Monday, June 6, 2011

Ubuntu speaks of the very essence of being human. My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life. We say, "A person is a person through other persons." – Archbishop Tutu

I LOVE long walks on the beach.  As much of a cliché as it is, walking on the beach for hours is one of my favorite things to do. Ever.  Walking while looking at the beautiful skyline of Lion’s Head, Table Mountain, and Devil’s Peak, and the rest of the city of Cape Town doesn’t hurt the situation either.  Yesterday, a few of my housemates and I went on an adventure to Bloubergstrand, the beach where they take the “postcard” pictures of Table Mountain and Cape Town. 

Alena and I

We took the MyCiti Bus to our destination, which was an adventure in itself because we had never been on the bus before, and it is a fairly new transportation system in the city.  The bus has it’s own roads and routes that no other vehicles can drive on, and it runs through the city and to some of the surrounding suburbs.  It was really clean and safe, and also allowed us to see some of the areas of the city that we hadn’t been able to see yet.  We rode on the bus for about 30 minutes before realizing we were on the wrong route, at which point we improvised and got off the bus when we were close to a beach, not knowing if it was anywhere near where we wanted to go.  As we walked over the dunes we were greeted by a stunning view of the mountains and miles and miles of beautiful sandy beach.  We walked along the beach taking pictures of the beautiful scenery and enjoying the beautiful sunny weather, a rare occasion in the rainy season. 

We walked for about an hour and a half until we decided it was getting late and we better start trying to find our way back home.  We decided to go up a random path over the dunes and ended up right smack in the middle of what I like to call Pleasantville, South Africa.  Walking through the rows and rows of perfectly manicured lawns and three car garages, I completely forgot I was even in Africa.  The absence of razor wire and bars on the windows was so foreign to me, and the wealth we were surrounded by was so strange and made me feel uncomfortable.  How could these people be living in these giant houses with multiple cars when a few miles away there were starving kids, struggling to survive in an overcrowded shack the size of one of the bathrooms in these houses?  The inequality present in this country is like nothing I have ever seen before, and I am still struggling to comprehend it after months of living here.  I’m sure that this is not something that I would get used to even after years of living here. 

It’s often really hard for me to digest the raging inequality and injustices present in this place.  I have trouble walking through these neighborhoods one day, and then comparing them when I am in the townships the next day.  It makes me so frustrated, upset, and angry, but then I remember that the people in the townships are often happy with what they have.  They don’t need multi-million dollar beachfront houses, four plasma screen televisions and a laptop for each member of their family to be happy.  They are happy with their tin roof shacks, extended family ties, and close-knit communities.  They value their relationships with people and God instead of cars and electronics.  There are just so many lessons that I have learned from the people that I have met here.  My housemates, my students, and the various random people I have met have helped me to realize that South Africa has come a long way from its apartheid past, but still has an equally long way to go. 

This story, given to my housemate Laura, by a man at her service site, exemplifies the good natured will of South Africa, and really encompasses the spirit of “ubuntu.”

My South Africa by Jonathan Jansen

My South Africa is the working-class man who called from the airport to return my wallet without a cent missing. It is the white woman who put all three of her domestic worker’s children through the same school that her own child attended. It is the politician in one of our rural provinces, Mpumalanga, who returned his salary to the government as a statement that standing with the poor had to be more than just a few words. It is the teacher who worked after school hours every day during the public sector strike to ensure her children did not miss out on learning.

My South Africa is the first-year university student in Bloemfontein who tool all the gifts she received for her birthday and donated them- with the permission of the givers- to a home for children in an Aids village. It is the people hurt by racist acts who find it in their hearts to a publicly forgive the perpetrators. It is the group of farmers in Paarl who started a top school for the children of farm workers to ensure they got the best education possible while their parents toiled in the vineyards. It is the farmer’s wife in Viljoenskroon who created an education and training centre for the wives of farm labourers so that they could gain the advanced skills required to operate accredited early-learning centres for their own and other children.

My South Africa is that little white boy at a decent school in the Eastern Cape who decided to teach the black boys in the community to play cricket, and to fit them all out with the togs required to play the gentleman’s game. It is the two black street children in Durban, caught on camera, who put their spare change in the condensed milk tin of a white beggar. It is the Johannesburg pastor who opened up his church as a place of shelter for illegal immigrants. It is the Afrikaner woman from Boksburg who nailed the white guy who shot and killed one of South Africa’s greatest freedom fighters outside his home.

My South Africa is the man who went to prison for 27 years and came out embracing his captors, thereby releasing them from their impending misery, it is the activist priest who dived into a crowd of angry people to rescue a woman from a sure necklacing. It is the former police chief who fell to his knees to wash the feet of Mamelodi women whose sons disappeared on his watch; it is the woman who forgave him in his act of contrition.  It is the Cape Town university psychologist who interviewed the “Prime Evil” in Pretoria Centre and came away with emotional attachment, even empathy, for the human being who did such terrible things under apartheid.

My South Africa is the quiet, dignified, determined township mother from Langa who straightened her back during the years of oppression and decided that her struggle was to raise decent children, insist that they learn, and ensure that they not succumb to bitterness or defeat in the face of overwhelming odds. It is the two young girls who walked 20kms to school everyday, even through their matric years, and passed well enough to be accepted into university studies. It is the student who takes on three jobs, during the evenings and weekends, to find ways of paying for his university studies.

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