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Cape Town, South Africa
Rainbow Nation: Reconciliation and the Road Ahead
By Megan Rosenbach
Though there are many reasons to be hopeful today, South Africans have seen much grief, much suffering, and reason for bitterness. The ugly fingerprints of a purposeful framework of segregation, of years of discrimination and injustice, are still visible in everyday life. They are deeply embedded into the fibers weaving this diverse and beautiful country together. And they are the tears which nearly ripped the fabric entirely apart.
South African society bears ragged scars of a long history of racial prejudice. It was prominently shaped by Dutch and English colonialism, ensuing conflict between native inhabitants and new-comers and newer new-comers, battles over resources, and a resulting society which functioned on a basis of racial discrimination. When apartheid, which literally means “apartness” in Afrikaans, came about through the newly elected National Party in 1948, it gave existing injustice and segregation the backing of the law.
Apartheid laws served to further this injustice worse, dividing South Africans into four distinct groups: white, black, Indian, and “coloured” (which is the term used to describe those of mixed descent). Simply stated, the apartheid’s primary function was to create a framework to maintain the white minority’s control and prevent the majority, black South Africans, from gaining power.
Apartheid law sought to segregate every sphere of life, be it at the beach, on a bus, or in the educational system. Anti-miscegenation laws were quickly passed to prevent intermarriage, and residential areas were specifically designated for each racial category under the Group Areas Act of 1950. In some cases, this resulted in people being evicted and forced to relocate to areas known as “townships” which developed on the peripheries of cities. This displacement resulted in overcrowded, underdeveloped, often informal living situations, sometimes consisting of not more than tin shacks, along with poor sanitation, and highly restricted access to resources such as electricity, education, and medical care.
Fall of Apartheid
Visionary leaders and tireless activists worked for decades to see the injustice of apartheid come to an end. Perhaps most prominently stands the work of Nelson Mandela, who would go on to become both the first president of South Africa to be elected by a fully representative democratic election, as well as a Nobel Laureate, among numerous other honors. In 1952 he led in the African National Congress’s Defiance Campaign and the Congress of the People in 1955, whose adoption of the Freedom Charter set out the fundamentals of the anti-apartheid cause:
“We the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.”
Eventually, after becoming a leader and co-founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, Mandela’s political activity would lead him to be captured and imprisoned for twenty-seven years. He was released in February of 1990 when finally, the ban on the ANC was reversed. He went on to lead the ANC to negotiations that led finally to the end of apartheid and creation of a new democracy in 1994. During his time as president, Mandela worked to combat deeply entrenched social issues, and since retiring has continued to work towards greater human rights and joined the fight against AIDS.
South Africa Today
South Africa has been devastated by HIV/AIDS. According to the 2011 UNAIDS Report, more people are infected here than in any other country on earth. AIDS infection reached pandemic status in South Africa around 1995 and has continued to be a crisis with grave implications throughout all spectrums of people’s lives and society, leaving great numbers of orphans and elderly with no one to care for them.
A 2004 University of Cape Town study revealed that almost 3.3-million children in South Africa were living with the loss of either one or both parents. South Africa is also dealing with high rates of crime, sexual violence against women being alarmingly prevalent, high rates of unemployment, and high rates of economic disparity.
It is believed that in 2009, an estimated 310,000 South Africans died of HIV/AIDS
The Cape Flats
One of the most infamous examples of forced removals due to the Group Areas Act resulted in an area called the Cape Flats, where the majority of TNHF’s South African students are from today. In 1968, the demolition of an area called District Six began in Cape Town. Under apartheid legislation, it had been labeled a “whites only” area, and subsequently some 60,000 residents were forcibly evicted. These people were pushed into the low-lying and windswept region outside of Cape Town, which has come to be known as the Cape Flats, and since been home to roughly 4 million people, much of the population of Greater Cape Town.
Currently in the Cape Flats: 30% of the community is infected with HIV/AIDS, 40% live in informal shacks, and 50% are unemployed.
Despite its misgivings, the Cape Flats is home to vibrant culture and is one of the most diverse areas in South Africa. Gugulethu became the first black township to have an information technology center. Ikhwezi (the Star) Community center provides multimedia classes and youth development programs. The Cape Flats also have sports fields, community centers, and schools. Sivuyile (“we are happy”) is the tourism information center in Gugulethu. The Cape Flats also features the Khayelitsha Craft Market, home to some of the best local artist and vendors in the Western Cape. Young artists in the community produce sculptures, ceramics, bead work, traditional clothing and textiles. Visitors praise the Cape Flats for its remarkable sense of community and support.
In the same way, just as South Africa as a whole continues to face many great challenges, they are also making great strides, as was symbolized for some by South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup in 2010, the first African nation to do so.
As masses of soccer fans from around the world swarmed to the stadiums, crowded the streets, and filled the air with cheers and the humming of vuvuzelas, the eyes of the world curiously watched to see what awaited in South Africa, with questions beyond who would win and who would lose the tournament. What would South Africa be like, 16 years after the end of the apartheid regime? And many people were surprised at what they discovered, at the growth that’s taken place in the country; the way that several host South African cities, including Cape Town, are burgeoning and developing in positive ways. They found highways smoothly paved, infrastructure improving, and reason to believe things may be looking better economically.
