UPDATE: Global Exchange and Priority Africa Network will be celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela and the South Africa anti-apartheid movement with a film screening of Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony Monday August 12 at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, CA. Purchase your tickets online at http://www.globalexchange.org/Amandla. More information.

photo: Getty images

Nelson Mandela’s freedom walk photo: Getty images

A feeling of helplessness rushed over me upon seeing the words ‘Not Guilty’ next to George Zimmerman’s name a few days ago in the case of Trayvon Martin’s murder.

Thousands of people across the United States have taken to the streets and the internet to cry for justice in the face of a system that makes this decision permissible.

Working at an organization that is part of the struggle for economic, environmental, and social justice, I know that stories of racism, inequality, and injustice such as this are not new and stretch beyond the U.S. border.

So how can I shake off this feeling of helplessness? Well, I’ve turned off the television and opened a book – Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

Reflecting on Madiba’s life and his never-ending struggle to end apartheid in the face of a system that put him in jail for 27 years for his convictions, has been a good source of hope for me during this time and with news of Mr. Mandela’s ailing health coming at a time when we celebrate his 95th birthday have made his lessons in the quest for human rights even more poignant.

The Long Walk to Freedom recounts his journey of becoming the moral and political leader he is today. His story showcases perseverance against all odds. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison under some of the most harsh conditions imaginable. He and his comrades were forced to break rocks in the hot sun. The rock dust from this punishing work fouled his tear ducts so his eyes were plagued with pain from dryness. Yet despite the torment of his physical pain, he never lost sight of the long-term goal: freedom for his people.

But the story of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa is not the story of Nelson Mandela alone. It is a story of many freedom fighters in South Africa and millions of other allies in other countries working in solidarity to stop the injustice and stand up for the sake of humanity.

That story reached the offices of Global Exchange in the early years of the organization. When the organization was founded in 1988, a lot of our work was motivated by the solidarity struggle with the South African people. In our formative years, we stood with our friends to join the fight to end apartheid and were surprised and overjoyed when we saw the work of so many groups that were able to come together to win the struggle.

When Mandela came out of the prison and recommended a Truth and Reconciliation Committee as one of his first acts — there was a period of grace that has been unmatched before or since. All of sudden this wasn’t an issue of national civil rights or national liberation but a vision of how we could be true internationalists.

Photo on Mandela from an early Global Exchange newsletter

Photo of Mandela from an early Global Exchange newsletter

Global Exchange took these lessons of international solidarity to form the basis of our work centered around the idea of people-to-people ties. From speaking tours with anti-apartheid leaders, to travels to places like Cuba, Haiti, and Southern Africa, to partnerships with solidarity organizations in our community and worldwide, we connected individuals in the U.S. to learn about the shared struggle we all face at home and globally. We applied the words of former President of Mozambique, Samora Machel, of international solidarity not being charity, but to “aid the development of humanity to the highest level possible.”

Now 25 years later, in the wake and the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict we are challenged to not only think about the victory from struggle great figures like Nelson Mandela have led, but also about our responsibility as a collective force to continue leadership down the road to justice.

So, thank you Nelson Mandela for not only instilling hope in me during this time of despair, but for being a beacon of hope in the struggle for equality and justice. And thank you to all those who continue to struggle and keep the legacy of Nelson Mandela strong.

As we celebrate his 95th birthday, we can honor his work by replicating in our own behavior the determination and perseverance that he so nobly displayed.

Join International Mandela Day to take action and inspire change in your communities.

Have a 25th anniversary Global Exchange story to tell? Share your story with us!

P.S. Here in the Bay Area we will be celebrating Mandela and the movement again with Priority Africa Network by showing the classic film Amandla! on August 12th and the Grand Lake Theater (3200 Grand Ave, Oakland). Inspiring music and informed speakers! More information.

Malia in Oahu

Update 11/28/12: A few photos of our bon voyage Malia staff lunch are now posted on Facebook.

“If you come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. If you come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” —Lilla Watson

In 1991 as a graduate student of International Relations, I signed up for a Global Exchange Reality Tour to Cuba. I wanted to learn about the impacts of the U.S. embargo on Cuba and understand what the current socioeconomic realities of the Special Period were on the nation. That trip dramatically expanded my understanding of the power of travel.

While I had backpacked to over 30 countries before that Reality Tour, I had never experienced that type of life sharing journey before. I engaged with grandparents, doctors, teachers, artists, musicians and politicians. In effect Reality Tours changed my life.  I experienced connection and insights, and returned to the United States committed to advocate for sane U.S. foreign policy. Once home, I promptly cut out and placed Lilla’s quote (see above) on my fridge. Little did I know that six years later I’d start working at Global Exchange, where Lilla’s quote found a new home on the Global Exchange office wall.

Ethical Traveler Tour to Cuba

Visiting Art and Hope in Cuba, with Ethical Traveler

Today it is my bittersweet honor to announce that after almost 16 vibrant years I am transitioning out of Reality Tours. Being the Director has been a true vocation. I’ve had the unique opportunity to combine my skills as an educator, social justice activist and alternative travel business woman to build up Reality Tours’ travel destinations, themes and reach.

Looking back I sit and smile thinking of all the talented, opinionated and solidarity minded people that ebbed and flowed through the Reality Tours department in San Francisco. And I think of the everyday heroes in the U.S. and all around the world whose  generosity of spirit welcomed us, collaborated with us and compelled us to meet them as brothers and sisters. We learned about their struggles, successes and aspirations which inspired us to seek changes in U.S. foreign and economic policies.

Princeton University in Mostar, Bosnia, 2012

I know the model of socially responsible travel to educate and inspire advocacy works. In fact, I could fill volumes based on my personal experiences and those often brilliant, joyful and incredibly painful moments of learning.

From the jungles of the Amazon and the struggle of the Sarayuku nation, to the healing and rehabilitation efforts in IDP camps of Northern Uganda; from facilitating thousands through migration in Havana and sharing the incredible tenacity of spirit of Cuban’s through the “fruits” of their Revolution and in their models of sustainability post “peak oil” to learning about how poachers become conservationists in Tanzania; from the smiles and solemn survival stories of children saved from the sex tourism industry in Cambodia, Nepal, Peru & Thailand to the important organizing efforts of elders training the next generation of leaders in Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Vietnam… I leave Reality Tours personally and professionally enriched with memories and experiences, and breathtaking vistas.

Malia with Yury, Ecuador Reality Tours program officer

To each of the program officers who so diligently work to take care of every creature comfort, airport transit, hotel reservation, and days and days of program confirmations, thank you for your solidarity!  It is such necessary work, yet it is painstaking and not so glamorous. When Reality Tours runs a 100 departures a year and 98 go off perfectly, nobody knows how much work it takes to make that happen! You are all stars.

Reality Tours would not exist without our members and supporters. Sometimes I’ve called you strangers, then associates and later friends, collaborators, teachers and alumni. I’ve shared some of my deepest human connections beside you, and cultivated some of my closest friendships.

