An Eye-Opening Journey to a
New South Africa
from page 1
Sojourner Truth a century and more
ago ? words that 1 carry from the
United States to South Africa. I feel
an utter calm and peace about the
journey on which I now embark.
Like Sister Sojourner I. too, feel a
power. It is the collective power of
my students, colleagues and friends
who expressed, despite heart-felt
trepidation ? theirs, not mine ?
great confidence in me. 1 go in the
power of their spiijt and it is suste
nance for my soul.
I feel as well the power of my
African ancestors on both sides of
the Atlantic Ocean; ancestors who
relinquished physical life in their
struggle against enslavement
! and so. in truth, they live on
still. Their spirit' of struggle is
something 1 deeply affirm.
Indeed, it now possesses me.
It is a power that bridges
Africa and America, a free
dom song coursing through
my veins to know no rest
until justice and peace are
- known and had by all. ? -L
The power I carry with ?
me to South Africa is also
that of the saints of God. the
church, whose heart-felt
prayers mean much. How can
I not impart their strength,
sense of presence and
courage to millions of South
Africans awaiting apartheid's
end? 1 know that prayer is
carrying me forth, that sister /?
and brother believers are
- encouraging and supporting
me. It is no accident that my
April journey began with
worship ? Easter synrise
service at Emmanuel Baptist
Church. Resurrection Day is
affirmation that the people of
South Africa ? all the people
? are to know liberation al last.
The Mind of White South Afriea
I arrive in South Africa..aa ,
? April 6. The -host organization, the
Ecumenical Monitoring Program for
South Africa (EMPSA), is waiting
at the airport. More than 300 moni
tors for peace ore arriving front 7
e/Very part of the globe. As we head
toward Johannesburg. 1 notice a
large and ominous advertisement:
"Immigration Services for Those
? Who \Vish 10 Leave South Africa
. " Word is that tens of thousands- of
white South Africans have already
left the country, some tor permanent
relocation to the- United States, New
Zealand and elsewhere; others, less
. anxious to leave, have taken a vaca
tion to escape the dreaded post-elec
tion backlash of the black major
ity against whites. The newspapers
are futy of stories about empty gro
cery-store shelves and Afrikaner
? families preparing for racial
Armageddon." Little empirical evi
dence exists to support white para
noia about black revenge, but then
paranoia has always been its own
best justification. Still blessed with
economic privilege, at least, white.'
South Africa awaits the future with
? Fear of the golden rule, "do
unto others as you would have them
do unto you." is widespread but sel
dom voiced among white South
Africans todavrl was fortunate to
spend an evening with several high-"
ranking members of the National
Party. They sought to persuade me,
an intelligent (and therefore differ
ent) African American, that South
Africa was no longer an apartheid
society, that racists sentiments were
largely extinct in the mind of
whites. Whether or not they
expected' me to believe their story is
beside the point. Their words were '
largely meant to comfort and con
sole themselves. For whatever it's
worth, white South Africa needs
something to hold on to. some kind
of self-assurance that their oppres
? sion of blacks has not been all that
bad.- Needless to say, it is,a psychol
ogy that doesn't work.
Ciskei and the Eastern Cape
If you have come to help me,
you are wasting your time.
but if you come because your
liberation is bound up with mine.
then let us work together!
These are words that 1 heard
from a young Xhosa brother on a
prevjous journey to this land, words
that continue to resound in my
spirit. Why am I in South Africa?
The question came hack to me
when, nluch to my disappointment,
EM PSA deployed me to the Eastern
Cape province. I was prepared to
work in the most dangerous regions,
but the Border/Ciskei area was to be
my home for the next three weeks.
Specifically, our group of 15
are stationed in the towns of Bisho
and King William's Town. Like so
much else, the existence qf "twin"
cities are the direct result of ,
W- bantu Stephen Brno;
OS Honor ar t President
8 ? !
r>: is Black Peqpi e s Convention
ilUggft" ?' ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
ONE AZANlA ONf N A T i }\
Tomb of Stephen Biko, who died at 30.
apartheid. King William's Town is
the more established white town
while Bisho is a sterile municipality w
13 years old. Bisho is the capital of
Ciskei. one of South Africa's sev
eral homelands until now. King
' William's Town sits on the "South
African" side of the border There is
little evidence of life in Bisho: King
William's Town is thriving. Thank
fully. Ciskctmade the decision to
disband its homeland government a
few weeks ago. With some coaxing
from Nelson Mandela, neighboring
Transkei has also rejoined the
-JiaiionaLiuld. 1 __
To know Ciskei and Transkei is
to know something about the future
of South Africa. The, region is a
strotjg hold of the African National
Congress (ANCt and birthplace to
many progressive leaders. Mandela,
Walter Sisulu. Raymond Mhlaba.
