A day in South Africa…

Dr. Christopher Mitchell’s two-day lecture on the topics of reconciliation, restoration, restitution and translation justice was very informative and valuable. I learned the impacts of these processes on the different parts of the world which previously encountered episodes of war and violence. The lecture also gave me the right tools to reflect on my personal experience in post apartheid South Africa. Having lived in Swaziland for seven years I have had several opportunities to visit South Africa. Mandela’s work towards reconciliation has transformed South Africa from racial apartheid to democratic majority rule. His fight against racial oppression has always inspired me and I was fortunate enough to visit his cell in Robben Island, South Africa, where he was imprisoned for 27 years.

In my first few visits to South Africa, I was disappointed to witness several forms of segregation based on race. The experiences I had there made me disillusioned about unity in South Africa despite Mandela’s and Steve Biko’s work towards empowering black people and unifying the country. I realized that there were still loopholes and doubts based on the results of reconciliation efforts after the apartheid.

The first time I personally felt discriminated against because of my race was during a weekend in 2006. My class was taken to a game resort for a weekend retreat in Nelspruit, South Africa. Nelspruit is a small town populated predominantly by white people. On the trip, all the students were black, except one of my classmates. We all wanted to go for a swim after we realized how hot it was when we arrived in Nelspruit. When we went to the swimming pool, all the people in the pool were white. A few of my friends immediately jumped in the pool, and what I saw a few minutes after was shocking. All the white people in the pool suddenly started moving to one side, away from where my friends were. Additionally, all the white people inside the pool were also staring at some of us who were outside of the pool. I felt disturbed. I did not know what to do about the white people’s reaction. Gradually, I began to ignore everything, and jumped into the swimming pool. That day was the first time I felt like a minority, and I felt like the white people were looking down on me. I could not swim to the other side of the pool; although there were no physical boundaries to see, I could feel the invisible wall. This made me realize that although there had been an official agreement to end Apartheid in South Africa, the real change of ensuring reintegration of all factions of society in the day-to-day life needs to be worked upon. This requires greater public dialogue and greater focus on ensuring that two people who used to once hate each other can now live in cooperation and encourage greater social engagement with one another.

I stayed a total of seven years in Swaziland, and I made a lot of friends–one of whom became more than a friend, a family member. Rosa Brittain Walker is a white South African whom I studied with, while in Swaziland. After we became friends, her parents became my host family, and I started going to South Africa frequently for holiday breaks. A lot of people would often stare at me when I dined out with her family in restaurants and hotels. Regardless of these issues, many cultural beliefs and values were shared between Rosa’s family and myself over the years. The relationship I have with Britt’s family gave me hope that segregation can be alleviated through integration and reconciliation in South Africa is still a work in progress moving towards the right direction.