Some of you “serial trippers” know I will miss traveling with you! Again, I could write volumes on what I have seen as humans blossom, when we disconnect from the phones, computers and to-do lists and when we truly spend time to talk, share and push our comfort zones to be and to grow. How many times have I lead a group when each person typically required 1-2 feet around them to have their “zone” of comfort, only by the end of a tour to see everyone touching arms and hugging their new friends good-bye? There are so many surprising rewards on a group travel experience.

Suffolk Univeristy group visiting an orphanage in Busia, Uganda

Suffolk Univeristy group visiting an orphanage in Busia, Uganda

For those of you I giggled with trying to find a bathroom to wash my fingers after blue ink was all over my face in Tehran, or scrambled to find  “relief” in the fields of Nagpur, India or tried out bartering in crafts markets in Amman knowing but a few words in Arabic, I thank you. To those I cried with, flooded by the power of the human spirit hiking through the Cu Chi and the Sarajevo tunnels; trying to get through check points from the Occupied Territories in Palestine into Israel; and being permeated by the horrific human costs of war in the War Remembrance Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and in Pyong Yang, the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg… I thank you. To those I just held hands with as we heard the testimonies of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, and walking through the Killing Fields, I thank you. And, for those that I dragged out to teach salsa dancing to over and over, ya tu sabes, gracias.

Kevin and Reede being “Good Sports” as my sons dress up

Words cannot express my deepest appreciation to the Global Exchange founders Kevin Danaher, Kirsten Moller and Medea Benjamin to whom I  have been so blessed to work with. They each are hard working visionaries and phenomenal human beings, yet they are also friends, babysitters and cuddlers, and mentors. How I love and admire each of you!

Global Exchange has been a family to me. To all the members and staff, and especially to those that serve and have served on the Board of Directors, you are brothers and sisters and I thank you for your commitment to make this world a better place. Because of your tenacity and persistence, I know “another world is possible”.  I am who I am because of my years at Global Exchange, and I  look forward to moving forward pa’lante and continuing to using my life in service to humanity and to the planet, because its liberation is bound up with mine!

With Aloha,
Malia Everette

By Shannon Biggs

Global Exchange’s Community Rights program director Shannon Biggs returns from the UN Climate conference in South Africa where she, along with climate justice advocates including former Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon, Indigenous leader Tom Goldtooth, South Durban community activist Desmond D’sa and international colleagues from the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature held a series of activities in Durban to advance the Rights of Nature as an alternative framework to the corporate-led agenda of the COP 17 and the global economic system now being called environmental (or climate) apartheid.

Accompanied by a cynical shrug, “Durban-shmurban,” sums up the sentiments of those who have long given up hope that the best and brightest (or the 1% and corrupted) among this league of nations could ever unite to solve the human-induced climate crisis. After all, other than vowing to drive less and become greener consumers, the grand scale and technical scope of reducing atmospheric greenhouse gasses is beyond the rest of us to solve.

For those paying attention, including thousands of NGOs who came to South Africa to play a role in preventing the worst outcomes of the COP 17 (or to protest the process itself), it’s been alliteratively billed as the “Durban Disaster,” following previous UNFCCC conferences: 2010’s “Catastrophe in Cancun” and 2009’s  “No-penhagen” in Denmark.

So why should anyone pay attention to what happened at the UN climate talks? The failure of international leaders to come to agreement in Durban South Africa sounds like business as usual, and it is—but make no mistake: officially choosing inaction now is a guaranteed death sentence for millions of people and ecosystems.  If the lesson of Durban is that climate change is the symptom, and not the problem, this may be our game-changing call to action.

First, the bad news

On the final scheduled day of negotiations in Durban, the UNFCCC stunned even seasoned observers with a plan tantamount to genocide. Country emissions targets were dropped far below what science dictates; loopholes for the worst offenders to avoid their commitments, and most critically, most decisions were put off until 2020.

Rights of Nature activists at press conference (L-R Desmond D’Sa, Tom Goldtooth, Shannon Biggs, Natalia Greene, Cormac Cullinan and Pablo Solon

As environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey explained, “Delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions. An increase in global temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, Small Island States, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide. This summit has amplified climate apartheid, whereby the richest 1% of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99%.

Apartheid is the Afrikaans word for “apartness,” and applied to the climate and ecosystems, it begins to get at what is behind the DNA-level failure of the UN’s COP process to achieve its stated goal of reducing greenhouse emissions.  Climate change is merely a byproduct of treating nature as human property (and therefore apart from us), to be destroyed at will. Our global economic system is property-based and driven by a value system of “endless more.”

As Pablo Solon stated at a press conference hosted by Global Exchange: “We can throw our garbage to the air and nothing happens. But we’re all part of one system, and the atmosphere is part of that system.   We have to respect the natural laws of this system. Because we have broken the vital cycle of carbon, its not only a matter of how big immediate reductions are, but how we change our relationship with nature.”

  • Read results of exclusive, closed meetings in Durban here
  • Global Exchange Human Rights Award winner Pablo Solon discusses outcome on DemocracyNow!

Following news of the outcome, credentialed protesters gathered and filled the halls, stairwells and lobby of the ICC (official space).  When UN Security began to remove the activists, Anne Petermann, executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project, sat down. “If meaningful action on climate change is to happen, it will need to happen from the bottom up,” she said. “The action I took today was to remind us all of the power of taking action into our own hands. With the failure of states to provide human leadership, and the corporate capture of the United Nations process, direct action by the ninety-nine percent is the only avenue we have left.” For more, click here.

Redefining the problem is a game changer.

As long as it was accepted that climate change is the problem, it made a lot of sense to turn to international institutions like the UN as the driver for change.  This has tethered much activism to seeking concessions in a rigged game of false solutions, because the UNFCC is based not on the root causes of environmental exploitation—but ‘market fixes’ to the same corporate-led economic model and ‘endless-more’ value system that have driven us to the cliff’s edge.

Like the slow strangulation of a creeping kudzu vine, our activism has been constrained to a smaller and smaller patch of sunlight, options and regulatory schemes that weren’t even of our design. In this sense, the utter failure of Durban can be quite freeing—if we chose it—because it means we can actually address root causes of climate change, chiefly, our cultural and legal traditions of dominating the Earth for profit.

Occupy is the other game changer.

Occupiers and revolutionaries from Egypt to Wall Street and around the world have woken up millions of the disillusioned, and inspired them to find their own voice, their own power. Once awakened, we will seize this moment and shift the system itself that places corporate interests above our shared values of justice, equality, good jobs, healthy resilient vibrant communities and ecosystems.  In Durban, Anne Petermann and others sat down to remind us that we the 99% do have the power to change the rules. We can chose another way if we believe we can.

The Rights of Nature offers a platform for action to challenge the market-based approach that dominates the UN COP process.  “Why bring RON to climate change conference?” Pablo Solon was asked,  “Because if we are going to address climate change, we must address the issue of a new relationship between humans and nature. Its not just a problem with how many particles of CO2 emissions, it’s a problem of why does this happen?”

