Week 10: Full Circle

This week I have some amazing news to share. For those who have been following along, you'll remember Mr. Zitha. For those who haven't been, I met Mr. Zitha in my first week in South Africa. Mr. Zitha was kidnapped and tortured by operatives of the apartheid government. While he was held in police cells across the border of Lesotho, no one knew what had happened to him. Unlike most victims of enforced disappearance, Mr. Zitha escaped. However, he never received any justice for the human rights violations committed against him.

Even though Mr. Zitha knew who his captors and torturers were, when he came to us there was nothing we could legally do. The prescription (statute of limitations in the US) on torture had already run. There was no way to prosecute. So why not challenge the prescription of torture as unconstitutional? Because it just won't work (said almost everyone). But Khulumani wasn't willing to take no for an answer (and trust me, we got a lot of no's from a lot of people).

Now, 10 weeks later we have found an organization called Lawyers for Human Rights, who have decided to take the case! Every single door we knocked on was shut in our face, but through persistance and persevearance, we finally have someone who has opened their door. Mr. Zitha was my introduction to my work with the disappeared. He was the very first person I interviewed. In fact, he was one of the first people I met in South Africa. Talk about full circle, right? 

I came to South Africa with a goal: to make a difference, no matter how small. Tomorrow I will board a plane and start my 24-hour journey back to the US. When thinking about writing this last blog I kept asking myself whether I achieved my goal, but each time I came up empty. This morning as I sat in my office chair at Khulumani Support Group for the last time, I realized that I couldn't come up with an answer to my question because my goal had changed. 

I have met people in South Africa who talk about people from the United States coming here because they think they can "save Africa" or "teach Africa." Maybe in some ways, I was one of these people when I arrived. But ten weeks later, I have realized that the South African people don't need saving. Through the countless interviews, research projects, blog posts, meetings with the DOJ, workshops with Khulumani's staff, lectures at universities, long drives filled with Dr. Jobson's stories, and so much more - I realized that while I know I did make a difference, it was never about saving or teaching South Africa. All along it was about human beings working together for one cause. It was about people, no matter their color or country of origin, striving for justice. It was never a one-way street. It was always about teaching and saving each other. Each individual who I taught something to or helped, helped me and taught me in return. 

South Africa gave me a new perspective on the world, and on the legal systems of other countries. South Africa taught me what it looks like to advocate for human rights every single day, and never stop until justice is served. South Africa helped me realize that when one approach to a problem doesn't work, you must find another solution. And South Africa taught me that when the second and third and fourth solutions don't work either, you better try a fifth. South Africa showed me that there is more than one way to be in the world, and that post-conflict countries each have their own unique way of achieving reconciliation. South Africa taught me that nothing is impossible - if you work hard enough for what you want, it will come.

Coming to South Africa has been the opportunity of a lifetime. I want to thank Dr. Jobson, all the staff of Khulumani, Professor Warren, John and Brenda Scanelli, my parents, and everyone else who made this experience possible. I am so grateful.