During our general Mennonite Central Committee orientation in South Africa, the new Seeders had the opportunity to visit Soweto, a historically black African township created during the apartheid era. Here we were guided through many important historical issues, including the power and privilege of white settlers, the politically mandated racial segregation, the struggle for freedom and equality, and how Nelson Mandela emerged as the first black president of South Africa. We learned far more than can be shared here, and so we have each picked one reflection from our experiences.
I think for me what stood out from the Soweto tour was the story of Hector Pieterson in the struggle for freedom and equality in South Africa during the apartheid era. Hector Pieterson was killed by the South African police in 1976, when the police opened fire on students who were protesting the implementation of Afrikaans, a non-native language to Africa, as the main language of instruction in schools. Reflecting back on that trip I composed a few words that describe my thoughts and reactions during our visit to the Hector Pieterson Museum.
Hector Pieterson was …
A story of tragedy and hope.
A story of human sacrifice, – child sacrifice.
A story of police brutality.
A story that caused the whole world to have a conversation.
A conversation that denounced the violence and injustice that had snatched Hector’s life.
A conversation that guaranteed Black South African political, economic and social liberation.
But are they there yet?
Nonetheless, Hector Pieterson, was and is a story to reckon on, to be told, and forever celebrated.
The orientations in South Africa and Colombia have concretely reminded me that words alone cannot completely capture reality. This lesson was particularly clear in Soweto.
While ignorant of many of the details, I have known about the apartheid for much of my life—or, at least, I thought I had. Hearing the history while seeing and touching the houses, streets, places, and people brought color, shape, and correction to the shadowy pictures of my imagination. It reified the abstract inequality, injustice, and suffering into something tangible and uncomfortable. I may not be South African, but I am ‘white,’ and while in Soweto I had a lingering sense of guilt—rightly felt or not. I kept self-centeredly wondering, ‘How do people here see me?’
In Colombia the history is altogether different and yet all too much the same. I am presently living in Chocó, an impoverished region of mainly Afro-Colombians who are the descendants of Africans brought to Colombia as slaves. The many realities of this context become increasingly vivid and personal to me as I get to know it and the people better. Now I am left to self-consciously contemplate, ‘How do Chocoanos see me?’
Our reflections have not stopped in South Africa, and during the Seed orientation in Bogota we had further dialogues on power, privilege, injustice, victims, and violence and how these fit within the Kingdom of God and a theology of peace. Our questions from Soweto persist and yet now they are met with new ones from the experiences we have had in Colombia. Only time will tell whether or not some sort of satisfactory responses to our concerns can be found, and, if so, what forms of speech and action they will take.
By: Brendah Ndagire and Daniel Christie
*All photos by Brendah Ndagire