Where do we go from here? The Good news

A new framework for global action based on the needs of people and the planet already exists. The People’s Accord and the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth are key outcomes of the 2010 People’s Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, hosted by Bolivia and led by Indigenous communities and civil society. For more on this from the perspective of Durban see CJN! media release.

Those of us working on the rights of nature framework are seeking to reconnect humanity with the rest of species. We seek to change human law that can only “see” nature as a thing — separate and apart from us, property to be owned and destroyed at will. We seek to change the law because our own salvation can only come from a cultural mindset that we are a part of nature. Such a fundamental shift will require new laws that enforce and enable those cultural values.

  •  Watch our Durban rights of nature press conference here
  • Read our Durban Press release for rights of nature here

A People’s call to action, local national and global

While we take from nature the strength of diversity, we can remain diverse while uniting around the rules set forth by Mother Earth. We have in the past found solace strength and cohesion in broad strokes alignment with peasant farmers, landless workers, unions, Indigenous and non-indigenous communities.  That’s not going to be easy, but there is a lot of common ground.  For example, on the issue of rights of nature versus Indigenous rights, there are many different opinions among native traditions.  But there is tremendous Indigenous support for changing the dominant culture, and the fossil fuel economy that UNFCC is based on.

Shannon Biggs with Tom Goldtooth at the Global Day of Action in Durban

As Indigenous leader Tom Goldtooth says, “Our earth is our Mother, creator of everything, including two-legged people. Life as we know it is changing, we can no longer ignore the evidence, and it is our responsibility to be caretakers, guardians of our Mother. New economies need to be governed by the absolute carrying capacity of Mother Earth. More equitable, self-sustaining communities, with rights and respect.”

The United Nations is not going anywhere, but our messaging to the UNFCCC might change (though it is worth saying that next year’s conference has been scheduled in the zero-tolerance-for-protesting capitol of Qatar).

From Pablo Solon: “Well, if there is no pressure from civil society, there won’t be the possibility to have any kind of agreement that is in some makes a difference. If you want to change the system, there has to be a huge movement developed outside of the main structures. We must open the discussion. We have a mandate that the Rights of Nature must be part of the discussion in climate negotiations.”

At the national level, in addition to Ecuador and Bolivia who have passed laws recognizing rights of nature, as many as half a dozen countries are working with the Global Alliance on the Rights of Nature and are seriously considering rights of nature laws, and how Constitutional provisions, like Ecuador’s could be transformational and provide new ways to protect ecosystems. Some of those concersations were moved forward in Durban.  They tell us that creating a vibrant global civil society movement of campesinos, workers, unions, Indigenous and non Indigenous communities, women’s movements, peace, climate and social justice activists can support their efforts at changing laws to reflect a new relationship with the Earth.

At the community level, campaigning around climate change and even climate justice is often hard. After all, we cannot feel the burden of atmosphere weighted by carbon storage or truly know where in the world accumulations of CO2 were manufactured.  But we can feel the burden of society’s inventions that leave polluted rivers, cancer clusters, poverty, and tons of carbon emissions in their wake.

From the oil refinery fence line in South Durban, the gathering of international experts offers no solutions on the ground. Desmond D’Sa lives and works in Durban South Africa, the dirtiest city in South Africa, and ironically, host city to the COP 17. There, he is the director of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), an environmental justice network. Over 300 toxic industrial plants — including two oil refineries — operate in and around the city, particularly concentrated in the neighborhoods of south Durban, an area particularly disadvantaged by the legacy of apartheid. Explosions, accidents, spills, and other toxic exposures are part of daily life there, and the reason why Desmond has begun to introduce the idea of rights for nature and residents in South Durban.

As a rights-based organizer in California, I, along with my legal and organizing partners at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assist communities to pass groundbreaking new laws that place the rights of residents and nature above the interests of corporations.

We’ve often heard the takeaway from the COP processes in Copenhagen and Cancun is that the same corporate-led system that created climate change cannot be part of the solution. From Durban, we add that a relationship of apartness with the system governing our wellbeing cannot continue. The lessons from Cochabamba and Occupy Everywhere are that we have an alterntative vision, and we have the power to make it real.  To change the course of humanity, we must be bold enough to believe we are capable, and strategic enough to know how to use the ecological principle of unity of diversity to work in solidarity in myriad ways.

Download the report: Does Nature have rights? Transforming grassroots organizing to protect people and the planet. This report calls for action from the community-level to the U.N., and offers case studies of legal changes already underway in favor the Rights of Nature.

By Shannon Biggs

The sun rises at 4:45 each morning in Durban, and like most of those still on California time, I woke soon after.  The beach here is beautiful and nearby so I decided to take a brisk walk amongst the shore fisherfolk and shell collectors, a great change the mad bustle of the ICC center, where the official negotiations for the climate conference are taking place.

Oil on the beach in Durban

The bluff beach is several miles south of the harbor—the largest on the African continent—and a few miles north of South Durban, where two oil refineries and dozens of other industrial plants operate. I walked and admired the wild coastline for a mile or so, then sat to watch the waves. Something black and sticky was on my feet, hands and shoes: it was oil.  Looking around, I noticed there were large plate-sized piles of black goo…everywhere.  Seaweed was coated in it, and as far as the eye could see there were literally tons of large and small deposits everywhere. Some firefighters up on the road were surprised when I showed them the sample I’d collected, and speculated that perhaps it came from a tanker spill in Kenya from last October, but no one knew for sure. Yesterday I’m told that the South African government is denying the “rumors” of oil deposits on the shore (and on my shoes and in my clear plastic bag). There were no big news items or beach warnings posted.

Shannon holding a bag of oil collected on the beach in Durban, South Africa

The disturbing and angering irony of a country hosting international climate talks while ignoring (and possibly denying) millions of tons of crude in the very midst of the negotiations is indicative of why international leaders will predictably fail to come to resolution or agreement on how to halt human induced climate change despite the stakes.  Instead, they speak of “adaptation” (get used to it) or “risk assessment” (what are we willing to lose next to feed the economic status quo).

Cynical, you say?  Not in the least.

Also gathering are pan-African and South African civil society and international climate justice activists—some to Occupy, protest and critique the continuing failure of the UN process itself to reach agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, some hoping to influence negotiators on minor concessions, and many others with reasons of their own. So many of the civil society participants come to talk about climate change in the context of the tangible work they are doing to stop dams, incinerators, deforestation or promote food sovereignty and indigenous rights.

We are here to talk to them—because when we stop putting false hope into the UNFCCC, we can finally turn to each other as the ones we’ve been waiting for. Global Exchange —and our partners including 2011 Human Rights Award Winner Pablo Solon (Bolivia) Fundacion Pachamama (Ecuador) South African activists from South Durban and environmental Earth Rights lawyer Cormac Cullinan, Indigenous Environmental Network, World Futures Council, and many others from the Global Alliance on the Rights of Nature — are here not just to critique the general framework of the UN climate process, but to share and discuss an alternative that requires we the 99% taking action.  The week ahead is for us, in this sense, is full of promise.

