Mike Stewart Jr., Stephanie Tisdale, Melvin Barrolle, & Nate Mathews
The Liberator Magazine 3.4 #08, 2004; & 4.1 #9, 2005
Mike: June 17
What are my expectations?
“Mike, are you excited,” “Mike, are you ready?” My answer to all of these questions up until this point has been that I simply don’t know. Not that I didn’t want to say, yeah this is about to be the jump off or I think my life is definitely about to change, but the truth of the matter is that I really have not had time to think about it. I really have not had the time to assess the significance this trip might have on me. Lately I have been immersed in the reality of capitalism: working non-stop, no time for family, no time for leisure, no time for self. But now I am forced to acknowledge this ensuing journey and to get my mind right.
Here I am on an airplane, facing the longest trip I have ever experienced, headed to a place I know very little about. I have always wanted to go to Africa. Now, however, that I am physically on my way there, I don’t feel the excitement that I had expected to feel or what others told me I would feel. Rather I have experienced a sense of gravity, and solemnity has come over me.
I am on my way to the continent of the “original man” and all my eyes can see is the posterity of Europe. Even on the plane on my way to Africa, I am still in the minority when I had dreamt it otherwise.
I understand that South Africa was settled by the Dutch and then latter colonized by the English. I understand that Capetown, our final destination, is majority Caucasian. I am told that the university where we are supposed to be staying is fortified military style and that its occupants resemble the hue of cottage cheese. So in all honesty I don’t have any expectations. To the contrary, I just wonder.
From childhood I was told that American whites during the age of Jim Crow treated Africans with a certain measure of respect, while disregarding the humanity of the African-American. So I wonder how the Afrikaners, as the whites in South Africa call themselves, interact with their fellow countrymen, the indigenous South Africans, and I wonder How they will interact with us, the foreigners.
I was told that before my forefathers were slaves that they looked men in their eyes and recognized their manhood. I just wonder if it is true of those who remained in their tribal setting, if they, as a matter of nature, peer through the mirrors of men’s souls, I just wonder if such a thing is innate to them. In the end I pray that my curiosity is satisfied.
Today we arrived in Capetown, South Africa. The weather was beautiful. On the ride from the airport I could not help but notice that to the right of us the homes were just gorgeous while to the left of us there were these shacks. This sight helped to drive home what I read about the economic divided and how serious the disparities really are.
We went down the main road into a town named Rondebosch where I got my hair cut by a man named Francois for 15 Rand (South African currency). Solomon, the guy who runs the joint, and Imelda, who sells the phones, where cool folks. I met a beautician named Natasha who was just like any black girl back home -- all saddidy when a young man approaches her while in the company of her friends. It was interesting to see that they were watching Carmen, that Hip Hop opera with Makai Phifer and Beyonce. I thought I got away from the US? The more I talk to people and see more of the city the more I find that this place is extremely western: from the clothes they wear to the food they eat (chicken) to the architecture of the city, everything about this place reminds me of the photos and movies of the 1960’s. It’s a place on the brink of development yet so many people are suffering. People walk bear-foot in the city as if this is rural country. I know my feet would be blistered down if I walked bare-foot on pavement all day.
Today we were up early and out late. The first place on our visit was Hout Bay. Truly, this place was gorgeous. Just before we went on a boat ride, we saw on the docks 70 to 80 merchants of distinct African heritage. (When I use the term "African" now I must be careful because the whites who have been here for some three generations or more now consider themselves Africans as well, as was evident from our tour guide, Wayne, who has his “roots” in Zimbabwe -- formerly known as Rhodesia. He went to great lengths to emphasize that Africa is as much a part of him as it is a part of the Sotho, Zulu, or Xhosa people.)
We visited a historic place called District 6. We met the man who runs the museum there, Noor. The museum is this place where people who once lived in District 6 come back to remember where they lived and how a separatist government displaced them under the Group Areas Act of 1950. In the middle of the floor was this map of District 6 and each time someone who once lived there enters the museum, they place their name next to their address on the map, and they would write a short story or a Bible verse.
Noor explained to us how emotional this is for those who place their names on the map. With the fall of apartheid, the historical place known as District 6 is in the process of being resettled. Those who lived there will be given priority among those moving back. Noor himself, after being displaced for some 40+ years, has plans of moving back next year. I have been to many museums but the experience of the District 6 Museum will forever be imprinted in the chambers of my mind because the museum was not just a museum, it was also a monument to the people’s endurance and victory over a system that tried to dehumanize them. It stands as a testament to the world and, more importantly, to themselves that nothing can conquer the spirit of a determined and relentless people.
The last scenic place of the day was Rhodes Monument. This ridiculously large shrine overlooks the southwest section of Capetown including the University (UCT). It is set high in the mountains. Dr. Carr was explaining to us that UCT was the back yard of C.J. Rhodes. He spoke of Rhodes’ vision of constructing a train rail that would travel from South Africa to Egypt and said that it would have helped to further the damage of British colonization. Rhodes' rail didn’t get too far -- towards the end of his life he settled in a region which he later named after himself: Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe (Wayne's hometown). While Dr. Carr imparted his historical perspective of Rhodes, one student in our entourage could not get past observing the ability of a human being to seize the land of an entire people. It was as if the understanding that it took an immense arsenal and military backing did not penetrate their understanding. To the point of appeasing, the interrogative Dr. Carr, in his extra diplomatic way, kept trying to educate further through his suggestive didactic style. I don’t know how long I can take the bemoaning of one person’s opinion, especially when it is at the expense of the group's education. This is why I feel that listening, in and of itself, is a virtue and those who do not make a practice of it are worse off than those whose senses fail them.
Another member of our group thought it necessary to compose a piece of literature of quaint protest and post it on the bust of C.J. Rhodes. I didn’t understand why such a thing was thought to be fitting at the time, but with the history of South Africa as rendered from the mouth the professor, Doc C., I began to understand. Before this day I knew nothing of Rhodes. By day's end, I knew enough about Cecil John Rhodes to let me know that no foundation formed in his memory could ever give me a dime.
Steph: June 8th, 2004 2:30 a.m.
I'm thinking that everything happens for a reason because my intention was to spend the summer of this year in Paris. However, as fate, destiny, and all other mysterious powers would have it, I am actually preparing to travel to South Africa. This trip has surfaced at a time when my hunger for more has become consuming. The same old same old is getting to be so old and I keep feeling like there's more to this whole life thing.
I've been blessed to travel to Senegal, the Gambia, Ghana, Amsterdam, Egypt, and Israel and have found, in every place, a new taste, a different sound, an untapped feeling. Not perfection or even bliss, but a sense of learning something that I didn't know before. And, as if this weren't enough, I will be spending my 21st Birthday on a plane, traveling to the other end of the earth. The anxious, pessimistic part of me envisions a dramatic finale: the girl who thought she could journey across the globe and actually live to see it! But I believe that all things are divine and in order, so the best I can do is use my human intuition, letting it guide me in the direction I think I should be going.
I know that there is a reason why I will be in South Africa this summer. I'm thinking that it is my job to recognize what that reason is. In my partially-successful search to find information about the people--the indigenous African population--I have discovered that there are many who actually believe that South Africa is a European nation. Its original people are pushed to the periphery of not only the political and economic mechanisms of the country, but are even culturally marginalized. Thus, South Africa is very much so the mirror image of the United States: a place so fantastically created, it is unreal.
Nonetheless, I am not going for the politics. Or to understand the economic climate. I'm going because I am hungry. I want to know what manner of humanity lies in this place, at the very tip of a land mass that is home to the people who have been on earth the longest. If there is anything to learn or understand, it must be there. Even in the midst of the indignities which force young orphans to prostitute their adolescent bodies, or the desperation which allows adults to attempt to cure illnesses by defiling the innocence of their own children; and in spite of excessive unemployment, townships and displacement, or the engineered plaque that continues to take lives--these people continue to survive. How or why these things occur, I do not know. But there is something to be said about this place and the will of its people to press forward.
I am humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to travel to such a powerful place, significant in and of itself (with or without the "afrikaaners" or the Apartheid). I am interested in using this time to learn from my people: to understand what it is that they live for, what gives them strength. While I am not sure what twist of circumstances have made me who I am, nor have I pinpointed--as of yet--why it is that my life has taken this particular path, I know that besides living and dying, there is the space in between for learning and understanding. In my attempt to learn and understand, I hope to build bridges and make connections in ways that will be helpful to the people of South Africa.
Much of what I've read about South Africa has had to do with the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as the increase in crime and poverty. Somewhere between Sarafina and 46664, I've received bits of information which haven't led me any closer to a more positive perception of South Africa. However, the mystery behind such a place has caused me to wonder what South Africa is really all about. Besides being a country, or more precisely a nation-state, South Africa has had a history of blatant and unapologetic inequality manifested through one of the most exceptional systems of institutionalized racism. Coming from the United States I am quite aware of what racism looks like. Still, it is hard to imagine being discriminated against in my own land by people who aren't indigenous to that land. It brings to mind the plight of the Indigenous people of North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. So it is with conflicting images, personal fears and a certain sense of anxiousness that I embark on another journey, to a place that I have never been before in search of something that I have not yet identified.
I believe that there is a reason for everything and that all things happen according to plan, but I guess I just don't understand why I've had the opportunity to do things that some people will never get the chance to do. Such a blessing sometimes feels like a curse when you look around and see people struggling to make something out of their lives, struggling to find their purpose and not having the opportunity to even see something completely different, something that might change their lives or inspire them. It's hard to leave people behind and I struggle with that notion because I know that I am no better, no different, no more worthy than the next individual and there are so many who deserve to be in my shoes. So, with this journey comes an immense burden: a feeling of indebtedness to all those who have not only contributed to my existence, but survived.
