Book Excerpt: The Human Spirit by Carole Eglash-Kosoff

THE HUMAN SPIRIT, by Carole Eglash-Kosoff, Author House, 240 pp., $14.95.

Apartheid in South Africa has now been gone more than fifteen years but the heroes of their struggle to achieve a Black majority-run democracy are still being revealed. Some individuals toiled publicly, but most worked tirelessly in the shadows to improve the welfare of the Black and Coloured populations that had been so neglected. Nelson Mandela was still in prison; clean water and sanitation barely existed; AIDS was beginning to orphan an entire generation.

Meanwhile a white, Jewish, middle class woman, joined with Tutu, Millie, Ivy, Zora and other concerned Black women, respectfully called Mamas, to help those most in need, often being beaten and arrested by white security police.

This book tells the story of these women and others who have spent their adult lives making South Africa a better place for those who were the country’s most disadvantaged.

Book Excerpt:
Thoughts of a mother living in a Black township during apartheid:

When we awaken each morning with nothing, the smallest most insignificant something can bring a smile. A larger plastic jug in which to carry clean water and make fewer trips to the distant fresh water tap, a little sun to dry the damp floor beneath us, even a warm body to snuggle with at night can help get us through another day. Food is expensive; jobs are scarce and pay provides us barely enough to survive. We are less than nothing to the Whites we meet. Drugs, alcohol, and sex, readily available, provide brief escapes from hopelessness. There has to be something better.

Prologue

A Changing World

The human spirit is that essence of mind and body that allows each of us to exert all of our energies to overcome the worst difficulties of life that we might encounter. One such travail faced by a wide swath of mankind is the denigration of one group of people by another. It is one of the uglier parts of the human personality that has evolved. Children bully those who are smaller or shyer than others. Adults openly abuse those of a different color, a different ethnicity, or those who have a different belief system.

The founders of our country proclaimed that ‘all men are created equal,’ but it was only partially true. In truth, it only pertained to white Christian males. Slaves were counted as 3/5ths of a person and Jews and Asians were excluded as less than desirable.

America fought a bloody Civil War in the mid-nineteenth century to end the practice of men being allowed to own other men as property. But it would take another entire century for our nation to acknowledge the disparity of opportunity between Black and White. A forty-two year old Negro woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat to a White man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955. Five years later four Black college students tried to get served at a Woolworth’s lunch counter reserved for Whites in Greensboro, North Carolina. They were refused.

They and others had begun to oppose a system that was morally corrupt. They believed they had an inherent right to be treated fairly…no better, and no worse. Flames spread across the country as many Whites joined Blacks in a peaceful Civil Rights movement that changed the landscape of our country.

Other countries around the globe faced similar injustices and struggled to overthrow their own national yoke of oppression. On the continent of Africa colonies that had been controlled by European countries for hundreds of years sought their independence, occasionally in peaceful transition, more often through bloodshed. Ethiopia fought to free itself from Italy. Angola and Mozambique fought off their Portuguese masters. British-controlled Rhodesia was unwillingly divided into Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Congo gained independence from Belgium, and there were others.

At the southern tip of that continent, however, a prosperous, White dominated government, and an integral member of the British Commonwealth, stood resolute. The Union of South Africa, the continent’s largest and most developed country, would not be intimidated. Wealthy and exploited by White settlers for nearly two centuries, its four million Afrikaans and British descendents would not sanction any form of equality with the fourteen million Xhosa, Zulu, Bantu and Coloureds whose ancestors often dated back millennia. Whites controlled 98% of the nation’s wealth and they were not eager to share it.

In 1948 a newly elected government, controlled by a coalition of ultra right wing parties established a formal policy of ‘apartheid,’ a separation of the races…a complete political and economic subjugation of the country’s majority. During the forty-five years that followed, the White entrenched minority would become more strident…more violent. And the non-white majority would suffer!

Slowly a few individuals began to rise from the ooze of their existence and object to their treatment. They convinced others and a movement began.

But the Union of South Africa did not magically shake off the yoke of oppression imposed by the policies of apartheid. The government did not gracefully cede its White domination over the country’s Black majority because of Nelson Mandela. Nor were its newfound freedoms the singular result of the efforts of Bishop Desmond Tutu or the sudden magnanimity of the country’s elected President, F.W. De Klerk. These were among the many leaders whose wise judgment and desire to have a bloodless transition we all remember.

What allowed the Union of South Africa to become the independent, majority led and democratic Republic of South Africa were the cumulative energies and pressures of its people, those who were imprisoned, those who were killed, and those in the townships and informal settlements who worked without fanfare to improve their lives and the well-being of their children.

These men and women saw the squalor around them …children wandering the dirt streets while their parents looked for food…seniors without heat or a hot meal, the blind, crippled and sick, dying of neglect. And a new scourge, HIV, inflicting large numbers of the population with AIDS, leaving hundreds of thousands of children orphaned by parents dead from the disease.

Old and young, Black and Coloured, economically disadvantaged….these were the most vulnerable!

Caring individuals struggled to organize their communities but their resources were negligible. Government and businesses ignored them but these few weren’t entirely alone. Despite severe prohibitions, a few White liberals connected with these caring persons to bring small measures of justice, fairness, and opportunity to better the lives of those who had so little. Together Black, White, and Coloured men and women worked to set up the basic services that have evolved today as recognized social support networks.

All that can be said at the end of an individual’s life is that he, or she, made a difference and that their family, their community, and those they touched, were better for them having lived and given of themselves.

This, then, is a story of important people; individuals who helped bring equality to the land. People who made a difference …men and women you probably have never heard of.

-- Excerpted from THE HUMAN SPIRIT
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