Yesterday here in Cape Town, we visited the District Six Museum, Saint George's Cathedral Crypt (where former Archbishop Desmond Tutu was priest), and the Iziko Slave Lodge, which is the oldest physical monument representing slavery in South Africa. I wish I had more time at each of these places because there was an immense amount of information presented. We were privileged that the guides at the District Six Museum and the Crypt shared firsthand experience concerning the historical happenings we were learning about. Joe was a former resident of District Six,
while the woman at the Crypt participated in the 1989 Peace March of
30,000 South Africans demanding an end to apartheid, imagining the
possibility of another world -- "to proclaim that another world was
possible; a world in which the dignity
of every person was respected and her promise of freedom and democracy
would be available to all."*
Within fifteen minutes of both the guides' informative talks -- at District Six and the Crypt -- each stated that the major problem behind the terrible mistreatment and exploitation of people of color and poor folks was greed and selfishness. They went on to name these vices as both spawning and stemming from a capitalist
economic system, one which is rooted in profit through exploitation, as well as privileging the individual versus communal good. Although I study capitalism within the confines of the academy -- doing my best to co-integrate what I'm striving to learn through community organizing with those studies -- it was compelling to me to hear folks talk about it so openly. As a mass in the United States, we're simply very close-minded to conversations on the possibility of socialism. Much of this is essentially linked to our government's representation of socialism as the enemy of freedom, typically understood through free-market capitalism (which we've already established is exploitative). The US government will hardly let US residents travel to Cuba, a place whose socialist government played an absolutely key role in the eventual overthrow of the South African apartheid regime.
How does capitalism then play out on the ground in the context of South Africa and the US? The extent to which people have gone -- and continue to go -- to displace others from their homes in order to achieve wealth for themselves is appalling and disturbing. Moreover, a careful eye to history reveals the frightening, great harm we can inflict upon each other in search of profit. One instance reflective of this damage is the basis for the District Six Museum: the Afrikaans (White Dutch) government's forced removal of communities of color from their residences through the Group Areas Act of 1950. Before pointing all fingers at the South African government, however, it is necessary to reflect upon our own nation's past and present abuse of people of color, poor people, and immigrants (among many groups systematically marginalized). Amongst other reasons, the economic prowess of the US is a result of our country's use of slavery as a violent system of unpaid labor, destruction of slave families, and genocide of the indigenous peoples inhabiting North America. We can therefore see that South Africa's designation of the diversity-rich District Six of Cape Town as White only parallels the construction of highway Interstate 94 in Saint Paul during the 1960s. The construction split through the historic Rondo neighborhood, home to a thriving Black community.** Similarly, since a tornado hit North Minneapolis in May 2011, newly developed homes are replacing destroyed homes at highly unaffordable prices for previous owners or tenants. It doesn't take much to realize that the economic disparities and challenges facing communities is obviously not some inherent pathological issue but in fact an intentional
state-enforced deprivation, resulting from centuries of institutionalized white supremacy rooted in the vicious veins of capitalism.
For these reasons, evident throughout our trip have been the ways in which white supremacy and capitalism work together to weaken and break down families
, which are necessary to the growth, health, and transmission of cultures and traditions. The pass laws of apartheid South Africa served to extract very underpaid labor from African and colored*** people exiled to the Cape Flats, or townships at the outskirts of cities. Having grown up in District Six, displaced in the 1960s, our guide Joe described to us that the apartheid regime's movement of people far outside the city brought longer days and more time away from family for these folks. Travel to and from the city, in addition to the need to find shopping in Cape Town -- due to the lack of shops accessible in the townships -- elongated the days and deprived working parents of sleep. How long does it take before people begin to break and snap at each other?
Joe asked. The devil finds work for idle hands
, he continued, sharing stories of increased gang formation and violence.
We'll begin service-learning in the township of Delft tomorrow officially, after orientation this morning. I am wholeheartedly looking forward to working with children -- I brought my jump ropes. The folks at Afrika Tikkun
gave us a welcome and introduction toward recognizing what we and the folks in the township can learn from each other, emphasizing shared human solidarity. Not only that, but in the past week and a half, we've done a lot of reflecting and reading on 'coming in right' -- beyond naming privilege; rather further emphasizing the need to heal ourselves before being able to fully and effectively support others. Finally, as I addressed earlier in the post, we're relating what we're seeing here to larger worldwide patterns in the webs of oppression.* Saint George's Cathedral Crypt, a place of memory and witness: http://www.archivalplatform.org/news/entry/st_georges_cathedral/.
** Visit the Minnesota Historical Society's website for more information: http://www.mnhs.org/library/tips/history_topics/112rondo.html.
*** A term used commonly in South Africa to refer to people who are not Indian, African, or White. See the history of South Africa's racial designations under apartheid.