My wife, Barbara, and I remained in country for 11 days after the conclusion of our class on Social Justice and Global Learning through Community Immersion. We traveled east along the coast of South Africa to Port Elizabeth and flew to Krueger National Park where we spent 3 days in a lodge on a private game reserve.
The owner of the lodge and guide for the safari was a middle-aged White man. We were willing to listen without judgment or argument, and in this context he was willing to share his thoughts on the history and status of South Africa. His views provided stark contrast to those expressed by other South Africans we encountered, both Black and White.
His positions emanated from a belief that apartheid and the economic system erected during apartheid were beneficial for Black South Africans, and that the conditions then were far better for Blacks than they are now. Contrary to the generally held belief in the world community, he did not believe that Afrikaaners had stolen the land from native peoples, because Blacks had taken it from a previous native population.
He articulated a strong sense of ownership for the country for which he fought during two border wars with Angola in the 1980s. He expressed pride in the Afrikaan people, tracing their heritage on the African continent back to the 17th century. He expressed the belief that the world community misunderstood the impact of Dutch occupation. He believed Nelson Mandala was a terrorist who didn’t deserve the honors the world has conferred upon him, but instead should have been tried and executed as a common criminal in the 1970s.
Of course, we have no idea how prominent these opinions are among White South Africans. From conversations with others in the country, he would seem out of step. However, his sentiments underscore the hardy defense of privilege by those who have grown accustomed to it, and remind us that oppression can and will endure in the face of changing cultural and political landscapes.
One lesson seems apparent to me: That we need “all hands on deck” to direct community and governmental systems to achieve social justice. Social workers are uniquely trained to contribute to this vision and should strive toward it through a variety of effective roles and strategies.
Adjunct Professor Bruce “Wild Dog” Guernsey, MSW