Friday, December 6, 2013

Apart-Hate

In the Fall of 1977 I went to a beautiful old church in South Berkeley, Ca. to see a film and presentation about Apartheid in South Africa.   The film concerned itself mainly with international investments in this openly racist country that just happened to be the world's largest producer of gold and diamonds.
I had been teaching about South Africa for a few years; the same amount of time I had been teaching, actually.  I knew a bit about the political system of cruel and complete segregation.  I knew about Nelson Mandela and the ANC, but was just beginning to learn about recent uprising like Soweto.  That evening I learned about a burgeoning movement to disinvest in South Africa.  The film shown was available to teachers as a filmstrip that night.  I paid the $25.00 gladly as the funds were used to support similar showings.  "Banking on South Africa" served me well over the next15 years.  But it was something else I chanced to find for sale on the folding tables in the church foyer that proved even more lasting.                                          
It was a calendar for the upcoming year 1978.  Each month featured a brilliant painting or photograph detailing the depth and anguish of Black South Africans.  One picture memorialized the victims of the Soweto uprising, another showed a close-up of a person's passbook assigning the owner to one of several "homelands" and denying basic human rights like the right to move freely in one's own home.
By 1980, most of the pictures in that calendar were hanging on the wall in the front of my classroom.  When I was involuntarily laid off one year and subsequently re-hired, they returned to the classroom I occupied for the next 22 years.
Many semesters of International Problems followed.  My students did many problem analyses of South Africa, displaying and representing their knowledge on various projects from pop-up art to dyoramas, to new flag designs and portraits of Madiba himself.  All under the banner of these "posters" as they came to be called.
     Students from English classes asked about them.  Parents at Back to School Night asked about them.  Students and Parents of my Psychology classes asked about them.  Exchange students fro all over the world, and even South Africa, asked about them.
     In the early 90s, when it became apparent that Nelson Mandela was going to be released from prison after 27 years, a student in International Problems asked, "Are you going to keep those up if Apartheid comes to an end and Mandela is freed?"  I hadn't thought about it, but the possibility of a free Mandela would certainly be cause for some celebration.
     "I don't know," I replied.  "Let's see what the class thinks."
After a good discussion about the likelihood of Mandela's release, I asked the class, "How will we know when Mandela is free?"  "When he votes," came the response.  That settled it.  When Mandela votes the posters come down.
     In 1994 with Mandela's election as President of the country that had once held him prisoner, the posters came down.  My students were excited.  The local media sent a TV crew and a few other print journalists did stories on the "ceremony" we conducted that day.  We just happened to have a South African Exchange student that semester too.  He would have been classified as "Coloured" by the Apartheid system.  He was the logical choice to help with removing the posters.  In the end, we left one poster on the wall.  It was a red pair of handcuffed wrists on a white background with two words in large red letters: NO MORE.



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