All Blacks Who Missed Out On World Cup South Africa: Pressing for Black Liberation

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South Africa: Pressing for Black Liberation

Whenever I think of South Africa, I think of my father, who was a dedicated anti-apartheid activist and one of the most intelligent and well-read people I have ever known. His library contained the works of Baraka, Lenin, Marx and Stalin. He had street cred because he could do numbers with the best of them, smoked a pack of menthol cigarettes a day and pulled women like he plucked apples from a tree. He talked to everyone about what was happening in South Africa on the street or in the classroom. His intelligence was unmatched and he could debate any topic for hours without making you feel like a complete idiot, even though you knew you had no business contradicting him intellectually.

In my family, we often call our fathers and uncles “Baba”, a Swahili word for our ancestors’ relationship to them and a term of respect. I still remember Baba’s red, black and green hat with the inscription “Free Mandela” and his use of the word “Amandla”. At times I laughed at him with my teenage arrogance and asked him why his latest “soap box” release should catch my attention. And with sadness in his voice, he told me that until Nelson Mandela was freed, the world just wasn’t going to feel right. For some reason I understood that this was not one of his typical radical arguments. This personal quest for freedom by Nelson Mandela represented something much deeper and more painful. He found it almost too painful to debate with the same vigor and passion with which he argued about money, politics, and religion. He wanted to go to South Africa to fight firsthand alongside those he considered his brothers and sisters in the freedom movement. He told me about the oppressive Bantu education system and the violent uprisings of students who refused to continue being taught subservience.

I was recently able to study abroad in South Africa in a doctoral program focusing on education policy. We traveled there to study the education system and the country’s efforts to repair the damage done to their educational institutions by years of oppression. Our biggest challenge as students was trying to conceptualize what this meant for the millions of South Africans who wanted to pursue higher education. We have constantly talked about the role that colonialism, hegemony and racism played in the apartheid structure, but I don’t believe any of us can fully understand how it affected the lives of the people who lived through this experience on a daily basis.

Our study abroad in South Africa gave us an idea of ​​what it must mean to work in a system that has historically prevented all students from accessing the best possible education. We attended lectures at the University of Pretoria, University of Witwatersrand and Tshwane North College for FET. These lectures included administrators, professors, and students. Each of these people provided us with a lens through which to view the transformation of South Africa’s higher education system into a post-apartheid system. I saw the effect that the apartheid regime had on the socio-economic status of many black South Africans. The stratification that existed as part of apartheid was evident, although the apartheid system had ended more than a decade before.

When I photographed little children begging in Soweto Rand (South African money), I felt more emotional about the bridge that many educators have tried to build for those who have been historically disadvantaged in their country. I wondered aloud how these educators could achieve their goal of achieving integration in schools that have historically been divided into four races in South Africa: white, Indian, colored and black. I didn’t understand their racial categories, their monuments to the Dutch colonists (Voortrekker), or how and why whites still maintained control of many businesses and properties in the country.

I visited the former home of Nelson Mandela, which stands in a small area in Soweto not far from the Hector Pieterson Museum. Mandela’s former home has become a museum where one can walk through the home of the man who was imprisoned on Robbin’s Island for 27 years. At this Mandela family museum, the tour guide took us into the kitchen and told us how when they lived there, the Mandelas (Nelson and Winnie) often had a lock on the fridge because they were told their food would be poisoned. The guide took us through the small house and explained that Mandela tried to move back into this house after he was released from prison, but could only stay there for eleven days because reporters from all over the world were camped outside the house.

Later that day I visited the Hector Pieterson Museum. I saw pictures of students (many of them children) protesting during the student uprising in Soweto, some of whom lost their lives when the police shot at them. The Hector Pieterson Museum is surrounded by vendors who tell you their stories through their actions and words. Some are relatives of deceased children and will tell you which one was theirs and how they were related to them. These relatives wanted to know if we appreciate what happened at this historic place when Hector Pieterson and many others laid down their lives in the name of freedom. Hecter Pieterson is the dead 12-year-old student pictured in the famous photo of two children in school uniforms carrying his bloodied body after he was shot dead by police. During the uprising, Soweto students shouted “Amandla”, meaning power, as a sign of their solidarity with the imprisoned Nelson Mandela and the activist organization the African National Congress.

A few days after my trip, we visited a place called God’s window in Mpumalamanga and I was struck by the beauty and hope that still remained in a place ruled by fear, hatred and pain for so many years. When I stood at God’s window, I no longer focused on the hegemonic practices of European countries that colonized third world countries around the world. Instead, I thought of my father and remembered his energy and spirit.

I was eighteen years old when Paul Nakawa Sanders died in August 1988. Amiri Baraka eulogized my Baba in his book entitled Eulogy and noted that in his later years Nakawa had moved from the black nationalism of the 1960s to a better understanding of the need for global activism or internationalism. My father never lived to see the man he admired and who was unjustly imprisoned for twenty-seven years become President Nelson Mandela. His “Abolish Apartheid” T-shirts were faded and torn by the time apartheid was actually abolished. But I saw all these things for him. I stood on top of the mountain at God’s window and saw that the beauty of South Africa is that it still exists. It stands in all its glory as a symbol of all that can happen when people – ordinary citizens, some children, some adults, some former revolutionaries and even their skeptical daughters – believe enough to ignore those who would oppress them and carry on in his quest for black liberation.

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