We have arrived, safely might I add, in South Africa. Today has been very trying to say the least. As we stepped off the plane, we could see Table Mountain in the distance. From what I've heard, it is one of Cape Town's major attractions. After we took the airline transportation to the main part of the airport, we headed in to go through customs. Interestingly enough, Dr. Carr (of all people) was detained because his passport looked worn.
Now, I do not subscribe to too many conspiracy theories, but is intereting that someone like Dr. Carr considering his teaching style, political stance and intellectual ability would be prevented from entering South Africa. I've traveled to several places in very large groups and have never even seen that happen, especially to a US citizen. Even when I traveled to Israel in 2000 (pre 9-11 but still in the midst of heightened Israeli security) we were interviewed extensively before we boarded the plane and after we arrived, but no one was detained. I just think that it may be more than just a coincidence that Dr. Carr was detained.
Later... June 18
I know it's my first day here, but I really don't like it here. I really want to go home. After the airport decided to refuse Dr. Carr entry, we went to the University of Cape Town so that we could check our things in and get our rooms. After we got our bags and changed some of our money at the airport, we met our white tour guides. They seemed to be pretty cool at first; you know the typical "I have Black friends" deal. To be honest, I wasn't too comfortable around them because I wasn't sure what kind of white people they were. Some people think that there is only one kind of white people, and that is a hard premise to disprove. Still, I was more concerned with how they would treat us and what degree of racism we would have to encounter for three whole weeks.
Once we were outside of the airport, our baggage was loaded by a group of what I would later find out were Black and Colored workers. I found this to be interesting considering the fact that the Colored individuals looked Black to me. In America, if you even look like you might have an ounce of African blood, you're Black. The most you can possibly hope for is Puerto Rican at best or at least Puerto Rican looking. Anyway, I rode in the van with Wayne, who is actually from Zimbabwe. He proceeded to tell us all about how "we South Africans" love Nelson Mandela and about all the great things South Africa has to offer: how modern it is, how much it can be compared to the US. However, as we rode past a township, I saw the scrap metal houses and the crowded streets and I began to wonder what was really going on over here.
Learning the Language, Touring Table Mountain
Molo njani! That means hello how are you in Xhosa. We are here, a group of about 10 of us, six students from Howard. It is only our fifth day and already we have gotten deep into some of the problems, hopes, complications and contradictions in this 10 year old democracy.
The first thing we did when we got here was to tour the area and see all the touristy sites (you know, the tops of mountains, the penguins, the seals etc.) It quickly got old, but this is a beautiful place, breathtaking in its splendor and abundance. I can only imagine what the Dutch must have thought upon arriving upon the shores of what is now Cape Town. I try to imagine how a people fleeing the wretched wars and cold of Europe must have felt upon landing on these shores. Their awe so quickly turned to greed and entitlement.
There are four basic racial groups in South Africa, the whites or Europeans. the Coloureds, which are a mix of Muslims or Cape Malays or products of black and white interracial liasons. The East Indians (Gandhi lived in South Africa for a time) The largest group is black African people.
Though racial apartheid is officially over, it still is a very powerful force in determining ones life, because as one guy who led us around a township said,
"There has been no restitution or restoration of what has been taken from my people. You cannot have reconciliation without restitution."
People here seem to be walking on eggshells when it comes to race; me or other group members will ask questions about it and they will redirect the question, or answer it evasively, or simply say, "we don't do that anymore." Clearly there is much work to be done. Even our English tour guides, though nice, comparatively liberal whites, still talk quite condescendingly to blacks, clearly it takes some adjustment for them to view blacks as equals.
Visit to the township
But there is hope, people speak of it everywhere, in the same breath they talk about the huge problems. "We are like Moses's," said our guide on this afternoon's visit to Langa Township, "We only have a glimpse of what true democracy will be." he says this as we walk past shacks made of pallet board with roofs of corrugated iron. There are 8 public taps for 10,000 people in this township (not Langa, I have temporarily forgotten the name), and 5 families share a small outhouse which is emptied on a bucket system. Stray dogs are everywhere.
The kids come running up to us. Umbani ekama lako, I ask them in Xhosa (what is your name?) Umbani ekama lamu Nate (my name is Nate) They look at me and point, "umlungu, umlungu." Our guide laughs, "They are calling you white man."
We eat lunch at a restaurant called Lilapa (Sotho for home) and the owner tells us about working for four white bachelors for many years earning only forty rand a month. (One US dollar is worth about six rand).
She tells us she found out she was being robbed blind one day when she picked up a receipt for "two cheeses and a wine" and it was forty rand. So she started going to night school in addition to working two jobs, then quit her jobs because she couldnt stay awake in school. Afterwards she opened the restaurant. Her kin are in a band that plays for us while we eat, they play with three xylophones of varying size, a drum, and a singer. They take songs on the radio and make different versions of them, so we hear Santana, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", and "Hey Ya."
This is my first glimpse of America’s influence in South Africa. The culture is everywhere—in DVD stores at the University, CD shops with American hiphop. Of course its much deeper than that, American influence.
On the international market, South Africa might want to heed this advice when facing the deepening pressure of American-world-finance. Liliwane. Until next time…
Yesterday, we went to the University of Western Cape which is out past the airport and the Coloured townships, on the side of a largely empty looking highway. The campus houses the Mayibuye Center (Mayibuye is a Xhosa word meaning roughly "let it return" or "Africa to come back to the Africans") Here is housed a lot of the old files, videos, photos, and artifacts from the anti-apartheid struggle. Even here though, you can see how the social construction of history in the national memory is being accomplished. Everywhere in this 10 year old democracy you will find info and documents about the ANC, but it is much harder to find anything on the PAC or the speeches of Robert Sobukwe. Our guide at the center knew of hardly any info on the organization or the man.
Everywhere you go it is "Mandela, Mandela, Mandela." I'm not knocking him, but wait, there were other people in the struggle, too, right?
We were fortunate enough to see a video on Biko, in which he talks about the philosophy of black consciousness, nonracialism, and the role of students in the struggle, how students went into the township communities and began to build clinics and houses, to serve the people. On violence he says, "Conflict will only be avoided if they avoid it." In other words the level of violence is determined by the level of violence used by those who oppress you.
There was also a little bit of information on Sobukwe. The state detained him indefinitely after his release from prison. He was deemed too gifted and magnetic of a personality to give back to the people. Sobukwe's ideas on Africa and leadership based on, above all, "a consuming love for one's people" and his decision to always be around and with the masses of ordinary people, were inspiring.
Women In The Struggle
Women also played a central role in the struggle. From Winnie Mandela to Deborah Mabale to Helen Joseph, they have fought against apartheid as hard, (or many times even harder) than the men. Albertina Sisulu There is a saying that the women used to say to Afrikaner govt leaders (similar to SNCC activists singing, "ain't gonna let Bull Connor turn me round") "wathint' abafazi wathint' imbokodo uzokufa" That is, "you have touched the women, you have struck a rock, you will be crushed." I was also inspired to read a small bio on Harriet Colenso, an Anglican missionary who, much like the Spanish priest Bartolomew Las Casas, took the side of the Zulu monarchs in their struggle against the British colonial authorities. There are always cracks in the wall.
I went to a local Pentecostal church called His People with some friends we've made from UCT. The service was, surprisingly, one of the most racially mixed gatherings I've attended so far, and the music was on point. I am being serious when I say this worship band could have played the exact same music, different words, on a Saturday night and had the club hopping the same way the church people were. I guess that’s really no different from a lot of churches here in the U.S. The sermon was about "grace and truth" while at the same time the language of consumer culture was a profound part of it. "Don't be afraid to ask God for a car, two cars, a BMW and a Ferrari," he implored us.
Robben Island: A Lesson in Political Education
We've also been to Robben Island. The Hunger for knowledge and liberation embodied in the captive political prisoners was deeply moving. The length and width of Nelson Mandela’s cell is 20 feet by 20 feet and there is a plaque inside which reads: “with admiration and gratitude, your people of South Africa, nkosi siyamthanda umadiba.”
He and the ANC, along with imprisoned member of other liberation organizations (who ironically became more united while imprisoned than when they were on the outside. These liberationists organized education on the island, and stole cement paper bags to write lessons with smuggled pencils. And I complain about an eight o’clock class. And they (the ANC) even began to teach the warders!
Black Power in the political arena
A part of the whole puzzle of the current South Africa is the new black middle class that is being created in South Africa after 1994. The situation is maybe analagous to America right after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, when you have the creation of a similar class. The task and questions facing this emerging class is: how do I make use of these new opportunities for education and job placement, while still holding on to the people and culture which are the foundation for my success? At least that is one of the questions I've heard posed. That led to a whole interesting discussion about how some of this new class are refusing to teach their children African languages, wanting them only to learn English. Many of the students we've talked to see no contradiction between their new opportunity and the culture of the townships they were raised in-- they remember where they came from and are conscious of the weight of responsibility on their shoulders.
Much like the US, this class is being co-opted by the economic forces that still control the country. It remains to be seen if there will be a kind of tokenism similar to the US, and whether the emerging wealth gap will get wider or smaller. The people who fought against apartheid largely came from the elite, and they are now reaping the benefits of an elite-- several of them are multi-millionaires. But the masses have yet to see substantial differences in their day-to-day lives. If the promised land is indeed, over the next hill of a generation, then the college students at places like UCT are some future leaders of South Africa. That is the hope the people speak of.
