I write to you from Johannesburg, after ten days in Cape Town, seven days driving along the southern coast of Africa, two days in Durban, three days in Swaziland, and five days here. I have been deep in the complex layers of apartheid, poverty and the many roles of internationals here in Africa. I am filled with more emotionally intense experiences than I can process. But I have connected with many incredible people and social movements, and my journey is going well.
My blog is loaded with photos, reflections and stories: http://journeydejenny.blogspot.com . As always, I deeply appreciate feedback of any sort. Here are some snippets:
Exploring Housing and Homelessness with The Pangaea Project
I flew from Nairobi to Cape Town to meet up with my friend Deb and help her plan The Pangaea Project's trip to South Africa next July (see www.thepangaeaproject.org for details). Our focus here was exploring the issues of housing and homelessness and looking for inspiring "changemakers."
The theme of housing and homelessness is particularly spicy, in that it relates so directly to South Africa's recent history of apartheid. A major aspect of apartheid was creation of "homelands," where black, white, Indian and coloured (mixed race) people were all physically separated. The apartheid is of course much more complicated then this, and absolutely horrifying in its inhumanity, and I recommend learning more about this-after all this is something that happened in our own lifetimes.
Today, 13 years into the 'new South Africa', things are actually getting worse. The racial apartheid is now an economic apartheid, more insidious in its grip on poverty and injustice. It will take decades to re-humanize systems, but with the free market economy and the profitable exploitation of the poor, it doesn't look like the government is very interested in taking real steps to building a just country.
So as we visited townships, informal settlements (squatter camps built mostly of tin shacks) and many people and projects related to housing, we discovered layer upon layer of the messy situation. In one Cape Town township of about a million people, 20,000 people move in each year - most into 10x10 shacks built from tin, wood, cardboard and whatever else they can find to house families of 10 or more. The township is built on a giant sand dune 35km from the city, with too-expensive transport in between. There is 70% unemployment, a 40% HIV/AIDS rate, few schools, little electricity and running water, and still forced evictions and utility cut-offs. Meanwhile, just a few km away, white people live in posh, tropical homes. South Africa's famous vineyards line the distant hills. The contrast is phenomenal. And honestly, most Cape Townians who don't live in townships turn a complete blind eye.
It's a mess.
Social Movements, Networking, Solidarity
South Africa also holds a fascinating history of social movements and community organizing. Most people are probably familiar with the ANC (and Mandela), but there were many movements involved in "the struggle." While collectively they made a strong impact, there was actually a lot of infighting and fervent (and violent) disagreement. Somehow, though, non-white South Africans faced the most intense of situations and fought passionately for freedom. It is fascinating to witness the collective power of the grassroots and to see such a high level of political awareness still alive among people.
Today, many organizations and movements are still fighting for justice, but the issues are more insidious and structures more layered. During apartheid there was a clear enemy, but now it's a lot harder for the average person to make the connection between poverty and policies of international institutions.
I keep thinking about how these social movements relate to activism in the States, or Portland in particular. Here in South Africa, the idea of a social movement seems to be so much more graspable for average people, and the power of protests, strikes or other forms of action are much more tangible. There's a contagious excitement with being in "the struggle" (for justice of any sort), whether it's through calling each other "comrade" or singing songs together or something. it just feels more alive.
There is also an interesting relationship between the grassroots, CBOs, NGOs, international aid groups and the government. Here in Africa, NGOs are accused of being removed from the community, ineffective, and in existence just to take millions of international aid dollars. It's the CBOs (Community Based Organizations) and more grassroots groups that are on the ground, in touch with the issues and therefore able to make real impacts. But the grassroots usually don't have the professional experience, tools or language to relate to the Western/Northern institutions that have the money and power. And very few people have access to the Internet or phones (both are SO expensive here), so communication is extremely difficult. It's a tricky situation that manifests in many ways.
The horizontal vertical challenge
My journey can be summed up by two concepts: horizontal and vertical. I am exploring the many ways that communities and movements can learn from and support each other horizontally, meaning peer-to-peer, community-to-community, with collaborations and solidarity. the whole "cross-pollinating" concept.
The vertical part is where global level change happens. Somehow, our efforts to create local sustainability (in all its forms) must collectively build power upwards to effect change in the multi-national economic world. Now of course, it's not just up to community efforts; I think this is where international NGOs and the academic world could possibly do some good. The World Bank and its neoliberal friends must be dismantled or radically altered if our billions of brothers and sisters in this world are going to be able to stand on their own feet, economically, agriculturally, ecologically, socially, etc. And it's going to take all tactics/strategies to do so.
My current conclusion is that person-to-person or community exchanges are some of the most powerful agents of building movements, sharing knowledge and organizing for change. I am considering the many ways that "cross-pollinating" can continue to happen in the most grassroots of ways, but also broadly, across issues, communities and countries.
On a personal note
You can see that I'm trying to figure out the whole world, and my place in it. I am deeply affected by the intense poverty and injustice that I am witnessing daily. But between my endless processing about systems and solutions, bad dreams, and scary moments, I am actually doing well. I mean, I love this stuff. It's just who I am. And I am trusting that somehow I return home with new clarity about where to dive into it all.
With love and deep breathes,
p.s. For the next phase of this journey I plan to visit people and projects in Zambia and Zimbabwe. then return to Kenya in April for the peace caravan, then hopefully to Malawi to learn about permaculture and the agricultural side of social justice issues. Along the way, I am looking for direct connections between communities I meet and people/projects/communities in Portland (or elsewhere). If you have any type of "sister" relationship that you want me to look for, let me know!
p.p.s. Have you looked at my blog yet? Written a comment? http://journeydejenny.blogspot.com
~~Portland Cross-Pollination Project!~~
January 22, 1978