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In concert, South Africa jazz great Hugh Masekela prays for racial peace

Many of South Africa's poorest are spreading rumors that all foreign migrant workers will be chased from their homes or killed after the World Cup. But at a concert this week, South Africa jazz great Hugh Masekela reminded South Africans of the essential humanity of their concept of ubuntu.

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Many South Africans thought the World Cup would make life easier. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were created, to build stadiums, widen highways, refurbish airports, and to serve tourists in hotels and restaurants. But now that the games are almost over, the number of jobs related to tourism will shrink, and anger is starting to rise.

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“The World Cup was a temporary Band-Aid on the problem,” says Chris Bolsmann, a sociologist at Aston University in Birmingham, visiting his native South Africa during the World Cup. “What took place in May 2008 is that people were fighting over scarce resources. When 40 billion rand is being spent to build stadiums or widen roads, the real beneficiaries aren’t the people in the township, they are the middle classes, and that 40 billion rand comes from resources that could have been used to solve problems.”

“I would have thought that we would have learned the lessons of May 2008,” he says. “We need to deliver services. We need people to have decent homes, water, electricity. We need to create jobs. We need to get to the root of the problem.”

The irony, for South African exiles like Bra Hugh, as Masekela is fondly known here, is that when South Africans were fleeing the racist rule of the apartheid government, it was African nations like Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and others that took them in. Senior ANC leaders like future President Thabo Mbeki spent much of their adult lives after college in African capitals, making alliances. Artists like Masekela and his one-time spouse Miriam Makeba performed with artists of other African nations, living the dream of African unity. But now, in South African, many of the people the ANC worked to free feel resentment, not brotherhood, with their African brethren.

For Masekela, it’s not too late to recapture that same sense of human decency, which South Africans have encapsulated in the idea of ubuntu. The word ubuntu means that a human being cannot live in isolation. If another human suffers, we suffer. If we succeed in life, that success spreads to all humanity. It’s a philosophy that finds its way into Stimela, and also in a more recent hit, “Send me.”

When I got home from the concert after midnight, amazed at a 71-year-old man who can play a three-hour concert, I found myself humming the music that Bra Hugh played. And then I did what he asked me to do. I sent a little prayer.


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