Johannesburg, and the end of one trip, the beginning of another.
Driving from the airport we pass mountainsides utterly stripped of vegetation to bare yellow sand. Many thousands, actually maybe millions, of years ago, this was an inland sea, and over the eons gold was deposited on the reef. The hills which were once reefs are now mining dumps, slime pits which divide the various areas of metropolitan Jo'burg, eerie testaments to the greed of a people who used African forced labour to extract millions and millions of tons of earth. You have to extract on average something like 30 tons of dirt for just a pound of gold, so you can imagine how much earth has been moved over the years. The area was at first just small claims, until the Anglo-American company, which also owns De Beers diamond corporation began buying out all the land around 1886-87. Our guide told us that private companies own 100% of the mineral rights in South Africa, but the government is in negotiation to have them turn over 15% of that in the next 10 years, or it has threatened to nationalize the industry if they are not in compliance with this. To me, 15% seems like a beggarly concession considering how many millions have been stolen by these mining companies, but that is also another essay.
We pass the Chris Hani Public Hospital, the biggest public hospital in Africa if I'm not mistaken. A baby is born every 25 seconds here. According to our guide, 35-40% of them are HIV+. Moving through Soweto is like moving through an illustrated history of the South African freedom struggle. There is the Hector Peterson memorial, the museum dedicated to student protest through people like Tsitsi Mashini and the Soweto Students Representative Council, Nelson and Winnie's old house (Lincoln University gave him an honorary degree), Desmond Tutu's home, and the Walter Sisulu Dedication Square where the Freedom Charter was signed.
There is the constant reminder that this struggle is far from over, as we pass a squatter camp down below us running up to the edge of the embankment up to the highway. The houses are corrugated iron, patched with leftover wood from pallets, the roofs of the same iron, weighted down with rocks and old tires. We get out of the car to stretch our legs for a moment and kids come up to the car to say hi and beg for money. These children are the future of South Africa, the barometers for justice, and true restoration in this society.
The struggle continues, and as we fly back across the Atlantic, I am thinking of Robert Sobukwe: We are fighting for the noblest cause on earth, the liberation of mankind. They are fighting to retrench an outworn, anachronistic, vile system of oppression. WE represent progress. They represent decadence. We represent the fresh fragrance of flowers in bloom; they represent the rancid smell of decaying vegetation. We have the whole continent on our side. We have history on our side. We will win!
Wow, so I’m finally leaving the country and going to South Africa of all places. It’s still hard for me to fathom that I’ll be boarding that plane in a couple of days. While I’ve primarily seen clips and read about the struggles of Africans against the evils of apartheid, I am not particularly interested in black rage. It seems as if the fascination of black rage has become a lucrative market. Nowadays, bookstores are overflowing with literature detailing the intricate lives of folk who took a principled stand against injustice and inequality. There are stories of martyrs, life timers in jail, victims of state sanctioned terror and those that never made it to their 21st birthday. Yet, there is nothing exoticized about this rage for me. Growing up in my hood, I’ve witnessed the dire effects. The problem with black rage is that it is uncontrollable. Its organic nature coupled with survivalism makes targets of not only to those responsible for their condition but those who share it. Saddest of all, black rage determines. Dreams are deferred, excuses consume, and that most precious of life, hope, is compromised. Nah, I’ve seen black rage and my interest in South Africa at least for now is not that. Moreover, thus far my college experience has taught me that the current exigencies we as a people face are not definers of who we are or more importantly have been as a people.
While the problems we face today cannot and must not be ignored, it is important that we do not bind ourselves to the conceptual fetters of modernity because as the old maxim goes: “This too shall pass.” Hence, I’m going to South Africa not for militants, conspirators or the like. Not to say I’m eschewing this group, my level of respect for those that stand in the face of adversity is enormous, especially after reading up on the psyche of those European descended degenerates parading around the country preparing for a literal Armageddon-esque situation. On the contrary, what I am seeking in South Africa is to be around that so essential to life… people. As Archbishop Tutu is fond of saying, My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together. Expanding this to Africana exigencies, I look forward to seeing how American Africans are viewed in the imagination of South Africans. What are the shared cultural characteristics? Where do we diverge? When are those points of departure surface level and can they be scraped? These are queries that occupy my mind at this time. Ultimately, this trip will give me a chance to forge relationships with those in a country who I believe along with Brazil, Venezuela and Nigeria are the vanguard of the Africana movement to break the shackles of the 500-year room we as a people have been encapsulated in.
June 18, 2004
Alone with my thoughts once more: it’s the one constant in life that I can count on. I’m now aboard South African airways, traversing over the Atlantic Ocean, and will be arriving in South Africa itself in about ten hours. My emotions are mixed at this very moment. Because of the rigors of the McNair Scholar program, I never really got the chance to absorb wholly the fact that I’m headed to South Africa. Now that I’m on the plane, thoughts are running freely through my head. I’m not so much nervous as I am anxious. After reading different types of literature on the political and social landscapes in the country, I feel a little more apprehensive than before. Stories of collaborations between the Zulus and the old apartheid regime; the ANC’s acquiescence of certain policies to the business elites; the Colored's ambiguous position in the social scene, etc…
One thing I know for certain I don’t’ want to do is to go over there with a simplistic, romanticized view of the racial tapestry in the country by dividing the groups into neat categorizations of black and white which I’m accustomed to here in the States. I can’t help but wonder how my Liberian heritage will play a role in the way I’m perceived. I don’t want to use it as my in-card, especially since I’ve still never even visited the country but on the other hand I know that my ties to it shouldn’t be obscured or consigned just because of that fact. Overall, I guess I’m confused. It’s cool though. I’ve learned to become comfortable with confusion because it means that I’m trying to figure something out and my mind is furiously at work. So, I guess when I get there, I’ll be able to help either confirm some of my preconceived notions or invalidate them. Maybe, my mind is just working in overdrive and I’m theorizing that the situation will be a lot more complex than it will be. Time will tell.
June 19th, 2004
We’ve touched ground today in South Africa today. I was crazy excited by the fact that I’ve finally arrived to what felt like home even if it wasn’t Liberia. The continent by itself was enough. However, the excitement was a little short-lived as we realized the airport staff was refusing entry for Dr. Carr because of his worn passport. My anxiety quickly subsided, however, when I realized that everything was going to be ok. Wow, the girls are beautiful…and aggressive. Mike and I collected a rack of numbers from the staff in the airport. It was fun. We went to the barbershop today as a group so that Mike and Nate could get a haircut. It turned out to be our first blow-up within the group. It basically erupted because Mike and I were being very friendly to the guys in the barbershop and everything. Sam had a problem with this b/c she thought we were getting too chummy and giving out too much information to “strangers.” The pivotal point came when one of the guys in the barbershop mysteriously appeared in front of our dorm inquiring whether or not we were staying there. Steph and Sam then used that situation to get on me and Mike about our interactions in the barbershop and we responded. From that point it pretty much became a shouting match between all of us. Interestingly enough, like a Godsend, Dr. Carr was back at the dorm when we got back and was able to quiet everything down. I think all of us are on edge because we realize that were in a country literally by ourselves on a whole ‘nother side of the globe. It’s kind of scary. What’s even worse is that “Howard” hooked us up with these white tour guides so its not even as if we can feel like at least somebody has our back because after they dropped us off, they pretty much took off. Everybody is kind of walking on pins and needles right now and coupled with jet lag, it’s just a very tense atmosphere in the group. The differences between all of us seem to have gotten more accentuated in foreign land as we realize that none of us know each other very well except for me and Steph and Mike and Sam. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day.
June 20th, 2004
Well, today we went to the spot my brother Tonih’s been nagging me to visit, Table Mountain. It was cool. I’m not too crazy about heights but I managed to keep my cool for the most part. The biggest part of the day for me was the trip to the Cape of Good Hope. Upon arrival, we witnessed a band of baboons terrorizing the hard-headed Europeans who were told not to walk around with food in their hand because the baboons would attack them in their attempt to eat it. So what’s the scene when we arrive…baboons running around snatching food from Europeans who would attempt to defend it to no avail. Anyway, being at the Cape of Good Hope was like taking a journey back into time. Standing atop the cliff, I could actually imagine Dutch ships coming around the Cape in their ships and docking. I wonder, how they must have felt, observing all the beauty of the land. You would hope that the beauty would remind them that life although harsh in Europe, was going to be different now. You even hope that the landscapes, mountains, and bright blue oceans would purge all vestiges of that old social and economic cannibalistic order out of their souls. Yet, history provides a different story. Maybe Randall Robinson’s query needs to be explored a little more. Whether or not souls freeze in the cold is a valid inquiry judging from a historical standpoint. I remember standing there looking in awe at the fact I was looking at the place where it pretty much all began, at least for the South Africans. The convergence of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic; spices, raw materials and crops were now accessible to the European market and boy oh boy did they take full advantage of it. It’s ok. In one sense I understand how conditions can drive and inform that kind of mindset. So while not exactly placing fault on their ambitions, there is also the reality that Africans unfairly bore the brunt of that ambition, which is where we draw the line. Oh yeah, we also seen the penguins today.
