Goodbye, girl in front of the building.

As I write this, I’m sitting on my bed wedged between piles of unwashed clothes, bottles of shampoo, lotion, books, and hangers. I’m back in Colorado. The washer and dryer will be running at full speed for at least two more cycles, and I start scooping ice cream for the summer once again at 1:30 today.

We drove to South Africa’s O.R. Tambo International Airport on June 4th in the early afternoon, after long hugs and goodbyes at AISA. I wasn’t really sure how to say goodbye to South Africa, with all I had seen and done it felt like I was just another person passing through. Because I was. South Africa gave me so much and I was happy to take and take. I  learned and I absorbed and I wrote and we’ll just have to see what I do with all of it. I have something of an obligation, now.

The car stopped at a red light as we drove through Pretoria, my suitcase in the backseat next to me. I turned my head towards the window on my right and looked up at a tall office building, the sign above the door announced it to be a technical school of some sort. I dropped my gaze down and saw a girl, probably my age, standing in between two parked cars in front of the building. Her hands gripped the upper straps of her backpack, and she looked at me. Our eyes met for a moment and she made a mock-frowning face as if to ask me why I was sad. Sometimes my face looks that way when I’m lost in thought, so I smiled back to answer her. She smiled too, the way one smiles at a friend they haven’t seen in a very long time. As the car continued down the street, I kept smiling and felt like for now, that was goodbye enough.

Maybe one day I will find myself with the opportunity to go back to South Africa. There is a lot of world left to explore, and I feel lucky to have been given a tiny piece of it. If I never go back, I suspect somehow that South Africa will stay with me always.

Whatever marks I might have left on South Africa are with our friends at AISA; Janelle, Keneilwe, Dineo, Sibusiso, Frank, Nsthembo, and with the girl in front of the building. I am happy to think that as much as they and South Africa have changed me, I changed them just a bit, as well.

Zim and the Africa Cafe

And then I knew that if I had even a fraction as much courage as Zim, I’d be just fine.

Zim walked over to our table, she smiled as we started clapping and she took a small curtsy. We clapped so strongly. She was laughing for modesty’s sake, but our admiration and awe were real.

We were clapping because we had just seen one of the most beautiful things we had ever hoped to see, something made even more incredible by its unexpectedness.

Dr. Keasley, Lorien, Paul and I were having dinner at the Africa Cafe. It’s a two-story restaurant squeezed into a city block in Cape Town. There was never anything more authentic, and still acutely touristy. The walls were painted light yellow, like powdered dirt clay. On a few of the walls were intricate patterns painted all the way across and spiraling downward. From the ceiling hung spirals of thickly-coated red wire that blossomed into more spirals, and at the end of each of these was a light fixture, a sculpture of a tea cup and saucer with painted metal feathers exploding out of the back of them, and loose colored spiral lights bursting from the mouths of the teacups. On the walls hung a few framed paintings. Zim was our waitress.

While the Africa Cafe mainly serves tourists, in a rare moment it felt like we were truly in Africa, not in Europe or North America. A connected global world often feels homogenous, branded, and inauthentic. The Africa Cafe was not that, theirs was a sincere attempt at authenticity.

The restaurant serves a fixed menu based on what’s in season. They serve strictly traditional African dishes in a table-sharing style. There were bowls of curry-filled roti, steaming plates of sticky honey glazed chicken, lentil sauces, fried tapioca cheese bread, thick beef stew, crispy sweet potato balls, spinach and maize patties, juicy chickpea-sautéed fish. For dessert there was poppyseed cake. I wasn’t sure I would be able to eat more, but just as unsure that I would ever be able to stop. They brought out a little of everything at once, and we could request more of what we liked.

It was delicious, all of it. I don’t say this for dramatic effect. It was what we’ve been hoping for, every day, for the past three weeks: some glimpse of traditional South African cooking that you’d have to be in South Africa to have.
I mean, as great as KFC was.

