Hello again, everyone!
From the 14th-18th, we stayed in Pietermaritzburg and in Durban. We were greeted with a big welcoming ceremony by locals, feature traditional dancing and singing, poetry readings, and a feast. Our professor, Richard Mtisi joined in too! We were all clapping and singing along when we could. I think we're getting better at differentiating between the various clicks found in the Xhosa and Zulu languages. People have been very friendly helping us pronounce names and tribes correctly.
The following day, the 15th, we began with a few speakers from the area. Ilan Lax worked as a commissioner at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and spoke about more of the shortcomings of the TRC. He attended counseling with his wife to help with the emotional difficulties of hearing the stories of victims and perpetrators for two years. Overall, though, he had a more positive view of the process, mentioning how the people staffing the TRC were diverse in their religious beliefs (he's Jewish). Other people, however, were very opposed to the TRC in South Africa.
We met with Reverend Mtetwe, who told us that it would have been better for the country to be thrown into a civil war than seek out a TRC. He mentioned that blood in the streets is easier to deal with than open psychological and emotional wounds. This way, both sides would feel the pain of their past. One of the biggest criticisms of the TRC is how feel people actually participated. 22,000 victims testified at the TRC out of 53 million South Africans. The lack of participation is part of the reason there are so many people who see the Commission as an event rather than a process. Reconciliation takes time, more than the six or seven years it took for the whole Commission to gather its reports.
After listening to these speakers, we made our way to the Parliament in Pietermaritzburg and talked to members of the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party of South Africa since democracy was instated in 1994. There's been some debate in the country about the upcoming elections this year. Many people are upset with the ANC failing to deliver on their promises. Corruption is rampant in all areas of government, especially at the local level. Being a politician means you have the chance to be wealthy, so many people pursue politics for the pay check and not for the services. The current president, Jacob Zuma, has been under fire for using millions of dollars of public funds to upgrade his presidential mansion. The members we talked to skirted around many of the harder questions we asked, although that provided more insight into the realities of their political party. Mining companies have many politicians in their pockets, and the members we spoke to said that they have many shares with these companies, so working toward better working conditions for miners isn't at the top of their agenda. Of course, the party has been actively building houses and working toward addressing many of the social problems South Africa is facing. We'll see how this next election turns out!
After that very full day, we sped over to a lion park, where we were able to drive around and see lions. They failed to mention it was their feeding time, so the cats immediately thought we were their dinner. That would explain why our driver panicked and ended up losing a side mirror as he sped through the gate. We would have retrieved said mirror, but one of the lionesses picked it up, and we decided it'd be better to leave it. Oh well, we got some good photos and excellent videos of running lions and screaming Luther students. Welcome to South Africa.
The next day, we woke up at the crack of 3:30 to pile into vans and head toward Zulu territory. We had meetings scheduled with Chief Buthelezi, the prince of the Zulu, and later on we were to meet the King himself at his palace. After four and a half hours of driving, we arrived at the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) headquarters in Zulu land. Chief Buthelezi is a prominent figure in that political party, and prepared a speech for us, which we weren't expecting. After his talk, we were surprised when his secretaries brought out gifts for us- beautiful framed African artwork engraved with the chief's name and the date of our meeting. We then headed to the King's palace, which was a large complex of circular huts with his in the middle. The floors were tiled, a flat screen TV was in the corner, he had a fully stocked bar, and a real stuffed lion mid-roar. In other words, it was a man cave to the extreme. Since the King is very traditional, men entered first, praising him. Then women entered silently and sat at tables farthest away from him. Being the well-behaved Luther students that we were, we followed the custom, but it was personally very difficult to sit idly when someone told you not to speak because you are a woman. Beyond that, the king was very hospitable, and had a large meal prepared by his wives. He gave a speech about the work he's done in his kingdom, such as enforcing better medical policies for ritual circumcisions and promoting HIV/AIDS awareness. He even called President Zuma one of his subjects. Legally, the king doesn't have any power, but he is a prominent figure withing the Zulu culture. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience, and he gifted us all with hand made woven baskets.
We then drove four hours to Durban, where we had a quick sprint into the ocean and reveled in the beautiful coast of South Africa. The next day, we had group presentations and went to the beach for the whole day! It was a much needed break in our hectic schedules. We enjoyed the hot sun, the cheap drinks, the local aquarium, and warm sea. #Blessed.
The next day we went to the airport and flew to East London and drove to King Williams Town. So here we are, at a beautiful guest house with spacious rooms and (limited) wifi. We are preparing to meet up with the Steve Biko Foundation, and begin the next section of our trip. Thanks for reading, we're all sun-kissed (okay, we're sunburnt), and enjoying the more relaxing pace. Stay tuned for more updates!