Constitution Hill

Petting Cheetahs & Chasing Racism

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Will you come with me today? It won't take long, but I must show you what I saw today, or else my heart will collapse or explode. Or worse yet, I will turn away, and blithely return to my nice little life, keeping blinders firmly in place.

But first, the Cheetahs. I confess, I am not a cat person---I have always loved dogs and their bounding enthusiasm for life. Cats seem more like our alter egos, the darker cunning selves we hide. But this day, in Bloemfontain, South Africa, maybe I was converted? 


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We spent 2 1/2 hours with these magnificent animals, who had all been rescued from various circumstances of neglect or sickness. The fastest creature on earth, who is all legs and lithe length, lay and put his head in Micah's lap. Sat still for a chin scratch.


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These cats don't belong on this farm. They should be wild, pursuing their prey, living their slinking beautiful lives in the long grasses of open plains. But they are dying. Their gene pool is dangerously small, leading to disease and premature death; They've lost 91% of their habitat.Only 7100 remain in the wild. They're dangerously close to extinction.

When you sit inches from their gorgeous faces, you get it. You feel it. The coming loss. 




We left Bloemfontein a few days ago and are now in Johannesburg. Today, we are back from another prison: Constitution Hill, in the heart of this city of 20 million. Why should you go into one more prison with me? For the same reason I went: to crack the door yet wider on the human heart---into its depths and into its brilliant light. There is hope coming soon, but first, you must know this:

The prison was built in 1893, This is the prison where Gandhi was held for 8 months. Nelson Mandela was here too. It's most egregious years were the years when the prison was crammed with black and "non-white" men and women who wittingly or unwittingly had violated the inhuman Apartheid laws. Between 1947 and 1948, in a single year---more than 90,000 men and women spent time in this horrifically overcrowded, brutal place. Yes, there were criminals here, but for many, their crime---they weren't white. 


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Others were political activists, mine strikers, prisoners of war . . .. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children of all colors were held here, and some died here. 

Solitary confinement in rooms with barely room to lie down----where men spent weeks, months, even up to a year, with no food but rice water. 

Constant purposeful degradations.

Tiny cells where the windows were covered to keep a perpetual night. 

I'll stop there and let the photos tell the rest:

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The men's solitary cells, which are no more than 10 ' by 4'.

The men's solitary cells, which are no more than 10 ' by 4'.

60  men held in deliberately blacked-out rooms built for 30. Two toilets. Barely enough food, and the food often vile and even rotten.


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It's a sad, broken upside down world. Yet this is not the end. There is brilliant light out of this dark:

*That the bricks of this prison that treated women and men like brute beasts for 100 years were torn down and used to build the Constitutional Court in 1996.  A court that protects the rights, freedoms and dignities of all South Africans.  A court that is open to all. (Yes, we walked right in to court, while on a break.)




*And this light: that we who enter the prison complex choke as we stand in the solitary cells,  cringe at the stories of the survivors, fight tears as we view the torture devices. We recognize evil. We name it. Recoil from it. We determine to expose and end racism wherever we find it, starting with ourselves.


In the name of Jesus. A name so powerful, so filled with hope a desperate man carved this altar into his solitary cell.

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I don't know if he made it out alive or not. I don't know how many hundreds of black men endured the hell of that cell.  But I do know Jesus was there.  Just as He is here, ready to free us all from our own racism and prejudice against those who are different than us.

We don't want Cheetahs to go extinct, but we need racism to go extinct, don't we? We need brutality and hatred to go extinct. We need Love to grow long lean legs on us like the Cheetah's to race, fierce, swift across the cities and plains chasing injustice, hatred, brutality far from our borders. Far from our hearts. 

May it be so. 

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