All of the waitresses wore colored, patterned aprons and headbands or head wraps to cover their braids. Each girl had a painted face design, white dots around the eye and temple or flowers along the side of their face. One of the girls came around to our table with a wooden plate and a mirror to adorn each of us. The flowers she saved for Dr. Keasley.

One guest was celebrating his brithday in the small, high-ceilinged room where we sat. We started hearing drums and singing in the next room and eventually the entire staff, close to 15 people, was next to us. The room was small so the tables hugged the walls. The drum and their voices filled the space between us. Zim started with hearty cry, banging with wild, heavy arms on the drum. One of the boys had his arms wrapped tightly around the drum, hugging it to his chest. The rest were clapping, with their whole bodies, their voices colliding and harmonizing and enveloping us. A man sitting in the corner with his wife started dancing in his seat and Zim motioned for him to get up. They danced and they sang like they were pushing the sounds out through the roof and through the rain.

I thought there might only be one song. But nearly six times, Zim paused before she bellowed out the first notes of the next song and the drum slowly started again. Every time, I hoped that she would start again and was glad when she did. It was during the second song that I started looking at each of their faces. One of the cooks, a woman in a red apron and head wrap was smiling, consumed by joy. I looked at her and the beauty of it, the happiness of it, made me want to cry. When I looked at her face, and at the boy next to her and the girl next to him, what I saw were their parents, their grandparents. I saw, in them, a culture that was fully alive. I saw songs that refused to stop being sung, through slavery, through colonialism, through apartheid. They would not stop being sung now.

I’ve never known people with so much to hate. Instead, they looked as though there could be nothing more they could want than this beautiful moment. What they have are these songs that are their parents, their grandparents, their great great great ancestors, and now them.

They finished with a tune that resembled “Happy Birthday” and slowly filed out of the room to the petering-out of the drum. Zim came over to our table and we started applauding. Zim kept surprising me that night, first with every song she started when I thought she was finished, and then with what she told us next.

We told her that her voice was beautiful. She winked and laughed so deeply. She told us that it had always been difficult to answer the phone and have people say “Hello, sir.” She never had the light, girlish voice she had wanted. For years, she said, she had cried and cried and held knives up to her throat threatening to cut her voice out. She was nervous to sing in church while her mother sang often and sang beautifully. Zim would behind her and whisper.

One day she told her grandmother why she hated her voice and her grandmother was outraged. She told Zim to stop being so silly because she, her grandmother, had the same voice, and she was the best singer in the whole church. Zim’s grandmother stood up in front of the church the next day and said, “This is for my grand daughter who thinks her voice is ugly.” Zim’s eyes laughed as she did and said, “Do you know what I did? I got up there and I was like YAAAAAAAAAH and I sang so loudly and everybody went crazy.”

Zim surprised me for the third time that night when Paul asked her how long she’d been working at the Africa Cafe. She said “Oh Lord don’t ask me that question,” and said it had probably been 6 years. She said that she had been studying at a university in Cape Town, “But in my first year, I fell pregnant.” She had had to drop out and then started working at this restaurant. She had to raise a child.

Zim’s sister kept telling her that the world was waiting for her talent. Zim eventually began taking some courses in a theatre program. And then there was an audition and everyone in her classes was in jitters talking about The Lion King production in London. Zim said it was the only thing she truly knew she wanted. She made it to London and auditioned. “They told me to sing, I sang,” she said. “Then they had a callback and they called me back. They told me to dance and I danced. And I knew that I had it. But I was feeling very sick, and I went into the bathroom and I saw that I had fallen pregnant again. And I cried. I cannot tell you how I cried. I walked out of that bathroom and I saw the director of the musical and he told me how incredible I had been, and that the casting director wanted to meet with me. I told him what happened. And they sent me home.”

