For centuries, a small, white, European population dominated South Africa: first the Boers, then the Brits, and finally the Afrikaners. In that final period, the policies of Apartheid were fully established - and zealously enforced. While the wide-ranging policies defy quick summation, as a body they guaranteed the social, political, and economic inferiority of black South Africans.
As the decades passed, violent resistance erupted, first in small pockets and then increasingly in widespread explosions, leaving South Africa in a state of emergency. Ultimately, the Afrikaner-dominated National Party blinked, releasing political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, legalizing the African National Congress, and beginning the transition towards the end of Apartheid.
As in Poland, South Africa's history is marked by some of the most horrific behavior imaginable between human beings. However, there are some significant and critical differences between the two countries. Most significant of all, the Jews were never a majority in Poland. Imagine if the Jews were the dominant population and, following the Holocaust, they were sharing the state with a Nazi-oriented minority. Could they coexist? South Africa faced just such a predicament, made even trickier by the fact that the two groups were so obviously identifiable. Many white South Africans fled the country; others prepared for destuction.
However, led by Nelson Mandela and the Archbishop Demond Tutu, South Africa establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which focused less on punishment and more on national recovery. The TRC offers a remarkable example of humans setting aside a desire for vengeance in pursuit of peace and stability, and made South Africa an ideal subject for the Legacy Project.
We cast a wide net on this trip, scheduling visits with freedom fighters, young people trying to shape their community today, victims of the apartheid era, members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, people leading human rights campaigns today, those active in the recently established refugee camps, and people involved in the fight against AIDS. The over-arching theme was the challenge of rebuilding after trauma, and after an era of extreme violence. Thus, while we were certainly interested in the struggle against apartheid, we were more focused on the struggle to build a free, democratic, and equitable state.
12 students, 4 trip leaders, and 2 South Africans joined together in June-July 2008 in our journey from Pretoria to Cape Town, and back to Johannesburg. To learn more about the 2008 South Africa trip, click the links below:
Trip Report: Check out summaries of our many meetings and conversations, pictures, and partial transcripts
Refugee Project: Our visit to the Youngsfield Refugee Camp was the pivotal part of the trip and inspired further action upon returning home. Read more about it here
Resources and Bibliography: A collection of online links and books that informed our trip
Acknowledgments: A few words about the people who made this trip possible
News clipping about Flight From Death screening in Kimberley (originally printed in the Diamond Field Observer)