While driving one day, we came upon this massive wall and I couldn’t resist getting a picture, both because of the enormous scale and because of what it represents as the tallest of thousands of walls that we have seen in the Johannesburg area. The people who live behind the walls are convinced that they are necessary, and with our mere seven month of experience, I won’t contend with them. Still you wonder how a society was brought to that opinion. There are places in the US with walls of course. In Vegas most of our walls could be climbed over or even stepped over and seemed more a way of defining our inhabited space from the uninhabitable desert. But South African walls are serious walls. They are high, thick, barbed and topped with razor wire or rows of electrified fence. It would take a thorough study of the country’s history to really understand, but it seems that the obsession with security has stemmed not just from apartheid and the explosion of anger it created, but from the social walls that were built and fortified from the time whites stepped onto the cape. Too often in any society, when one group sees a way to dominate, they will create separation and then the explanations to explain them.
Some walls benefit us—humans construct walls and join them to create homes where we can be safe from the elements, some physical or mental walls separate us from what might actually cause harm. But we should consider the justification and validity of our walls. How did they get there? Who and what are we keeping out? Do they keep us safe or hinder our growth? After all, our exits from these fortresses, through guards or electronic gates, are just as cumbersome as are anyone else’s entrances. I wonder what understandings could be reached, what friendships could be made, what greater progress could be made without so many mortared bricks and buzzing wires.