By Ryan Schindler
If people ask me what was the most beautiful thing I saw in South Africa, my answer will surprise them. I have seen Table Mountain, zip lined across ancient jungle, and looked out across the Cape of Good Hope; my answer is none of these things. It is, instead, a legal document. More specifically, the Bill of Rights for the People of South Africa. Covering everything from freedom of religion to the inalienable liberties of children to the support for gay rights, this piece of paper is a graceful defiance of the atrocities and emulates how far the world has come since the American Constitution. It is indeed awesome, reading demands personal reflection.
This experience has allowed me to reflect on an organization I love: North Carolina Student Legislature (NCSL), a student political debate society. The intention is to instill civic engagement through research and civil debate, while allowing interested students to experience political power. While alumni often do great things after their time, the club sometimes brings out the worst in people; the pursuit and protection of power has led to suppression of opinion, incompetence, bullying and verbal attacks, and even corruption and abuse of the law. Even I became arrogant and a bit manipulative when in the possession of power. It can be truly awful.
And I see much of the same behavior in South Africa. During Apartheid, the Nationalist government suppressed, ignored the rule of law, and murdered in the attempts to keep control of the country. Today, the ANC, the organization that made the constitution a reality, abuses its constituents with complacency and gross embezzlement, all in the face of one of the world’s most unequal societies. How can men like Zuma sleep at night when they spend the people’s money on luxury goods when millions of their people struggle for food, water, and an education? I find it disgusting and a complete betrayal to everything Mandela worked for. The people of South Africa, in a similar light to the students in NCSL, deserve better.This isn’t to suggest that I will solve the political problems of South Africa, but what I’ve learned will help me give back to NCSL.
For starters, I will be on alert to the inner workings of the organization, both the good and the bad. After all, I can fix a problem if you don’t know it’s there. An I depth look into South Africa allowed me to truly grasp how in trenched apartheid, and racism in America, still remains in society. What I might discover within NCSL might be uncomfortable, but the awareness and struggle of accepting such knowledge is a necessary precursor to positive change. Yet it is not enough.
As difficult as this may be to overcome, I would need to become more impartial in order to help the organization. Much of my involvement within NCSL is representing Elon University; while it’s fun using political leverage to increase my group’s power, it’s sometimes against the needs of the organization as a whole. Besides, newer members who see this selfish manipulate behavior might leave NCSL or be inspired to imitate such immorality. Mandela faced a similar situation, albeit on a much bigger scale. He could have easily excluded whites from government, or even created a system that predominantly catered to the Xhosa, but Madiba worked to create a society for all of South Africa’s people. I hope to emulate his philosophy within my club.