“It’s a Devil Being Born With a Conscience”

When asking Denis Goldberg why he became so passionate about the ANC’s liberation movement, he explained that “it’s a devil being born with a conscience” and he simply couldn’t ignore the injustices that were occurring in apartheid-era South Africa.

Staring at the elderly white male sitting before us, most Americans would not guess that he was one of the leaders of the ANC’s military branch (MK) and worked right alongside Nelson Mandela in the struggle against apartheid. Goldberg served 22 years in prison after being arrested at Liliesleaf alongside other prominent ANC leaders and being found guilty at the Rivonia Trial. Yet, he explained in our discussion last Monday that “to be a human being, you have to serve human beings” and this often requires sacrificing ourselves for the greater good. Goldberg knew that people had to take a stand against the injustices of apartheid and he, along with other courageous white, colored, and black South Africans, took the risks that were necessary to make strides toward justice and equality.

How does this apply to us, you say?

Denis was clearly proud of the progress that has been made over the past two decades, but he noted that, though the legal provisions of apartheid no longer remain, the remnants of this past discrimination are still evident in the persisting inequalities between race and class in South Africa. The gap between low paid and skilled workers continues to grow and, while only about 6% of white South Africans are unemployed, rates are as high as 40% for black South Africans. The economic gap continues to grow as inequalities are inherited generation after generation. Nowhere is this stark contrast between poverty and wealth more apparent than in Cape Town.

As Stefani and I walk down Kloof Street and Long Street each morning, we pass an array of expensive cars lining streets filled with designer boutiques, cute, trendy cafes, bars with specialty cocktails, hostels filled with foreign tourists, and beautiful homes with a view of Table Mountain. Yet, these same streets are home to those with no more than a sleeping bag, people digging through trash cans eating whatever scraps they can find, and children pleading for money from tourists like us that pass by. As Anne-Marie, one of our program coordinators, noted, these blatant displays of poverty may make us uncomfortable, but that’s a good thing– it should make us uncomfortable that people continue to live in such unfathomable conditions. Seeing these displays of poverty everyday serves as a reminder of the injustices that persist in society –and will continue to persist until someone does something about them.

Now we come into the picture.

As has been pointed out in our group reflection sessions (and previous posts by Brandon and Reed), it’s so easy to come and notice economic inequalities in South Africa and want to do something about it, yet we fail to address and continue to ignore the inequalities that persist in America. With the top one percent of households owning ⅓ of wealth, the US faces similar issues of disproportionate wealth distribution and persistent poverty. While it is great that we are recognizing these social problems during our time in Cape Town, we must not forget these realizations when they are less apparent and tangible in our everyday lives back in the US. This issue was brought up by Reed in our reflection session last night and left me wondering how I can continue to incorporate the lessons and understandings we’ve gained here into our lives back at Duke. Bob encouraged us to seek out different service learning and community service methods to continue addressing the social problems we’ve become invested in during our time here, and I’m eager to start researching opportunities back at Duke.

To bring it back to Denis Goldberg, “it’s a devil being born with a conscience” and we can’t continue to ignore issue of poverty and economic inequality in Durham and the US. In his parting words, Goldberg reminded us that change will not happen on it’s own:

“This is our burden & our task”


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