She told us that she would never say that her kids were anything less than a blessing, but that it was so sad, such a shame, that she had lost that chance. She looked off to the side and then she looked at us again and said, “You know what? My dream is still out there, it’s one of those things that I’ll have to reach out and grab. But it’s there.” She reached out her arm to demonstrate. And then she was finished.

I walked out of the Africa Cafe that night feeling raw, as the rain poured down exactly as it should and the three of us bumped shoulders in the back of the taxi. My heart was ripped jagged and cleanly full all at once.

We left Zim a card. On the front it said “Hakuna Matata.” Amazingly, it was some card Lorien had happened to buy that day. Inside we wrote, “Your dream is waiting. We have the utmost confidence that you’ll reach it. Thanks for singing and sharing.” We left it propped up on the table and when she saw it she came running to hug us, wailing and teary. We posed for a picture together, smiling huge.

That was the Africa Cafe.

We can save Africa!!!!

Hello there, reader!  In case you were wondering, I have been in South Africa for two weeks and quickly I learned everything about Africa. I’m here to bequeath my knowledge unto you, as I was once ignorant and silly, but no longer! You’re welcome. 

I am here to tell you that for just the price of a jar of pickles per day, we can save Africa!! Pickles are very good though, so pick up an extra jar while you are saving Africa. One for Africa, and one for snacking!

Everything is easier to understand if we just have two options, this is the secret (no telling). Take poverty. Two options: Black people are poor, white people are rich. White people are to give money to the black people and it will be better. This one is also a secret: there are no poor white people in Africa, nor are there any other races besides white and black.

Eradicating corruption! Yes we can. Campaigns in Africa must have slogans (slogans are the only important part, write that down), about getting rid of corruption because Africa is corrupt. Just completely corrupt. Politicians walk down the steps of the Union Buildings here in Pretoria with their pockets full of wads of loose money that spills onto the streets, and parades of little naked children run behind them grabbing coins and bills and yelling unintelligible African mumbo jumbo in one of their million or so languages (accurate estimate). 

Under no circumstances are we to allow African children to have positive African role models. We are their heroes. Have you ever wanted to be Superman? Go to Africa! Build a well or something.

I’ll holla at my African NGO’s for a second, listen, if you don’t maintain a sense of crisis, your funds will dry right up! Stock photos of cracked desert earth and starving children are excellent. More violence, though. People will think, “Hey that’s Africa! Walter, where is my checkbook?” And they are perfectly correct. We cannot let anybody see a picture of a successful African scholar, student, businessman, artist, or normal and well-adjusted person. Here are some example photos that I took for you with Google:

AFRICA 7

AFRICA 1

AFRICA 4

AFRICA 6

AFRICA 7

AFRICA 5Whoops, how did this one get in here? It’s okay. Still Africa.

AFRICA 9

AFRICA 10

AFRICA 7

AFRICA 11

Retraction: Earlier I informed you that one could save Africa for the cost of a jar of pickles. This was inaccurate. Saving Africa requires two mochas. Return your jar of pickles.

Dear reader, you should know that Africans think that Americans are very ignorant. They are correct. You know nothing, and everybody knows that Americans have tightly rolled cash where their feelings should be, for safe keeping. Listen, Americans think Africans are all the same, and Africans think Americans are all the same, too! Just like Africa is one country, North America is pretty much all the same stuff: Walmart and tacos and Hollywood and pine trees (and moose). And sometimes New York. I, for one, am so glad that Keeping Up With the Kardashians plays in South Africa because Americans are all like that, or wish we were :(.

And if you dare argue with me (I wouldn’t suggest it, really. I have been to AFRICA) and tell me that you genuinely care, I will laugh. If you try to tell me that sometimes problems are convoluted, that media coverage is confusing, that it is possible to be genuinely concerned about world affairs but not know what to do, that even our best politicians (oxymoron?) cannot articulate these issues, much less solve them… I will tell you that you probably need a nap with your plush Ronald Reagan doll. And then I will tell you that you need to CARE MORE. 

