Wednesday, October 3, 2018

My Birthday Wish

Children in Soweto.

Several readers of last week’s post responded that they too had visited Soweto. One mentioned that he had been taken to a children’s cemetery there. I wrote back that one thought nagged me when visiting: how can a kid born and reared in the shacks of Soweto rise above the mentality/culture instilled by such an upbringing?

I immediately recognize the paternalism inherent in my thinking. Poverty and poor housing do not automatically “mark” someone for life. At the same time, they can limit one’s hopes and dreams. I know my own hopes and dreams were limited in scope by a working-class upbringing. As I listened to the Senate hearings of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh last week, I caught a glimpse of a privileged, preppy, country club world that surely gave them both a boost in their own careers, though it also propelled them toward the incident that Dr. Ford convincingly described and Judge Kavanaugh unconvincingly denied.

I mentioned last week that Dennis, the guide who took us to Soweto, had grown up there and had never seen a skyscraper until he was 22 years old. The government had built an earthen ridge so Soweto’s residents could not see the skyline of Johannesburg, lest they aspired to a life apartheid denied them.

Now there is better housing and schools in Soweto, with more to come. Satellite dishes on even some of the smallest homes suggest access to a larger world. And that two of South Africa’s national heroes had residences there, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, surely must elevate the hopes and dreams of even the most destitute.

But the contrast between Soweto and Sandton—the upscale financial district of Johannesburg where we were staying—indicates an income inequality that could breed discontent if not revolution.

Me and Wade in Nelson Mandela Square,
a huge, upscale shopping mall in Sandton.

Dennis told us that he had lost relatives as a result of apartheid. But he credited Mandela with his family’s ability to cope, even as they heard from those responsible for their deaths during the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a process that offered amnesty to those who would come forward and honestly admit what they had done. Dennis told us of later running into one of those men who confessed, and both were able to greet one another civilly. He said honestly that if it had not been for Mandela’s example he might have killed the man. Mandela averted a blood bath, he explained.

But then I wondered about the children living in poverty in Soweto who are growing up without a Mandela at the helm of the South African government.

As I write this, it occurs to me that we in the United States could benefit from a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that could help us talk about sexual assault, racial violence, LGBT bashing, and other ills. We too suffer from income inequality that breeds discontent if not revolution.

We could use both a Nelson Mandela and a Desmond Tutu.

Today is my birthday. Most of my birthday wishes throughout my life have been for peace on earth, sometimes for a particular region, sometimes for the whole world. And I’ve meant a full-bodied peace—that is, peace with justice but not revenge.

Today I wish for peacemakers.

Yours truly. 

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Text and photos copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser and Wade T. Jones. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

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