Banner from Duban protesting oil extraction

I brought my non-existent bagged oil along with me throughout the day’s activities. First to the Indigenous People’s Caucus, where Indigenous delegates report on the prior day’s negotiations around forestry, and to several other gatherings in the official and People’s space.  Saturday morning we gather for the Peoples’ march.

This December, the 2011 UN Climate Talks will be held in Durban, South Africa. As we approach this year’s conference, environmental and climate justice activists around the world have reason to doubt that our world leaders will come together in Durban and reach a solid agreement on a solution to climate change. Past conferences have demonstrated a predictable failure among international governments to reach an agreement adequate enough to save the planet. Mainly, because the UN Climate Change framework is based not on the root causes of environmental exploitation – but ‘market fixes’ within the corporate-led economic model and a system based on continuous exploitation of the earth’s resources.

This is the way it has been, but this is not the way it has to be.

There’s good news – people across the world are rallying for a new approach to protect our environment and curb the effects of climate change – establish and enforce laws which actually elevate the rights of nature (and communities) above the claimed ‘rights’ of corporations whose sole interests are development for profits.

Global Exchange, Durban community activist Desmond D’Sa, and The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), in collaboration with our international partners and civil society groups gathering in Durban are working to present an alternative paradigm emerging from communities at the grassroots – recognizing the rights of ecosystems and communities. This rights-based approach offers a different way to protect nature, enabling communities (rather than corporations) to act as stewards of local ecosystems and asserting people’s rights over corporations. The Rights of Nature framework comes from a new understanding of our human relationship with nature, from viewing nature solely as property for humans to exploit for profit to the belief that ecosystems possess the right to exist, thrive, and evolve, and that our laws must put our planet before profits.

Community Rights Program Director, Shannon Biggs, will be on the ground in Durban this December both inside and outside the COP17 conference, joining citizens and activists there who are leading the call for nature’s rights.

Why is the location of COP17 in Durban particularly important?

Durban is the dirtiest city in all of South Africa. Some days the air is clouded with enough pollution to block out the sun. In Durban, more than 300 toxic, water-polluting and extraction-based industrial plants (including an oil refinery with frequent explosions) discharge toxic pollutants into the air, water and land, damaging the health of residents, particularly those oppressed by apartheid, as well as uncountable plants and animals; directly contributing to global climate change.

With the world’s attention on Durban thanks to the COP17 climate summit, citizens and environmental activists have a unique opportunity to demand rights both for South Africans and the ecosystems on which their communities depend to thrive.

There are a number of actions and demonstrations already planned to carry the call for community and nature’s rights in Durban for the world to hear. Please stay posted for an upcoming piece on the events surrounding COP17 in Durban, including live updates from Shannon around the organizing on the ground. For info on how to get involved, please contact Shannon Biggs: (shannon@globalexchange.org)

Week of Action in Durban: Rights of Nature events

Dec 1st

– Global Alliance for Rights of Nature strategy session.  Members of the Global Alliance will gather in Durban to set priorities for 2012.

Dec 2nd

– HRA winner and lead UN negotiator for Bolivia Pablo Solon will be presenting to the public at the Wolpe Lecture on ‘The Rights of Nature and Climate Politics’

  • When: 5pm-7pm
  • Where: Shepstone 1, Howard College, UKZN

Dec 3rd

· Global Day of Action: C17 March

  • When: 9am gather – march starts at 10:30am
  • Where: Curries Fountain in the People’s Space

Dec 5th

· Rights of Nature Panel Discussion featuring Pablo Solon, Cormac Cullinan, Natalia Green, Shannon Biggs, and Tom Goldtooth.

  • When: 2:00-3:30pm
  • Where: The University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College at the T B DAVIS  BUILDING L4.

· Rights of Nature Teach-In

  • When: 3:30-5:00pm
  • Where: The University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College at the T B DAVIS  BUILDING L4.

Dec 6th

· Press Conference. Time & Location TBA.

–      Toxic Tour and Refinery Action and Rights of Nature march and action in South Durban. Speakers include GX’s Shannon Biggs (USA), Randy Hayes (USA), Pablo Solon (Bolivia), Cormac Cullinan (SA) Tom Goldtooth (Indigenous leader, Turtle Island), Natalia Green (Ecuador) Time & Location TBA.

Dec 7th

Rio+20 strategy session with all international allies. Time & Location TBA.

Dec 9th

· Rights of Nature: An Idea Whose Time Has Come – inside the COP17 conference

  • When: noon-1pm
  • Where: Blyde River Room

Global Exchange is now proud to introduce its first ever LGBTQ-focused Reality Tour to none other than the self-proclaimed “Rainbow Nation” itself – South Africa!

As many nations struggle to provide their LGBTQ citizens with the appropriate all-encompassing freedoms and protections deserved of all human beings, South Africa looks on as it boasts one of the most progressive constitutions on the books. After the dissolution of apartheid in 1994, discrimination based on sexual orientation was explicitly prohibited within the Bill of Rights thus ensuring gay and lesbian equality. Additionally, in 2006 South Africa became Africa’s first and the world’s fifth country to recognize same-sex marriage.

While we in the United States are seeing the slow but steady progression of such rights, unfortunately the same cannot be said for the majority of Africans. Even with South Africa’s enviable constitution, Africa in its entirety has experienced a regressive shift in the provision of basic human rights for its LGBTQ citizens. Thirty-eight African countries have laws that criminalize homosexuality, all of which have penalties ranging from minor fines to the death penalty for engaging in homosexual behavior. Many of these laws found their initial creation with colonial times and today continue to serve as outdated and repressive blockades for the advancement of LGBTQ rights. Not only are members of the African LGBTQ community harassed, humiliated, arrested, imprisoned, tortured and even killed, but those friends, families and activists seen as supporting and/or lobbying for their cause experience many of the same consequences.

The most recent and publicized case of the many to arise within the recent wave of homophobia in Africa was the introduction of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2009. The bill is still currently being debated but if passed in its current form by the Ugandan Parliament, it would punish those individuals engaging in acts of homosexuality with life imprisonment. In addition, offenders found to have had sex with a minor or a disabled person or to have infected their partner(s) with HIV/Aids are to face the death penalty. The proposed legislation even goes so far as to punish a third party for the failure to inform the police of possible homosexual activity.

Standing in stark contrast to the current cascade of homophobic campaigns, legislation, and rhetoric plaguing the Africa continent, is South Africa. Not to say that South Africa reigns as the desired example for all countries hoping to perfectly align their laws and the lived realities of their people, because surely South Africa has its flaws. But its progressive laws represent a noble and very brave start to the path of complete LGBTQ acceptance both continentally and globally.

One of the fundamental goals of the LGBTQ Rainbow Nation Delegation is to learn about how South Africa deals with the major schisms that exist between its laws and the day-to-day experiences of LGBTQ citizens. Despite their rights and freedoms having been explicitly outlined within the Bill of Rights, many members of the LGBTQ community see the translation of such rights and freedoms unrealized as they live feeling unsafe in their own nation. More specifically, a demographic currently experiencing this particular sentiment are black lesbians residing in various South African townships. There has been a recent spike in the rape of these women, such an overwhelming spike exhibiting such malicious intent that the phenomenon has earned its own term – “corrective rape.”

