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Posted on Tue, Jan 19, 2010 : 3 p.m.

Examining Ubuntu Conference and other applications of South Africa's reconciliation process for us now

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

In college, we protested apartheid in South Africa by attending rallies on Sproul Plaza, marching across campus, and not patronizing companies that did business in South Africa. It was so important to me to take my money out of Bank of America, where my family had always banked, and move it to Wells Fargo Bank. Everyone was so excited when Bishop Desmond Tutu spoke at the University of California Berkeley Greek Theater that Bobby McFerrin (just starting out then) announced his arrival in song - twice - before his helicopter even landed.

Then summer vacation came, I went home, I got busy with other things, and I forgot all about it. For years.

Suddenly, Bishop Desmond Tutu’s voice is on the radio. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is under way. An amazing concept. Reconciliation. I cannot even do that with my friends (ex-friends). I am surprised and ashamed to realize that after college, apartheid in South Africa had continued and then ended without me even noticing. I rationalize that perhaps it happened while I was out of the country for several years; I missed a lot of things during those years.

Still, I am struck at how easy it is for us to forget the terrible things that happen to other people, far away, where we cannot see, where we cannot hear their cries.

As part of the University of Michigan Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Symposium, a weeklong conference is being held called, “Examining Ubuntu — An African Lens on Community, Reconciliation and Human Rights,” with lectures, art, movies, music and poetry, which will look at not only South Africa’s approach to reconciliation, community building, and social outreach, but also parallels and applications of this experience to other contexts, including U.S. civil rights struggles and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

South Africa may not be so far away after all. Check out for more.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at