This past weekend we joined our colleagues at Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) for their annual work retreat. Eating breakfast 2 days in a row in the mountains of Boschendal was a beautiful experience, especially being surrounded by my coworkers at Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim the City (RTC). One breakfast from this weekend sticks in my mind, however, due to a political conversation I had with a man from RTC.
We sat across from each other and made small talk, he was very funny and interesting. He asked me a question that I expected from people: “So how’s Trump doing?” I laughed and rolled my eyes. “Today he announced that he would be directing ICE to find and deport millions of undocumented people, so not great” I replied. He said “I have nothing against Trump. I understand him. South Africa has tons of immigrants who snuck into the country and they cause problems…the police can’t do their jobs.” His response shocked me. I immediately began to argue with him and explain the violations of human rights occurring at the border, and the concentration camps that are in place.
I was so taken aback by his comments. Largely because though I did not know him well before this interaction, I knew him to be an occupation leader for RTC, meaning that he was elected to lead an occupation of public land, to resist evictions and fight for affordable housing in Cape Town. As the weekend with RTC went on I came to see each person as a radical activist; each occupation leader voluntarily sacrifices as much as they can afford to in order to fight for land reform and public housing. These people quite literally put their bodies on the line by living in the occupations and campaigning to get the government to pay attention to the housing crisis at hand. I simply could not see how someone who had given their life to activism and fighting inequality could say that he has “nothing against Trump.”
The whole trip we have constantly been comparing South Africa to the United States. While the two countries share some similarities, I have been thinking more and more about the differences. Having to explain Trump’s evil immigration policies to a complete stranger only reiterated to me the dismal state of our country, especially regarding immigration. South Africa is in no way perfect, but it looked a hell of a lot better in comparison to the U.S. the more I explained (shocker!).
The longer I am away from the States the more removed I feel from its politics and the more immersed I become in South African politics. Working with RTC has made me think deeper about my own fight for social justice; what have I put on the line? What would I be willing to do for a movement like Black Lives Matter in America? I truly believe that if he were American and if he knew more about the policies that the Trump administration has put in place, my RTC colleague would still be on the front lines in America fighting against redlining and for more affordable housing.
I have learned so much from politics and activism here that I am ready to bring back to America and apply there.