May 26, 2002 - Online Athens: RPCV Jason Carter writes book on South Africa

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By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, May 29, 2002 - 1:33 pm: Edit Post

RPCV Jason Carter writes book on South Africa

Read and comment on this book review from Online Athens on RPCV and Presidential Grandson Jason Carter's book about his years in South Africa and the effort to repair some of the damage done by former president F.W. de Klerk's apartheid regime, by helping to educate the region's black residents at:

Carter willing to take a courageous look at inhumanity *

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Carter willing to take a courageous look at inhumanity

By Ronell Smith

Read University of Georgia law student Jason Carter's new book, ''Power Lines,'' and you can almost feel his mental machinery churning to understand the depth of inhumanity visited against black South Africans.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, Carter spent two years in South Africa, in an effort to repair some of the damage done by former president F.W. de Klerk's apartheid regime, by helping to educate the region's black residents.

But, remarkably, the image he presents isn't one of white guilt rationalizing or of pitiable inhabitants. Instead, the thoughtfully written, informative book peels back the layers of a society most of us can only imagine, and highlights an educating process that, like the Nile River, flowed upstream as well.

Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, visited the country in 1998, a period less than a decade after de Klerk ended his rule and the African National Congress President Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

What he and the other Peace Corps volunteers encountered was, to say the least, not encouraging.

The de jure apartheid of de Klerk's regime had been broken, but in many respects, only in theory; in its stead was a fractured society, one black and one white, that was largely unequal.

While white South Africans inhabited a world of malls and palm-lined streets, Carter described the region's blacks as having severely limited education and job opportunities.

''The proximity makes South Africa's poverty more difficult to excuse. There are no palms lining the township streets,'' Carter wrote.

With his team charged to help educate the South African youth in the town of Lochiel, Carter was privy to an education of his own. Living with a South African family in the town, the young man from South Georgia learned a great deal about the language and the customs of land.

He also learned a great deal about himself, the place he occupied in the world of black and white and the role he could play in breaking down barriers.

Often, as was the case in the town of Nelspruit, he helped to bridge the chasm between the races.

When greeting his South African friend Zakhele at a Nelspruit restaurant, Carter describes the whites who sat watching as cool to the exchanging of pleasantries across race, and fell silent.

But, after seeing that their conception of racial barriers had no place in his universe, Carter said the whites came around, and joined in the conversation.

''The ice had been broken,'' he wrote. ''These white people were falling all over themselves trying to shake Zake's hand and buy him a drink.''

Not all encounters were as successful, however, especially when they took place within the confines of his own mind.

Carter, though only in his early 20s at the time of his two year trek to Africa, does a remarkable job of distilling the white-guilt element so rife in many cross-racial endeavors. He, unlike so many before him, was able to see the residents as individuals, not subjects, and the people whose home he lived in as an extension of his own family.

But, near the end of the book, he does allow the poison of white-guilt to taint the yeoman effort he had undertaken in helping the children of South Africa -- children, as he so carefully describes, who were as precocious as any American child, and who could care less what color he was.

When a Dutch woman attempted to make him feel guilty for trying to westernize the impressionable youth, Carter fell for the loose label, believing deep down that by exposing the kids to western culture, he was providing a potentially harmful influence.

''Deep down, I agreed with her,'' he shared in his book.

What Carter couldn't see then, but obviously came to realize, was that his job as a Peace Corps volunteer was to equip these largely forgotten kids with the skills necessary to lead successful lives -- in Africa and beyond. And by exposing them to a culture thousands of miles away, he was less westernizing them than expanding their worlds beyond the scope of real and perceived barriers.

By writing this book, Carter shows a great deal of courage and compassion, but more importantly yields a young mind willing to confront the unknown.

''Too often, perhaps, we lose hope because we fail to look for it where we least expect it -- among poor black people in South African homeland or an American inner city. ... But there it is,''he wrote.

Carter's story is one of warmth, compassion and the power we have as human beings to shape the lives of others.

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Monday, May 27, 2002.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; What RPCVs are doing; COS - South Africa



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