Israeli Apartheid?

The Economist of October 16th (p. 45) featured an article about the village of Lod, Israel.  It is a city of 20,000 Arabs and 45,000 Jews.  For years, they lived in next to each other in peace, Arabs voting for Jewish political parties and describing themselves as Israeli.

Recently, the atmosphere has changed.  Israel has finished building a wall of almost 10 feet high to separate the Jewish areas from the Arab ones.  Municipal services, such as street lighting and rubbish pick up do not include Arab suburbs.  While Arab suburbs are blocked from spreading, Jewish building continues with all speed.  “Once mixed districts are separating.”

I spent a summer in Israel studying Hebrew and must admit a general, though minute sympathy toward Israel.  However, after spending the last year in South Africa, the article gives me chills.  It would appear to me that Israel is intent on setting up its own version of the apartheid state.  Walling off living areas for a particular ethnicity mirrors exactly the spatial dynamics of apartheid.  The lack of service delivery to Arab “suburbs” reminds me of the situation I face on a daily basis in an informal settlement.  Mixed districts separating looks just like the Group Areas Act of 1950, and the subsequent demolition of Cape Town’s District 6, Johannesburg’s Sophiatown, and Port Elizabeth’s South End.

Desmund Tutu recently retired, though he has allowed himself the occasional public appearance and comment.  The focus of much of his recent comments leads me to believe that his primary issue of retirement will be pressuring Israel to respect the human rights of the minorities in their midst and turn course from an oppressive regime of separation.  The man has performed miracles in the past.  Let’s hope he’s got one more in him.


“You can stay in Soweto; you know how to drive.”

I would recommend that everyone visiting South Africa first visit Johannesburg to learn about and experience the history of the country.  It gives context to the rest of the country.  I spent my first semester in Cape Town without seeing the rest of the country, and I am worse for it.

Johannesburg’s museums are extraordinary.  I learned more about South African history in five days than I did in my first five months, including study at the University of Cape Town.  The Apartheid Museum, The Hector Pieterson Museum, Constitution Hill and Prison number 4 paint a vivid picture of the nation’s struggles and triumphs.  Add to that the South African Brewery’s “World of Beer” and you’ve got a mess of stimuli.

Living in Cape Town to experience South Africa is like going to Louisville to try to learn about the South.  You may be there, but you’re missing the reality.  Jozi has culture: museums, theater, energy and identity.  Cape Town, in comparison, is a bit soul-less.  Its identity lies in non-cultural aspects like Table Mountain or surfing.

Cape Town’s most famous township, Khayelitsha, is isolated and (most would have you believe, a no-go zone.  Johannesburg’s Soweto, on the other hand, is safe and oozing with opportunities to experience South Africa.  Walking the same streets as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisilu, Steve Biko.  Tracing the steps of the Soweto Uprising.  Visting the sight where the Freedom Charter was penned.  It is uber-rewarding and the perfect capstone for this leg of the journey.

Thoughts on Separation, Safety, and Social Justice

Excerpt from Cry, the Beloved Country: A father reads an essay written by his recently murdered son.

(historico-cultural word choice may be objectionable.)

“It is hard to be born a South African.  One can be born an Afrikaner, or an English-speaking South African, or a coloured man, or a Zulu.  One can ride, as I rode when I was a boy, over green hills and into great valleys.  One can see, as I saw when I was a boy, the reserves of the Bantu people and see nothing of what was happening there at all.  One can hear, as I heard when I was a boy, that there are more Afrikaners than English-speaking people in South Africa, and yet know nothing, see nothing, of them at all.  One can read, as I read when I was a boy, the brochures about lovely South Africa, that land of sun and beauty sheltered from the storms of the world, and feel pride in it and love for it, and yet know nothing about it at all.  It is only as one grows up that one learns that there are other things here than sun and gold and oranges.  It is only then that one learns of the hates and fears of our country.  It is only then that one’s love grows deep and passionate, as a man may love a woman who is true, false, cold, loving, cruel, and afraid.

I was born on a farm, brought up by honourable parents, given all that a child could need or desire.  They were upright and kind and law-abiding; they taught me my prayers and took me regularly to church; they had no trouble with servants and my father was never short of labour.  From them I learned all that a child should learn of honour and charity and generosity.  But of South Africa, I learned nothing at all.”

The father is stung by these words, pauses, protests, mourns, and is compelled to continue.