Govan Mbeki. Black Consciousness
leader Stephen Biko and numerous
others came from here. Ciskei's Fort
Hare I diversity, attended by all the
-above, is a well-known breeding
ground for revolutionary activity.
Zimbabwe's President Robert
Mugabe stpdied there and Arch
bishop Desmond Tutu once served
as universit> chuplain.
The apartheid government
believed it could break the ANC and
its allies by developing a divide and
conquer strategy in the region. As in
other parts of the country, the so
called "independent" homelands of
Ciskei and Transkei were thus ?
established. Fully dependent on the
South African government, the
homelands had no industries to
speak of and less than fertile land.
In addition, the land was "owned"
by the homeland government, so its
citizens had even less access to
good land. The Eastern Cape is pre
dominately Xhosa, rural and illiter
ate. It is also the poorest and sec
ond-most populated of South
Africa's nine provinces. Cities like
KingWilliam's Town, located on
the homeland's border, have always
insured white South Africa's stabil- ?
itv and security. 1 .
Another day in South Africa
and 1 am finally beginning to grasp
the rhythm of these pre-election
days. The struggle is not as many
anticipated, with threats of physical
confrontation, even death for some.
There have been some tense
moments, of course, especially
bomb attacks from the white right
wind. I remember vividly the April
10 rally held at Soweto's Irkabdo ?
West Stadium. It marked the one
year anniversary of the assassination
of Chris Hani, leader of Umkhonto
we Sizwe (MK), and beloved by the
Nelson Mandela was the fea
tured speaker and security was tight.
Nevertheless, a crowd of people
broke through MK's ranks and on to
the field, in pursuit of a man said to
be an informant for the Inkhata
Freedom Party. Security was no
match for the hundreds of people
several minutes, 1 felt the sheer ter
ror of the situation as the crowd
surged toward the center of the field
and me. A South African on the
field with me would later describe
that moment as the most terrifying
of his life, as spears, shields and
guns suddenly appeared from
nowhere** fcknew l^iould leave bull
was too caught up in the moment to
move quickly. Shots rang out from
rifles and Ak-47s and then we
moved. I will not easily forget the
feeling of my heart coming up in
my throat that day, or the grim look
on my friend's face.
But back to my main thought.
The tensions at Orlando West
_scarcelyjnaterialized anywhere dur^_
ing the elections. Regrettably, some
one lost their life that day, but I
have had a more enduring sense of
danger walking the city street of
Europe and the United States. 1 have
made several trips to Africa, and
white depictions of black people in
South Africa strike me as scarcely
different than the stereotyping of
African- Americans. To be feared
rather than affirmed, studied rather
than understood, is a constant.
Apartheid as a way of life is deeply
entrenched and will not easily go
away. But the rising tide and surg
ing expectations of black people
cannot be denied. South Africa will
never be the same.
1 walked the mile and a half to
the King William's Town stadium
and to one of the most memorable
experiences of my stay. The area
Council of Churches had called for
an ecumenical prayer meeting for
Throngs attend prayer for women at King William's Town stadium.
Mandela : adorned with chiefs garb of head beads and a leopard skin.
women. Having no idea what this
meant, 1 arrived at 10 a.m. to find
voter education taking place. Each
woman who entered the grounds
was given a sample ballot and
shown how to make an "X" next to
the candidate of their choice. It did"
not take me long to realize that this
women s prayer event was more
? than a traditional prayer meeting.
Politics and prayer, religion and jus
tice all met on this-day. as woman
after woman offered proud testi
mony to the new South Africa.
ANC colors were worn by many of
these women of faith, despite their
different religious backgrounds.
Apostolic, Methodist, Anglican,
Presbyterian, Baptist and others x
preached, prayed and danced and
swayed in collective affirmation.
Even someone like me, unable to
speak Xhosa, was easily able to
understand what was taking place.
The power of black women
amassed, their resolute determina
tion and strength was almost beyond
belief. (Need we ask why no white
women were present?) No pie-in
the-sky religion/but aseTf-determin
ing faith for these women. "Was not
Mr. Mandela born of a woman?