AFRICA 8

See? SAD. If you cared, that little boy could be happy and American.

You should all know that the problems that plague this sad, sad country (continent?) are problems that originated and persist only in Africa. Human trafficking? That’s so Africa. Anyone who tells you that Denver, Colorado was home to $40 million in human trafficking profits last year is confused. They mean Africa. Lack of education? Classic Africa.

But, reader, you are never to go to Africa as I did. Very dangerous, very violent. Instead you are to send your money to Invisible Children and they will send you a very hip t-shirt and you may also now post a Facebook status about Africa! You may talk to no less than 25 of your friends about your newfound wellspring of knowledge! This may be the most important part. In conversations, you are now the intellectual authority on all things Africa among your friends.

And when CNN sends one of their hunky reporters clad in hurricane-proof cargo outfits to the Sahara you are to assume that they also now know everything about Africa.

I hope you feel a little less ignorant and maybe it almost feels like you yourself have been to Africa (you haven’t, just me)! Please take my advice and together we can stop Joseph Kony!!!

If you do anything with the next 7 minutes of your life, watch these videos.

From The Guardian:
“…a Norwegian group calling itself Radi-Aid has launched an appeal to ship radiators from Africa to Norway. Their cause is the plight of freezing children during Norway’s harsh winter months. It’s complete with a new music video, and incorporates all the right tropes — some people might miss the satire. These people aren’t playing around though. Their effort is a serious critique of misguided development, and of the Western media coverage which often accompanies it. What they want:

1. Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes.

2. We want better information about what is going on in the world, in schools, in TV and media.

3. Media: Show respect.

4. Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions.”

Africans Saving Norway!

Look at these white people.

We’re getting used to being stared at. Part of it left us confused; hey, this is South Africa and there are plenty of white people here, why are they staring? Maybe I just exude some kind of American pheromone, or the way, with my mouth hanging open I gawk at everything with a wee twinkle in my eye gives away the fact that I am, undeniably, a tourist.

But yesterday was Africa Day, a holiday to celebrate the formation of the African Union in 1963. We went to a place called the Kara Heritage Institute where they put on a festival with local vendors, food, speeches, and performances of indigenous dances. Various important people got up to speak about Africa and its issues and successes in unity, and then religious leaders in the community performed indigenous religious ceremonies. There were booths set up by a couple of embassies, I think Kenya and Mozambique were there promoting their tourism industries.

There were kids scurrying about in every direction, some of them in tiny suits and dresses and they were as adorable as you could imagine, singing the national anthem in high pitched voices not quite on key. Among the kids, the Chinese embassy’s booth was by far the most popular. A man had set up an area where he would write the kid’s name in Chinese characters with a fancy brush and ink. The kids loved it. They were giggling and shouting their names at the man and comparing their pictures with one another’s.

I walked over to see what all the commotion was about, and leaned over the tiny bodies and craning necks to see the man drawing. One of the taller girls turned around and looked up at me, eyes wide. I noticed her staring but didn’t look at her. And then she started nudging her friends, whispering “look there.” There were about five of them looking up at me, the same wide, incredulous eyes, when I turned my head to look at them. I smiled and waved at them as they giggled and scrambled.

Paul, Lorien, and I were novelty items. Teenage kids would grab us and pull us into pictures they were taking. Kids in an indigenous dance group dressed in traditional garb motioned us over to be in their group photo. I wish I’d been able to get a copy of that one. The juxtaposition was so excellently ironic. The three of us are dressed in business casual clothing, standing on either side of a group of about 20 kids wearing furs and faux-leather sarongs, our whiteness practically mixing into to the wall behind us.

