Tag Archives: social justice

Reunited… & Robben Island

Wednesday Reed was reunited with the students, and it was a joyous occasion to behold. 🙂 He also got to meet Carmen, Oliver, and Loyiso at VACorps. I walked back “home” while Reed and the students had their first Peace Psychology seminar. Then we all met up at 11:00 and went to the waterfront. We had some time to visit Nobel Square and grab some bites for lunch. The sun was shining down as we strolled through the beautiful seaboard.

All 16 of us assembled at the Robben Island Museum for the 1:00 ferry. It was delayed about a half hour, but then it was a quick 20-minute ferry ride to the island. When you arrive, you board large busses, but the staff miscounted and there was not room for the family (the students were split between two busses). We waited a few minutes, and then a small minibus arrived just for the 9 of of us! Our guide was so knowledgeable about all of the sites around the island, as well as the important history that happened there.

We were impacted by the stories we heard. We also appreciated the beautiful view back toward Table Mountain. We learned that Nelson Mandela used that same view as an inspiration, as I’m sure many others did. It was stunning. We also were able visit the house where Robert Sobukwe resided. And of course we visited the cell of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. It’s too much to summarize the stories of these and many other courageous souls who endured much in the name of equality and peace.

We took the last ferry back and some looked through the museum while others played nearby. Then we enjoyed browsing through the African Trading Post, as well as a delicious meal at Ocean Basket. Ubers swiftly returned us home where we talked, laughed, and prepared for the next day.

After Robben Island, Jackson said that Cape Town is his favorite city. He has a connection going back 6 years when he was first here, and it warmed my heart to know how he felt about being back. There is so much here to learn, see, and feel, and my heart is full to share the time with these dear ones. All 15 of them! 🙂

Thoughts on Forgiveness

Today while the students were at their volunteer placement sites doing good work, I finished reading, A Human Being Died that Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid, by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. She was born in 1955 in Langa township, which we will tour next week, and is a psychologist who has focused her work on forgiveness. She was appointed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1996. You can read more about her here. I’ve known of this book for some time, and recently Dick Hill reminded me of it. I regret not reading it sooner.

In today’s post, I thought I would share some messages from her remarkable book, which is based on hours of interviewing Eugene de Kock, “the man whom many in the country considered the most brutal of apartheid’s covert police operatives, ‘Prime Evil'” (p. 4). Here is the guiding question: “How can we transcend hate if the goal is to transform human relationships in a society with a past marked by violent conflict between groups?” (p. 15). (In order to better understand the context, you may wish to read a brief synopsis of Apartheid.) She answers, “This question may be irrelevant for people who do not have to live as a society with their former enemies. But for those whose lives are intertwined with those who have grossly violated human rights, who sometimes even have to live as neighbors with them, ignoring the question is not an option.” (p. 15)

Through her many hours of conversation with de Kock, along with her own recollections growing up in Apartheid, Gobodo-Madikizela helps her readers understand this: “If memory is kept alive in order to cultivate old hatreds and resentments, it is likely to culminate in vengeance, and in repetition of violence. But if memory is keep alive in order to transcend hateful emotions, then remembering can be healing.” (p. 103)

She continues in chapter 7, titled I Have no Hatred in my Heart, by describing the victim’s triumph: “the decision to forgive can paradoxically elevate a victim to a position of strength as the one who holds the key to the perpetrator’s wish…the victim retains that privileged status as long as he or she stays the moral course, refusing to sink to the level of evil that was done to him or her…forgiveness does not overlook the deed, it rises above it.” (p. 117). She described experiencing this sense of triumph when interviewing de Kock.

Gobodo-Madikizela acknowledges that what happened through the TRC may not generalize to other contexts. Still, I believe that the powerful stories told and lessons learned surely have application, both in our individual and collective lives. To forgive is empowering; to show compassion to our enemies is transforming. It is not easy, nor does it come quickly, but it can repair human brokenness, again both individually and collectively. I will carry her lessons with me as I move throughout this country, as well as when I return home.


Test & Township Tuesday

Tuesday started with our second test in Global Psychology. You can see the students writing away in the first photo (along with our new classroom at GHS, and Rosie the GHS cat in another photo). This test covered topics such as indigenous psychologies (i.e., understanding people in a cultural and global context), alternative psychologies (e.g., liberation psychology of Latin America), qualitative research methods for a global psychology, and psychotherapy within a cultural/global context (being a clinical psychologist, this was my favorite topic and I rambled on quite awhile).

After a break, we launched into the final segment of our “term” and then worked on a group project for awhile. They are working in pairs to investigate websites of organizations with a global focus (Crystal & Kjersten are reviewing Pathways to Peace and Kym and Jen are looking at One). On our last day of class, they will make brief presentations on what they learned, including a recommendation for how the organization could improve its impact based on things we’ve discussed in class. Also, they will write individual reflection papers on the experience. It’s hard to believe we are just over a week away from our last class (i.e., next Thursday).

Rashied collected us at half past one and took us on our long-awaited township tour. We drove to Langa Township, where around 350,000 people reside, and there is a 42% unemployment rate. This area existed as a work camp before Apartheid; men would go to work there and live in crowded “hostels.” Then it was used to segregate blacks during Apartheid. We first stopped at a community center, where we met our local guide, a woman my age named Mpumie (say “Poomie”). She took us through the center, and we saw a pottery project where the proceeds benefit the community. Children can come here to learn crafts and other trades for possible future employment. Very practical.

