After spending about 4 days in the Northern Region (Limpopo), we returned to Johannesburg to spend a few days with Pastor Isaac and his family. It was an 8 hour bus ride with no air-conditioning. And it was nearly summertime. Yuck. I remember handling it quite well, with little complaining. Of course, Kirk says that I repeatedly said every half hour, "I'm handling this pretty well, don't you think?" Well, memory can be subjective.
Jo-burg was the eye of the storm during the Apartheid protests that finally led to the downfall of Apartheid. The white Afrikaans government had divided the country of South Africa into ten "independent" Tribal Homelands to which all the black and mixed race South Africans were assigned. People were forcibly removed from their homes to live in remote tribal lands, so that the best areas with the most opportunities could be reserved for the whites. The townships surrounding Jo-burg sprouted up as squatter camps, ghettos with tin and brick shacks as far as the eye can see, for blacks that worked in the cities (often as servants to whites). Blacks were not allowed to live in the city or the nicer suburbs. I knew of Apartheid before visiting South Africa, but have learned so much more about it from reading Kaffir Boy, the autobiography of Mark Mathabane in case anyone is interested in learning more.
During our time in Jo-burg we stayed with Pastor Isaac's family and spent our days walking through the township of Kathlehong, visiting a daycare for AIDS orphans, visiting HIV/AIDS patients in their homes, attending a home church in the township, and attending Isaac's church. One of the AIDS victims that we visited, Maria, was confined to laying on a mat on the floor of her mother's house, barely able to lift her hand to greet us. It was her 37th birthday that day. We were overwhelmed by our inability to do anything for her. On our way home, Isaac suggested that we stop at the grocery store to buy her a cake, cokes, and a card. We were so excited for the chance to celebrate her life! That evening we returned with the cake. Her mother saw us coming and began to weep. Later she told Isaac that when she saw us approaching, she thought, "who is my daughter?" We sang "Happy Birthday" to Maria and told her mother to invite the neighbors for cake and cokes. How simple it is to love people!
We also drove through Soweto, an infamous township where many protests took place. This is the first place that the government has begun to make improvements, so Kathlehong was actually in worse condition. I am realizing more and more just how rare it was for us to stay in the home of a black South African, and to walk the streets of Kathlehong as friends and brothers and sisters, not as oppressors that would exploit the people and the land. One younger man approached Kirk and told him how glad he was that we had come to the township and that were not afraid to be there. There is still much segregation there and it is one of the few countries in Africa where there is a democracy, an economy, an infrastructure, and yet directly across the street people are suffering, malnourished, and impoverished.