Have You Heard From Johannesburg? Episode 2: Hell of a Job

•October 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment


And what a film!  Connie Field packed three front and back pages worth of notes in under an hour, and did it in a way that kept me on the edge of my seat for almost the entire time!  And although I could never do it justice, here is a brief summary:

After that horrible day when 72 people were murdered at Sharpeville, the government called for a state of emergency.  Phone lines were tapped.  Oliver Tambo was a leader and founder of the African National Congress.  The South African Government claimed that the ANC was a terrorist group and was banned.  Because of his affiliation, Tambo was exiled.  To avoid being arrested, Tambo and Ron Segal, a white South Africa journalist, fled the country.  Tambo couldn’t return to his homeland for 30 years because he had committed a criminal offense by leaving the country with no passport.

Once in London, Tambo was homeless.  He had no income, and even sometimes went without food.  Despite these hardships, at all times Tambo would carry himself with dignity towards the anti-apartheid movement.  He was very passionate about this.  Upon arrival in London, he worked full time on the movement and created the mechanisms to get resources.  Oliver Tambo set up the first ANC office outside of South Africa.  He even teamed up with a woman named Diana Collins to set up a fund for families that have been affected by apartheid.  All of these efforts got international attention.  Many African nations supported the movement.  Ghana was eager to help because they, too, were under European rule at one point, and they boycotted all South Africa goods.  There was a sense of inspiration and pride going around the continent.  People were seeing that that part of Africa needed to change.  By the 1960’s, 17 African countries gained independence.

The United States though all of this was unnecessary.  Their attitude was that it was an internal problem that only South Africa needed to deal with.  They completely abandoned dealing with the apartheid regime.  They even continued trading.  Though I don’t remember who said this, but I totally agreed with this quote: “The west aligned with South Africa by refusing to condemn it.”

Nelson Mandela told Tambo that his struggle is unavoidable, and that resisting peacefully was no longer an option.   Not only did peace get 72 people killed in Sharpeville.  Both the PAC and the ANC were banned, so meeting peacefully wasn’t an option either. He believed that the worst horror in the world was to live as a slave.  He believed that to be treated as sub-human was worse than violence.  Mandela and others bombed power lines outside of Johannesburg.  They were caught, charged with sabotage, and thrown in prison.

This event was an enormous setback.  Oliver Tambo had an even bigger task.  He now had the responsibility of keeping the ANC together, at a time when it was at the lowest level it could ever get to.  In April 1963, he decided to travel to Moscow to ask for Soviet help against the apartheid.  They received weapons, supplies and training.  Unfortunately, Soviet aid came at a cost to the ANC.   The United States and the U.S.S.R. were at war with each other.  South Africa took advantage of this and manipulated the U.S. into thinking that the Soviets were just assisting the ANC in order to gain control of South Africa’s resources.  The ANC was trapped in the crossfire of the Cold War, and was shunned by western nations.

Bishop Trevor Huddleston was a British Priest residing in South Africa.  He whole-heartedly supported the anti-apartheid movement, which highly contrasted with the way many white Christians residing there.  They were comfortable with the world the way it was.  Bishop Huddleston had this to say in response to the lack of involvement: “Of course you’ve got to be involved in politics.  Christ was a highly political figure.”   Due to his beliefs, Bishop Huddleston was forced out of the country, so fought apartheid from afar.  In 1969, he and Oliver Tambo went to the World Council of Churches to help.  They received help in the form of funding for nonviolent things, such as education for the children of South Africa.  Because of the aid given, the World Council of Churches was accused of funding “black terrorist’ movements.  The Dean of Johannesburg was sentenced to prison for 5 years for supporting terrorism.  Bishop Huddleston called this trial “an attempt to silence the church”.  Despite all of this, The World Council of Churches stood by its decision.  Now Tambo had an army of clergy on his side.

“I am not a Christian in the sense that I can tolerate exploitation and oppression and repression.  I don’t believe in that kind of Christianity at all.  I believe in a Christianity which defends justice.” –Oliver Tambo

GUEST SPEAKER – Dr. Marybeth Gasman

This lady is hilarious!  She claims she used to do stand-up comedy, so that makes sense.  She received her PhD from the University of Indiana.  Her research is mainly on black education, which includes historically black colleges, black leadership, and fund-raising issues at black colleges.  Dr. Gassman did a great job engaging us in a group discussion about race.  A few points we touched on included the following:

1.  We discussed what it takes to be a true activist.  We used Oliver Tambo as an example.  What made him so good at it?  Was it his passion for human equality?  Was it his drive, his love for his country?  Or was it his charisma and the fact that he was just so darn likable?  I think all of these things contributed to his success, but the most important was his passion for standing up against something he did not believe was right.  This sounds easy enough, so why aren’t there more people like him?  I think when it comes to standing up for what is right, it is easier said then done.  Dr. Gasman talked about growing up in a small white community with a father who HATED anyone who was different.  He despised blacks, hispanics…anyone who wasn’t white.  I was sad to hear about the first time she tried to introduce her Jewish husband to her family, and I understood completely when she told us she rarely communicates with the part of her family that did not welcome him.   But that was a sacrifice she had made.  She stood up for what she believed in, despite that it lead to a broken family.

