Our planned visit to worship and meet with the pastor of a church in Guguletu township (a poverty-stricken black area of town) had to be cancelled when the bus company moving us around refused to allow their bus to make the trip. There’s a strike of truck drivers going on, and there have been a few outbreaks of violence in that area. Because of that change in plans, we became more conventional tourists today, visiting the harbor shops & restaurants, driving around the city and seeing the key sites. Cape Town is as beautiful as they all say!
We walked by the building where the government heard appeals to their race classifications, often done by sticking a pencil in someone’s hair. If it stuck, they were black. If it fell out and their skin was brown, they were colored. If it fell out and their skin was light, they were white. This plaque is on the building:
One of the places we stopped was District 6, a once vibrant neighborhood that was razed after the non-white residents were forced to leave as part of the apartheid government’s efforts to physically separate the races. Their intention was to redevelop it as a posh neighborhood for whites only, but every time they tried to build on the land, protesters would tear down the construction. To this day, it remains mostly empty–some of the best real estate in the city. Notice the amazing view from this land that remains empty in the middle of a thriving city:
I think I understood that plans are in the works to return the confiscated land to the original owners (or their families).
Our bus driver, Jacque, shared a bit of his own story: he is a 44 year-old white man who grew up under apartheid (which literally means ‘apart-ness’ or ‘separation’). All his life he had been told that the races should never interact; he heard this message from his family, in school, in church, in the media. He said change began for him only when he got to know individual people of other racial groups, first with a high school girlfriend, then on the job. Having a high school girlfriend of another racial group was such a serious matter that his entire family staged an intervention in an effort to convince him of the wrongness of the relationship. At 18, he became a police officer, and his first assignment was to patrol a (black) township with a black partner. His partner, Kevin, had never known a white person well, either, so their partnership was a new experience for both. Over 20 years later, after 17 years as partners, he and Kevin are still friends today, and their families get together regularly. Jacque reports that it took a long time for his father to agree to participate in the gatherings, but even he has changed his perspective today. As we passed it, Jacque pointed out this mural and said it means a lot to him:
Murad Velshi is a native South African of Indian descent. Murad’s wife Mila is the travel agent who made our arrangements; they are traveling with us. Murad and Mila were born in Pretoria, near Johannesburg, in the early ’40s. Murad’s father owned one of the largest bakeries in the region, selling bread almost exclusively to blacks (for practical reasons, almost all the customers of Murad’s family bakers were African). During the ’60s, as the apartheid regime was working to separate the races, first all the blacks were moved to one area–the township–and the township was surrounded with barbed wire. That meant that, in order to sell to them, the bakery had to take the bread to the township. Then the government required all non-white businesses to have permits to operate in the township. At first, the permits had to be renewed every year, then they were only good for 6 months. Then the government required that they be renewed every 3 months, then every month, then every week. Eventually, any non-white business that wanted to sell to the townships had to get a permit every day. The government office opened at 9am, but the bread business operated between 6 and 7:30am, before folks went to work. The government had effectively shut Murad’s family business down. Murad is in his 60s today and he still remembers vividly his father crying as they bakery was torn down after they left. Murad and Mila left South Africa for good to escape the institutionalized racism of their homeland, eventually settling in Canada. Apartheid caused more harm than can ever be expressed, said Murad.
I learned today that access to education was another of the tools of apartheid. The state found incredible ways to subjugate whole people groups, including limiting the years of education different groups would receive. Whites: through high school. Coloreds (everyone who was neither white nor black): through 8th grade. Blacks: through 6th grade. That was enough, went the reasoning, to be a fine servant or worker. It was institutionalized, so-called “civilized” slavery.
This sort of deeply ingrained antagonism & hatred caused deep wounds in this society that will be in the process of healing for generations. South Africans have a lot of hope for children born after 1994 (the year of Mandela’s election to end the white government): they call that generation “Children of freedom”.
I wonder: how do these threads of human life (the need to subjugate other people groups under mine) show up in our American story? How are they still playing out today?
Tomorrow we visit Robben Island.