June 21st, 2004
Our group went out to a restaurant tonight to celebrate Professor Kitty Ellison’s b-day. The restaurant was a trip. Prior to going, we had heard that it was one of the best places to go for indigenous food. Yet, when we got there, besides a few African dishes on the menu, the place seemed to be heavily Eurocentric. For instance, I got into a little quibble with the waitress over how I prefer my meat. She kept recommending medium rare for my ostrich while I rigidly held my position that I just can’t eat meat that’s dripping blood. I mean what African restaurant serves meat medium rare. In addition to that, the place was teeming with derogatory “artwork” such as pictures and sketches that depicted Africans with exaggerated lips, elongated foreheads and extremely dark-skin. It was a sort of minstrel refuge for whites who want to experience real Africans without shedding their ingrained biases towards Africans. Actually, the whole time there was pretty sickening. Nevertheless, I had fun on the dance floor with the rest of the crew as we danced for Kitty’s birthday. The momentous moment of the night for me was when a couple of kids with apparent gnawing stomachs walked by outside and waved furiously to us, probably realizing we were Americans. One of the worst sites to see is a kid who is hungry. Knowing how that feels, it makes me feel some kind of way to see hordes of kids with blank faces or others aggressively hustling black market products, in some cases drugs, just to secure a bite to eat for the day. It has literally made me sick to my stomach. It’s so weird because only a couple of years ago, I was that kid with my friends stealing from neighborhood grocery stores and whatnot to satiate our hunger; now, I’m in South Africa, with enough cash to sustain myself, eating out of fancy restaurants watching kids go through similar, matter of fact, much deeper situations. It simply took my appetite away. It’s a struggle because I have to keep reminding myself to not regret the position I’ve assumed. Moms and Dr. Carr have been instrumental in this process because they’ve never let me forget that I didn’t arrive here by my own volition but, through the sacrifice of others. Still, it’s hard. It rips my heart to witness these things and feel so helpless to put an end to it. I’m still trying to make sense of it. Just to add a little supplementary info, our group met with Dr. Carr tonight to go over the curriculum. The conversation, for whatever reason, swung to his role as a professor and the dedication that he brings to the table everyday. I didn’t really say anything but I did want to thank him again for the work that he does on an everyday basis. I truly do feel lucky that my stint at Howard has been concurrent with his tenure. While the wisdom he espouses daily, in addition to the quality time he gives to each student, his greatest attribute is still the way in which he carries himself everyday. Just by him being a model for how intellectual work through his mundane activity should look is enough for me. I truly appreciate him.
June 22nd, 2004
Wow. I was just a part of an in-depth candid discussion on the Aids crises in African communities around the world. Before the discussion, I had simply consigned the issue to the backburner, citing it as another conspiratorial scheme to kill black people. Today, however, this UCT student named Memelo made the issue that much more real for me. She talked about the real aspects of the virus and the ramifications its having for the black community; things such as the wiping out of groups aged 14-25. The conversation swung to the effects of the media, cultural postures in African communities and the widespread denial of the virus by black people. The conversation really served as a wake-up call for me. Although, I’ve been blessed to be raised correctly by my mother and never engaged in any high-risk behavior; the conversation encouraged me to maintain that focus I’ve held thus far. At any given moment of weakness you can be signing a suicide contract by having sex, protected or unprotected, if you don’t know your partner’s status for sure. That was real deep. Earlier in the day, we went on a mini-tour of UCT. The interesting part of the tour was the discussion that ensued. The UCT staff set out to give us a quotidian lecture probably given to every tour group at the end of their tour. However, the Dean and some of my peers had some tough questions to ask that rattled the staff a little. There were concerns about the paltry percentage of African (Black) students who attended and even moreso their inclination towards concentrations like Engineering and Computer Science; totally eschewing the humanities for its “non-pragmatism.” Our argument was that if the African students were being given bursaries for solely mechanical fields then what is the purpose of a university. Those very students may as well attend a technical school that specializes in only those fields. The UCT staff, to be fair, did provide fair answers to the questions being hurled at them. Unfortunately, these answers were disheartening and reflected the grim reality of today’s South Africa. A South Africa, nominally different but structurally the same as the Apartheid era.
June 23rd, 2004
Our group, who had been screaming “township, township,” finally got what we wanted. Yet, some of us were not able to handle the harsh reality of the townships. It’s one thing to read about the neighborhood or to even see it in pictures, but to see young kids and adults living in such squalor conditions is unsettling. Some say it was good that Wayne and Pete took us to all of the “nice” places in Cape Town earlier so that we could have something to contrast the townships with. Although, I agree, the contrast was overwhelming. I literally had to desensitize myself so that I wouldn’t break down emotionally. The experience touched a raw nerve in the entire group. For the first couple of minutes, everyone’s face was real solemn as they tried to make sense of this untenable gross inequality right before their very eyes. We all began to loosen up however, when the tour guide of the Gugiletu Township, Thando, explained to us how ‘circumstances have not circumscribed their ability to be..’ It was a very moving statement, reminiscent of blacks in reconstruction, or during the New Deal and Civil Rights. What probably hurt so much for most of us was the fact that these people, regardless of the predicament they found themselves in, still found hope that this was just a moment which would come to pass. It hurt for many of us because I think deep down we all know that American Africans have lost that hope. This came out during a de-briefing session that our group had later on that night when Sam broke down and began crying, attempting to make sense of all of it. I feel for her. We all are. The parallels she kept making between American slavery and the present-day conditions of South Africa were striking. Dr. Carr put it in perspective, stating that there has still never been a candid discussion of American slavery, thus when we see the suffering of the South African people over here, it becomes a conduit in which we use to channel some of our pent-up emotions. The township of Langa was a little easier to swallow because of the developments that we seen taking place there. Once aware that the houses were being placed under their ownership, the amount of work put into the place seems to have shot up tremendously. I wasn’t here before so it would be pretty difficult for me to compare and contrast, but from the way I perceived the situation, people looked to be getting together and taking a renewed pride in their property through decorating, constructing and fixing their houses. This pride probably existed when they had first moved in; before the Afrikaner police in their Trojan-horse style raids would routinely remind them through bulldozing and periodic aggressions of terror that the property was not theirs. Interestingly enough yesterday was the best day of my trip. Regardless of the conditions observed, I finally felt at home, at least outside of the UCT campus. The lunch we had in the other township Langa solidified my feelings of finally being in the real Africa. This Africa was the one I came looking for, irrespective of its negatives and contradictions, this Africa spoke to me. It engaged me mentally, spiritually and emotionally simultaneously, while dignity permeated throughout most of the townships. Yes, call me an afrocentrist or a romanticizer, but we are definitely a royal people. Dignity and the art of being civil is something that can not be brought with money. It’s a cultural posture. It’s Africa. It’s my frame of reference for being.
June 24th, 2004
Tonight, I just didn’t feel too well. My peers went out to explore the nightlife in Cape Town. I think I’m coming down with the flu.
June 25th, 2004
The day was very overcast in terms of weather and our ventures reflected that. First, we went to a vineyard in Stollenbosch, the Afrikaans stronghold, for a wine tasting excursion.. It was actually good that I was a little tipsy because the fuzziness blocked the naked racism we witnessed as we traversed through Stollenbosch. There were no smiles for our group as we walked around looking for a suitable restaurant to eat at. Almost all of the signs were in Afrikaans and the University of Stollenbosch we heard taught only in the Afrikaans language. Finally, face to face with the Boer trekkers. We’ve been hanging around the “friends of negroes,” the English, since we arrived but now we were in Dutch descended land who, like Israel, heeded their God’s calling to conquer African territory by any means necessary. After lunch, we experienced a surreal moment. Our group went into a Dutch museum that had constructed four houses that dated back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Going inside the house was eerie because I felt so many spirits inside. Each house possessed a slave quarters area. The inside of the houses were decorated with mostly real furniture dating back to those times. I really felt sick to my stomach as we walked around the different houses and the tour guides explained the quotidian activities that took place in the house. The mistress would warm her feet in this room, and the husband would entertain guests in this room, etc… O.k. so like what were the Africans doing in the midst of all this supposed good living? It pained me to see how their sleeping quarters were in dire conditions right in the middle of overly excessive luxury. It’s ok though. Afterwards we ate seafood at one of the restaurants in the area. The food was grossly, or maybe the scene had permeated my taste buds. Whatever it was I definitely did not enjoy the meal. My disposition for the rest of the day remained sour. I couldn’t shake the museum tour out of my head. How could someone treat another so inhumane kept resonating though my thoughts until it hit me. It was simple. To the settlers, the Africans weren’t human.
