While in South Africa I visited many of the tourist hot spots and landmarks, but in the midst of the incredible wilderness and beauty, there was no ignoring the poverty and suffering. We went on a safari and saw elephants, cheetahs, lions, rhinos, giraffes, wildebeests and Springboks. It was remarkable to see these animals in their natural
habitat, but also sad to learn that animals such as rhinos were being poached at higher rates every year. We may be one of the last generations to see the white rhino. Not only people are suffering, but the creatures that God created for us are also suffering at the hands of humanity and for material gain.
However, for all the suffering, we also witnessed sanctification. We witnessed brave people on patrols, who were earning less than the minimum wage, driving around the national park to watch out and protect the rhinos. They themselves did not have a safe vehicle to protect them from the predators and they were putting their own lives on the line.
We visited townships, which were home to people of colour and which were severely underdeveloped. These were the original shanty towns of the apartheid era. We visited Soweto in Johannesburg and it was the most humbling trip of my life by far. About 40% of Joburg residents live in Soweto, and a total of about 1.2 million people live there. We visited the developed side then a street down, within a couple of meters were located tin houses. My eyes were glued to the scene. The road was full of potholes, there was
rubbish and rubble everywhere and men with large carts in the middle of the road collecting plastic to earn a couple of cents. There were goats roaming around and children playing with an overused soccer ball in a dirt field. Many people were standing behind the bars of the small grocery store so that the shop keeper would hand the shopper their items through a small hole. There were signs for abortions valued at 100 Rand ($10).
Our guide showed us the cooling towers set in Soweto which were not used to provide the power for the poor of the township, but rather the main city. The poor received no power, but they received the pollution. The day we visited the cooling towers had been shut down and people were bungee jumping from them. They looked awesome as the people have painted over them.
We were deeply moved when we walked amongst the people who lived in the tin houses. It was dusty, there was an unpleasant smell, the tin houses were rusty and old. At first glance a lot of people would sprint back to their cars and drive off, but these people emerged from their houses and they greeted us with happiness. Soon the women
returned to their laundries where they hand washed the clothes and they collected water from the one tap which they all shared. The kids remained with us and were a cheeky bunch, they ran their hands through our hair (they’re only exposed to thick, curly, short hair), they held our hands and saw how their dark skin was against ours. They took our sunglasses and tried them on, dancing around in happiness. They were covered in dirt, tattered clothes and needed to bath, but they don’t have that luxury. They had to steal electricity just to have light at night. At night, the mozzies eat at them and they don’t have screens to protect them. They swelter in summer and share 1 bathroom between many families. Sewerage ran exposed in the main dirt road and some people did not have shoes. It was absolute poverty.
I went back to my hotel that night looking at my dinner with tears. How did we deserve the luxury when other people were suffering? They barely scraped by. They didn’t even have the basic necessities that we have.
Yet these people showed me that with suffering, there is holiness. We met people working tirelessly to lift these people out of their suffering and advocating to give them better living conditions. As our guide was walking us through, the people would greet him with respect and happiness. He was well regarded because he was so generous and compassionate, and he had made it his life to help these people. The tour I took gave a percentage of the payment to the township and there were other tours inside of Soweto that also donated to the townships like Nelson Mandela’s house. Many tour guides only accepted donations. Qantas flight staff used their 50kg weight limit to pack clothes for donation. There were a lot of people trying to help and these were the fruits of suffering.
Suffering in the world give us the opportunity become holy. The people who give their lives for the welfare of others are truly sanctified. We witnessed that people could have moved out of the township and given themselves a better life, but they stayed out of love.
– Emily Dib