On the drive back I imagined what they’d do with those photos, I imagined them showing their friends the white kids they saw on Africa Day. Maybe they’d say “look at these white people!” We’re now a part of their sentimental group photo, for goodness sake, and the memory of their performance is now connected with us for no reason other than novelty. If anything, it was interesting. Mostly I wondered at how little exposure these kids were getting to different people and cultures. Maybe it’s nothing more than the way people take photos of themselves with monuments or The World’s Biggest Chair. But we are just three American students, no more monumental in any sense of the word than any other white person and Lorien and I are pretty short, anyway.

I didn’t have strong feelings about it at the time, but maybe there’s more to this than I thought. In my last post I talked about how taking away Africa’s ability to solve problems on their own, taking away their agency, makes it easier for Africans to look at other countries as their saviors. African kids are growing up with the picture of “leader” in their mind as a white American or British person. Not once in their lives do these kids think of themselves as capable enough to be a leader, because nobody says it to them. Thabo Mbeki, the second president of South Africa, spoke at that African Unity conference I mentioned and he told us a story about some boys who came up to him once and were so excited to meet him. And they told him that all they’ve ever learned in school was about how Africans are victims. We were victims to slavery, they said, then we were victims to colonialism, then apartheid, and now we are victims to terrorism and victims in the eyes of everyone in the world. They asked him how they could possibly have the capacity to correct the wrongs of their society when they were always victims?

When I was in the second grade, I remember getting the idea in my head somehow that I was going to be president. No, I was going to be the First Female President of the United States. One time I said that to one of my teachers and she loved it, she thought it was a hoot, and she told me that she wasn’t surprised, nor did she doubt it. And in the years that followed she would see me and say, “There she goes, the first female president!” I was born in Brazil, I can’t actually be president. Nor would I want to be, now. Yikes.

I grew up in schools full of teachers telling me that I could be president, and there were actual laws saying that I couldn’t. No one ever told me that, though. The kids that talked to President Mbeki, like so many other kids in failing schools (around the globe, even) have only ever heard people tell them they’re stupid, much less that they could be president. And so I think about those kids rushing to take pictures with us and I hope that they don’t see me as any kind of celebrity or role model, I hope they don’t aspire to come to the United States some day because that’s where all the people who matter are.

President Mbeki asked us, “How do we produce the quality of leadership for the Africa we want? How do we produce those leaders? Is there some kind of bakery, perhaps?” We laughed, but we more or less have no idea, at this point. But I do know that there are a lot of good people, African scholars and teachers, working on making education here better. President Mbeki called on the scholars assembled at the conference to promote education that produces students who remain accountable for their communities and their societies. He called upon African leaders to find the courage to self-criticize and reflect, and he called upon us all to start telling these kids that they are leaders, that they are capable, too.

#BringBackOurGirls

I like #Bringbackourgirls as much as I like Michelle Obama. Which is a lot. But, as crazy as it sounds, that hash tag and others like it could determine Africa’s future.

I spent this weekend at the African Unity for Renaissance Conference with scholars from across the African continent. The conference used to be called the Scramble for Africa Conference, echoing the 19th century scramble to colonize any piece of land that a European settler could stick a sword in. This year, the name changed because the scramble needs to end, they said. While the conference used to focus on the foreign influences that were impacting the continent, their new theme was “African solutions for African problems.”

I have been thinking a lot about the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls that sparked #Bringbackourgirls, and it’s been a hot topic at the conference. A few speakers mentioned the kidnapping, including the former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, who came to give the keynote address. Why am I not surprised that so much of this controversy has found itself rooted in a hashtag.

If Africa wants to be taken seriously as a player in world politics, it needs to have agency. Take, for example, Britain or the United States. When they have a crisis or national emergency, they take care of those problems internally—the government responds and nobody worries about whether or not they need help in order to do it. Africa wants that. They want to have the agency to solve their own problems, and for the rest of the world to take them seriously.

That brings me to #Bringbackourgirls. That hash tag takes that African agency away by making it seem like Nigeria can’t address the issue itself. #Bringbackourgirls isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think what it shows is a lot of good intentions, plenty of well-meaning people who want something to be done about the innocent girls who wanted an education. And before today I really liked that movement, because for all of the stupid things you can find on Twitter, you can find people who are funny and people who care.