Even while the pain of the past wrongs inevitably remains severe, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, forgiveness, and the path forward must be the goal. Today, there is still much work to be done to heal, to seek justice, to improve the lives of all South Africans. Although encouraging strides have been made, South Africa remains very much still a country in development, with significant hurdles to face in the coming years. But there is hope as the next generation of South Africans, the young people of today, can be empowered to shape the future to be better, to continue to add bright squares to the darkness of the twisted quilt of history they’ve inherited.
Nelson Mandela Wiki The Herald-Sun - What happens to South Africa after the World Cup Du Boulay, Shirley. Tutu: Voice of the Voiceless. (Grand Rapids, MI: Hodder and Stoughton, 1988), 21.
The Herald-Sun - What happens to South Africa after the World Cup
Du Boulay, Shirley. Tutu: Voice of the Voiceless. (Grand Rapids, MI: Hodder and Stoughton, 1988), 21.
Pain and Progress in Rwanda
By Megan Rosenbach
Today, in Rwanda, on the last Saturday of every month, you’ll find people out sweeping and cleaning their community on a designated local service day. You’ll find a nation at work, rebuilding itself slowly and steadily, pushing ahead to the future. As you read this on your computer screen, it’s shocking to realize that only 10% of the Rwanda’s population has the luxury of even the electricity to power a computer. But the increasing numbers of power lines being installed across the country are an example of the growth taking place. These power lines carry more than simply electric current. In a certain sense, they also conduct a measure of hope for a future brighter than simply the lumens of light bulbs, empowering communities towards further development and ultimately, fighting poverty.
The Rwandan leap into electricity is a microcosm of a country that has the potential to be a model for Africa. Roads and buildings are planned, approved, and built in a matter of weeks and petty bribes land even high-ranking officials in jail. In the capital city of Kigali, the streets are clean, while strikingly, also hosting large numbers of heavily armed policemen. Eighteen years after the genocide that killed nearly one million people, Rwanda is on the path of security, economic growth, and prosperity.
Genocide in Rwanda
The sharp pain of tragedy still lingers tangibly in Rwanda as it meets the hope found in reconciliation and reconstruction. As a resilient people work towards a better future, it is in the wake of a chilling annihilation, firmly impressed upon the minds of a nation’s consciousness. From April to July of 1994, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children were slaughtered in the most rapid genocide in recent history. In just 90 days, it is estimated that more than 800,000 people were murdered. Rough estimates also place that anywhere from 250,000 and 500,000 women were brutally raped, which is believed to be the cause of the AIDS epidemic in Rwanda. And in the wake of the genocide and the HIV/AIDS crisis, there were also more than 600,000 orphans in Rwanda by 2001, and virtually no psychological care available for anyone after the trauma.
History: Colonization and Ethnic Tensions
The violence of the genocide took place in the warring of the Hutu and Tutsi, Rwanda’s two most dominant ethnic groups at the time. During the Belgian colonization of Rwanda, beginning in the early 1900s, Tutsis, the minority group, were given favor and considered superior to the majority Hutus. Tutsis benefited from better jobs and educational opportunities, while Hutu resentment steadily grew. In 1959, more than 20,000 Tutsis were killed by angry Hutus. Thousands of Tutsis fled Rwanda and settled in neighboring countries. In 1962, when Belgium pulled out of Rwanda, Hutus took control of the government and with the Hutus in power, minority Tutsis were blamed for every problem and crisis in the country. Political tension increased.
Tutsi refugees in neighboring Uganda —with support from some moderate Hutus—formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) with an aim to overthrow the then-current President, Juvenal Habyarimana (a moderate Hutu), and return to their home country. But in an effort to improve his waning popularity, President Habyarimana exploited the RPF’s threat, which resulted in launching accusations of RPF collaboration towards the Tutsis still living in Rwanda.
Then in April 1994, President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. No one knows who actually ordered the assassination. Regardless, the RPF was blamed for the assassination, tipping off the rampant killing spree. Roadblocks appeared overnight, and thousands armed themselves with machetes, guns, and clubs. The staggering atrocities raged on for three months. In July of 1994, the RPF captured Kigali, and with the shift in power came a ceasefire: the massive genocide was over, leaving hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead and a country changed forever.
Hope Amidst Pain
In the words of the President Kagame, “[t]he genocide touched the lives of all Rwandans; no individual or community was spared. Every Rwandan is either a genocide survivor or a perpetrator, or the friend or relative of a survivor or perpetrator.”
The tragedy continues to have powerful reverberations, but now echoes in the hopeful future of Rwanda, as demonstrated by young people there.
TNHF’s Executive Director Justin Zoradi writes about his recent trip to Rwanda:
"The highlight of my trip was meeting and connecting with university students through our friends at Africa New Life. I spent substantial time with eleven amazing young women who were motivated, thoughtful, and committed to each other and to their country. Yet their ambition doesn’t come without heartache. Nearly all of the girls are orphans affected by the genocide, poverty, and their refugee status.
One of my last nights was spent over an amazing dinner with the young women at their home. We ate traditional Rwandan food, and I shared about my life in Portland, my wife, my pets, and my obsession with soccer. We watched videos of our TNHF students in South Africa. We laughed, prayed, and dreamed together of the amazing leaders these young women will become for Rwanda."
For more information on Rwanda, please check out these great resources
President Paul Kagame, preface to After Genocide, ed. Phil Clark and Zachary D. Kaufman (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), xxi.
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