“Therefore I shall devote myself, my time, my energy, my talents, to the service of South Africa.  I shall no longer ask myself if this or that is expedient, but only if it is right.  I shall do this, not because I am noble or unselfish, but because life slips away, and because I need for the rest of my journey a star that will not play false to me, a compass that will not lie.  I shall do this, not because I am a Negrophile and a hater of my own, but because I cannot find it in me to do anything else.  I am lost when I balance this against that, I am lost when I ask if this is safe.  I am lost when I ask if men, white men or black me, Englishmen or Afrikaners, Gentiles or Jews, will approve.  Therefore I shall try to do what is right, and to speak what is true.

I do this not because I am courageous and honest, but because it is the only way to end the conflict of my deepest soul.  I do it because I am no longer able to aspire to the highest with one part of myself, and to deny it with another.  I do not wish to live like that, I would rather die than live like that.  I understand better those who have died for their convictions, and have not thought it was wonderful or brave or noble to die.  They died rather than live, that was all.

Yes, it would not be honest to pretend that it is solely an inverted selfishness that moves me.  I am moved by something that is not my own, that moves me to do what is rights, at whatever cost it may be….”


In post-apartheid Cape Town, there is a lingering and now cemented separation, an inevitable yet unchallenged result of the policies of separation.

Like any modern city, Cape Town is a study in contrasts.  A cursory glance reveals the swarthy European Southern Suburbs, with its shopping malls, razor-wired gates and ADT protection; the swimming, muddied and sotted bars and clubs of Long St., swarming with tourists and laced with beggars; the harsh, sandy, fire-prone townships of seedy roofs and tin shebeens.

Every day, men and women wake up on different sides of the city to rise and stumble into the bathroom in preparation for the day.  They slap cool water around the curves of their face, blink the sleepiness out of their eyes and look out the bathroom window at what must be the most stunning and majestic city on the face of the earth.  Table Mountain, peeks up out of a bed of clouds and smiles at the crashing, crushing waves of ocean at every edge of the compass.  Patches of fynbos frame the wayward slopes all the way to Cape Point, where the baboons bounce about and bully tourists.  Up and out.  Up and out.  And then back, back, back…turning from the omnipresent, ageless beauty, back in the bathroom, each must return to her life, to look himself in the mirror.

An army of domestic servants fills the train at the east of the city every morning around five a.m., determined to destroy and dismantle every soiled cloth and sullied corner in some distant house in the suburbs.  The same army returns in the evening to the dirt floors and rusty, corrugated metal of home.  Every day of the week, servants of Philanthropy and Humanitarianism load into white mini vans and VW Beetles to volunteer in schools, orphanages, and medical clinics, full of goodwill and good feeling, confident in the efficacy and legitimacy of their contribution.  These same speedily return with a vague but thankful regret, to walls of brick, floors of marble, and kitchen appliances of shiny metal.  These cultures interact only briefly, superficially, ocean waves resting ephemerally on the shore before retreating back to status quo.

Pleas and please, don’t ride the train, don’t walk at night, please, please.  you can’t go there, do that, be like that.  make sure the alarm is on, lock the gate.  don’t look, don’t give, don’t.  please, don’t be naïve, you’ll get used to it, it’s just the WAY THINGS ARE, please…


I understand too little and judge too quickly.  I make a lousy judge at that, a person of privilege from a privileged culture.  For all the ways that I do feel courageous and honest, brave and noble, Lord, help me.  I am fresh off the plane, a neophyte in comprehension, laboring to discern, decipher and find meaning.

I am no South African.  I did not grow up in the bush or love the veld.  But I know what it is to love truth and justice, to seek to dedicate, perhaps sacrifice one’s life to the idea.

The forces working against reconciliation here are strong.  Large among these is the mythology of violence.  Perpetuating this meta-narrative becomes the new justification for separation, which has famously proven a means for systematic group oppression.  It exacerbates the problem and proves self-fulfilling.  Whole communities are defined and imprisoned by the story.

Safety is often cited as a motivating priority for people’s action or lack of durable action.  It would be foolish to dismiss the high potential of violence or the legitimacy of concern.  Nonetheless, the driving question must be whether the outcome is worth the risks.  Why should people groups live apart?  Where will liberation come from?  How will justice and transformation be enacted?  Is it too much to ask for the Kingdom now?