About the same time (1948) that Democratic U.S. President Harry S. Truman was ordering the desegregation of America’s military, the government of South Africa was instituting “apartheid.” The South African Dutch and English occupiers/ransackers (think today’s fictional “Avatar”), were moving in an opposite direction to American and International codes of conduct. They even did America one better: Encasing into law “separateness” of the races. This categorized the country’s entire population by race and then controlled every aspect of life according to race groups. This was not enslavement of imported humans practiced by America’s colonial slave owners, but rather the cordoning off, the encircling, the strangling of indigenous peoples by a tiny white minority.
That distinction means very little since the results were almost the same. America’s race laws/practices effected every aspect of life for African-Americans. South Africa’s 20th century policies mirrored America’s 19th century policies: Whites were given access to the most privileged suburbs, education and jobs and exclusive access to transportation, public facilities, et al. This insured that “white privilege” was beyond the reach of the colored population. (South African population today: Approximately 48 million with 80% Black African,10% white and 10% mixed or Asian/Indian.)
In less than 50 years, apartheid crumbled. But, let’s don’t be naive: Whether it’s America or South Africa, the ugly and debilitating results of centuries of hate and discrimination don’t end magically with the signing and instituting of laws. Since 1994, the African National Congress (ANC) has been South Africa’s governing party. (As with all battles for human rights, it takes time to gain political power and then put words on paper to change laws. The ANC has it’s roots in the South African Native National Congress which was founded in 1912 to increase the rights of the black South African population.)
Which brings us to South Africa 2010, a model for the future.
South Africa’s 1994 constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and, in 2006, became the fifth nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. South Africa, despite past horrific practices by its military, now allows lgbt folk of all colors to serve openly in the military. (According to a 2000 report by Ana Simo of the no-longer published Gully, an online magazine, “South Africa’s apartheid army forced white lesbian and gay soldiers to undergo ‘sex-change’ operations in the 1970’s and the 1980’s and submitted many to chemical castration, electric shock, and other unethical medical experiments…surgeons estimate that as many as 900 forced ‘sexual reassignment’ operations…(were) performed between 1971 and 1989…as part of a top-secret program to root out homosexuality from the service.”)
Congress as you take-up rescinding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” are you listening?
And, South Africa’s lgbt/religious experience can help America’s religious folk in accepting lgbt human rights.
Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace Price winner, has lent his name to the fight against homophobia saying, “Homophobia is a ‘crime against humanity’ and ‘every bit unjust’ as apartheid.” Brad Pitt, in a 2007 Vanity Fair interview of Tutu, remarked, “So certainly discrimination has no place in Christianity. There’s a big argument going on in America right now, on gay rights and equality.”
Tutu responded: “For me, I couldn’t ever keep quiet. I came from a situation where for a very long time people were discriminated against, made to suffer for something about which they could do nothing–their ethnicity. We were made to suffer because we were not white. Then, for a very long time in our church, we didn’t ordain women, and we were penalizing a huge section of humanity for something about which they could do nothing–their gender. And I’m glad that now the church has changed all that. I’m glad that apartheid has ended.
I could not for any part of me be able to keep quiet, because people were being penalized, ostracized, treated as if they were less than human, because of something they could do nothing to change–their sexual orientation. For me, I can’t imagine the Lord that I worship, this Jesus Christ, actually concurring with the persecution of a minority that is already being persecuted. The Jesus who I worship is a Jesus who was forever on the side of those who were being clobbered, and he got into trouble precisely because of that. Our church, the Anglican Church, is experiencing a very, very serious crisis. It is all to do with human sexuality. I think God is weeping. He is weeping that we should be spending so much energy, time, resources on this subject at a time when the world is aching.”
American clergy, are you listening?
This is a far cry from the secretive activities of the conservative American evangelical Christian group “The Family” which is working diligently to increase its influence in Africa. Rachel Maddow, the openly gay cable journalist on MSNBC has almost single-handedly exposed “The Family” and its work in Uganda. Last year, this African nation proposed an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would “broaden the criminalization of homosexuality by introducing the death penalty for people who are HIV-positive, or engage in same-sex acts with people under 18 years of age.” (Unfortunately, “The Family” is the same group behind this week’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. President Obama, following the participation of every President since Eisenhower, will be a guest.)
And finally, in June, 2010, Cape Town, South Africa, will be not only one of the hosts for the Soccer World Cup, but will host the first ever Fortune/Time/CNN Global Forum, “a three-day event bringing together Fortune 500 CEOs, world leaders and members of the Time 100 for a conference on…the New Global Opportunity.”
So, whether its human or racial rights, the inclusive love of Jesus Christ or World Cup Soccer, South Africa is amazingly leaving its past behind and emerging as a beacon of hope.
America, are you listening?