Apartheid has not been a subject on the top of my reading list until very recently. With the plan of visiting South Africa and the preparatory reading of David Welsh’s, The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, I have a new appreciation for the leaders and the people of South Africa who persevered through decades of racism and its long-term effects.
Welsh is comprehensive in his coverage of the major movements and figures of Apartheid, explaining without over vilification or exoneration one people over another. The facts reveal the historic drama, and while dry in the telling due to the great detail, they unfold the complex reality of multiple ethnic groups converging at the Southern tip of Africa to find freedom and determine how to live together in peace and as reconciled people.
Apartheid, literally meaning separation “was the attempt to thwart, neutralize or abort the African urbanization”. This separation captured every aspect of the native African’s lives both before and throughout the nearly fifty years of severe oppression by the white minority ruled government. Africans lost the right to vote, to own property, to be educated, and eventually to even be considered citizens of their home as they were deemed, “temporary sojourners” by the ruling class.
Of the many devastating effects of apartheid, one of the most impactful aspects was the removal of people from their homes and into rural ‘homelands’. These overcrowded and distant spaces from the cities forced Africans into poverty as migrant workers with no rights.
I cannot imagine what it would be like to have my government consider me, ‘a danger’ or a ‘temporary sojourner’ and seek to eliminate my family, my existence and my future from all we have known based on my skin tone. Yet my peers across the globe understand this acutely.
As a response to the horrific treatment the Africans organized the African National Congress (ANC), of which Nelson Mandela joined and eventually led. And although the ANC began peacefully, and from Welsh’s perspective, were moralistic and submissive, the years of worsening conditions grated on the Africans, especially the younger generations who saw the need for violence in reaction to the violence done to them.
Mandela also joined in the violence and eventually lost his place in the homeland as he was sentenced to life in prison. Although absent from the ANC, the twenty-seven years in prison were not wasted. During that time Mandela’s leadership was reformed. His stance became one of humility as he sought non-violence once again, became open to working alongside other oppressed people and not just for Africans. Most strikingly, Mandela was willing to converse with and eventually move the country toward peace through his negotiations with President De Klerk.
As I read about the history of South Africa’s racism I continually think about the racism that remains here in the US. We have a history of slavery and even after slavery, of oppressive Jim Crow laws that prevented black people from voting, of separation in education that was only integrated initially not because of the rights of all people to be educated in any place but based on the fact that our federal Supreme Court determined black children were unable to learn well from black teachers in black schools.
Today racism is prevalent for Dreamers who are about to lose their ability to legitimately remain in the only home they have known due to the removal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
People of color in the US are once again dealing with the alt-right groups suddenly springing into public arenas to hold rallies (most recently, last weekend in Portland) while thousands of counter-protestors counter the hate. These actions do not begin to detail the myriad of shootings and hate crimes seen throughout our cities and suburbs.
Although we do not have forced separation in the United States we have subliminal (and sometime overt) messages from groups, just as the Afrikaners did, that see themselves as superior to people of color.
It feels like the answer should be simple. Don’t judge people based on the color of their skin. Yet, the process of getting to the place of withholding judgment is much more complex. We are entrenched based on what we have known and the systems and ways of being we have perpetuated.
As I see it modeled in the change in Mandela and the honesty of De Klerk, racism comes down to our view of others. Do we see ourselves as superior to others? Are we willing to humble ourselves and see that another person, who may be very different than us is just as worthy of rights, of belonging and of love as us?
On Sunday I choose to leave my home, my eighteen-month old baby boy, and my husband, to visit the place of the rise and fall of Apartheid. I choose this, and for me it is not easy. I am comfortable here with my family and my work, mostly surrounded by white people. But I also know that much of my community both near and far is not white. I go hoping to gain a deeper understanding of how to love rather than judge from the outside. I hope to grow in seeking God’s peace, particularly in the places where my voice has influence.
 Welsh, David. The Rise and Fall of Apartheid. (Jeppestown: Jonathon Ball Press, 2009), 57.
 Welsh, 38.
 Malcolm Gladwell, 2017. “Miss Buchanan’s Period Of Adjustment.” Podcast: Revisionist History. http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/13-miss-buchanans-period-of-adjustment