On July 18th, 2021, Mandela Day was observed and people across the globe were encouraged to spend 67 minutes donating their time and efforts to benefit others. Lockdown laws in South Africa and elsewhere limited how people could traditionally gather as companies, organizations and communities to contribute their 67 minutes. But, as it turned out, South Africans in parts of the country did spend Sunday, July 18th together doing their bit. Many gathered to continue their efforts to clean up the devastation that remained after a week of looting and violence that had brought KwaZulu-Natal to its knees and threatened to do the same to Gauteng, the economic heartland of the country. Mandela would have been heartbroken by the week that led up to this Mandela Day. But as the week drew to a close and the violence calmed, his heart would have warmed at the sight of the residents of these Provinces coming together to clean up each other’s neighborhoods, streets and cities. The events that preceded Mandela Day were both warnings of the fragility of our democracy and a reminder that it is the people who hold this democracy to count, guard it and clean it up.
Pause. Take a breath.
In the past few years and, more urgently, in the past months and weeks, some Americans have used the language of division to describe the United States—a "divided society." We are and have been. Using these kinds of labels helps, I think, because they allow us to begin giving language to our problems and then open up possible solutions. We have many fractures. There's not one thing that divides us. In other countries, people speak more freely of identity-based conflicts—sectarian, racial, and ethnic. We, too, have identity-based conflicts—this is one legacy of our unredressed history of racial injustice, violence, and oppression. We are also divided by additional vectors of inequality and we are divided by partisanship.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
2-11-19 (November 2, 2019) will be a date South Africans remember for a long time. Not because everyone is a rugby fan. Not because all South Africans followed the Springboks’ journey through the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Not because every South African watched the 90 minute final (although, by all accounts, millions of us did from all over the land, in fan parks, in homes, taverns, bars, and restaurants). 2-11-19 will be remembered because the South African Rugby team’s World Cup victory reminded us how far we have come as a country and the victory gave us hope again.
Topics: South Africa
South Africans, like many people in the United States right now, and many in Colombia and the United Kingdom, have been thinking deeply about who we are, where we came from, and where we are heading as a country. In 2016, South Africans also woke up, one morning, to a changing shift in the political landscape—a view we had become accustomed to. What seemed unlikely once was now before our eyes. Local government elections saw major cities across the country, including Pretoria, the seat of government, now in the hands of the opposition. Where once race divided our votes, now the need for an accountable, honest, and committed government has begun to unite us.
“In conversation, we were all able to see and understand circumstances beyond our own..."
In 2011, when I was 13 years old, my family and I traveled to South Africa. My dad was born and raised in Cape Town. In 1976, the Soweto Uprising and corrupt Apartheid government prompted his parents to move their family to Toronto, Canada. During our trip, I spent time in Khayelitsha, Langa, and Gugulethu, black townships near Cape Town, with children close to my age who shared many of my interests. I was struck by their harsh living conditions and bleak educational futures relative to my own. The connections I made inspired my desire to make a positive difference. But, at the time, I was in middle school and I had no clue how.
Over the last few weeks, South Africa has been rocked by xenophobic violence.
According to The New York Times, approximately five million immigrants have settled in South Africa since the end of the apartheid in 1994. Many are refugees, or are pursuing economic opportunities in the country, which has become a relatively stable multiracial democracy. Many native South Africans are greeting these newcomers with prejudice, hatred, and violence—destroying local businesses and in some cases committing murder. Today, South Africa’s immigrant population lives in fear.
Unfortunately, the trend is not new. In 2007, a year before xenophobic attacks would break out nationwide, violence erupted in the small township of Zwelethemba, about two hours from Cape Town.
A Facing History teacher at the local high school recognized that his community was in crisis.