it. (system?)

The Apartheid Museum and insight provided by those who are guiding us through, including South African pals connected through the Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA), laid a foundation for understanding apartheid in South Africa (SA). This is a system strategically set in place in the early 20c to impart hate, to divide, and to confuse, so that the black majority would never have more power than the Afrikaner minority. Having at least some basis coming in to SA, a question many of us had coming in was: how similar or different is the people’s history of racial discrimination in SA to that of the US? A few gleanings learned from this past week made the answer to this question clearer:

  1. A similarity: The native makeup – there are 11 official languages and in the regions we’ve been to so far, you can usually assume a black person is either tribally Zulu, Xhosa, or Sotho. Most people speak far more languages than my mere one, which allows for translating and compromising. Our host mom said she is usually the one to compromise in a conversation – when she hears that the person’s accent is Xhosa she’ll switch from her native tongue of Zulu to Xhosa; when she hears a Sotho accent, she’ll switch to Sotho. Communities like the one in Orlando of Soweto that we stayed in are a “mixed masala” she says – all black ethnicities live on one block. In the US context, this is most similar to the Native American population with its multitude and diversity of tribes and cultures, comprising the first population to live on American soil. Similarly, Native Africans were on African soil for centuries prior to any white man stepping foot on it, sustaining thriving kingdoms and knowing the land and its resources as their own.
  2. A difference: The system of apartheid was socially engineered – “perfect racism”, says Trevor Noah. The Afrikaner of SA felt threatened by the black majority of nearly 80%. The government therefore travelled to and studied other instituted systems of racism around the world – in Australia, in the Nazi regime, and in the US and Canada. “Then they came back and published a report, and the government used that knowledge to build the most advanced system of racial oppression known to man.” Land rights became one of the main ways that apartheid was installed and established, despite the irony of true black ownership of the land (insert pic) Overall, there were over 3 thousand pages of laws written to suppress the agency and power of Black, Colored, and Indian people; a new law was created in reaction to any time a non-white person attempted to squirm free from the system.
  3. A difference: The US has never had anything like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), for the deep harm that colonialism drove into the natives it subordinated, abused, and killed. We mainly learned about the TRC through Desmond Tutu’s book No Future Without Forgivenessand Pete Meiring, a TRC commissioner who spoke with us about his reflections and experiences on the commission. In wondering how to go about moving forward as a nation post-apartheid, brainstormers who were mainly theologians discussed whether it was preferred to have this process look more like Nuremberg (the typical retributive justice way), amnesia (forgive and forget), or a third way. That third way became “granting amnesty to individuals in exchange for a full disclosure relating to the crime for which amnesty was sought” (30). Tutu emphasizes that the basis of this third way is the concept of Ubuntu, which “speaks of the very essence of being human”, saying “I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.” “A person is a person through other persons; in other words, “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours” (31).

The interconnection of black struggle, around the world, became glaringly clear throughout this week. From the Foreword of a required reading by Steve Biko entitled “I Write What I Like,” which explores his philosophy called Black Consciousness:

Biko’s Black Consciousness (in which the term “black” includes all people of color) stands on the shoulders of this history. It is grounded in the recognition of the high costs of truth. Biko wants the people, all people, to seewhat was going on in South Africa and all over the world. He wants us to see the connections between South African black townships, the black ghettoes in England, the United States, and Brazil, and the many similar communities in South Asia and the Middle East. Many of us share his insight today when we seek those whom we call ‘the blacks’ of their society, even if they may not be people of African descent.

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