That isn’t to say people tweeting #bringbackourgirls are activists or actually making the kinds of differences that need to be made. But by popularizing the topic, it won’t be lost in the shuffle of news stories of all of the crises that happen every day. But at the same time, there’s a problem with the way we forget the  kids that are kidnapped every day, all over the world.

It’s good to bring national attention to world problems; the kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian school girls is a tragedy that needs to be addressed. But that hash tag gives ownership of the problem to the United States, to every person who tweets #Bringbackourgirls and feels a little bit better for helping to tackle the issue.

Things like this hash tag make the issue an American movement, and makes it easier for nations like the U.S. and Britain with strategic interests in Africa to remain there, with influence over those interest. It’s a continent rich in resources and Nigerian oil. All it takes is making Africans believe that they can’t solve their own problems. Then, Britain and the U.S. can hover nearby with close access to those resources, particularly if the region remains unstable. These countries, yes, actually have things to gain from Africa’s failure.

Victimization is already engrained in so many parts of African society, and it’s something they’re trying to break; #Bringbackourgirls doesn’t make that easier. But the worst part is, you can’t even blame the people of Twitter or the celebrities promoting the hash tag.

The worst part of this is that hash tag movements like this are actually taking advantage of well-meaning people. I believe that, in whatever kind of removed way is possible from halfway across the world, we want to care about those girls in Nigeria. And bringing media attention to the issue is the way we’ve learned how to solve problems. But #Bringbackourgirls isn’t a real solution, not with these other consequences. Throwing hash tags at Africa is just as bad as throwing money at them. It’s empty. And well-meaning people stop knowing how to actually make a difference.

In some concluding remarks, a speaker at the conference said this: “If the bombing of the Boston Marathon can happen and nobody relocates from Boston, if the Twin Towers are bombed and the stock market sees an increase instead of a decrease, then Africa is capable of dealing with tragedy in a way that won’t make everybody scared to ever go there again.”

Kids in Africa are growing up with the idea that the only people capable of making change are people that live far away. The United States is full of leaders, difference-makers, and Africa is full of people who need their help. African kids growing up with that image will never be able to break the cycle.

I’m not even going to get started on Oscar Pistorius. Although we did drive by the courthouse where his trial is being held.

Time for more history (bear with me).

I’m going to try to pick up where I left off, with the formation of the South African Union in 1910. I should correct myself about when I said in my last post that the Afrikaaners won against the British in the Second Boer War, or the Anglo-Boer War—it’s actually the opposite. The Afrikaaners realized that they could not win, and sued for peace.

Essentially, the Anglo-Boer War was the formative event that led to apartheid. In many ways the war fueled an uncompromising Afrikaaner nationalism that sought to remove British influence from South Africa with a desperate urgency—this would prove key in the following decades. Along with the Anglo-Boer War, the discovery of gold in Johannesburg in 1886 would drive the conflicts and policy of South Africa’s 20th century.

I’ll tangent for a moment into something I’ve been thinking about as I’ve learned this history. I am both fascinated and somewhat disgusted that the formative pieces of apartheid were these two things: nationalism and gold. These two things mattered so much, they were of such profound importance that everything for the next century and beyond can be traced back to the deeply human way that we hunger for power. But in a sense it is more than that, especially with nationalism—it can be traced back to our passion and connection to those who are most like us, those who speak our language, those who share our first home. But nationalism, while somewhat admirable in that regard, has a sickly and twisted other half from which the likes of the Holocaust and apartheid are born.

How could it be, I thought, that we allow ourselves to be consumed by these instincts? How is it that our desire for power and our unwavering connection to our groups can take precedence over our sense of human justice and fairness? Because I have to believe that we possess all of these qualities—I know that the men who implemented apartheid, somewhere in the dark chasms of their souls, they knew justice. Maybe I’m romanticizing.But we are no more completely evil than we are completely good. It is a matter of choice, of the version of our conscience that we choose to listen to. Sometimes, to be consumed by hatred and power is all a person has ever known, and all they choose to know, forever.

