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Apartheid: What a Concept?!

Jan 17, 2011 — Categories:

I am only just beginning to understand the historical reality of apartheid that was instituted in South Africa in 1948 and continued until 1994. Since only white people could vote, in 1948 they voted to divide all the people by race and to separate each group from the others. The white minority controlled government and business.

I am only just beginning to understand the historical reality of apartheid that was instituted in South Africa in 1948 and continued until 1994. Since only white people could vote, in 1948 they voted to divide all the people by race and to separate each group from the others. The white minority controlled government and business, but prior to the new law of separating groups, there were a number of communities that were racially mixed with people living together as neighbors.

With apartheid, people were labeled by race: white, black, colored (mixed race) or Asian. The primary purpose of this labeling was to separate people from each other. District 6Of course an economic purpose of apartheid was to create a laboring class who were limited in their activities and paid poorly if at all to support the lifestyle of the white minority. Families were forcibly removed from mixed communities and settled in a separate place. In Cape Town, the whites decided they wanted some prime property near the waterfront for “whites only” development. The problem was that this property was occupied by 3,000 people in a township called District 6. But this problem could be solved: the government decided to demolish this community and move the people to the outskirts of Cape Town. This blatant disregard for the well-being of people and families was an outrage.

There were several churches and mosques in District 6 scheduled to be demolished along with the homes and businesses. But some churches and mosques organized and resisted the demolition even as the bulldozers stood by. Today these churches remain vibrant faith communities and most of their members return from the far-away places to which they were displaced, e.g. predominantly the Cape Flats.

But what was brilliant about this social engineering plan was that from the beginning it was structured to divide and conquer the various groups of people of color. The coloreds and Asians were given some privileges and the notion that blacks lacked intelligence was promoted. And of course they were kept separate from each other socially, so there was little opportunity to learn about each other or organize politically for change--so the apartheid government believed. Yet the demarcations and propaganda did not deter countless people of all races, religions and orientations to organize a resistance movement that brought down apartheid and is helping create a colorful democracy.

While South Africans have a long way to go in terms of healing from the deep wounds of apartheid, the vision of “unity in diversity” urges most to engage the challenge and hope of creating this new reality. For people of color there remain layers of oppression to be uncovered and healed. For whites there remain deeply entrenched beliefs of entitlement about superiority to be unearthed. All South Africans and the peoples of the world are invited to cultivate Ubuntu, the ancient African way of being human through each other.

The parallels for those of us in the U.S. are obvious. Our long history of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the civil rights struggle continue to shape our everyday lives, even as we remember this year the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. We also celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this month and pause to remember with gratitude the sacrifices of so many who came before us with a dream of justice and peace.District 6 - Marie and Elizabeth

After a discussion with the National Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities in Johannesburg, I was presented with a 3-foot tall figure of a black South African woman, which I treasure. I asked my friend Elizabeth Petersen, Founder of SAFFI, to name her and she did: Makubenjalo. It means “My wish is for peace and for healing in the hearts of the people. I want to see it in my lifetime. I am ready.”

We are indeed ready.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

With Elizabeth Petersen
South African Faith and Family Institute (SAFFI)
saffi.org.za

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District 6

Posted by Goldie Silverman at Jan 18, 2011 06:09 PM
We visited District 6 also in 2004. At that time, the land was barren except for the few churches that were left standing. One of the churches was a museum that told the story of what had happened there--a must visit for anyone who goes to S. Africa. But land around--nothing. It was as if the land was tainted, and no one wanted to build offices or businesses or homes there.

Apartheid: What a concept?!

Posted by Rev. Teresa Burnett-Cole at Feb 22, 2011 07:59 PM
You may not know the sad connection between South Africa and Canada. South Africa modelled their apartheid system on Canada's reserve system. While South Africa is healing, Canada still hasn't dismantled its apartheid of exclusion.