June 26th, 2004
Tonight, I got some reading done and then went to a get-together held by some students from the University of Western Cape, the HBCU in the area. The event proved to be an interesting site for observation. First, we played a game called “boys and girls,” where we were all situated in a circle, a boy behind a girl. When boy was called, the boys had to rotate clockwise one space, in which we would be behind a different girl. For the girls, when girl was called, they would have to rotate counterclockwise one space, in which they would be in front of a different boy. This would go on for a little bit and then towards the middle, the pace would quicken to the point where both boys and girls would be running around in contradictory circles. Next, the person in the middle, holding a belt, would scream “find your partner.” Those who were unable to find their partner would be given whips from the belt on the backside until they were able to. The game perplexed me a great deal. It didn’t seem as if it was an indigenous game and it also seemed a little too young for this crowd, but there they were enjoying it, along with myself, nonetheless. After that game, we played some more games and then danced. Watching the whole scene take place, I kept asking myself if they were behaving immaturely or did I grow up too fast. Their demeanors were not menacing or scowling as is the case with most of my peers back home in this type of space. The group seemed carefree, even in the face of potential conflictive scenarios, as when the birthday boy was awarded with a cake to the face by his friend. In America, that type of action warrants at least a boxing match, as it is a symbol of “disrespect.” Yet, the boy took it in stride, laughed, and went about cleaning off his face before returning to eating his cake. Peculiar, huh. Even the dances performed, which carried heavy sexual innuendos in America, were merely dancing here. I mean, don’t get me wrong, brothers were still human and you could also see the sistas very aware of the attention they commanded when dancing. But, there was just a different atmosphere in the room…one that was not weighed down by hypersexual energy so prevalent in the States. My biggest realization watching the people interact was the fact that I’ve never really known what it felt like to be free. As a part of the caste minority the submission to the artificially created blackness in America is often unconscious. Every facet of our human activity is filled with conflictive notions of, “Is this me or is this something I think is me but informed by someone external (Mainstream American culture) to me.” The appropriation and exaggeration of our cultural practices into caricatures by the mainstream had made me extremely sensitive. Thus, although a dance may be just a dance, one has to question whether the sexual suggestiveness of the dance is a vestige of slavery or an African-informed cultural practice that extends beyond the American nation-state. Just these questions alone, however, unjustly dominate what should be a mere pastime activity. To always have to intellectually engage American African cultural practices becomes tiresome. The debates, forums, panels piteously attempt to validate or invalidate how Africans in America have sought fit to simply be. In this light, our very existence remains a query. A query which to me stems from the severed roots from the mother continent Africa, superimposed by the larger Western intellectual production and recently lapdog black intellectuals who get their paycheck solely by bashing “romanticized” ideas about Africa and circumscribing Africana existence to the United States. So, I don’t know what it feels like to be free. Like Bigger Thomas in front of the pool hall, in my attempt to figure these things out, black rage is a constant in my life. Being defined by someone else is never fun.
June 27th, 2004
Wow, I’ve just come back from a cook-in that some of our Tanzanian friends threw for us. The food was great compared to the garbage we’ve had to consume since we’ve been here. It’s crazy how it’s only the second time we’ve eaten authentic African food since we’ve been here, especially since it’s been about a week and a half. Anyway, at the cook-in I got into a discussion of politics with a Tanzanian named Dotto which was very stimulating. I learned so much about the sociopolitical landscape in not only Tanzania, but also Kenya and Uganda from the conversation. In exchange, I was able to break down some of the politics underneath the phenomenology of the United States and Europe. By the end of the conversation, we had pretty much exhausted each other’ s country’s history and were both amazed at the striking parallels that existed between all countries mentioned. I decided to push the envelope a little bit and mention how his first president Julius Nyerere, along with the other “founding fathers,” Nkrumah, Azikiwe, Nasser and Toure were attempting to consolidate their power through Pan-African coalitions to ward off European imperial interests. It was saddening to hear that Tanzania had gone back to being a mere cash-crop economy after the momentous introduction of the Ujamaa economic plan by Nyerere. My spirits definitely brightened during and after the conversation. I felt strong that this Pan-African agenda goes beyond mere intellectual discourse and/or popular conversation; it is the challenge of our generation to make it a tangible reality. As Dr. Clarke continued to state, “Africa is at the crossroads. It is the best and worst of times for us, the best of times because the opportunity is there to restore the glory of Africa and the worst of times because we simply don’t know it.” Throughout the course of the conversation, others joined in periodically. A brother from Kenya explained how corruption dominated former President Daniel Arap Moi’s tenure while a brother from Zimbabwe brought a little more clarity on the land reform situation being enacted by current President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. For me it was a glimpse of not only what could be, but what must be. If Wallerstein is correct in his theories concerning world systems, then Africa and her descendants scattered throughout the globe, do not have much time to establish theirs. For the first time in a while, I did not feel guilty for being in a privileged position, i.e., being a student at Howard University able to visit South Africa. My readings about international politics and general African history facilitated my gaining of trust from these folks who, just a moment earlier, were strangers to me. I have made a vow to study and read that much harder, because if God does have plans for me that involve me transcending the American nation-state and gauging the Africana “world” then I must be as skilled in the field as humanly possible.
June 28th, 2004
It’s so amazing how dignified and proud the Africans here are. This morning, Dr. Carr and I, went downstairs to the front desk to drop our clothes off to be washed. In his attempt to give a tip on top of the fee, Dr. Carr was told to put his money back in his pocket unless he had Rockefeller money and didn’t mind giving it away. This was fascinating to me because this was the same lady who had an hour-long conversation with me and Mike earlier in the week, describing the tediousness of her work in addition to the low wages she received. Yet, here she was rejecting a tip out of the understanding that we may not be a very financially endowed group. Dignity. It reminds me of yesterday evening at dinner with our Tanzanian friends when Mike attempted to pay for the costs incurred from the purchases of groceries and whatnot. While the Tanzanians explained gently that it wouldn’t be necessary, underneath the explanation to me it seemed was a slight offensive posture that couldn’t understand if Mike was being kind or brash American style. Now I know Mike is a good brother and definitely his intention was not to disrespect any of the guys by offering money. Moreover, in America that would be looked at as a very appreciate gesture. So I guess in this sense, its was a learning experience to see how other cultures conceptualize money and the value they assign to it. Clearly, in this case, money was not the dominant expression of appreciation as it is in America. In other news, we had class today at UCT which was real cool. The session was very interesting.
South Africa has been such an interesting experience thus far. The most rewarding moments have been the intimate conversations I’ve had with other African students and general people. It’s been one thing to read up on cultural similarities and retentions among people of African descent in the United States; but it’s been something else to empirically back these theories through conversations and observations of South African peoples. Our group keeps repeating how the experience has been real and surreal simultaneously. Most of our tours have taken us to suburbs similar to Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive. Others have encompassed trips to mountains, plateaus, wildlife venues and restaurants. Yet, just as Stephanie constantly points out, it seems as if we’re circling the city without actually penetrating it. I mean the scenery and everything is cool but you would get the impression that people are non-existential (that’s African people). For the few moments we have traversed to the center of the city, the glaring reality of the gross inequality inflicted upon the indigenous Africans has is almost always overwhelming. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sense of all of it.
June 29th, 2004
In class today we began discussing the text, The Head Negro In Charge Syndrome. The book, while lacking in clarity was good for its thematic lines the author, Norman Kelley, was able to provide. One must admit that the timing for the book is impeccable. Leadership and intellectualism alike in the black community is witnessing a degeneration of authenticity, dedication and passion. Falling into passive conformists, these “claimed” leaders and scholars, are engaging in empty work that merely criticizes the status quo without prescribing tangible ways to change it. Like athletes, they have become “market” figures, brought by the highest bidder who they subsequently become more accountable to than the group they purport to represent. A consoling fact for me is knowing that there are committed intellectuals continuing and extending the work of our ancestors. Those not content with venerating, but are set on emulating. They give me that most precious human resource, hope.
June 30th, 2004
We went to the Mayibuye center today. Here we witnessed some of the politics involved with the ANC in its attempt to black out the radical wing of the apartheid struggle. The director of the center began to tell us how the government is attempting to promote Robben Island a lot more while simultaneously obscuring movements such as SASO and PAC, and individuals like Steve Biko and Robert Sobukwe. Its sad to hear that. There was very little literature available on these individuals and their respective movements at the center. However, overstocked on the shelves were publications, photos, letters, memos and audio-visual files from Mandela, the “radical left” in South Africa, (UDF, trade unions, etc..) and worldwide movements that for some reason was centered solely on demonstrations in Europe. There was no mention of the role of the frontline states or other African governments that assisted like Guinea, Liberia and Egypt. Nor was there mention of the distinct role blacks in the Americas and Caribbean played in the struggle. Due was not given to the role of TransAfrica, the fundraising and boycotting, and the Pan-African dimension of the struggle. This disturbed me to my core. It also allowed for some inner reflection on the possibility of similar happenings in the States. The hijacking of the movement by conceding organizations like the NAACP and the National Urban League, whose vested interest in the opposition’s incentives fosters a compromising disposition. I’m not too optimistic; the ANC is beginning to mirror the NAACP in the States.
July 1st, 2004
I feel so empowered after today’s class. Dr. Carr has also proven to amaze me with his intellectual ability but I just realized today how lucky I am to have him as my professor in this time and space. We tackled an incredible dense book, Black Marxism, by Cedric Robinson today which expanded our perspective on the historical processes that have come to shape South Africa. The class discussion thus shifted from a reductionist perspective, that of analyzing South Africa within the confines of the nation-state to a geopolitical trajectory that took into account the global actors who were instrumental in the formation of that region and consequently remain covert agents in directing the country’s politico-economic spheres. As we gauged the text more intrinsically, the discourse took on an excited overtone. It was as if we just stumbled on the bones of the first hominid in this little small room. It’s amazing the effects that a single text plays in capturing the imagination of its readers. Eyes were radiating, and the wheels were churning inside everyone’s head as we began to put the pieces of the puzzle (history) together.
