Yesterday was our first full day in South Africa! We decided to face the jet lag head on, starting the morning off at Origins Centre in Johannesburg. In this museum, we could trace back the earliest humans, all stemming from Africa. From stone art to arrow heads to skulls, evidence of the first human species was at our fingertips. This was truly the best place to begin. The Origins Centre was created after apartheid to rewrite history that had been erased or distorted. The museum demonstrated Afrocentric ingenuity and history, highlighting the sophistication of people frequently misrepresented. Reconciliation requires recognition and reparations. This museum took the first step in that process by acknowledging a vast history that had been warped and hidden due to Eurocentric history and colonialism. Taking the time to document and display part of this history is a fundamental step in creating a foundation of reconciliation. Taking the time to view the museum was a fundamental step for us in creating our own foundation of what reconciliation can and should be.
After our museum tour, we had the opportunity to meet with a group of people who work at the Center for Applied Legal Studies. Our conversation centered around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, land reparations, and the legal framework of apartheid. Personally, I could’ve talked with them for hours. Each person brought so much important personal, historical, political, and legal knowledge to the conversation. Through our dialogue, the disillusionment of South Africa became more and more clear. In a way, this brought me some small hope because the first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that there still is one. If people in South Africa are still suffering from disenfranchisement and economic woes, there can be no free and just South Africa. I’m thankful the legal scholars reflect the work that still must be done before there is liberation. Our conversation also highlighted the large institutional and international backing of apartheid. Foreign governments directly assisted South Africa in persecuting black citizens in the 20th century. That happened. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had many problems, and one of which was the individualized nature of the commission. One person acting as a scapegoat does not represent or signify the businesses, schools, companies, countries, prisons, law enforcement, and more that upheld and enforced the unjust system of apartheid. Accountability needs to happen, and while the TRC attempted to provide this, it largely failed. Hearing that something so highly regarded outside of the US such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has failed in its job forces further questions. What does this say about image portrayal? Then what is the best solution or step for reconciliation? How do you hold institutions and governments accountable? What does reconciliation look like in South Africa? What could it look like in the US? As we continue on this journey, I’m eager to find some possible answers and develop more questions.
Julianna Nikodym is a rising senior in the College majoring in American Studies and minoring in Anthropology. Born and raised in St. Louis, she plans to write her senior capstone paper about South Africa and the Black Lives Matter Movement. Julianna is an avid Cardinals baseball fan and a proud member of the Beyhive.