South Africa – Cricket, Mandela and the rise and fall of civil society

Monday we packed up for a day trip to the beaches north of Durban.  Cricket’s on the radio and the drive east is pastoral and pleasant–- until we hit the surface streets of Durban, which look mean. I suspect this is  a vestige of a society brutally divided by apartheid policy only a generation ago.

But the waterfront’s been redeveloped, and what was once an industrial harbor now hosts an aquarium, museums, shops and a broad, friendly beach packed with a mélange of races and colors.  The weather’s grey and blustery at our arrival so we shelter in the restaurant at the end of the pier and take in the South Africa vs Sri Lanka test match.  We’re over 100 runs with no wickets down, so Naftaly’s in a good mood.

After lunch, the weather breaks so we descend from the pier to the sand and brave the sloppy, soupy wind-driven waves for a few hours. Nathan breaks in his boogie board but the body surfing is better today.  We share the surf then showers and sans sand we make our way home with the test match to keep us company.  Sue’s suggested we watch “Million Dollar Arm”, but I can’t rent it online so we settle for streaming the documentary “Fire in Babylon”.  It’s a fitting choice as it tells the inspirational story of the rise of West Indies cricketing during the 70’s and 80’s, and through the impartial lens of Sport, it weaves in the history of colonial racism, the parallels and politics of South African apartheid, and the pride of the Caribbean.

Tuesday we set off early for a few days to the emerald Drakensburg escarpment, which makes up the eastern side of the Great Escarpment and the South African plateau.  On the way Karen and Naftaly surprise us with a stop at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site.  Near the actual capture site there’s a creative sculpture of Mandela’s face made up of dozens of iron spires.  It’s a poignant place that provides a focused South African history lesson, with context for parental discussions of race, injustice, resistance, tolerance and especially the inspiring, graceful example of Nelson Mandela.

Mandela’s grace and tolerance stand in stark contrast with some of America’s cold war interventions and our looming leadership.  While we’ve done much good abroad, in places like South Africa, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Chile and Iraq we’ve put expedient near-term interests ahead of American principles.  For decades US administrations supported Apartheid and helped suppress the rise of Mandela’s ANC; some will argue that the CIA information led to Mandela’s arrest and unjust 27-year incarceration.  As we’ve seen on prior blog posts, our indiscriminate carpet bombing in Indochina kills hundreds of children annually today… and those countries are all now communist anyway… and free trade partners.  Pre-election the CIA found that Russia and Wikileaks were deliberately influencing our elections… but America has sought to subvert free elections in Chile by assassinating the leading leftist candidate, and pummeling Chile with fake news.  In Iraq partisan interests used weak intel to justify war… and we tortured captives.  I’d like to believe we can learn from these mistakes… but I’m pessimistic.

Implementing xenophobic, isolationist policies won’t Make America Great Again… it will make us more like apartheid South Africa. Trump’s administration has the unchecked power to do lasting damage.  Free from facts and rationality, incoming leaders  are putting partisanship ahead of national interests.  They’ve been rewarded for unethically stealing a Supreme Court seat and obstructing voter registration.  Establishment leaders willingly abandon free trade, tolerate Trump torture advocacy, and acquiesce to his cabinet appointments of Bannon and other a incompetent and destructive yes-men.  With unchecked control of all branches of government and a weakened press, the 2020 census will likely result in more gerrymandering, increasing political and social polarization, and a lasting erosion of trust… that essential lubricant to harmony and prosperity.

I agree with Roger Cohen: “America is an idea. Strip freedom, human rights, democracy and the rule of law from what the United States represents to the world and America itself is gutted.”   It’s going to be a rough 4 years… let Mandela’s example sustain us.

One thought on “South Africa – Cricket, Mandela and the rise and fall of civil society

  1. Well, Tom, me thinks you should have a “bully pulpit”. Wish you had sone public speaking during the insanity that was the November election. I believe we will survive, probably not unscathed but survive. I only wish everyone blessed new year filled with happiness, good health and PEACE ( and the time to enjoy them all) xoxox

    Liked by 1 person

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