“Corrective rape” occurs when a member of the LGBTQ community is raped by a member of the opposite sex in an effort to “correct” their sexual orientation. The most publicized case of this practice to emerge in South Africa occurred in April 2008 when Eudy Simelane, member of the South African women’s football (soccer) team, was gang-raped and murdered by a group of men. An avid campaigner for LGBTQ equality rights, Simelane was one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian in both her hometown and on the national stage.

Anti-gay acts such as the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill (2009) and South Africa’s “corrective rape” trend not only spot the African social landscape, but the world’s as well. It can be safely said that there isn’t a country in the world that exists as completely free of all degrees of homophobia. What sets South Africa apart from its fellow African nations and from the rest of the world is its unique, complicated and very tumultuous history. The acute awareness of such history has manifested into laws that theoretically accept, accommodate, and protect ALL its citizens. With such guidelines in place, social environments ranging from urban to rural, rich to poor, black to white can begin to move forward and internalize a progressive mentality that normalizes the absolute equality of LGBTQ South Africans.

It is one of the major intentions of the LGBTQ Rainbow Nation Delegation to connect members and supporters of the global LGBTQ community. By learning about parallel issues and struggles that connect us we can create a broad knowledge base and awareness that will ensure no one is left behind in the fight for equal rights – African or American. More specifically, this delegation will serve as proof that hope exists for LGBTQ rights across the African continent and that the myths of homosexuality as ‘un-African’ and/or a ‘Western imposition’ quite simply, fall flat. Being LGBTQ identified is an aspect of the human condition and transcends all ethnic and racial boundaries as exemplified by the existence of LGBTQ individuals everywhere in the world.

In addition to learning about historical and current issues facing South Africa’s LGBTQ community, don’t miss the opportunity to meet with leaders and activists at the forefront of South Africa’s LGBTQ equality movement. Intimate and exclusive, thought-provoking and rewarding, this delegation means to leave you feeling as part of a global (and colorful) family.

Blog piece written by Elliot Owen, Africa & Asia Reality Tours Program Associate.

Find out more information about the South Africa Rainbow Nation delegation on the Reality Tours website. You may also contact Alessandro at alessandro [at] globalexchange.org or Elliot at nabadu [at] gmail.com for more details.

I traveled to South Africa in spring 2008 on a Fair Trade buying trip. The first thing I noticed outside of Johannesburg International airport was a towering 2010 FIFA World Cup countdown clock. Over two years to go before kickoff, and the digital countdown was already in motion.

Two years later, the World Cup is in full swing, and I’m left wondering how the event is impacting African artisans working within the Fair Trade system. Are they benefiting from the influx of tourism dollars, are artisans in surrounding countries being affected, and has the increased demand for local crafts impacted the Fair Trade model in South Africa?

You don’t need to be a soccer (er, football) fan to grasp just how massive the World Cup event is and how much money is riding on it; the last World Cup Final viewership was 715 million and 3.4 million tickets were sold, according to Fast Company magazine.

South African artisans will most likely experience a sudden increase in sales resulting from the World Cup, but by how much? I asked around during my 2008 trip to get a sense of what others thought. Local artisans had mixed predictions about World Cup related craft sales; some had high expectations, others believed that there was too much hype and false hopes associated with the worldwide event. So who was right?

Basket Makers in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa

According to Cael Chappell it’s too early to tell. He’s the owner of Baskets of Africa, a U.S. based Fair Trade business that imports baskets from South Africa and Swaziland. His sense is that the artisans he works with have high expectations for the World cup. Chappell shared this about his artisan partners:

They were busy 3-4 months ago beefing up production to get products into South African stores. It’s too early to tell how products are selling, especially compared to the inevitable contenders–mass produced stuff.

It seems the World Cup is like Christmas. People who make gift products ramp up production long before the actual event, and it takes a while to determine how sales went. In the U.S. we get the complete picture of how the holiday shopping season fared in January, and so it will go for the World Cup. Once the event ends and the smoke clears we’ll have a clearer picture.

During my 2008 buying trip in Kwa Zulu Natal

Some artisan groups I met with back in 2008 were in the process of planning their World Cup production strategies, and one group had already started producing. Fair Trade products take longer to make than mass-produced factory-made products, so artisans need more lead time to complete orders, and banging out high volumes last-minute is not usually an option. So you can see how vitally important it is to accurately project how much product to make.

Whether the amount of inventory Fair Trade artisans in Africa ended up producing will be enough (or too much) to meet World Cup demand, we’ll have to wait a bit longer to find out.

Once the World Cup ends, South African artisans who over-projected should look to Fair Trade importers like Cael Chappell. He claims he has had trouble getting baskets from his South African trading partners lately, due to their temporary focus on local retailers, so if South African artisans end up with too much inventory after the World Cup he is ready and willing to take it! Chappell explained this about Baskets of Africa artisan partners:

They’re working very hard to get orders out to local shops in South Africa, and struggling to fill export orders as a result. It’s been more difficult for me to get things lately. There’s a lot of local demand; the feeling I’ve been getting from suppliers is that they’re not filling other orders in order to accommodate the local demand.

Fair Trade basket made in Swaziland

And so it seems, another Fair Trade segment affected by the World Cup are Fair Traders who import products from Southern Africa. With those artisans placing so much emphasis on selling products locally (which is a good thing!), international African importers who rely on shipments from this region have had to exercise patience.

I asked Cael whether he felt the World Cup was having any negative impact on his Fair Trade relationships. He responded:

There’s no negative impact because I need more production anyway; so far none of my partners have been able to fulfill (my) orders so if they have a sudden lull after the world cup, I’ll buy them!

Fair Trade RAINBOW bracelet

If one South African Fair Trade artisan group is any indication, selling off inventory will not be a problem during the World Cup. RAINBOW COLLECTION proudly states on their website “We have sold all 100,000 Orange Bracelets!” Is selling out 100,000 Fair Trade bracelets an isolated occurrence or harbinger of how Fair Trade sales are going? We shall see.

Tintsaba artisans smiling while they work

Fair Trade artisans in surrounding countries such as Zimbabwe and Swaziland have seen tourism drop dramatically due to the World Cup. Tintsaba Crafts is a rural development project in Northern Swaziland that works with women’s groups producing and selling quality crafts. I visited Tinstaba in 2008, and founder Sheila Freemantle wrote to me this week:

Swaziland accommodation is empty and we have had the worst weeks in history for retail tourism. We have seen about 1 out of the normal 100 (tourists) we get at this time of year. This has caused cash flow challenges in all the local Fair Trade companies. From the beginning I was skeptical about the World Cup potential for tourist sales in Swaziland.

Fortunately for Tinstaba, they seem prepared for this decrease in shoppers, plus there is a silver lining to this dark cloud; besides securing some big export orders that have carried their cash flow through the crisis, their hope lies in, of all things, airport sales. Sheila explained:

Where business will boom is the airport shops and we are grateful to have products in there and we trust that post World Cup, reorders will be fantastic from the big airport shops that run 24 hours.

