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Women Hear of Horrors in Third World : Methodist Group Urged to 'Take Sides' Against Oppression

April 23, 1986|BOB SIPCHEN | Times Staff Writer

The first speaker decried repression in South Africa, the second denounced atrocities in Central America, but the third speaker brought the day's topic, "A World in Search of Justice," back home to the United States.

One of 11 defendants in the federal trial of the church sanctuary movement's efforts to provide safe haven for Central American refugees, Peggy Hutchison wrapped up the Saturday morning session of the United Methodist Women's Assembly by urging an Anaheim Convention Center audience of about 8,400 to become educated and "impassioned" about human suffering in South Africa and Central America and to work individually and through their congregations across the United States to bring about change.

Primed by the earlier speakers' first-hand accounts of life in the Third World, the Methodists, who had come from across the United States and abroad, responded to Hutchison's appeal with fervent applause.

The United Methodist Women, an organization of about 1 million members, "exists to fulfill the mission of Christ and the church, to serve as an advocate for women and children and to foster growth in the Christian faith," said a spokesman for the group.

Raises $30 Million a Year

The organization raises about $30 million annually to support schools, hospitals, community centers and missionary work in this country and overseas and to fund ecumenical projects that primarily benefit women and children.

At the four-day assembly, which ended Sunday, conference-goers explored the theme "Into the Future by Faith" by browsing through technology exhibits, playing with IBM computers and attending workshops on such topics as health and education.

Before the Saturday morning talks, the group studied Bible verses and sang Methodist hymns dating back centuries. The talks, however, plunged the audience right into the 20th Century.

Saturday's first speaker, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, told the group she experienced the force of South Africa's apartheid system of institutionalized racial segregation after she raised questions about the suspicious death of Mapetla Mohapi, a black activist who was being held by the police.

Detained and Banished

(Ramphele's oldest child, named Hlumelo or "sprout from a dead tree," is the son of the celebrated black nationalist leader Steve Biko, who died while imprisoned in 1977.)

After Ramphele spoke up about Mohapi's death, the white minority government detained her for five months without charges, then banished her to a township 1,000 miles from her home.

She lived there for 16 years, during which she founded a hospital, a library, a day-care center, a school, a scholarship program and a brick-making operation.

Ramphele now lives in Capetown, where she is a senior research officer at the University of Capetown, working with migrant workers and their families.

"I'm here to share with you the anguish of being a member of a society in the throes of birth pains . . . the birth pains of a new era," Ramphele said. The people of South Africa, she continued, are now asking themselves the questions that all expectant mothers ask: "Is it going to be a normal child? . . . (Or) is it going to be stillborn?

"Oh lord, let it not be," she said.

Unfortunately, whatever comes of South Africa's current unrest, the children and youth of the country--those who have not been killed--have already been "disabled" psychologically by the "vicious spiral of violence" in their country, Ramphele said.

As she described it, the younger generations of South Africans have grown up in a climate of such fear and brutality that they themselves have become brutal and reckless toward the government that has oppressed them.

Family Disintegration

And as a result of the government's segregation policies, which force many black men and women to commute hours from their homes each day to earn a living while keeping them in poverty, the black family has disintegrated, she said.

"The child we see on the streets today doesn't know love and thus can't love. He doesn't know security, and he doesn't mature. He doesn't know tolerance, and he is not tolerant. . . . This child doesn't know about democracy and therefore can't fight for democracy. This child doesn't know justice and therefore can't seek justice."

What they do know, Ramphele said, is that "violence does pay because that's what (South African) society is about."

Meanwhile, black parents live in constant terror that their children will be killed in the latest battle with security forces, she said.

Ramphele made it clear that she and other black South Africans hold their white minority government responsible for its policies, but she also urged the group to protest the policies of the U.S. government and multinational corporations, which she accused of "propping up apartheid."

The next speaker, Elsa Tamez, picked up Ramphele's narrative thread.

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