Peace Scholar Post: Disillusionment and Political Empowerment

This is part of a series of blog posts written by the 2014 Peace Scholars as they experience their summer program in Norway. This post was written by Nathan Detweiler from St. Olaf College.

Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.  -Desmond Tutu

A couple weeks ago I was privileged to Skype with a close friend from South Africa. During our conversation she kept coming back to something that had become a serious source of consternation for her – her disillusionment with politics in South Africa.

tutuI lived in South Africa for six years. I recall that her disillusionment is hardly unique in South Africa’s political landscape, which is dominated by the ANC (African National Congress). Throughout high school I heard and watched as South Africans struggled with a growing sense of disillusionment with both their capacity to affect politics and with a ruling party that seemed incapable of keeping its promises. And while it is tragic that many South Africans are so disillusioned with party politics, it is hardly unique to South Africa.

Embittered citizens from around the world can draw a couple of noteworthy lessons from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu. Throughout his life he has fought against the disempowerment and disillusionment of the oppressed. His advocacy against apartheid and subsequent leadership of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) bears witness to his unrelenting drive to bring justice to the most disaffected. His passion underscores the importance of ensuring that every voice has the power to be heard and that venues receptive to what that voice has to say actually exist.

The tragic conclusion of disillusionment and disenfranchisement has often been violence. And as a Peace Scholar I’ve read again and again how this combination rears its ugly head throughout history and manifests itself in such horrific things as genocide and xenophobia. May we be mindful that even beyond politics, we must strive to listen attentively and with understanding to people we encounter in our daily lives.


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