Gone Rural Retail Display in Swaziland

Hopefully the other Fair Trade retail businesses I visited in Swaziland including Swazi Candles and Gone Rural have similar strategies to get them through the temporary lull in tourist shoppers.

Whether Fair Trade craft sales during the World Cup surpass everyone’s expectations or not, the bigger question is whether this surge will have a lasting effect. My fear two years ago was that the sudden influx of orders might give South African artisans a false sense of hope. The danger lies in increasing future sales projections beyond what is realistic, simply based on special circumstances (like the once-in-a-lifetime World Cup). Unrealistic projections can lead to over-hiring and purchasing more supplies than necessary, two costly mistakes.

If it takes some time to determine how Fair Trade crafts sold during the World Cup, it will take even longer to determine whether there are any long-term effects. The forecast according to Sheila Freemantle:

At best, South Africans have welcomed tourists with open arms and great friendliness and this (will) spread the word that South Africa is a safe destination, a beautiful place (with) great people and high quality crafts. This will be the true benefit of the World Cup. So we hope that the publicity the World Cup has given us will benefit us in the long run.

By Sherrill Hogen

After only 18 days in South Africa I am hardly an expert, but I want to share what I saw and learned of this complex and beautiful country. I had to keep reminding myself that I was visiting a place that had undergone a huge transition just 12 years ago and is still struggling with the legacy of apartheid. We witnessed people and places going about the routines of daily life, some of it very familiar looking urban life, and yet most of these people, including our professional guides and drivers, had only had this kind of normalcy since 1994.

I was on a tour with 9 other Americans organized by Global Exchange, a San Francisco based organization dedicated to global human rights. I wanted to see the natural beauty and the animals for which Africa is famous. I was rewarded by an abundance of visual delights from oceans, plains and mountains to penguins, giraffes and elephants. I also wanted to learn about post-apartheid South Africa, and about the anti-apartheid struggle and how it was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, who started his nonviolent activism in South Africa. That is the story I want to tell.

Gandhi came to South Africa in 1893 as an Indian lawyer, young, naive and loyal to England, then the empire that ruled both India and South Africa.. But he soon learned that England was not loyal to him because of the color his skin and, finding himself sprawled on a railroad station platform because he refused to leave the first class coach he was riding in, he resolved to do something about it. He remained in South Africa for 23 years to organize and defend the human rights of his fellow Indians, at first just the merchants and later the indentured laborers who were brought in to work the cane fields. From the beginning, Gandhi’s approach was to resist unjust, racist laws without the use of violence. He and his Indian followers used people power and soul force, basically taking the higher moral ground.

Not only was Gandhi successful in obtaining some respect for Indians, but he encouraged Blacks to follow the same course. According to one source, the Black leadership did not think the Black culture of the time would tolerate receiving violence and not retaliating in kind. So the African National Congress (ANC), founded in 1912, did not initially adopt nonviolence as their strategy.

However, by the time Nelson Mandela became active as a leader of the ANC Youth League in 1944, nonviolence was the avowed policy of the organization, which adhered to it even while other anti-apartheid groups called for their followers to take up arms against the White oppressor. Mandela reluctantly gave up this policy in 1960 in the face of increasing state violence against peaceful protestors, but he and the other leaders of the ANC preferred to use sabotage against non-human targets in an attempt to avoid taking life. Still, Mandela stated in a ” Time Magazine” article in 2003 that he “followed the Gandhian strategy for as long as I could.”

With this history as background, we wanted to know if anyone recognizes Gandhi’s influence today and if there is a consciousness of nonviolence in the country. In one way Gandhi is recognized: formally via statues, plaques at historical sites, and in several museums. We were able to meet with his granddaughter, Ela Gandhi, and to visit the Phoenix Farm where she grew up, and which was founded by Gandhi himself. While Ela gave us hope for the continuation of Gandhi’s legacy in general, the condition at Phoenix Farm was more symbolic of his lack of influence today. The house where Gandhi lived– a simple but ample structure — had been destroyed by a fire and rebuilt. It contained a reasonable collection of documents and photographs, but it was not open except by appointment. The printing shop where Gandhi and later his sons and even Ela had hand printed the newspaper that was a major organizing tool for the movement for South African Indian rights was basically empty. There are plans to reinstall the old machinery, etc. when there are enough funds. A large, two- roomed library on the premises is being used as an elementary school for 250 children, in keeping with Gandhi’s practice of serving the community, but it was staffed by only 4 teachers with 114 kids to each classroom!

More poignant, though, is the state of South Africa’s current economy in terms of who is served by it. While Gandhi called for local self-sufficiency, and identified himself with the poorest of the poor, and while he sought Truth or God through being with the people he served, thus bringing morality and spirituality into the political arena, today’s South Africa is caught firmly in the grip of global corporate capitalism. Sadly this means that repayment of the apartheid -era debt, and adherence to the demands of the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which call for privatization of public services come before and in fact cancel out the needs of the poor. And the poor in South Africa are the majority. Apart from the elite and a small middle class, 75% of the population is poor and Black.

I admit I was very disappointed to learn that Mandela’s party, the ANC, had chosen a path that basically turns its back on the poor. There are those who say that Mandela had no choice, given the power vested in the global economic structures, that to defy their demands is to lose foreign investors and face the collapse of the country. Maybe they are right. And there are others who say that these were not decisions made by Mandela but by his vice-president who is now president, Thabo Mbeki. This does not absolve Mandela of all responsibility, but his focus as president and his legacy to the country is the process of unification across racial lines, the nonviolent transition of power from oppressor to oppressed, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that provided the nation a means to heal from the brutality of 50 years of apartheid.

These contributions raise Nelson Mandela above the stature of most world leaders, and seem miraculous coming from a man who spent 27 years in prison. I highly recommend the documentary film called “Long Night’s Journey Into Day”, about the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

I imagine that Mandela, now retired, is also troubled by the state of affairs in his beloved South Africa. To quote the 2003 article again, he wrote, “As we find ourselves in jobless economies, societies in which small minorities consume while the masses starve, we find ourselves forced to rethink the rationale of our current globalization and to ponder the Gandhian alternative.”

The legacy of apartheid — a rigid system of separation of the races, enforced by intimidation and violence, and non-Whites marginalized in every way– is seen in the acres and acres of make-shift shacks that house squatters for whom there is no available housing, and in the “townships.” The latter are large isolated tracts of two-room, cement block houses, commonly called match-box housing. They were constructed by the apartheid government to contain the millions of Black and Coloured workers whose city neighborhoods were entirely demolished in order to remove them from proximity to Whites-only neighborhoods. Townships are like sprawling suburbs to the large cities, but no provision was made for stores or services, so people have adapted by selling small amounts of goods out of their homes. We visited a shack that had such a store in its front room, dark and unlit. In addition there was one bedroom and a tiny common room/cooking area with no running water. The whole house would fit into one of our living rooms.

