Before I left South Africa, there was one more visit I had to make: to the Apartheid Museum. Today’s lesson: while it’s good that apartheid is where it belongs – in a museum – the job isn’t done yet.
At the museum entrance, your ticket randomly assigns you either “White” or “Non-White”, and then you must pass through segregated gates – making a physical, in addition to emotional impact. From the moment I pushed through the turnstile, I felt a heavy weight descend on my shoulders. Of course, I knew the long arc of the story told by the museum bends toward a better ending, but the immediate intensity of the pain and suffering of generations was overwhelming.
As I wound through the museum (literally – parts of it are set up as a maze – perhaps so you can’t see the end while you’re in the middle of it), the thing that struck me most was the cruelty of many of the quotes from politicians and regular people alike proclaiming their superiority and the inferiority of other races. It boggled my mind that people here felt they could make those statements openly, in my own lifetime. But then I thought, have we really moved so much further?
At the end, the story had wound its course to a free South Africa, finishing with the negotiation of a new constitution which replaced the laws of separation with seven pillars of Democracy, Equality, Reconciliation, Diversity, Responsibility, Respect, and Freedom. A constitution which, like our own, contains the best of our ideals, but, as shown by recent events, needs a lifetime of work to put it into practice. The attorneys and activists I’ve met this week are part of that work for the respect of universal human rights, and I count myself lucky that my own job is as well. Together, we’ll work to keep putting more of the world’s inhumanity into museums.
-Eric Tars, Human Rights Program Director
Great series, Eric! Bravo!