July 2nd, 2004
Our group went out to a club called 169 tonight. Partly because it was Friday, but, mostly because we were trying to get the club experience in South Africa before we left. The club scene was heavily American influenced, yet distinctly South African it its own way. Most of the music was what you would consider “American.” Artists like Cassidy, R. Kelly, Jay-Z and the like dominated much of the music selection with a scattering of dancehall and house every now and then. The dancing, while similar to the way we dance back at home, was a little more rhythmic and a little less sexual. While there was grinding, a lot of the people performed step routines with dancing partners, danced more loosely and were generally less uptight. Yet, being careful of not exaggerating the differences, the margin of difference was extremely small. For the most part the club scene here mirrored that which goes on in the States. There was still the gamut of dancers, from the most skilled to the folks who have mastered the art of looking cool on the wall so that dancing becomes neither here nor there. Brothers were still hounding the sisters for their numbers and the sisters were well aware of their attention their outfits commanded. The most glaring difference would probably be the pace. While all the canons of the space were similar to a black club in the U.S., the tempo was more deliberate. This was probably a reflector of South African culture which is decisively slower than the United States. The club did turn out to be very Anyway, earlier in the day we took a trip to the Parliament buildings for a tour of the vicinities. It was amazing to hear the changes that have been taking place here since the change of arms in 94. The women of South Africa are beginning to have more of a presence in the political arena and not in minor positions. Women now occupy positions such as the speaker of the house, MP’s, and other high ranked positions. Additionally, there is an influx of people with special needs, such as hearing or visually impaired, winning parliamentary seats. The entire excursion was exciting for me because I could see the inevitableness of black South Africans taking full reigns of this country. To read and hear about it is cool, but to witness it is incalculable. I left the building fully satiated. It’s a good feeling. A feeling seldom if ever felt in America.
July 3rd, 2004
The van has become the site for the most salient discourse between Pete, Wayne and our group. Beginning to feel very comfortable, the tour guides, particularly Pete, is becoming accustomed to letting his tongue loose. This evening, we went to a restaurant called African café, which was surprisingly good. The van ride however was another story. Pete, when queried about Zimbabwe, felt comfortable enough to roast President Mugabe and by extension almost every other radical African president who came to office in the wake of the independence movements…Machel, Kaunda, no one was spared. In one way I’m glad Pete’s true feelings are now being expressed but on the other hand, I’m not sure if I’m able to stomach all of it. I’ve never had a docile temperament so this experience is a bit new to me. Come to think of it, I’ve never been around white folks for such a sustained period of time in a long time. It’s very trying. Yet, if the professor and my comrades can do it, I think I can buttress enough willpower to endure it. Later on that night, we went to a bar, bearing the name, “The Crypt.” As was told to us, this used to be the venue for ANC internal exiles to meet and plot new strategy. The spatial dynamics are worthy of note. The bar is right below a church. What can I say, some cultures may look at it as a contradiction. Others see none. Afterwards, we went to a restaurant called African Café. The food there was surprisingly good. They served a motley of various foods from different parts of the continent communal style in large bowls for all to share. It was a nice touch.
July 4th, 2004
What do you do in the face of naked white supremacy…many people imagine how their reaction to situations are but it’s a whole different ballgame when you are in that space. It was only fitting that today, the so-called Independence Day of the American nation-state that our group would find ourselves in ironic spaces. For example, this morning, we attended church service at the Anglican Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. From the outset it was clear that this space while geographically located in Africa, was not African. The church had a very eerie feel to it from the moment you entered. In addition to the extremely high ceilings and somber ambiance, the temperature was chilly because of the old architectural style; the stones that assembled the building fostered a drafty atmosphere. The music was borderline morbid, odor had a peculiar bite to it, and the preacher, while in his fairness attempted to engage the congregation, came off as very distant. Put more succinctly, I didn’t feel God in that room. I began to imagine existing in Europe at a time when the Church, advancing fear for politico-economic reasons, enacted things such as purgatory in addition to extremely high tithes in regards to the salaries being accrued by these families. I have to question whether or not I would still believe in a God. (Fittingly, at dinner later that night, we had a conversation with a student from London who considered himself an atheist because of his “scientific/rational’ training). Yet, I wonder how much of it really lies in the displacement of religion via science. Although there is no real way to measure it, I wonder how much of their antagonistic views (in reference to atheists and sterile practitioners who use these religious banners as cloaks for vindictive acts, i.e., slavery, colonialism, etc…) stems from internal doubts that questions whether or not God exists because of their miserable plight in geographical locations, acutely harsh to humanity, that was in many ways a living hell for the vast majority of inhabitants. Just the fact that this church was supposedly a place of worship when from its founding through the apartheid era, people could feel comfortable residing here while committing atrocious acts against other human beings and feel no remorse is eerie.. But, going back to my encounter with naked white supremacy; after the church service, our beloved tour guides took us to one of their acquaintances to celebrate the fourth of July (an “American” holiday), Dutch or shall I say Boer-style. How’s that for irony. When we pulled up to the house, I could not believe my eyes. The house was huge with a fireplace and spacious backyard to boot. Once inside, the initial tension we felt outside ballooned to an unbearable awkwardness. First, we met the cook, an African women, who was exuberated to see black faces and had to tell us her correct name because the white lady had introduced her by a name more palatable to her lips. I say this because for me it was the utmost sign of disrespect considering that the cook was in her sixties and someone’s grandmother. After that fiasco, we went to the backyard for the “brie” (an Afrikaans word for bar-b-q) where they had conveniently ordered us some entertainment: two “coloured” guys who normally play in front of the mall to play the guitar and banjo. Not offered a seat, let alone a plate when they came, the scene sickened me to my stomach. They would then go on to play sets non-stop for the duration of the event, although we made a conscious effort to encourage breaks in-between songs. The dinner itself was indicative of the event. The meat was half-rare, whatever that means; I call it bloody, and the other foods were culturally specific like thick beef sausages and lukewarm lamb. (gag) This was coupled with a sheer display of uncouthness at the table. The lady had two dogs and a cat who periodically took turns coming up to the table and sniffing the food. There were also a whole rack of flies that found the food to be comfortable resting venues to no abhorrence. Hey, I guess since were all part of the animal kingdom, everyone’s welcome…except for those monkeys known as blacks. This brings me to the most revolting part of the afternoon, the conversations. For some reason, I got the strong sense that we were probably the first “blacks” to enter her place as for better lack of terms, human beings. We weren’t entertainers, cooks, or provincial help. This fact permeated all verbal interactions. The neighbor decided to come over to view the latest curiosity of the neighborhood. During the conversation, she made flippant gestures about the apartheid era, South Africans, and the general political environment of today that would have made the most stoic of us wince. To make it even better, we found out that she was a schoolteacher, who found it very simple to count off on five fingers the number of black South Africans, African immigrants and coloured’s that she’s ever taught. After all this, she then proceeded to tell us how nice South Africans (Afrikeners and British) really were and how their sole existence is to please. While my throat would not allow me to swallow that compost, I simply assumed a blank faceand let the words cascade freely, allowing me unimpeded access to her true character and disposition in regards to her views on South Africans. Her comfortableness, while helpful in terms of information, was also strongly unsettling and required a sort of mediation on my part to quell my emotions. The only way I can make it analogous is to compare it to visiting the houses of the Southern farmers during the early phases of the Reconstruction period. Anyway, all’s well that ends well. I was able to leave the situation more enlightened, unscathed and more focused on how important the work I’m doing is in the large scheme of things. I entered the house with a strong inclination of the depth of South Africa’s problem and tied to that, the last 500 years of the world’s dilemma. I left unwaveringly clear.
Monday, July 5th, 2004
Today I met a fascinating man named Mkusile. Macindy dropped him off at our lunch table and asked one of us to help him with his food. I immediately thought he must have been very old in age and therefore had problems with arthritis or something to that effect which made it hard for him to eat his food. Behold, behold to my surprise, I found out that he was blind. By no means did he take this handicap as an excuse to feel sorry for himself, although he was still relatively young. Like a typical African elder, he mesmerized us at the table with stories of his past, his family and the contemporary political exegesis of the African world. His stories were warmly engaging, irresistibly funny and filled with morale. He was able to weave brutal stories of apartheid with tales of African heroism that would hit you with an effect akin to an icy-hot treatment. At one point, some of the African students began to talk to him in their native tongue, Xhosa, and they proceeded to carry on a conversation with each other, tracing lineages through clan names to find out who each was. As we “American Africans” sat there feeling forlornly excluded from this conversation, Dr. Carr musingly remarked that this is what African Americans lost in slavery. This hit home for me. Beyond the academic debates that deal with issues such as the retardation of the African economy in the wake of the Triangular Trade or how many folks were transported to the new world. The most basic loss was staring us right in our face. Our inability to communicate with our bretheren through a tongue of our own. We were colonized by the very language used to carry out our dehumanization. While the residue of our native language remains in the form of Ebonics, over here, it just didn’t feel like enough. It was beneficial in our home land yet wholly inadequate in our “home land” if that makes any sense. I wonder how everyone from Howard felt at that moment. We all sat there patiently, some clearly attempting to match what little vocabulary that’s been picked up while here with some words they were using. Others simply sat with a polite smile plastered on their face betrayed by the forlorn look in their eyes. Even the ability to trace clan names through lineage was something foreign to us. Our method in the states is to inquire about geographical location first and then last name. While it is an effective method in its own right, the ease in which they carried out their identification of each other made our method pale significantly in comparison, at least to me. Anyway, when dinner was over, Dr. Carr and I helped Mkusile to his dorm room. I was overwhelmed with emotion by this time because for the first time I allowed myself to ask that seemingly taboo question, “What if?” Through my walking him to the door and hearing his stories, I truly wondered what my life would have been like if I would have grown up on this side of the world rather than in the heart of the Western beast. This query only captured my mind for a fleeting second. I knew that it was that very Africanized ontological character in the West that enabled me to converse with Mkusile, and by extension the other African students, where it was most important…non-verbally. Well, I’m about to head to sleep. I promised Mkusile I would assist him to the dining hall for breakfast tomorrow morning.
