Friday, October 15th, 2010
Yesterday, Talitha and I entered a heavy, sober, prison-like stone building. But not together. One of us passed under a sign that read “whites,” the other under “non-whites.” I haven’t seen signs like that in 50 years.
Nor are they elsewhere today here in Johannesburg. We were at the Apartheid Museum, trying to understand more about official policy established in the 1940s that labeled every South African as black, white, coloured or Asian. These groups lived fairly separate lives before Apartheid, but now it was required by law. The whites had the privileges; the non-whites had little.
I would be foolish and presumptuous to speak authoritatively on people and history which I know so little about. So I will just record some of my impressions and thoughts as we walked through the Apartheid Museum–impressions that weave together with my own history.
1. Old images of battles between the incoming Europeans and the native peoples of South Africa could just have well been images of battles between Native Americans and incoming Europeans.
2. The only mention of slavery that I heard or saw was of Europeans bringing slavery with them. In whatever ways that may have changed slavery, there was no acknowledgment that slavery already existed with Africans enslaving other Africans.
3. In the town I grew up in, the blacks and whites lived in separate parts of town, as they did here during Apartheid. In South Africa, it was dictated by law. In Georgia it was de facto.
4. Apartheid made it illegal to marry across color lines. That was true too in parts of the US.
5. I watched a video in which a politician argued for the establishment of Apartheid. He justifies it because of the need to protect “our future generations.” That stopped me in my tracks–the idea of one group of people deserving protection at the expense of all others. And yet, it was not a new idea and there are still people in my own country who feel the same way.
6. I had to ask myself, Which is worse? Europeans invading South Africa and subjugating the native peoples for more than a century? Or Europeans invading America, subjugating the native peoples and also importing another group of people as slaves and later treating them too as inferiors? I find it difficult to balance one set of evils against another.
The event that is the symbolic landmark of the end of official apartheid was the election of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994. As Talitha and I left the museum, I put my arm around her shoulder, thinking: If we had lived in South Africa when Talitha was born or in the US only a few years earlier, she would not have been our daughter.
I am thankful that much has changed in South Africa and in America. And there is much to keep praying toward.
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