Under apartheid townships, not to mention shack communities, were denied access to electricity and running water. The people used candles, coal and propane for light, heat and cooking. One of the first improvements after the elections of 1994 was to provide electricity (and public water taps) so that by now about 75% have electricity. However, the power grid was not upgraded to account for this new demand, resulting in a fairly new phenomenon: blackouts. The night we arrived in Capetown, we had to walk the twelve floors to our hotel rooms, because the power had just gone out in the entire city. Also until recently there was no sanitation in the shack communities. Now a ring of sturdy outhouses circles the communities and are cleaned out regularly by a municipal sanitation truck.

But perhaps the worst legacy of apartheid are the attitudes that are hard to change: by Whites that Blacks are inferior or violent; by Blacks that Whites are all well-off and racist; by Coloureds that neither Whites nor Blacks will be concerned for their welfare. One example of how this plays out is that Coloureds now resent the affirmative action policies that favor Blacks because they can result in Coloureds being displaced or subordinated to less well-trained Black supervisors. However, the country calls itself a rainbow nation, and there was no evidence of racial violence, surely a big achievement.

There is growing discontent in South Africa. Unemployment is over 30%, new housing is slow in coming, roads are not paved as promised, and privatized water and electricity are more expensive than most can afford. But still people remember how it was 12 years ago when only White people could move about freely, while all non-Whites had to carry pass books or ID cards and needed their employer’s written permission to leave their township. When every single facility and institution had a Whites-only section. When arbitrary arrests often resulted in beatings and imprisonment for indefinite amounts of time.

People remember, and so are still hopeful that the new South Africa where they are free to move about and to vote, will bring them more prosperity. Many are organizing to bring about the needed changes. We visited one group in the township of Soweto, that has decided not to wait for the ANC to deliver. Because of poverty and unemployment, the people cannot afford the high price of privatized water and electricity. The Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee is ripping out the water and electric meters and connecting directly to the municipal grid and water mains. Then they call a meeting and march to the corporations that try to sell the electricity and water upon which life depends, and deliver the broken meters. It is an empowering, well organized protest that is gaining ground, and it is based on democratic decision making and on nonviolence. So, there is anger, there is hope, and there is action.

By Tom Huth,

Our bus pulls up to a brick building with barred windows in the struggling black township of Soweto, another heart-wrenching stop on our Reality Tour of South Africa. It’s Morris Isaacson High School, from which students marched on a June day in 1976 to plead for a humane education, only to be gunned down by the police: shot in the back as they fled.

Today is the last day of school and the kids are all juiced. They horse around outside in noisy groups, still wearing British uniforms. The seniors are signing each other’s shirts with felt-tipped pens. Some of them stop to talk with us. One wants to be a botanist. His friend, more thoughtful, isn’t sure. In 1976 Africans were trained only to be servants for the white economy. But these could be teen-agers anywhere, with futures to behold. Some 800 children died in that uprising, according to our guides, who are people of color themselves. Standing here now–this sunny spring day, the kids so carefree–how can we believe such a thing? “After that,” says William, “South Africa was never the same again. People said: So far, and no further!”

This is a different kind of Africa tour. No game parks, no animals. Stalking people, instead: cross-cultural understanding. We look around the school. In the computer room the teacher says that students love to e-mail teen-agers in other countries, so eager are they to join the big world. But the school ran out of money for the internet fees, because fortune has not followed freedom for the people of South Africa. In a classroom someone has written on the blackboard: How Can a Hungry Teacher Teach a Hungry Student? In another room the lesson: Love Them All, But Trust No One.

“We’ve created moments of darkness and light” is how Clive Newman, our charismatic head guide, describes these tours, which are put together by the human-rights group Global Exchange. As with Reality Tours to other contentious parts of the world, these are educational trips for people who want to really get involved in a nation’s drama–people who, given the choice, would rather hang out with oppressed foreigners than those who are in charge. Clive Newman and his guides are not just witty microphone jocks, but men and women who took part in the resistance against white-separatist rule–a campaign which won out in 1994. Their excitement about helping to build a new nation is sobered by the horrendous indignities of the past. “We are giving you our lived experience,” Clive tells me one night over drinks. “We’ve been beaten; we’ve been jailed. This is our lived experience!” Such a trip, then, becomes a specific kind of holiday–a vacation from the deadening effects of indifference to the less fortunate people of the world. So it should come as no surprise that our group of eight Americans is a teary-eyed gang of aging pinkos, including an inspiring woman of 86 who’s nearly blind but who tape-records everything so she won’t miss a word. For four days in Johannesburg the schedule is rigorous. A human-rights commission briefing; a hospital; Museum Africa; a health clinic; an abused-women’s center. Driving around the city is an education in itself, seeing how the sidewalks of the white business center have become free-form African marketplaces; how settlers have reclaimed abandoned offices and army barracks; how traditional healers have set up shop under an elevated highway. One afternoon we visit the black ghetto of Alexandra, half a million people jammed into one filthy square mile, their shacks patched together from corrugated iron and plywood, with tires on the roofs to keep them from blowing away. Then we tour the rich ghetto of Sandton a mile away, the fine homes barricaded behind electrified fences and razor wire. That night we attend a joyous African dance performance at the Market Theater, and on the way back to our hotel the driver runs all the red lights, as they do now in Jo’burg at night, to outwit the carjackers.

Hope and devolution, darkness and light. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been meeting for five years, its impossible assignment the healing of barbarities hundreds of years old. More than 7,000 policemen and other apparatchiks of the white apartheid state have come before amnesty hearings to confess their crimes against humanity and to ask legal absolution. We attend such a hearing at which four policemen are seeking amnesty for the 1987 disappearance of one Betty Boom, a military operative for the African National Congress, and three of her cadres. A three-man amnesty panel is grilling a small, older man–the only policeman among the accused who is black. He steadfastly denies knowing what happened to Betty Boom and her comrades, despite a vast weight of evidence and presumption that they were executed and buried on a farm. Exasperated, one judge finally says, “Mr. Jantjie, please, we are not children here. You can see how absurd your statement is, can’t you?” At another point he chides, “You’ve got to be joking.” A painful scene: the tables full of lawyers surrounding the little man…his desperate lies, as if he alone were responsible for what happened to his people…the booths full of translators echoing back the testimony in four mutually incomprehensible languages…the relatives of the victims sitting in the front row, straining to understand why the policemen won’t tell them what happened to their loved ones. Later in a stairwell I run into one relative, a large woman with a scarf around her head. “If they were not the judges here I would have beaten him!” she assures me. “We were expecting the truth! We want to know where they are! If they were killed, where are they buried? But we are angry now!” We meet other people who are upset about the reconciliation process because white leaders have shown little willingness to apologize or atone for the past. The best thing South Africa has ever given to the world is the example of forgiveness set by Nelson Mandela in 1990 when he was released from prison after 27 years. Imagine it: dining with the very guards who once confined him. To an amazing extent, the African majority have done their part in the healing process. At amnesty hearings 80% of victims’ families have forgiven the perpetrators. But, as I see in the paper today, the country is still waiting for the appearance of “a white prince of reconciliation”–the white Mandela.

