This photo was taken in Stellenbosch, a former stronghold of apartheid beliefs, especially in the academic world. I have been thinking about slavery lately, especially after seeing 12 Years a Slave and reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Both give their audiences a gruesome glimpse into the world of slaves in the United States in the 1800s. One of the places we visited in Cape Town was the Slave Lodge, now a museum that shows people the beginning of the journey of the slave.
I remember one quote from a slave that I read there: They transported my body. But I wasn’t there. My memory has vomited these days when the screaming and moaning mingled with the roar of the sea. Memory and history can be vomited. Both the movie and book that I mention give plenty of reasons why memory should be spewed out of a person. The images created in the movie and in my mind as I turned the pages of the historical novel haunt me. I return to the question I asked myself on my South African trip–how can humans do this to another human being?
The truth is we still do it–we still traffic human beings–mostly women and children, primarily in the sex trade–and we still do horrific acts of violence to other people. Last night at church we discovered that the latest homicide victim in the city is the nephew of a parishioner. While all the details are still unfolding, it appears that this talented musician was unknown to his attacker. He was beaten so badly that he did not survive but died later in hospital.
To look at this boy in the photo, he appears somewhat carefree. If he grew up at a certain time in South Africa though, he may not have survived his teens. He may have been brutalized by the violence in the townships or by the police. He may have been shot during a demonstration. Of course, the opposite is true–he may have gone on to live a joy-filled life, celebrating Mandela’s release from prison, and seeing changes that heartened him.
South Africa is murmuring to me these days in terms of slavery in this part of the world. Even this afternoon, a student pulled off the library shelf two books–one about a free slave who made it to Salt Spring Island from California. I am unsure if all of this has a meaning or not and so for now, I just hold it gently, waiting to see if it will awaken anything I need to pay attention to.