We Were Made To Be As Toys
With the advent of semi-regular internet access at home, I have come to realize that, thus far, my posts have been concerned primarily with irreverent stories, descriptions of my surroundings, new experiences, and the like. In general, they have been very “me” focused; and this has been fine by me given the circumstances. In a sense, they doubled as a journal; at their best, mini-narratives emerged. However, I’d like to move away from that a bit to spend more time dissecting aspects of South African (hereafter SAfrican) culture. And I want to start with Apartheid.
[Preface: in addition to the requisite PC disclaimer somewhere on the front page here, I must also emphasize that it’s not my wish to offend anyone, especially my SAfrican friends, and that what follows is obviously based upon my limited exposure thus far.]
In addition to bearing the unfortunate status as the most immediate word association for South Africa, Apartheid is easily the most salient piece of history for the modern SAfrican public. Discussed everywhere, by everyone, and in every possible format and venue, the legacy of Apartheid has left not an indelible mark but an elephantine, two-toned scar upon this country.
One expects that fifteen short years after the official end, its shadow would still loom large. An organized, complex, socio-
political program designed with the explicit intent of subjugating and devaluing the entirety of the ethnically non-European population – and one that was successfully implemented for more than fifty years (and, unofficially, four times that) – is not simply washed away by the rains. After all, it has been more than fifty years since the Civil Rights movement in America and we are still coming to terms with the lasting effects of discrimination and bigotry (see the 2008 presidential election).
Yet, that is not the only reason for its continued relevancy. Rather, its memory lives on in Reconciliation: the process by which SAfricans have attempted to confront, cope, and ultimately work through the lasting effects of Apartheid. In fact, the topic of Reconciliation pervades virtually every sphere of society. It impacts everything from rugby to farming, encompassing politicians to peasants in the process. And when it escapes direct conversation, it remains the white elephant, the 900-pound gorilla – pick your metaphor – in the room. In a country besieged by corruption, the additional element of Reconciliation further undermines societal development. At times, it seems as if South Africa is crippled by its own inability to move forward. It is paralyzed by its nightmares and dark memories. And its not simply the ghost of Apartheid, Reconciliation, that haunts the country, it is the beast itself.
Apartheid is alive and, if not exactly well, certainly far from quitting South Africa. Surely, it is weakened – by the new constitution, Mandiba, and fifteen (more or less) successful years of democratic self-rule in which the majority of the historically disenfranchised population claimed dominion over their future and took real steps forward. Through Reconciliation, SAfricans attempted forgiveness, demonstrated brotherhood and compassion, and genuinely put the past behind them.
But that was not the case with everyone and, so, the beast returned. In conversation after conversation, I have been discomfited by the inevitable turn they take toward the same topics, the uncomfortable generalizations that arise, and the casually prejudiced tone employed. As several teachers have told me, Apartheid officially ended fifteen years ago but it never really went away. And as if that wasn’t difficult enough, Reconciliation seeks redress for many injustices still being perpetrated today.
Tuesday, I sat in on a 7th grade EMS (Econ, basically) class at one of my schools. A runner and fellow fan of all things musical, the teacher is quickly becoming a good friend of mine. Part economics and part history lesson, “Lucky” followed the prescribed lesson plan guidelines to a T, expounding upon the economic effects Apartheid had on South Africa. He discussed the external effects (i.e. the international sanctions) before moving into the internal economic consequences of suppressing the potential of millions of human beings. It was something he and I had discussed previously, privately; so when he asked me if I had any questions, I prompted him to “tell us” what it was like to grow up and go to school during Apartheid. This is a question I have asked almost every teacher at both my schools, but I will never forget his reply. He said, “We were made to be as toys.”
How can a country care for its citizens if they cannot respect each other? How does a democracy function in which one group perceives another as of a lesser value? Is it even a democracy? How do we write our future if we cannot learn our past? While today my thoughts are of my host country, it is not a far cry to the inequality that exists in my home nation. When we snip the bud of human potential, the efflorescence lost lingers for generations.