Stars Align on South Africa Human Rights Day | Sojourners

Stars Align on South Africa Human Rights Day

Photo by A. Warmback
Children lead the sermon on 5th Sunday of Lent at St. John Baptist. Photo by A. Warmback

Having achieved our freedom we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others face. We would be less human if we do so…we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.

         - President Nelson Mandela- December 1997

There is visceral identification by South Africans with the suffering of the Palestinians.

Newspapers and speakers at South Africa Human Rights Day/U.N. International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination focused on the liberation of the oppressed and the importance of a mobilized civil society to stand with the marginalized. The events commemorate the nonviolent protest against the racial passbooks, March 21, 1960. The day ended tragically with the Sharpeville massacre, which left 69 people dead and 180 injured. Nelson Mandela burned his discriminatory passbook a week later and the long march for freedom and dignity began in earnest. Even when it is still a journey in progress of real equality and democracy for all, there is an intentionality expressed best by Mandela.

One result of the recognized duty for solidarity with oppressed nations such as Palestine and Zimbabwe is a vigorous participation in the annual concurrent International Israel Apartheid Week, which includes author fairs, films, and lectures in 35 cities and on 15 university campuses. A featured speaker was Susan Abulhawa, who talked about her book, Mornings in Jenin, a historical novel that presents the tragic Palestinian struggle in the face of the Zionist state of Israel. A Palestinian-American, she was inspired to write after spending time in the West Bank after the 2002 Jenin massacre. She observes that, “Palestinians are the new blacks.”

The acclaimed film Jerusalem: East Side Story, which underscores dispossession of Arabs starting in 1948, was shown numerous times along with other screenings such as BudrusRoadmap to Apartheid, and Salt of This Sea.

This convergence of pivotal historical dates cause more than the usual resonance for all who have participated in nonviolent actions for change in the U.S., South Africa, and Palestine. Perhaps it is like a rare alignment of the stars to garner the attention for all to join in solidarity for the least among us.

Five years to the day after the Sharpeville massacre, Martin Luther King, Jr., marched in Selma protesting black discrimination, and shortly after, Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Further Kairos Southern Africa has been engaged in lobbying the ANC government for attention to corruption and better services for the poor as well as gaining endorsement for a banning the import of Israeli goods. Kairos was also one of the 40 sponsors of  “Apartheid Week” and encouraged countrywide prayer calling attention not only to Palestinian liberation but the much needed liberation for “Palestinians here in our own backyard.”

The convergence is maybe ironic but certainly not coincidental that all these events are in the Season of Lent, and especially this year when “Good” Friday falls March 29. We recall once again Jesus and Pilate’s short debate that puts all other discussions of institutional tyranny of colonial imperialism into sharp focus about sacrificing the innocent to please the crowd. Last Sunday, on the 5th Sunday in Lent, St. John Baptist Anglican Church in Pinetown/Durban, with many different language and cultural members, 40 children and teenagers led the congregation in the “alphabet of human rights.’

In a statement that can be applied to all people suffering discrimination, Archbishop Emeritus Tutu, (Sunday Times, 2010), declared:

Together with the peace loving people of this Earth, I condemn any form of violence – but surely we must recognize that people caged in, starved and stripped of their essential material and political rights must resist their Pharaoh. Surely resistance also makes us human? Palestinians have chosen, like we did, the non-violent tools of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

There will be a huge Good Friday service and silent march to City Hall led by the Churches of the Durban Diakonia Council. The focus will be to reflect and act on “issues that keep the people who are now ‘born frees’ in bondage.” A flower-covered cross will be lifted high as “a sign of our hope that Christ will break the chains that bind us preventing us from living our lives to the fullest.”  

Finally, there is an emerging ecumenical host group encouraging Sojourners to take to heart the lessons of post-Apartheid South Africa. A growing number of Sojo supporters from across the faith community, including St. John Baptist in Durban and Kairos SA, are considering the insights of Jim Wallis’s new book,On God’s Side

May South Africans, Americans, and people of faith around the world celebrate Easter with a commitment as the hymn declares:

Longing for peace, our world is troubled. 

Longing for hope, many despair.                               

Your word alone has power to save us.        

Make us your living voice.                             

Christ, be our light. Shine in our hearts.

Shine through the darkness

Christ be our light

Shine in your church gathered today.

Tom Getman served as Sen. Mark Hatfield’s legislative director from 1976 to 1985 and with World Vision for 25 years, including five years as national director in Jerusalem.

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