Apartheid | \ə-ˈpär-ˌtāt, -ˌtīt\ | noun
A policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race
Editor’s Note: We’ve all played a role in political dysfunction. So we all get to write the story of restoration.
In today’s Journal entry a current Legislative Correspondent in the U.S. House of Representatives draws inspiration from a trip to South Africa, and what the writer learned about Apartheid while there.
More importantly, the writer learned about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established after Apartheid. If South Africans can seek reconciliation after unspeakable national conflict, doesn’t it stand to reason that Americans can and should find a deeper story of freedom that will radically reshape our political work culture, our communication, and our well-being?
The story of healing through freedom continues.
-Caleb Paxton, LIBERATUS Founder
Before leaving for South Africa, I wrote way too many scholarship essays about why I wanted to study there. Most of them were extremely idealistic and showed my ignorance of the depths of the horrors of Apartheid. I wrote one essay about their “bloodless transition to power,” and my professor responded with, “I think many South Africans would argue against the transition being bloodless.” The fact is that thousands did die during the 46 years of Apartheid rule. It wasn’t a clinical segregation. It was a personal ripping apart of families, communities, and friends. This is why what happened after Apartheid will forever be remembered as one of the great victories of democracy.
In 1948, the Reunited National Party came to power in South Africa and soon afterward enforced Apartheid. This meant that those who were black, white, Indian, or colored (normally referring to those of mixed descent who were originally brought to the Cape as slaves) were forcefully segregated. Under the Population Registration Act, the Reunited National Party created complex and often arbitrary means to classify South Africans’ race, such as measuring the width of a person’s nose or inspecting the texture of someone’s hair. This was complimented by the Group Areas Act, which enforced geographic segregation, meaning that black, colored, and Indian families were forced from their homes into townships outside of the city.
This went on for 46 years until free elections were finally held and Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994. The world held its breath for what would happen next, with many people expecting retaliation on the minority whites, who, quite frankly, deserved it. However, to the world’s surprise, the newly elected government established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was a court-like body focused on restorative justice. Although imperfect, the TRC created a space for the oppressors and the oppressed to look one another in the eye and confess what they had done. Sometimes this resulted in forgiveness and amnesty, while other times it resulted in legal action, specifically when the crimes were committed purely as acts of hate, not as something mandated through a job. Many people still look to the TRC model as an effective way to bring about healing after events like civil war or genocide.
As we reflect on what it looks like for beauty to come from ashes, I cannot imagine a better example. Although I feel certain that no one would have chosen this history for South Africa, the country has been a source of hope for the rest of the continent, as well as the world, because they chose the path of restorative justice based on truth and reconciliation. Nelson Mandela recounted his journey fighting for South African liberation in his memoir Long Walk to Freedom,
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” (p. 751).
Through Mandela’s words, I am reminded that the journey to beauty, to liberty, to freedom within American politics will probably never be complete this side of the Kingdom. However, we have the great privilege of continuing to press on, trusting that God is restoring all things to Himself, ultimately making everything beautiful in its time.
The writer is a current Legislative Correspondent in the U.S. House of Representatives.
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
Where in your political work can you pursue reconciliation? Set up coffee with someone for that purpose.
LIBERATUS is a weekly journal creatively pursuing Truth and Beauty by empowering writers in American politics to tell the story of healing through freedom. You can join the pursuit by applying to write, subscribing to the journal, or by funding the movement by donating monthly or by making a purchase in our store.
Cover Photo Credit: Heather Gibbons