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Panelists draw out the pain of South Africa and GSO

by Meredith Veto

Truth and reconciliation is a universal struggle ‘— it’s not won as an outright victory, said Dr. Bheki Langa when he addressed the audience of the panel discussion ‘“Healing Via Truth and Reconciliation’” at NC A&T University Tuesday night. Langa, who works for the international affairs office at Bennett college and is chair of the theater department, spoke with three other panelists about the truth and reconciliation process in Greensboro and South Africa.

The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work is based on the South African model, which seeks to confront and clarify painful events of the past, eventually facilitating a change in social consciousness.

Greensboro’s commission is examining the events and aftermath of Nov. 3, 1979, now known as the Greensboro Massacre. At a Communist Workers Party rally at Morningside Homes, violence broke out among Ku Klux Klan members and Nazi group members that resulted in five deaths and 10 injuries. Through research and public hearings the commission initiated a public dialogue that aims to heal the community wound.

A similar process took place in South Africa to address the pains felt after apartheid was abolished. A commission was established in 1995 and presented its report three years later.

Winlyn Maneveld, a visiting international teacher at Hampton Academy who experienced apartheid firsthand in South Africa, spoke on the panel along with Langa and Jill Williams, director of the Greensboro Truth Commission. One of the first topics discussed was the importance of what Langa called the ‘“ghosts of the past.’”

Williams told the story of a woman named Candy Clapp who was a teenager living in Morningside Homes in 1979.

‘“She just screamed when we called her up. Nobody had ever asked her what she knew about the events even though it had been one of the most pivotal events in her life. Truth telling is about the power of giving people a platform to speak their truths about what happened.’”

Langa commented that it is necessary to bring up the painful issues in order to move on.

‘“Particularly in Mozambique there had not been any national unity. There was a lot of conflict, animosity and vengeance taking place,’” Langa said. ‘“The leaders came to realize they had to exorcise the ghosts of the past. It’s important to create a situation that all these ghosts would come out and people would know who they are.’”

He continued, ‘“It’s important that people know that a lot of pain occurred at an individual level. A lot of people died. It’s not enough to have the victimizer say ‘I’m sorry.’ In cases where people were personally victimized it’s important for them to confront the victimizer.’”

Maneveld spoke about the freedom she felt to express her political views after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and how South Africans are more fervent than ever in their struggle, although the scars of apartheid remain.

‘“[We] were over the moon, elated with the news,’” she recalls. ‘“I needed to be amongst the people to celebrate. It was like the nation had been freed. I had the right to walk up to anybody and say what I wanted to about [how] Mandela had been freed.’”

She said that people are no longer afraid of being victimized. Langa agreed that the intensity of protests has gone up rather than decreased.

‘“Having been through such a struggle, people appreciate freedom now,’” Maneveld remarked.

Still in the middle of the reconciliation process, some members of the black community in Greensboro are concerned about retaliation, either by the housing authority, the police or the Klan, Williams remarked. The commission faces some resistance from both blacks and whites, but for different reasons.

Williams said that the black community, in addition to fearing the consequences of resuscitating a racially charged issue, have little hope that the process will change anything. Whites, on the other hand, view the events of Nov. 3, 1979 as an isolated incident that happened a long time ago, that there’s no need to reopen the wounds.

South Africa today, in spite of the post-apartheid freedom enjoyed by many who suffered before, still experiences a racial divide that the country is trying to deal with. Langa said that the government issued a series of laws to modify the curriculum of colleges and universities and setting up student internships to address the disparities in the job market.

Maneveld admits that traditionally white schools continue to excel while other poorer schools lag behind. But the government is taking steps to allow students to take exams in the language of their choice, correcting one imbalance. She points out that the end of apartheid was liberating for white people as well because before they were isolated from other racial communities.

Williams said that the most recent step in the Greensboro truth and reconcilitation process was a community dialogue during which 54 speakers had the opportunity to tell their stories at three public hearings. The commission will reflect on the hearings and release a report on their findings after May 1.

During a question-and-answer session following the panel discussion an audience member said she was affected by the loss of a loved one as a result of the 1979 events. She commented that she sees clear parallels between the use of police power in 1979 and the current police department scandal, and would like ‘“all these issues to come up that affect the past and present.’”

The presentation concluded with a performance by the E. Gwynn Dancers of A&T. Two men decorated with strips of leopard-print cloth and headbands took the stage first for a Zulu warrior dance, accompanied by three African drummers. Then the women joined them, vibrant in solid-colored dresses and matching headscarves. In formation, the women threw their hands upward and pounded their feet firmly in sync with the drums’ rhythm, smiling in admiration of each other.

To comment on this story, email Meredith Veto via editor@yesweekly.com.

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