by John Dear
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
We landed in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Jan. 13, after a 15-hour flight from Atlanta. For me, it was a dream come true. After endless discussion, study, plans and preparations, we arrived on a hot, sunny summer afternoon and found ourselves in a beautiful, lush neighborhood just outside the city. It felt like Northern California — cool, breezy, sunny and refreshing, with a thousand birds singing all around us.
South Africa, a nation of approximately 49 million people, ended its reign of racial terror and state-sanctioned violence against blacks, known infamously as apartheid, in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela and the creation of a new democracy. It has, hands down, the best, most progressive constitution on the planet. The whole world turned toward it last month with Mandela’s death, and it continues to inspire nonviolent resisters everywhere with its amazing leaps toward justice, peace and reconciliation. It still has terrible problems — staggering unemployment, poverty, violent crime — but for a new democracy, only 20 years old, it has made enormous strides.
Twenty years after apartheid, I’ve come to listen, learn, and see for myself the beauty of the land and the spirit of the struggling people. I’ve traveled with my friend Fr. Ray East, pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., and a longtime speaker and activist; his sisters Gertrude and Cecilia; and their cousin Bobbye…