Friday, September 16, 2011

September - - the Marcy viewpoint from Africa

A bit of news - - - a bit of reflection - - - a bit of hope

    We recently visited the internationally acclaimed Apartheid museum in Johannesburg.  Through photos, interactive displays, film clips, two longer films, and hundreds of actual items and displays with aural or written descriptions, the visitor is taken on a journey of understanding of what apartheid did to this country.  The basic principle behind apartheid is simple -- separate everything; cut a clean line through a nation to divide black from white and keep them divided.  To help the visitor begin to understand what this entails, each person who purchases an admittance ticket is randomly assigned a color -- black or white -- and goes into the museum at the corresponding entrance where, for the first ten or fifteen minutes, he or she is cut off from those of the other color, and is exposed to different kinds and qualities of displays.  After rejoining those of the other color, one learns about segregation, the history of myriad cultures, race classification, beginning of black consciousness, resistance and armed struggles, and peace negotiations.  It’s a journey of tyranny and freedom, of tragedy and heroism, of chaos and peace.  We had planned to spend a few hours, and ended up staying the entire day, leaving with a feeling of hope for the future.   

    A few weeks ago we were visited by some U.S. military officers.  When they came to the clinic, I (Tim) was impressed by the questions they asked.  Hardly a week goes by when we don’t have visitors from some country or another, some governmental group, some organization, some special interest group, or just curious people -- and most ask the same questions; but this group (actually, three groups of  six or seven each) asked good, probing questions with in-depth follow-up questions, and they welcomed and took time to discuss issues with us.  A few days after they left I found out that they were 19 newly appointed generals and admirals.  The U.S. embassy had organized this visit as part of their overview of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in action, and to deepen their understanding of the HIV/AIDS problem in South Africa.

    Cecilia and I have recently been given another responsibility: food pick-up.  Much of the food that we eat here (patients, staff, Fr. Stan, Cecilia, and I) is donated.  One of our bigger donors of both cash and food is a middle to upper-end department store chain called Woolworths.  At the end of each day, their grocery department gathers together the food items that they consider unfit to sell to their clientele (opened packages, close dated, less than perfect fruits and vegetables, mistakenly overstocked items, etc.), and donates them to various charities.  They have increased their offerings to us from two to three days per week, so on Friday and Sunday evenings we take the pick-up to their store (about 10 Km away) and pack their 6 to 16 cases of food into the truck, and deliver them to the centre’s kitchen where it is unloaded by the kitchen and security staff.  As we’re allowed to (within reason) help ourselves to this largesse, our personal diet has broadened considerably.

    The current state of the African continent is not a pretty one.  I would imagine that most of the world has heard of the famine in Somalia and Kenya, but there are other systemic problems in other African countries as well.  According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Africa as the second largest continent accounted for less than 1%  of annual global capital flows, a decline from 4.5% in the early 1990s.  At the same time the continent accounted for less than 2% of world trade, also down from earlier.  Without South Africa, the rest of Africa’s share of world trade was just 1%.  In a tri-dimensional measure of development (a long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living), all  except 13 of the 55 least developed countries are African.
    Can Africa escape its misery?  Africa has enough resources to feed its own people.  It has enough energy resources to supply its own needs for the foreseeable future.  It has enough mineral resources to supply not only its own needs in most areas, but also excess to help other countries who are not so blessed.  So what are the causes of Africa’s lack of development, or its uneven pattern of development?  I’d like to suggest six primary causes.
1) The continent’s vast size and diversity are reflected in the regional distribution of human and natural resources; the lack of infrastructure retards the movement of resources from where they’re found to where they are needed.  2) The contrasting lifestyles of urban and rural environments makes it difficult to deal with development challenges.  3) International trade agreements entered into when most African countries were gaining their independence were biased more toward the benefit of the foreign countries (extraction of natural resources, cheap labor, mineral and land rights) than for the benefit of the African people.  4) Much of Africa’s wealth is concentrated in a few people.  One common statistic bandied about and not much contested is that 95 to 98% of the continent’s wealth is held by a fraction of 1% of the people.  5) Corruption is rampant.  Relatively uneducated people vote into power those who promise them most, but then those elected use the office to enrich themselves and their friends and relatives.  6) By-product of colonialism.  In many ways the contemporary map of Africa remains a colonial map.  This is reflected in the existing national boundaries, which bear little relation to natural divisions (mountains, rivers) or to indigenous concepts of space (ethnic areas, traditional kingdoms, and the like).  South Sudan, which has just seceded from Sudan has become an exception to this.  One consequence of this is that most people identify themselves primarily as their ethnic group rather than as a citizen of their country.  Here in South Africa we have Zulus,  Afrikaners, English, Swazis, Xhosas, Bantus, etc. (There are eleven official languages in South Africa.).  It is difficult to get these different peoples to work together enthusiastically toward a statehood with which they don’t identify readily.  But there is hope; progress is being made.

