Building a New South Africa: One Conversation at a Time

Building a New South Africa: One Conversation at a Time

Building a New South Africa: One Conversation at a Time

Building a New South Africa: One Conversation at a Time

Synopsis

Once a thriving, multiracial community, the Sophiatown suburb of Johannesburg was home to many famous artists, musicians, and poets. It was also a place where residential apartheid was first put into practice with forced removals, buildings bulldozed, and the construction of new, cheap housing for white public employees. David Thelen and Karie L. Morgan facilitate conversations among today's Sophiatown residents about how they share spaces, experiences, and values to raise and educate their children, earn a living, overcome crime, and shape their community for the good of all. As residents reflect on the past and the challenges they face in the future, they begin to work together to create a rich, diverse, safe, and welcoming post-Mandela South Africa.

Excerpt

by David Thelen and Karie L. Morgan

In 1996 the American magazine Newsweek asked noted South African writer Andre Brink to explain a bizarre paradox that South Africa seemed to present to the outside world. the occasion was the opening of public hearings by the new Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), at which perpetrators and victims of human rights abuses gave often-nightmarish accounts of their experiences in the struggle that ended in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. the hearings encapsulated the paradox. On the one hand, witnesses testified to scenes of incredible brutality and to the oppression that led the rest of the world to boycott South Africa as a pariah state, calling its apartheid policy a “crime against humanity.” the oppressors were so impervious to reason and outside pleas that it was inconceivable to most observers that the two sides could ever make or accept peace. Yet on the other hand, witnesses were testifying before a commission that embodied the most dramatic commitment to reconciliation ever made by a nation wanting to come to terms with legacies of a conflicted past. Remarkably, the struggle for liberation seemed to have ended in a commitment to reconciliation. It made no sense. So the peaceful transfer of power accompanied by widespread official encouragement of reconciliation was widely hailed both within and outside the country as “the South African miracle.”

The commitment to reconciliation, most observers said, was inseparable from two extraordinary men, both Nobel Peace Prize winners, who had shaped the transition from apartheid to democracy, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. At Mandela’s death, Zoe Wicomb reminded the New Yorker’s readers he was nothing less than “an icon of reconciliation.” His greatest achievement, concluded Richard Stengel in Time, “is surely the creation of a democratic, nonracial South Africa and preventing that beautiful country from falling vinto a terrible, bloody civil war,” which most people expected. Tutu preached and embodied “the gospel of reconciliation in opposition to ‘normal’ human impulses” toward revenge, summed up the New Yorker’s Tina Rosenberg. the explanation for the paradox was that South Africa was blessed by two remarkable leaders.

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