2. Another reason for Tambo’s success was the help he received from dear friends.  A lot of the alliances made during the struggle with apartheid were based on friendship.  Tambo had a way with making friends.  Before he left South Africa, he used to study under Bishop Huddleston.  He became very good friends with Swedish politician Olaf Pamle, who later became Prime Minister and strongly supported the Anti-Apartheid movement with funds from Sweden and other Nordic countries.

3. One of the last things that we discussed as a class was the way we talk about race.  Dr. Gassman compared how the U.S. and South Africa discuss this subject.  Here in the U.S., race is a very touchy subject.  Everyone (including me!)  is worried about being offended or getting uncomfortable.  Apparently in Cape Town, people talk about it explicitly.  They even introduce themselves as “coloured” or “white South Africans”.  I can’t even imagine that!  For my entire life, I have tiptoed around the subject of race.  I was terrified of being “politically incorrect” and offending someone.  I don’t think it helped that most of the schools I attended were probably 98% white.  I always tried to be “color-blind”, which I have come to realize is not just impossible, but it’s wrong!  We shouldn’t ignore our differences.  We should embrace them!


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Have You Heard From Johannesburg? Episode 1: Road To Resistance

•October 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment


This film painted a perfect picture of what it was like for Indian, black, and colored people to live in South Africa after the segregation laws in 1948.  Race was recorded nationally, and anyone who was not white had to carry passbooks explaining their reasons for being in certain areas.

I thought the most powerful, yet chilling, story in the film was of the Sharpeville Massacre.  On March 21st, 1960, thousands of black citizens gathered in town to protest apartheid.  They purposely left their pass books at home to demonstrate their anger, but in a peaceful way.  In the beginning of the protest, people were happy and the mood was festive.  As the day went on though, the crowd grew to around 10,000 people and the mood turned hostile.  Armed police tried to scare off the crowd, and when a few stones were thrown by the protesters, the police opened fire.  According to Wikipedia, the death toll was 69 people.  18 of these were women and children.  Over 180 people were injured.

According to Wikipedia, nonviolent resistance  is the practice of achieving social and/or political goals through symbolic protests, civil disobedience, and other methods, without using violence.  One very famous advocate of nonviolent resistance is Mohandas Gandhi.  As a matter of fact, the first time Gandhi employed civil disobedience, which is a form of nonviolent resistance, was in South Africa during Indians’ struggle for civil rights as citizens.  Gandhi would write articles and organize protests and demonstrations.  He even engaged in multiple hunger strikes.

“There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for.” — Gandhi

The people protesting apartheid in South Africa were trying to make a point about the injustice going on, but they were doing it peacefully, as Gandhi would have done.  There were no weapons and no violent intentions.  I couldn’t believe that the law enforcement could shoot at a group unarmed citizens!  Some of these people (including children!) were fleeing and were actually shot in the back.  I was even more horrified when I heard the police force was actually praised for their actions.

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won.  There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they will always fall.  Think of it, always.” — Gandhi  (I know I keep quoting him; I just think his words are so inspiring!)

Talk with Dean Mark Kornbluh

Kornbluh brought up a lot of great points from the film, but what stood out the most to me was when he compared the Defiance Campaign against Unjust Laws in South Africa to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

I can remember learning about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement as far back as first grade.  I remember being so disgusted when I learned that white people could treat black people so badly, just because of the color of their skin.  It was a terrible thing to have happened, but at the same time I was relieved to know that it had ended long before I was born.  What is so wild to think about is that I was in first grade in 1990.  Little did I know, racial discrimination was still very much alive in a country very far away.

Both the Defiance Campaign in South Africa and the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S . started around the same time and they were both basically about the same issue.  The Defiance Campaign actually occurred around the same time as the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the U.S.  The big difference is how long each of them lasted.  The African-American Civil Rights Movement lasted 13 years.  The Apartheid was enforced by the National Party government between 1948 and 1994.  That’s 46 years!  I am anxious to find out why it took so long for South Africa to overcome apartheid.

I think there is room for one more Gandhi quote!!

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

Hello world!

•October 13, 2010 • 2 Comments

Okay.  This is my first blog ever.  I am terrible at writing.  I’ve never even kept a journal, so please bear with me.