And has he not struggled for us?"
one sister proclaimed. "Let us be
sure then to mark "X" next to his
picture! The service ended six
hours later. No fewer than 1 ,000
women were in attendance.
A d\v or two thereafter, Nelson
Mandela spfcike to a cheering crowd
of about 2,00u ' people aj^lngqesha
? the Great Pla\^ffe^Ktrrg
William s Town. He~p7omised to
install Paramount Chief Maxhoba
Sandile as a king on equal footing
with King Goodwill Zwelthini of
the Zulus. The crowd cheered
^wildly as Mandela was then dressed -
in traditional chiefs garb by Chief
Sandile: a circlet of beads on his -
head and a leopard skin draped over
his shoulder. He was also handed a
ceremonial spear to protect him
against his enemies and anointed
with holy water by a Roman
Catholic priest. To see Mandela in
this setting was undoubtedly to see a
man of the people at his best.
The elections are almost under^
way and everywhere, it appears, the
people are lining up in massive
numbers. 1 arrive at my first station.
Ndevana, at 6 a.m. The school
polling station had not yet opened,
but the line along the fence sur
rounding the station is perhaps half
mile in length, or more! It is elec
tion's first dawn and I see the
7 people^mvergtn^?s-HvaH^e-dtrh -
road trying to glimpse the end of the
line. People arq streaming
towardtheir date with destiny in
groups of two. three and more, even
though voting will not start for
another hour. They are coming from
every direction, as far as the eye can
see, young and old alike, adults car
rying babies and. on occasion their
elders, as well as plastic buckets
with bread and drink in them. Out
side the fences, "hawkers" are dis
playing their wares of apples,
pineapples, roasted crtrn and so on.
?Children play quietly nearby (two
10-year-old boys tell me how much
they want .to vote) and teen-agers
look on with great interest at the
process and at -each other.
I have taken pictures ? don't
know if they will come out ? of the
line stretching beyond the upturned
curve in the road with the sun rising
behind it in the east. The scene, with
its silhouettes, reminds me so much
of our own civil-rights movement in
the United States, and the famous
photos of men,
women and chil
way in Alabama._
have spoken" was
the first thought
that went through
my mind as 1 saw
them arriving at
of every descrip
tion, all of them
joyous, silent, dignified ? oh were
they dignified ? waiting, talking,
smiling, patient, some having been
there for several hours, already. I
spoke with the first woman in line.
She had been there since 3 a.m.. lay
ered with blankets to protect herself
nights. I met persons at other polling
stations who had been in line even
earlier. No wait seemed to long for a
moment years in the making, for
decades and centuries of prepara
tion. The people were clearly in a
mood to celebrate, but not before
their ballots had been cast.
Voting conditions in the vil
lages, townships and squatter camps
are dismal compared to predomi
nantly white polling places in the
cities. Village stations were almost
always short on resources (water,
electricity, telephone, toilets, bal
lots) but long on creativity. The
storing of ballot papers in envelopes
made from newspaper scraps, the
construction of ballot boxes made
with cardboard and tape, the
evening lighting of stations by can- J
dlelight. flashlight and automobile
light ?hows a commitment of the
electoral process that puts American
democracy to shame.
We traveled to Zwelitsha,
Phakamisa. Llitha, Gubevu,
Keiskammahoek. Mdantsane and
more that day. Over the next four
days we observed prisons, hospitals,
community centers* schools, 100
150 polling stations in all. Nowhere
was toyitoying seen. Nowhere were
resistance songs heard. Nowhere
were party t-shirts, hats or inflam
matory materials in evidence. To
paraphrase words onde used by Vin
cent Harding to describe the Free
dom Movement in the United
States: "Their lives were filled with
the struggle." The truth of those
words have echoed in my mind and
spirit since arriving in South Africa.
Two young to make a substantial
contribution during the lifetimes of
Malcolm. Martin and Fannie Lou
Hamer. I have been blessed to expe
rience. in another place called
home, liberation anew, r
The Time is Now
May South Africa, and
Several people attended a voter registration drive.
love her. safeguard this sacred
- momem.-Apartheid is legally dead ?
and Mandela, the "handsome old
man" of the ANC, is now president.
"Free at last." South Africa is a
society whose glorious promise is
that racism, sexism and oppression _ _
do not have the last word Not now,
not ever. For Africans, on the conti
nent and throughout the diaspora,
1 that such a truth should come to
pass wi41 be enough, hi the mean
time. the struggle continues.
Wise old men are plentiful in South Africa.
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