Thursday, November 24, 2011

south africa.....the people

We do not know, we do not know.  We shall live from day to day, and put more locks on the doors and get a fine fierce dog when the fine fierce dog next door has pups, and hold on our handbags more tenaciously; and the beauty of the trees by night, and the raptures of lovers under the stars, these things we shall forego. We shall forego the evening walk over the star-lit veld.  We shall be careful, and knock off our lives, and knock that off our lives, and hedge ourselves about with safety and precaution.  And our lives will shrink, but they they shall be the lives of superior beings; and we shall live with fear, but at least it will not be a fear of the unknown.  And the conscience shall be thrust down;  the light of life shall not be extinguished, but be put under a bushel to be preserved for a generation that will live by it again in some day not yet come.

Cry the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear.  LEt him not love the earth too deeply.  Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire.   Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley.   For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

There is one thing that has power completely, and that is love.  Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power.  I see only one hope of our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it.

Cry the Beloved Country........Alan Paton

We had more than a few people tell us to be careful when we traveled to South Africa in September to visit Corey's parents.  We were told that we should rent a gun at the airport, keep our car windows up and locked, don't drink the water or eat the food, watch out for deadly snakes, leave jewelry or expensive cameras at home.  I have to admit that I grew a little nervous, especially when a few people responded with an obvious edge disappointment that we would put the lives of our children in danger.  Were we being reckless?   I tucked my wedding ring in my closet and left my nice camera at home. I wasn't in the country 24 hours before this fear was dissolved quickly by the love that I felt for the people here.  Again, I have put off writing about our international trip with the sickening realization that I can never adequately express how the introduction to a new part of the world has changed me.   I just can't do it, but I have to fail at trying rather than fail to try. 

I couldn't get over these miles and miles of endless shantytowns.  The words of U2 kept going through my mind.  I listened to this song about 1000 times my junior year in high school.  In fact, I would have no idea what apartheid was, if not for Bono.   I didn't know what I could do about this and about the pollution that Geneva Steel was coughing into our air, but I did let these things bug me as much as a seventeen year old could be bugged.

In the shit house a shotgun
Praying hands hold me down
Only the hunter was hunted
In this tin can town
Tin can town

No stars in the black night
Looks like the sky fell down
No sun in the daylight
Looks like it's chained to the ground
Chained to the ground
The warden said
The exit is sold
If you want a way out
Silver and gold

Broken back to the ceiling
Broken nose to the floor
I scream at the silence, it's crawling
It crawls under the door
There's a rope around my neck
And there's a trigger in your gun
Jesus say something
I am someone, I am someone
I am someone

Captain and kings
In the ships hold
They came to collect
Silver and gold
Silver and gold

Seen the coming and going
Seen them captains and the kings
See them navy blue uniforms
See them bright and shiny things
Bright shiny things

The temperature is rising
The fever white hot
Mister, I ain't got nothing
But it's more than you got

Chains no longer bind me
Not the shackles at my feet
Outside are the prisoners
Inside the free
Set them free
Set them free

A prize fighter in a corner is told
Hit where it hurts
Silver and gold
Silver and gold

" Yep, silver and gold... This song was written in a hotel room in New York city 'round about the time a friend or ours, little Steven, was putting together a record of artists against apartheid. This is a song written about a man in a shanty town outside of Johannesburg. A man who's sick of looking down the barrel of white South Africa. A man who is at the point where he is ready to take up arms against his oppressor. A man who has lost faith in the peacemakers of the west while they argue and while they fail to support a man like bishop Tutu and his request for economic sanctions against South Africa.
Am I buggin' you? I don't mean to bug ya..."

I also had these words memorized.

Our first day in South Africa.
The school where we picked up Massie, the granddaughter of our tour guide through Soweto.

These kids asked if we were movie stars

This is Thoba Karl-Halla with her grand-daughter.  She is a friend of Corey's parents and was kind enough to spend the day giving us an enlightened tour of Soweto, the largest township in South Africa and a hotbed of activity during the Apartheid movement.  Thoba had personal stories to tell of  being arrested when she didn't have her i.d. card with her, and being scared much of the time.  Her mother was Julia Mavimbela, who was very much involved in the Soweto community back in the 70's during Apartheid. She organized 'Women for Peace', a group  that 'aimed to form a peaceful transition to true democracy in South Africa'.  She was one of very few black women to receive a college education and  the first black female school principals in South Africa. She became a widow at a young age when her husband was killed in a "car accident". She led an organization to help women "overcome illiteracy, crime, disease, unjust laws that make African women feel helpless and hopeless.  I can't think of a better way to begin our two weeks in this country.

Our first stop was the current home of Nelson Madela. The security guard allowed us to get out and take a few pictures.

Our next stop was the Roman Catholic church,  Regina Mundi, which earned the reputation of being one of the main centres of anti-apartheid activism.  During the Soweto uprising of June 16th 1976, students who marched against the requirement imposed by the apartheid government that Afrikaans replace English as the language of instruction fled to Regina Mundi. The police entered the church, firing live ammunitions. No one was killed, although many were injured and the church itself, as well as its furniture, decorations, and symbols (for example the marble altar and the statue of Christ), were damaged. Both the interior and the external walls of the church still bear the signs of the shootings.
 Hector Pieterson was a 12-year-old boy who was killed by a stray bullet shot by over-zealous police; he was only one of over five hundred who died during the riots.

This is the famous photo of Hector after he was shot by police.

Ansel and Massie in front of Nelson Mandela's home in Soweto, where he lived when he was arrested.    

Massie teaches Ansel a game called "Ketto?"  which seemed a bit like jax, but played with rocks.  

We snuck out of church for a little while to get a feel for the neighborhood.  Part of my was scared by what we saw.  Most of me was angry for being scared and determined to not let this fear become a wall.    

This event occurred the first few weeks of my senior year, and I remember it well because, as I mentioned above, I was obsessed with U2 and felt that dancing to the music somehow made me political.  I actually thought that my enthusiasm somehow contributed to this revolution.   This seems ridiculous, right?  But don't you think it strange that Bono attended Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday party here in Capetown a few days after we were at this very spot in Capetown?  

Funny tourists

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