Remembering the past to change the future
This post, once again, started as a comment on another post and became so long that it would have been bad manners to post it there.
My son, as well as a number of his friends, recently attended the Amahoro conference and it is clear that this experience made a very deep impression on these young people. Several of them blogged about the conference, amongst others on My Contemplations (my son’s blog), FutureChurch (Roger Saner’s blog) and Nextchurch (Andries Louw’s blog). There will be many more, but these are the three which I follow regularly.
Roger and I recently had a long discussion on his blog about Apartheid and racism. Me feeling is that our enemy is not so much Apartheid, which is actually an ideology, but rather racism which gave birth to this ideology (and which will give birth to similar ideologies in the future.) Today my son shared a few very interesting thoughts on keeping the memories of Apartheid alive in order to prevent us from doing the same in the future. Having grown up in a house where we as parents were strongly opposed against Apartheid and where we tried, as far as it is humanly possible, to oppose all forms of racism, I am happy to see how strongly he feels that Apartheid should be remembered so that it may never be repeated. This, of course, is something different from fighting Apartheid today and is something which I do agree with. But how effective this is, I don’t know.
In 2005 I had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust museum in Amsterdam. I can’t remember all the details, but it boiled down to something like this: In Amsterdam Jewish people were prevented from entering certain premises, such as theaters. Theaters for Jewish people were built in other areas. Then the Jews were forced to move out of restricted areas and were forced to live in areas specifically reserved for them. Then job reservations were applied, reserving certain occupations for non-Jews only. Later on the entrance to the Jewish areas were controlled through gates. And the rest is history.
What upset me the most on that day, was the realisation that events in South Africa followed exactly the same route during the years of Apartheid: Restricted areas, separate places of entertainment, job reservation, entrance control to Black townships. The similarity was almost uncanny. Dr Verwoerd, who is considered to be the creator of the Apartheid ideology, was born in Amsterdam, although he moved to South Africa at the age of two. But, standing that day in the museum in Amsterdam, I asked myself whether it had really been impossible for him, who was a highly intelligent man, to foresee what would be the outcome in South Africa if he followed the same method as had been used before the Holocaust?
We do need to remember the past to prevent us from making the same mistakes in the future.
But then I’m wondering: Will it really make a difference? What about Uganda? What about Croatia? What about Rwanda? What about Zimbabwe? Hopefully Germany will never be guilty again of the things that had happened under Hitler. Hopefully South Africa will never again be guilty of the things that had happened under Apartheid. But will our remembered mistakes prevent other countries from doing the same and will the world be faster to respond in order to prevent the tragedies that had been part of the South African history? Sometimes I wonder.