Tuesday, July 6th, 2004
The day started off well enough. This morning I helped Mkusile to breakfast. Always the joker, he told the cafeteria women in Xhosa that I was his nephew from the Eastern part of the Cape. Upon hearing this, they decided to begin talking to me in strictly Xhosa. They bust out in laughter when the look of bewilderment on my face gave away that I was not from the Cape. I helped him to lunch and dinner as well that day. It was cool. The African students all thought he was my father and that I was his pleasant son helping him around. Of course this meant, they thought he was American. When hit with this information, Mkusile would comically dismiss the notion by engaging the African in his or her language. It was truly amazing that he knew so many different languages. I would say he knew at least nine. He explained to me though that most of them are dialects masquerading as languages so that if you knew one, it wasn’t too hard to learn the cognates. Class was very interesting today also. Dr. Carr charted the links between Marx and Hegel in a fashion that was palatable to everyone in the class. I can say we engaged Marxism in a way that I have not done in all my time at Howard. Being in South Africa, as opposed to studying it, also gave us an additional insight into how limited Marxism as an analytical tool for liberation was in South Africa, given its particular history. We were also able to see how prominent a role Hegel plays in Western scholarship. It’s always remarkable to trace the pedigree of contemporary ideas. Dr. Carr has in a way mastered this art.
Wednesday, July 7th, 2004
In class today, we went on a journey through Ancient Egypt. After deconstructing Hegel’s arbitrary petition and asserting Egypt back in Africa, we were able to engage in an rich discussion on its role and symbolism in Africa. It was interesting to see that the Egyptian empire stretched all the way down to depths of the Sudan. Thus, when western scholars engage it solely in the space of its contemporary state, they’re only dealing with about one-fifth of the overall Egyptian civilization. I’m excited to be going to Clan William this Friday because if the so-called “Bushmen,” rightfully named the Khoisan people were creating artwork around the same time, the implications it would have for the way Africanist scholars would look at Africa, given that Egypt has been re-asserted is pregnant with endless possibilities. After class, a couple of us (Dr. Carr, Mike, Stephanie and I) went on a small bon voyage to pick up some last minute gifts for family and friends. We ended up returning to Green Market Square, driven by no other than Pete. Interestingly enough, for a “poor man,” as he likes to classify himself, his Mercedes Benz told another story. But we’ll leave that story for another day. Anyway, the trip turned out to be real cool. I was able to pick out some real nice stuff for the family in the square. Afterwards, we walked around the general area and to our pleasant surprise discovered some real nice used bookstores. The first one we went into was a little crazy because it had these big iron gates in front of it as if people would attempt to swarm the place and steal books. At least, you got a good idea of what they want protected. Our best discovery, or shall I say Dr. Carr’s discovery was this real nice bookstore named Clarke’s. It was like the Strand books of Cape Town. Unfortunately, we didn’t’ have sufficient time to browse around since the store was closing real soon. We made a vow however, to come back and check it out tomorrow. Around this time, it was beginning to get a little dark and it dawned on us that we weren’t exactly in the nice part of town. Given all of our backgrounds, we definitely knew we didn’t want to be there when the shops were closed and the streets start teeming with opportunists. We were directed to a cab station at the top of a hill, ironically, the same place Pete had pointed out and instructed us to avoid it by any means necessary. I guess when he peered at us he seen American written all over and figured we would be easy prey for any lurkers. What he consciously failed to understand is that our American identity is a mere crepe of our persona. Up there at the cab station in the middle of the night, we were just like any other Africans waiting to catch a cab. It was a good feeling.
Thursday, July 8th, 2004
This morning the political science department chair was giving a lecture and wanted all visiting students to attend. The lecture, coming the last day of our class sessions, was pretty indicative of the state of South African affairs. He basically restated his case for non-racialism which meant pretty much Africans should get a lobotomy, forget about the past, and leave things the way they are. So much for that. After the lecture, Dr. Carr and I went back to the bookstore to see what we could find. Although my wallet literally got emptied, I was pleased with the selection of books I was able to purchase. Then we received good news from the bookstore owner who said that she would be able to ship Dr. Carr’s books through the bookstore as opposed to having him ship it through postal. The only catch was we had to meet her up at the top of the campus; meaning that we had to lug two heavy boxes of books up that long hill. The walk turned out ok. The funniest part of the trip occurred when we arrived at the site she designated as the meeting spot. The place was laid out like a ballroom and it seemed that all the top players in South Africa, the politicians, clergymen and business owners were in attendance. Dr. Carr and I came in looking much like vagabonds in comparison to the tuxedos and evening gowns many of the guests were sporting. Inside we spotted the pastor of the Anglican Church that we attended Sunday. As we exchanged pleasantries, I got the sense that he didn’t feel too comfortable exchanging dialogue with us. This was the same pastor who was preaching love for thy neighbor earlier this week. After that awkward encounter, a quick survey of the room showed that the pastor was not unique in harboring resentment to our presence. Hostile and curious stares were glued to our frames from every angle of the room. This was interesting because the crowd was supposedly gathered to celebrate the lives of four young adults who were killed during the struggle of Apartheid. It looked more like an Eyes Wide Shut convention than a tributary gathering. We made a quick exit and left to go home. Well, as Dr. Carr stated, at least we got a chance to see the “real” South Africa before we left!
Friday, July 9th, 2004
The Clan William trip was great. The whole time at the site, I felt at peace with myself. Brief history: Clan William is the site where the Khoi Khoi and San people were known to have first inhabited in the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries. The majority of their rock art comes from these sites. Ok, so there were bright spots on the trip along with very sour points. The first bright spot was seeing Loundolozo again. We hadn’t seen him this entire week and here he was fully-clad in tour guide uniform, explaining the wonders of the Rock Art to us. He seemed to have a real genuine smile on his face while he gave us a tour. I think all of us were quietly beaming. Sour point number one came when one of the tour guides told us that someone owns the entire countryside. Mike had to ask twice for confirmation just to absorb the reality of someone owning all this land. The scenery in the place was twice as beautiful then anything I could have imagined back in the states. Being a NYC boy, I often overlook nature’s allure. Today though I truly reveled in all of its splendor. While hiking, I began to think about how many of my friends back home probably would never get a chance to walk these very steps that I was taking. The saying, those who are given much are also expected to return great responsibility resonated throughout my thoughts during the walk. Here I was, walking in the cradle of the birthplace of humanity. I reminisced over my youth: a young sensitive boy whose secret delight was closing the doors of his bedroom and traveling the world through whichever particular novel I was divulging in at that time. Now, I’m actually doing the traveling. Funny, how the world works. Well, sour point number two occurred shortly after my brief musing. Looking at one of the rock art paintings, the tour guide, pointed out a Dutch drawing made some fifty years after they landed. In it, a Dutch man clad in a top hat and sporting a long beard which may lead some to surmise that he is a Jew, looked to be striking one of the Khoisan people with some type of blunt object. I guess this is what happens when antagonistic cultures clash. The Khoi Khoi and San people welcome the Dutch and teach them the secrets to painting and the Dutch respond by clobbering them. No scene was more telling for me. Afterwards, we went to a serene stream to eat. The food was surprisingly good until we seen some present day Khoisan people who helped Pete’s wife prepare the food. We said our goodbyes to everyone since this was the last time we would see folks and headed back to the dorm. That should have signaled the end of our day but at dinner we ran into Sphume and Yvonne who had planned something out for us that night. They wanted us to go to a club on the other side of town. We agreed and me, Mike and Steph set out to go. We first made a stop at some of Yvonne’s friends place to pick them up. This scene was hilarious. Her friends, all Zambian, except for this one white German kid, began to act the plain fool when they found out we were from America. They started displaying their apparel, highlighting titles like FUBU and Rocawear. Then to top it off, they threw Jay-Z on and began emphatically rapping along with him. The cherry was when they threw their “Roc-a-Fella Diamonds” in the air in unison during his diatribe, “Takeover.” Talk about globalization. It would have been surreal but we realized that many of them were tipsy. The club itself was similar to the previous club we had went to. An interesting moment was when we went to this reggae club and we seen the profusion of Rastas in the room. I guess this is another big phenomenon in the African world. Well, we partied ourselves out tonight which probably wasn’t a good idea because we have to wake up at six in the morning tomorrow and I still haven’t packed yet!
Saturday, July 10th, 2004
Today was a tease. We flew out early this morning to see Johannesburg before we returned to the States. Johannesburg seemed to be a bastion of vibrant energy. The pace was at least double that of Cape Town. Also, we were finally witnessing a place dominated by Africans! You get the feeling walking around here that if any momentous events were to happen in South Africa, this would be the place where it first jumped off. This thought was reinforced by the blatant poverty we encountered as we traipsed through the city. We first stopped in Soweto, the section formerly called Sophiatown, to see the house Mandela resided in before his detention. They’ve since turned it into a tourist attraction so the place was teeming with tourists from all over. Inside, they decorated it with memorabilia: honorary degrees, recognition awards and so forth. The tour guide, a Zulu sister, brought a smile to my face when she began to lecture on his former wife, Winnie Mandela. She sounded pretty bitter as she described how Winnie held him down during his detention and his abrupt dismissal of her shortly after his release. Afterwards, we went to another house turned into restaurant where they served the food buffet style. The food was delicious but the conversation was another story. The tour guide, Wayne’s network, was a little more forward than Wayne and Pete about socio-political relations in South Africa. At the dinner table, he pretty much let the tongue flow, commenting on everything from the way businesses monopolized by whites had no intentions of relinquishing shares of their ownership to the government to sordid “native jokes,” he must have thought we would relate to because of our “American” tag. We pretty much ignored him. Our next stop was to the Soweto Museum resurrected to pay tribute to the 1976 uprisings. It was akin to visiting the Blacks in Wax museum in Baltimore. As you explore the museum and see the exhibits you continually ask yourself how can human beings do this to other human beings. That rejoinder has been provided to me a few years back however. In their eyes, were not human. That’s the only way one can inflict such pain and atrocities upon another. The museum actually brought tears to my eyes while witnessing a video of a South African poet. He asks the simple question: How long will we [black people] have to suffer? This reminded me of an email I have received from a friend who stated that in its rawest sense Pan-Africanism is depressing because it only indicates that black people all over the world are catching hell. In that split second, I didn’t know if I was in South Africa or the United States. I just knew feelings pent up inside of me welled up and seeped out of me through my tear ducts. I knew why…I couldn’t answer his very simple question.
