We only covered a few things today – the origin story of the entire human race, a critical analysis of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a tour of Jozi’s old prisons and a crash course in the rule of law in South Africa at the Constitutional Court.
I realized halfway through the day that the cute little reporter’s notebook I brought isn’t going to cut it. I’ll likely have to get another one at this rate.
It was a totally packed day and I can’t believe I’m still awake. So, I’ll just share three brief observations that stood out to me.
1. Africa at the center of the world. Our first stop was the Origins Center at the University of Witwatersrand, aka “Wits.” Here scholars have coalesced and distilled research from across at least six disciplines to tell the story, as best we know it so far, of where homo sapiens came from. And guess what, all evidence points to Africa. See “Welcome Home” sign – it was posted at the entrance.
Our wonderful museum guide, Brian Mogaki, walked us through exhibits that contained many original and replica artifacts, as well as detailed information about the people who are believed to be the oldest humans – the Khoisan people.
I love maps and these really stuck me. I also loved how Brian framed what, at first, just looked like dozens of relatively unremarkable rocks – the earliest tools that our ancestor created:
“You’re looking at the mind of the human ancestors. You’re looking at art. You’re looking at the oldest technology in the world. You’re looking at the anatomy of the human hand. The tablets and iPads we have now came out of this type of thinking.”
2. False equivalence was the achilles heel of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. At the Wits Center for Applied Legal Studies, we spoke with four leaders who were either law students or running programs at the center about why the TRC didn’t accomplish the racial justice and equality people imagined it would. Its shortcomings are myriad, but there seemed to be agreement that one of the fundamental issues from the outset was that it was designed to place “slave and master” or “oppressed and oppressor” on equal footing. It required non-whites and whites to both step forward and apologize without first dealing or acknowledging that these were not in fact equals.
At least one of them did say that the TRC was necessary, insofar as it secured peace. But they also framed it as emerging from leaders who were “obsessed with peace.” They did suggest that perhaps there were some goods that in this context were greater than peace. One of my fellow travelers pointed out that this resonated with the chants at Black Lives Matter protests: “No justice, no peace.”
3. The thing that made me do a double take today. An odd ad pasted on the side of a dumpster outside the cafe where we had lunch.