Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Week Sixteen: Becoming A Part Of The Solution Rather Than A Part Of The Problem

By Miranda Joebgen and Eli Miller

            After saying a difficult goodbye to our home in Windhoek, we departed for Cape Town, South Africa on Saturday, April 25th.  The next day we attended service at Way of Life Church and had the opportunity to speak with Pastor Xola Skosana afterwards.  We knew going into the service that Pastor Skosana was no ordinary pastor – he has a history of making radical statements, including once stating (in a 2010 sermon) that Jesus had HIV.  Naturally, we were intrigued to discover what he would be talking to us about that day.  In his sermon, Pastor Skosana began by addressing Xenophobia – which is currently a large issue in South Africa. Xenophobia is the fear or dislike of people from other countries. Unfortunately, this has been the cause of much violence in South Africa, particularly against people from other African countries.   Pastor Skosana talked about how people should not be strangers in their own land.  Though people may come from Zimbabwe or Botswana or Namibia, they are all children of Africa – country lines are simply arbitrary.  Eventually, Pastor Skosana transitioned into addressing what he believes to be the main source of South Africa’s problem: white power.  White power, he believes, has existed ever since Africa was first colonized and the country lines were established. White power created apartheid, which in turn created the poverty and inequality that have remained a part of this country. White power is what causes black people to turn on black people in an effort to become more like “the white man” and gain power and wealth.

            Now, as a white person, it would be easy for me to hear someone say this and immediately become defensive, declaring that “not ALL white people are like that,” thereby defending myself.  However, this semester has taught me a lot about racism, specifically in South Africa and Namibia, and I have learned more about the immense pain that white people caused black people during apartheid.  While apartheid is over, the pain and inequality caused by the system still exist today, and it is the reason why so many black people still live in extreme poverty.  White people who are not too consumed with denying their role in any oppression often find themselves left with “white guilt”, yet don’t know how to address these systems of oppression, so they instead simply remain quiet.  However, something that we have learned in more than one of our courses this semester is that in issues of oppression, those who choose to remain silent have chosen the side of the oppressor.  In other words, if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. 

            Pastor Skosana then proceeded to tell us of something which he thinks could help solve issues that have been created by white power such as inequality and poverty: a wealth tax. The money taxed from the wealthy would be used to aid those who are in need, thereby bridging the massive amounts of inequality that exist in this country still. This is a controversial topic in South Africa right now.

            The theme of white privilege and white power continued throughout the week in Cape Town. On Monday we took a walking tour of Cape Town with Lucy Campbell; a staunch human rights activist who advocates human rights through cultural tourism. It is easy to view Cape Town as a beautiful shining city - which it is - but crime, poverty, and the roots of slavery and apartheid are still very present in modern day Cape Town. It is very important when you come to Cape Town to see the reality of the City.  The large amounts of homeless people in the downtown area alone signal that not everything is perfect.  Lucy took us to the Cape Town slave lodge museum, which was a place to house slaves for the Dutch East India Company. Lucy also showed us some of the monuments around Cape Town that represent slavery and the apartheid era. While the recent removal of the Rhodes monument gained a lot of national coverage, there are still many monuments around Cape Town that represent slavery and apartheid that many people feel should also be taken down.
The CGE group with Lucy and Collin, our wonderful tour guides
            On Thursday we took a ferry to Robben Island to see one of the most famous prisons in the world. All of the tour guides of the prison at Robben Island were former political prisoners during the apartheid era and make incredible tour guides. Many of the tour guides at Robben Island underwent immense physical, psychological and emotional turmoil. Many were tortured and still wear the scars they received on the island to this day. After apartheid ended many of the guards at Robben Island and others who assaulted and killed black South Africans were given blanket immunity. They went on with their lives like nothing happened. Many point to the lack of reconciliation and reparations after apartheid as the source of South Africa’s present problems.
The cell where Nelson Mandela lived when he was in prison on Robben Island.
            Economic inequality, poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS are still huge issues in South Africa and we think it’s fair to say equality for all has not been reached. Black South African’s still face discrimination and marginalization today and we believe institutional racism that was not changed after apartheid is at the root of that cause. As we have learned more about the current political and social landscape in South Africa, we can’t help but find similarities to America’s current issues with police brutality. Institutional racism is at a boiling point in America and these cases have revealed the depths of how much racism is embedded in our society. We think it will be interesting to see how we view and understand these issues of police brutality after our experiences in Namibia, especially since this is an issue that gained a lot of attention before we left for Namibia and it is still continuing now that we are returning after four months. America is not without its own history of oppression that has yet to be completely dismantled. Now that we are returning to America, we are left wondering, “How am I going to become a part of the solution, rather than silently standing by and condoning the acts of the oppressor?”
The sun sets on our time in Southern Africa…for now at least.

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