I kept finding myself searching for explanations, motivations, anything that could explain what happened here, the fact that it happened, and was happening, only 30 years ago. With “nationalism and gold” I found part of it, and it was satisfying, like the soft snap of a puzzle piece that fits right into place. But scholars have spent years attempting to analyze things like the rise of Nazi Germany and apartheid, only to realize everything that we will never understand. Half or more of the puzzle I’m trying to put together is missing.

We were talking to our professor, recapping our experiences today, and I was sitting with my mouth gaping, stuttering through the explanation of my pondering at how something like apartheid could have still been occurring only 30 years ago. In a way it seems so possible, but impossible, all at the same time. And he smiled and pointed his finger at me and said, “Is it so difficult to articulate, perhaps, because you will never understand it? And not only that you will not understand it, none of us will.”

Human motivations, I think, are both a beautiful and terrifying thing. Staggeringly.

But back to the story.

Johannesburg, “the city of gold.” The history, after the formation of the Union, follows this roughly outlined path: Slums in Johannesburg—and in cities across South Africa—had been growing for years to accommodate miners and other low wage, colored laborers. The slums housed Indians, native Africans, even some whites, but were seen by the upper classes and the government as giving rise to a “multitude of evils.” The solution that the government found was the Natives Urban Act of 1923—to destroy the slums and move the tenants to areas outside of the city that would come to be known as townships. This ties into the formation of Soweto, arguably the most famous of these, but townships like Soweto that were more fully established came to be after WWII (the housing shortage and worker demands I discussed in the last post).

The Broederbond was a secret Afrikaaner organization established in 1919 with the hopes of infiltrating the government and ousting the British—a result of growing Afrikaaner nationalism. The leaders of the Broederbond were elected to office as the core of the Afrikaaner party that took control of the South African government in the 1948 election. Segregation had proved not to be a strong enough tactic, in the opinion of many South Africans, so the Afrikaaners won with their promise of apartheid. Immediately, they followed through on their promise, with townships and passbooks.

Hendrik Verwoerd is known as the architect of apartheid law, and he was elected prime minister in the following election. This guy was just fascinating. In a morbid sort of way. He was generally hated, from all accounts a pretty despicable sort of person, and for a while there wasn’t actually overwhelming public support for apartheid. Many people were skeptical, and like I said, he wasn’t too popular. But he held enough power in 1948 as part of the cabinet to implement the first apartheid laws, and soon enough someone tried to assassinate him—it is likely that apartheid would not have taken the same course as quickly as it did without Verwoerd. But, like the classic movie villain, he sprung right up again to spread racism and terror throughout the land. A messenger boy did manage to assassinate him, in the second attempt on Verwoerd’s life.

In the early 1900s, as a response to being left out of the formation of the Union,  members of the black community joined together to create the African National Congress. The ANC, as it became known, played a pivotal role in South Africa’s history, and happens to be the party of the president who was just elected a few weeks ago. It is Nelson Mandela’s party, an organization rooted in men like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu.

“Every facet of apartheid was rooted in its system of racial classification.”

I don’t know that I could adequately do justice to the effects and daily life under apartheid law. Ernest Cole, however, took hundreds of photos of this time period, and they’re incredible. Here are a couple of them, but check out more, which he published in a book that also has some beautiful quotes and thoughts of his.

Ernest Cole 1

Ernest Cole 2 Ernest Cole 3 Cole 4 Cole 5

“The overall effect was to confine different racial groups to different worlds of experience.”

Eventually, in my next post or the one after that, I will get to how all of this ties back to Hector Pieterson and the Soweto youth revolt of 1976.

Congratulations on your patience.