Sunday, July 11th, 2004
We’re home, or so I think. Questions in regards to my identity are now swirling through my mind as I try to make sense of landing back on this continent. The plane ride was teeming with contradictory thoughts for me. I felt nostalgic about leaving yet happy about returning to my family. Returning to what however remains the question. More high blood pressure, brooding dark moments when the next episode of some atrocious act committed against one of my peers reminds me of our glaring minority status here in the states? Beyond that, questions of class pop up in my head as well. At Howard, I feel as if I am a part of some elite class whose bourgeoisie tendencies sickens me to the bowels of my being. Yet, at home, back in my old neighborhood, the folks there seem to be stuck in their own little world with no care about what’s going on outside or moreso what outside forces are shaping their local realities. I guess like Yossarian, I’m in a real catch-22. Where do I fit in? Is there a medium? As long as I stay in school, there will always be a heavy bourgeoisie element enmeshed in the space while back at home, intellectualism, at least academically speaking, is consigned for things that blunt the harsh realities of life. In South Africa, I felt like I came face-to-face with history. It leapt out of the books, periodicals and journals and displayed itself nakedly for me to see. It was beyond the adopting of European sensibilities or the overall European aesthetic that envelops the city. It was the quotidian witnessed when we were in the vans. African domestics and/or raw manual laborers, lack or devoid of basic human services in this present day like electricity, running water and plumbing. It was everything and it most importantly was my feeling of helplessness. The existential state of Africa while pregnant with unlimited possibilities is a tough pill to swallow for many right now. Howard French’s recently published text most aptly describes it as “A continent for the taking.” Vulnerable to any outside forces is the best way to put it. Yes, as Africans we have a lot of tough questions we must ask ourselves. For Africans here in America, those questions may be even tougher. For us, it starts with identity and will probably end with identity. There’s no romanticizing it. While Manichean positions are extremely tough to negotiate in addition to being conveniently simplified constructs, our present exegesis requires of all of us a rejoinder: Are you African or not? The complexities of this query should be negotiated in the scholarly field day in and day out. Let’s put flesh to the abstract “African” nomenclature and test the premise. Identity for me I’m starting to realize will never be a fixed allegiance, it’s something that will continually be negotiated. Like I stated on the plane ride to South Africa, I’m starting to become real comfortable with confusion because it definitely means I’m trying to figure something out.
Monday, July 12th, 2004
How ironic. My first full day back in the States and the temperature is extremely humid…the exact opposite of South Africa. I’ve been running into peers and faculty members who are interested in how our trip turned out. Being back on this side however, I realized that we covered a whole lot of ground, making it extremely hard to synthesize those three week of events into small conversation. I’m still attempting to digest all that occurred. Interestingly enough, my story changes from individual to individual. I tell select stories so that I can make my trip relate to whomever I’m conversing with. For the politically conscious, I tell them about the acute wealth disparities, Mbeki and his ambiguous role as an agent for change, and the cosmetic shifting that took prominence over bona fide change in the 1994 election of Mandela. Ensconced within these tales are the stories about our 4th of July trip, extracts from conversations with the African students at UCT and the trips to the townships. For those more interested in the basic ambiance of the country, I display pictures of Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope and the Waterfront. A consistent query in the conversation is in what light do South Africans view American Africans. Even more consistent however, are questions heavily or entirely informed by the Western media. These questions have ranged from, “Do animals walk around in the streets to concerns about the hygiene of South Africans (Africans in general).” After dispelling those myths, naïve curiosity thrusts through and basic questions arise in regards to their culture, food preparation, etc.. Once it is established that these people are not only humans, - a big barrier- but, they also have very similar cultural characteristics, I always witness a twinkle of longing deep within their eyes as they unconsciously draw parallels between the place I’m describing and their place of residence that never quite feels like home. If nothing else, that look confirms what a great opportunity was bestowed upon me and how important it is for me to share my experiences with others.
I haven't been able to write in many months. Oh, I can churn out research papers, flyers, emails, and memos like a paper mill. But my mind seems to resist the self-reflection of personal writing; my journals come off sounding like political tracts or degenerate into ideological sparring.
I wanted to get back into this discipline of personal reflection in order to prepare myself for my first visit to South Africa, so I turned to an old exercise: journal writing.
Sitting down to write this will be my first time on "the continent," only my second time out of the country. I have been reading articles, newspapers, and books about South Africa and its history, paying special attention to place names, so that I can quickly form a geographical idea of the area when we begin our travel. These place names -- Soweto, Robben Island, Cape Town, Sharpeville -- are loosely linked with a series of events in my mind, and I am looking forward to making them more concrete. Honestly, I do not have any idea what to expect, but I can feel my excitement rising as the date draws near.
Unlike Stephanie, this will be my first time on the continent, only my second time out of the country. I have been reading articles, newspapers, and books about South Africa and its history, paying special attention to place names, so that I can quickly form a geographical idea of the area when we begin our travel. These place names--Soweto, Robben Island, Cape Town, Sharpeville--are loosely linked with a series of events in my mind, and I am looking forward to making them more concrete. Honestly, I do not have any idea what to expect, but I can feel my excitement rising as the date draws near.
Two days ago, I stood outside the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. This is the town where John Brown and his band of 12 men, held off a contingent of U.S. Marines for several hours, attempting to incite a rebellion that would end slavery in America. Ironically, the marines were led by Robert E. Lee, who would later go on to lead the Confederate Army. Inside the nearby museum, there is a quote from Malcolm X, “If you want to help me and my cause, you must be willing to do as old John Brown did.” I know he is speaking to me.
John Brown was a race traitor of the first order. Stating that, if necessary, he would “forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice and mingle my blood further with the blood of…millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked cruel and unjust enactments,” he struck a blow that would ignite the fires of Civil War and eventually end slavery in the United States of America. In a society where the lines of racial division had been drawn clearly, he identified totally with the struggle for black freedom, and willingly paid the price for it.
The image of John Brown, with his piercing stare and long beard, runs through my head as I prepare to travel to South Africa. I admire his clarity of vision, the way he saw clearly what he had to do based on the material conditions around him.
Were there any John Brown’s among the whites of South Africa? I want to find out if there were Afrikaaners who defied the government in the same way, Afrikaaners who stood up to the Nationalist government and paid the price. Were there whites in South Africa who resisted the hegemony of racist doctrine?
If nothing else, the situation in South Africa may shed light our own American racial schizophrenia, where white boys and girls are raised in segregated communities and schools yet dress like blacks, talk like blacks and make up over ¾ of the consumer market for hip-hop music. I wonder if there are any similar phenomena in South African society. What has apartheid done to South African whites, spiritually, morally, and culturally? Are they, like American whites, still trapped by the uncertainties of a racist logic their ancestors invented, still clinging to vestiges of the old apartheid regime? Have any of them embraced this change? In the place somewhere between dreams and nightmares I see Afrikaaner kids nodding their heads to 50 Cent and affectionately calling each other “kaffirs.” We live in a strange world.
I use America as my yardstick, because of some the uncanny similarities between the two governments in history. Peep this:
• Both rigidly enforced racial boundaries and categories: in the US it was the Jim Crow laws. In South Africa, it was apartheid, which literally means, “separateness.”
• Both governments were formed by Europeans fleeing oppression, who themselves became the oppressors. Puritans seeking religious freedom and political freedom were among the first European settlers of America, and the Boers, or the Afrikaners, as they later came to be called, fought to be free from British rule.
• Both have a strong underlying strain of religious zeal, which turned into racist fundamentalism.
But beyond the shared history of the two countries, beyond the complicated minefield of race, politics, and identity I am navigating mentally, I am simply trying to be silent. I want to clear my mind of all the half-formed ideas, the biases, the romanticized images, and the racist baggage I have at one time or another associated with Africa. I want to frame my mind to listen and absorb. I want to see as clearly as possible when I step off that plane.
W.E.B. Dubois writes that it was John Brown’s ability to honestly listen to African Americans that formed the foundation for his later actions. His radical witness did not emerge from ideological battles within himself, but from his experiences with the oppressed. This trip is a chance to listen, to learn, to open my eyes, and gain understanding. It is a chance to listen to the voices of resistance to apartheid, as well as the voices still suffering from its after-effects. It is an opportunity as well to study those who actively or passively maintained the apartheid government, in order to understand their motivations and feelings.
I do not know what my response will be until then. I do not feel called, much less ready, to storm any federal arsenals, or to openly defy the U.S. government. But through my listening in South Africa I hope to frame an appropriate response of conscious resistance to the America I find myself living in today.
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