    I’d like to conclude this month’s blog with A LORD’S PRAYER FOR JUSTICE by Ronald Rolheiser.

    OUR FATHER . . . Who always stands with the weak, the powerless, the poor, the sick, the aged, the very young, the unborn, and those who by victim of circumstance, bear the heat of the day
    WHO ARE IN HEAVEN . . . Where everything will be reversed, where the first will be last and the last will be first, but where all will be well and every manner of being will be well
    HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME . . . may we always acknowledge your holiness, respecting that your ways are not our ways, your standards are not our standards.  May the reverence we give your name pull us out of the selfishness that prevents us from seeing the pain of our neighbor
    YOUR KINGDOM COME . . . Help us to create a world where, beyond our own needs and hurts, we will do justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly with you and each other
    YOUR WILL BE DONE . . . Open our freedom to let you in so that the complete mutuality that characterizes your life might flow through our veins and thus the life that we help generate may radiate your equal love for all and your special love for the poor
    ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN . . . May the work of our hands, the temples and structures we build in this world, reflect the temple and structure of your glory so that the joy, graciousness, tenderness, and justice of heaven will show forth within all of our structures on earth
    GIVE  . . . Life and love to us and help us to always see everything as gift.  Help us to know that nothing comes to us by right and that we must give because we have been given to.  Help us to realize that we must give to the poor, not because they need it, but because our own health depends upon our giving to them
    US . . . The truly plural us.  Give not just to our own but to everyone, including those who are very different from the narrow us.  Give your gifts to all of us equally.
    THIS DAY . . . Not tomorrow.  Do not let us push things off into some indefinite future so that we can continue to live justified lives in the face of injustice because we can make good excuses for our inactivity
    OUR DAILY BREAD . . .so that each person in the world may have enough food, enough clean water, enough clean air, adequate health care, and sufficient access to education so as to have the sustenance for a healthy life.  Teach us to give from our sustenance and not just from our surplus
    AND FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES . . . Forgive us our blindness towards our neighbor, our self-preoccupation, our racism, our sexism, and our incurable propensity to worry only about ourselves and our own.  Forgive us our capacity to watch the evening news and do nothing about it
    AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US . . . Help us to forgive those who victimize us.  Help us to mellow out in spirit, to not grow bitter with age, to forgive the imperfect parents and systems that wounded, cursed, and ignored us
    AND DO NOT PUT US TO THE TEST . . . Do not judge us only by whether we have fed the hungry, given clothing to the naked, visited the sick, or tried to mend the systems that victimized the poor.  Spare us this test for none of us can stand before your gospel scrutiny.  Give us, instead, more days to mend our ways, our selfishness, and our systems
    BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL . . . That is, from the blindness that lets us continue to participate in anonymous systems within which we need not see who gets less as we get more.

1 comment:

  1. Tim, Thank you for such an informative post. I love learning about through your experience and thirst for understanding.

    By the way, I visited the Apartheid museum in 2005 and had a similar experience to you -- you can spend the whole day there. It is so well done.

    Sending you prayers and appreciation! Kim