Last year I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa as part of the DukeImmerse Freedom Struggles program, which studied the history of the civil rights movement in the United States and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Our first official outing of the program was visiting Constitution Hill, the site for the highest court in the country. After arriving at the location, I immediately was overcome by the power of those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle. The location, which was formerly a prison for some of the country’s most renowned political activists including Mahatma Gandhi, Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, now represents a place for solidarity and democracy.
Constitution Hill epitomized South Africa’s progress and potential, as well as the accomplishments of the late Nelson Mandela. Walking around I saw legal text written in all of South Africa’s official languages, I saw a collection of paintings with the subject of optimism done by people suffering with HIV, I saw banners championing the country’s commitment to wealth redistribution, health-equality, marriage-equality, and other progressive policies. I was left inspired by the amount of hope that came with overthrowing the oppressive apartheid regime. The sacrifices of Walter Sisulu, Steven Biko, Emma Mashinini, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, and all of the others who committed themselves to ending apartheid have created a country of infinite potential.
I quickly realized, however, Mandela’s long walk to freedom did not end with his election in 1994, nor did it end with his death. I returned from Constitution Hill to a neighborhood where houses were surrounded by chain-link fences, barbed wire and personal security guards lined the sidewalks. The second day of our trip we heard the news of a Mozambican man in South Africa being handcuffed to the back of a van and dragged throughout the streets by a police officer. Each day, we were confronted with information of other cases of xenophobic violence, a refugee crisis, the AIDS epidemic and poverty.
In many ways, the myth of Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle has left both the United States and the South African government to bask in the successes of the movement and refrain from confronting some of the horrors of the aftermath of apartheid. In a country where 6.1 million people were infected with HIV in 2012, there is a serious lack of government responsibility. Former President Thabo Mbeki was quoted saying “personally, I don’t know anyone who has died of AIDS.” South Africa’s current President and African National Congress member Jacob Zuma “showered to prevent HIV” after unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-positive woman. In 2012, the protests of mine workers in the Marikana region resulted in the death of 44 people and the injury of 78 people. This was the most violent use of lethal force from South African security forces toward civilians since the apartheid-era Sharpeville massacre where 69 people were killed after protesting the policy which required non-whites to carry passbooks whenever travelling outside of designated home areas. South Africa has been ambiguous toward addressing the over 5 million Zimbabwean refugees in the country. And although these problems exist, South Africa is largely a one-party dominant state. The ANC, the party that ended apartheid, has remained in control.
Perhaps the death of Mandela will lead the country to introspection. Now that a man who was known throughout the world for his unfailing commitments to ending inequality and oppression has passed, South Africa will look for its inspiration from within. Mandela’s legacy is in the people of South Africa: its children, its union workers, its freedom fighters. It is not solely housed within the ANC.
It is time for the United States to reflect as well. With Mandela’s passing, it is evident that the United States has forgotten its own relationship with apartheid and Mandela. We ignore that Mandela was on the U.S. terrorist list until 2008 or that it wasn’t until 14 years after the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid bill was introduced that it was finally passed. The United States has made its own myth of the anti-apartheid struggle, quoting Mandela’s quips on freedom, praising his role as a statesman and his commitments to fight injustice. We laud him for his sacrifices and his defiance. But there are aspects of Mandela we brush over. We rarely talk about Mandela’s commitment to armed resistance. We fail to mention Mandela’s solidarity with the Palestinian people and the existence of an Israeli apartheid state.
So in this time of mourning and remembrance, let us not forget what Mandela has accomplished for South Africa and global justice. But additionally, let us not allow Mandela’s life remain as mere legacy. Mandela did not take his long walk alone. He did so with the partnership and support of millions of freedom fighters. As we strive toward freedom and justice throughout the world, this walk will continue the same way. With Mandela’s inspiration, let us all, as South Africans and Americans, remember apartheids still exist and aren’t always black and white. Let us not be critical of how political protests take shape. Let us not be so quick to classify those making immeasurable sacrifices for freedom as terrorists. We can be touched and inspired by the end of apartheid and the face of a free South Africa, but we cannot be content with the world Mandela left behind. To quote the man himself: “I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”
Adrienne Harreveld is a Trinity senior. This is her final column of the semester. Send Adrienne a message on Twitter @AdrienneLiege.