We began our walking tour with Mpumie on this cloudy and chilly afternoon…we were quite the spectacle walking down the streets, often drawing looks, waves, and smiles from the children who were walking home from school. We learned that the people of Langa live in one of three “classes” (i.e., low, middle, and upper [referred to as Beverly Hills]) and corresponding types of homes with various levels of government ownership and subsidies. Before we went into the homes, we were educated on the delicacy of sheep heads and got to see a bit of the cleaning and de-braining process (gulp). I was very thankful we weren’t offered a sample.

The low class residents live in the old hostels, which were pretty challenging to behold. Inside these run-down concrete structures, 16 families live in each unit. Two or three families share each bedroom, and there is a communal dining room (see photo of the concrete table) that doubles as a sleeping area for children over age 8. Mpumie talked a lot about how children engage in sexual behaviors at very early ages due to what they see in these living conditions. This contributes to high rates of teen pregnancies and HIV/AIDS, among other things. These hostels were dark, cold, and depressing, though Mpumie reminded us that they have running (cold) water and flush toilets, so they are better than living in the rural villages.

The middle class homes are better, of course, though still very small and simple. Some were in better shape than others. Teachers might live in such accommodations. The upper class homes are nicer, yet understated by our American standards. Mpumie said that doctors, lawyers, and nurses live in these types of homes. They stay in the area because it is where they are from…Langa is their community.

We continued to walk on and got to the shanty part of the township. I was prepared for what we would see, as Reed and I toured a shanty in Soweto, a segregated part of Johannesbug, about six years ago. Shanty towns are where the structures are made out of whatever materials can be gathered…wood, corrugated tin, cardboard, etc. I guess it is a lower class than the low class hostels, as there is not running water or flush toilets in the homes. Again, it was hard to behold these living conditions. However, Mpumie said she chooses to live here over the hostels due to the less crowded living quarters. She moved from the hostels with the birth of her first child, nearly 20 years ago. Wow.

She told us about how rain water runs through the homes, as does the wind of course. People were standing around open fires outside for warmth, and she said that the fires are brought indoors this time of year, and often the structures catch fire and are quickly consumed (& firetrucks can’t access them). Mpumie also spoke of their “friends,” the rats. She proudly noted the row of clean toilet facilities (i.e., like our honey buckets/port-a-potties) and water taps around the shanty town. There was also a community gathering place where you can catch up on all the latest gossip. Some things are universal, aren’t they? 🙂

We had one more stop in Langa: to the “Sangoma,” or local healer. A sort of medicine man, he is the one people turn to in times of sickness, possession of evil spirits, and romance problems. We all entered his dark, strangely smelling cargo container (what most of the small business use for a structure). I saw our guide slip him some cash, at least 100 Rands. We sat and listened to him tell us tales of his ancestors, snake oils, and potions. I felt skeptical as I saw the many empty vodka, gin, and whiskey bottles, but at the same time I believed in his importance to the local people. He clearly is someone they turn to for hope and healing amidst the suffering and despair.

When we got back into the familiar and comfortable setting of Rashied’s van, a few comments and observations were voiced. Jen thought her brother would have loved the animal bones and snake skins hanging from the ceiling. Kelsey offered to share with us her good karma as the Sangoma had just whisked away any lurking evil spirits from her with his buffalo- and cow-tail hand brooms. Courtney honestly exclaimed, “I could have lived my whole life never having done that.” 🙂

The next part of our tour was a drive through the Guguletu Township; a nearby community of around 280,000 colored people. Remember that this term is not used as we do, with a negative connotation, but rather to describe those who are neither black nor white. Many Muslim families reside in this township, which looks to be more of a middle- and low-class blend, though not quite as impoverished as the hostels and shanty towns of Langa. Rashied said it is where the Langa people would go if they could afford a dinner out with friends.

As Rashied delivered us home to our suburban residences, we had much to think about…I learned a lot from Mpumie about choices, priorities, and quality of life. I saw a lot of entrepreneurial and creative spirits surviving in living conditions that would probably do me in. I observed a lot of people living with a lot of disadvantages. I think of them now as I type this on my iPad, in a lighted comfortable (albeit chilly) home, my belly full from a warm dinner of vegetables and meat, almost ready to brush my teeth and go to sleep in my private quarters (under five blankets).

Why do I complain about doing laundry, vacuuming, or getting groceries? Why do I moan about traffic-jams and busy-ness? Why would I ever not want to go to work? Why does not having Internet at my home stay frustrate me? Why does my routine get me down sometimes? Why do I reach for my water bottle with the slightest thirst? Why am I grumpy if I don’t find a good parking spot? Why do I whine about ANYthing? I am blessed far beyond I deserve…far more than most of the people in the world.

May this time in Langa today – just as my time in the countryside of Swaziland last month and again in a couple of weeks – cause me to be ever mindful of what I have been given. Much is asked of me; of us. May we not be idle but be active participants in our global community. May we see a need and meet a need each and every day. May we continue to ask, what can I do at this point in time for this one?