Monday, November 3, 2008

Hope, Despite the Obstacles

Week 7: September 29-October 5
By: Jason Koele, Jesse Rothman, and Jessica Spanswick

The number of challenges facing Namibia and Southern Africa can be somewhat overwhelming: poverty, racism, lack of education, HIV/AIDS, corruption and abuses of power by government, and regional/ethnic divisions are seen and felt everywhere. Despite these challenges which face the Namibian people everyday and plague the CGE students’ minds with question upon question in an attempt to solve these issues, we were reminded to keep focused on our course of action by our week of classroom speakers. Like many, it does not include suddenly deciding to ignore or disregard the problems, nor to be transfixed and paralyzed by the magnitude of the challenges facing the country, but like the few, our course of action is to bring about hope and community where there is none.

To open the week of classes, Mr. Graham Hopwood, chairman of an independent think-tank here, spoke to the Political Science class about the evolution of democratic culture in Namibia. I (Jesse) found him refreshingly optimistic. He wasn’t rosy or naive, but he pointed out (rightly, I think) that while the myriad of challenges are obvious, Namibia actually has a lot going for it. Namibia has a stable government and a relatively free media. It is a young country that still is very much, as Mr. Hopwood put it, “on the learning curve.” To be reminded of the fact that some things are going well is both heartening and unusual, because it is much easier (for me at least) to see the many challenges facing the country and the region.

On Wednesday, the Religion and Social change course met with Dr. Gehard Buys, a pastor, theologian and former president of the Namibian Evangelical Theological Seminary. Our objective as a class was to better understand the viewpoint of a white Afrikaner in the midst of apartheid, his thoughts about the religious morality of apartheid, and the effects it had on his life.

I (Jason) was struck right away by Dr. Buys persona. Expecting an advocate of apartheid, I was taken aback by his sympathy and admiration for the native African people. Although Dr. Buys grew up having strong ties with the elite secret force, through his father’s connection to the South African Apartheid regime, he looked to his own faith to discern his moral stance on apartheid. “One day, I decided leave my family at age 15. I ran away from everything and everyone I ever knew for when I thought of apartheid, I thought of injustice and how Jesus wouldn’t advocate such ideologies or support such atrocities,” said Dr. Buys. I could only sit in disbelief as he continued with how the apartheid secret service would hunt down those who committed treason (anyone who went against the ideologies of the apartheid government) and murder them or would taint their family name to shun them out of society. I thought to myself, who could kill another human being just for disagreeing with them? It didn’t make sense to me how those who supported apartheid, but weren’t connected to the government, could just stand back and watch all these atrocities happen. Understandably, the protection of their family would be priority, but wouldn’t you think the lives of hundreds of thousands would come before yourself? Would you or I in that situation have just stood by and watched thousands die without saying a word? Would you (hypothetically) have been a white Afrikaner, supporting the rule over blacks? Dr. Buys helped me realize that not all white Afrikaners took the path of apartheid ideology and that following one’s faith and God’s calling to do the right thing in the face of fear and death can lead to peace, serenity and forgiveness.

I (Jessica) was so excited to attend the Basic Income Grant (BIG) release for our Development class! We’ve been studying different strategies for poverty reduction and wealth redistribution in Namibia. Honestly, I was very skeptical of BIG at first, but at the results release, I was filled with hope! The plan of BIG is basically to tax the rich and give it to the poor. This seems to be one strategy of evening the playing field of the poor blacks and wealthy white Namibians. It makes me really upset when I think about the minority white population who own the majority of capital and industry in Namibia while there are so many hungry homeless people on the streets. It’s just not fair that people whose ancestors have lived on Namibian soil for centuries do not have any food to eat or land to own. I feel that something needs to be done to right this wrong in Namibian society, and BIG is one strategy that should definitely be considered. I thought a lot about the wealth disparity in southern Africa this week. Sometimes I take it for granted that we have many of the same problems in America. Our GINI Index, or gap between the rich and the poor, may not be as drastic in America, but that does not excuse us from assisting the unfortunate to lift themselves up. I want to take what I learn about wealth distribution in southern Africa and apply it back home in America. For example, I’m really interested in African immigrants to Minneapolis, MN. I tutor recent refugees from Somalia and Kenya at a local church, and now I feel like I can relate a little more to their background. Maybe with my latest experiences in Africa I can help get them what they want from American society.

For the weekend, I (Jesse) and five other students went down to Sossusvlei. One thing that I have felt is that this trip has made me less sure about almost everything and the pristine and simple beauty of the largest sand dunes in the world were a very nice change. It reminded me that - despite all the difficulty, all the inequality, all the injustice - the world is beautiful and certainly worth fighting for.

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