Soweto, 20 miles from downtown, sprawls out under a blanket of smog from a power plant that was built to serve distant white communities. Some 3 million people, from Mandelas to shantytown squatters, live here in South Africa’s soul capital, its Harlem. We tour the Regina Mundi (Queen of the World) church, where services were held for the massacred children in 1976, and where survivors sought sanctuary from the police. An elderly caretaker shows us the bullet holes in the ceiling, the corner broken off the altar by a rifle butt. We tour the two-bedroom, red-brick house where Winnie Mandela endured the years of her husband’s imprisonment, sleeping on the kitchen floor to survive the many assassination attempts by government snipers. Just when we’re getting depressed about the human condition, Clive takes us to lunch at a bright little Soweto cafe, The Rock Pub & Grill, which has folk art on the walls, ESPN on the tube, and Capetown jazz in the air. The owner, Tebogo Motswai, is young and upbeat and empowered, a dropped-out BMW engineer who’s starting a chain of these grills. “Making friends every day,” he’s happy to tell us. “We’re a recognized brand.” He shows me around his dusty but enterprising neighborhood. To one side is a room-sized shipping container where people who can’t afford phones are lined up to make cellular calls. Nearer to the road, a guy working out of his van is set up to repair mufflers. In the shade of a billboard, a refugee from Mozambique sits in a discarded car seat offering to do shoe repair. “Soweto has always set the pace,” says Tebogo Motswai. “In the white areas the walls are so high you don’t even know your neighbors. Here, we know you.” An old man who sells coal plods past in his horse-drawn cart. Someone pulls up in a flashy Honda sports coupe and the homeys all cluster around; it’s one of South Africa’s biggest soccer stars. “We call it the ubuntu concept,” Tebogo tells me. “Ubuntu?” “Humanity,” he says. “It means, if I have a party, you don’t need an invitation.”

We fly south for an hour and a half to rural Umtata, then drive into the hills through forests of long-needled pines to the village of Mbolompo, which rarely sees foreigners. Two or three times a year a Reality Tour comes to visit with the clan of a Mr. Bam, and when the women spot our bus coming they start singing and dancing a welcome song outside their thatch-roofed huts. Mr. Bam is a man of some years with a deeply lined face and a coonskin cap like Davy Crockett’s. He leads us on a walk down to the community garden, pointing out the mountain valley where they had always lived until the white government declared it a tree farm and trucked them down here to fend for themselves. Mr. Bam is proud of the garden, which was started with a grant from the Netherlands. Peanuts, cabbage, spinach, green peppers. In the beginning, he says, thirty people tended the garden. But it’s hard work, carrying water up from the river, and now only eight people are left. I ask him if he’ll let all thirty of them share in the harvest and he laughs. “No, no, I go to fence and say, ‘Give me money.’ Because they run away!” Potatoes, onions, carrots, chilis, tomatoes. In any case, Mr. Bam has bigger things to worry about. He confides to me that other clans in the village are jealous because of his garden, and because he filed a claim to get his old land back without going through the chief. “Headman want to kill me!” he exclaims. He demonstrates, comically, how he dodges the bullets. “God protect me!” he exults. “Bullet can’t come to me!” Later we sit down for a lunch they’ve prepared. The village women are all giggly as we eat together inside a dirt-floored hut. Then we unload the crates of food we’ve brought in payment for their hospitality: sugar, flour, rice, corn. We take their pictures, and they dance again, and this time we dance with them. But our mission to Mbolompo is not over. We’ve gotten word that the chief himself wants to see us. So we drive to his part of the village, and are greeted again by dancing, singing black women in their Sunday best, straight out of 1890s Mississippi. They seat us on chairs in the chief’s yard. Then an older woman steps forward–the village speaker, it seems. “Sometimes we see airplanes fly over!” she cries out, gesturing to the sky. “But we never DREAMED that some day people would COME HERE from AMERICA!” With melodramatic animation, she goes on to tell us that her clan wants its own community garden, “so we can sell and get money–AND BE LIKE EVERYBODY!” She begs us to understand how industrious but poor they are: “We know how to bake! But we have no goods! We have a preschool! But nothing where children to play! We have a sewing project! But not enough maa-sheens!” And in case we’ve missed the point she shouts in conclusion, “WE HAVE A LACK OF CASH HERE! WILL YOU BOOST US TO A GOOD STANDARD?” We applaud her showmanship, although we’re not used to being hit up so brazenly. Then Clive suggests, tactfully, that if the women have some of their fine products to sell the Americans might be interested. So we buy a few baskets and dresses–the first crafts they’ve ever exchanged for money. The transaction is so innocent, both sides are delighted with the prices. Then they feed us, and we hobnob with the chief: a roly-poly man who (we learn later) took the government reparations payments meant for the village and bought himself a fleet of taxis in Umtata.

Laughter and tears. Darkness and light. We drive through rolling green hills to the cemetery where lies Steve Biko, who proclaimed black consciousness in the ’70s. Clive, who’s usually so gregarious, walks ahead on his own to the marble slab. There he tells us: “Steve Biko taught us that black is beautiful, regardless of what the white people were doing to us–that we should be proud. We should stand up high, at a time when we were being followed day and night…having flowers and coffins delivered to our houses…seeing hearses drive up and down the street…hearing perverse laughter over the phone.” It’s plain, by the tremor in his voice, that he can forgive all he wants, but he’ll never forget. “At a dark time,” he says, “when we could have given up the struggle, Steve Biko said, ‘You have an identity.'” For that the police arrested Biko, stripped him naked, chained him to a chair, and beat him to death. Capetown is our last stop, a cosmopolitan city pinched gorgeously between mountain and sea. We visit some optimistic development projects in the pitiful suburban squattertowns. We spend a pleasant Sunday at a barbecue cookoff with some working-class families, and a morning in Pollsmoor Prison meeting common criminals. One day we even join a march through the streets to protest unfair bank practices, waving signs that read, MAKE BANKS SERVE THE POOR!, gladly meddling in other peoples’ affairs. We visit museums and shrines to the atrocities of apartheid: the different mass murders, the forced removal of 60,000 people from District Six, the migrant-labor slums of Lwandle. A poem at one memorial begins: Remember to call at my grave when freedom finally walks the land… To white South Africas who say, “Forget about the past,” these museums reply: We can’t forget, lest it happen again. We take a ferry out to Robben Island, the political prison where Nelson Mandela spent most of his years. Now it’s a big tourist attraction, and our guide is a former inmate himself. A squat, graying man, he calmly describes how they were beaten with pick handles, or buried in sand up to their necks and urinated upon. “The warders,” he says, “never got tired of punishing us.” Now, he admits, he hates coming back here to lead these tours. His nightmares have returned. But it’s hard to find a job these days, and he has a family to feed. It is the accumulation of all of these poignant moments, day after day, which has made this tour such a moving experience, unlike any trip I’ve ever taken. As a musician named Mack tells me in Capetown: “Every person you see is a survivor, and every survivor is a superstar.” In the end, at the Cape of Good Hope, we do run into four ostriches stilting along the beach like prehistoric creatures. But how can mere wildlife satisfy us now?