The premier of Free State Province, South Africa visited the city of Gary and Indiana University Northwest on Tuesday, bringing words of goodwill and a proposal for international cooperation to a community that she said is confronting many of the same problems and issues as her own state.
“It’s almost like home. The challenges you face here are the same challenges we are facing there,” said Premier Frances Beatrice Marshoff, who led a delegation of Free State government officials to Gary as part of a weeklong trip through Indiana.
The picture of America that Marshoff has seen by visiting Gary and other U.S. communities contrasts sharply with her earlier notions of the United States, the premier admitted. Marshoff said that she once believed everyone here enjoyed the same opportunities and quality of life.
Now that she has learned differently, she believes there is much to be gained from so-called “twinning” programs that help unite cities from different countries in a common search for answers to urban problems.
“Actually, you are in the same boat. We can learn from each other,” Marshoff said. “There is nothing to prevent us from reaching out to each other and bringing this global village closer to our hearts. It does us no good to sit in our ivory towers and philosophize. We need to do something.”
Marshoff, whose position in Free State is akin to state governor here, cited poverty, education, youth violence, and economic redevelopment as major issues for her government, which is headquartered in the capital city of Bloemfontein. Formerly known as Orange Free State, Free State Province has a population of around three million people.
Free State is looking to tourism as a tool for economic redevelopment, and Marshoff said her state also encompasses a majority of the country’s gold mines. But investment is needed to rehabilitate the mining industry, she said. Free State officials are trying to develop programs that will encourage young people to earn an education, the premier noted, but violence and teen pregnancy pose major obstacles for the state’s youth.
Those students who do complete a college education don’t always stick around to use what they’ve learned in their home state, Marshoff said, noting that “brain drain” is particularly a problem in the healthcare industry. The premier said that many of South Africa’s highly qualified healthcare workers come to the United States.
“Please do not pull from our healthcare workers,” Marshoff said. “We invest a lot into training our healthcare workers.”
Denise Dillard, vice president of human resources for Methodist Hospitals, told Marshoff that hospitals and universities here experience similar problems in trying to recruit highly specialized nurses and other medical personnel, and in trying to persuade those people to teach others.
“In our country we are hitting a plateau where the Baby Boomers are getting ready to leave their jobs,” Dillard said. “In fields like surgical nursing, we need people to fill that need.”
Gary Mayor Rudolph Clay joined other city and IU Northwest officials in welcoming Marshoff’s delegation to the Steel City. Delayed by other obligations, Clay had sent Deputy Mayor Geraldine Tousant to the luncheon at the Library Conference Center to present Marshoff with a key to the city and a plaque commemorating Nov. 14, 2006 as “Free State Province of South Africa Day” in Gary.
Just about the time Tousant finished her presentation, the mayor arrived and repeated it for posterity.
“I told my secretary, ‘They’re in good hands (with the deputy mayor). But on my way to the county I’m going to stop by there, anyway.’ I think it’s important that the mayor of the city give you the respect that you deserve,” Clay told Marshoff and the delegation. “You have a friend in the mayor’s office in Gary, Ind.”
Stephen McShane, curator of the Calumet Regional Archives at IU Northwest, and Prof. Earl Jones of the minority studies department, briefly discussed the history of Gary and its steel mills. McShane told the South African delegation that land for U.S. Steel had been leveled and prepared for building entirely by “horsepower, mule power and manpower.”
“Whether or not you like U.S. Steel or like the idea of steel mills on the lake, you can’t help but admire the engineering and construction that went into this huge project,” McShane said.
Jones relayed Gary’s cultural history to the University’s visitors, explaining that what once existed as a truly multicultural city eventually became divided, with the manager class locating on the West Side, the worker class settling into the East Side, and many immigrants and African-Americans living in under-developed areas of the city.
“It was an area that was divided by race and class,” Jones explained, noting that many other cities followed this same pattern of division. “And that was the stamp that was put on Gary … the stamp of race and the stamp of class.”
South Africa, of course, only emerged from the shadow of apartheid in 1994, and Marshoff acknowledged that the lingering impact of that racial segregation would affect her state for years to come. But the premier said that Free State could not use apartheid to excuse or justify its present problems.
“We always say, after 10 or 12 years, we can no longer blame apartheid for who we are or where we are,” Marshoff said. “But the effects of apartheid will be with us forever.”
Marshoff and her group presented Gary and IU Northwest officials with gifts, and she encouraged Clay and others at the luncheon to reciprocate the visit and travel to Free State. Joining Marshoff at the luncheon was a host of officials from her government, including Casca Mokitlane, the agriculture minister, and Gertrude Mothupi, the executive mayor of the Mangaung municipality, which includes Bloemfontein.
The Free State delegation hopes to establish cultural, educational and economic-development ties with Indiana. Other stops during the visit will include Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis, and the office of Ind. Governor Mitch Daniels, among others.
The trip was organized by Philip Rutledge, a professor emeritus at IU Northwest who is also a senior fellow at the National Academy of Public Administration. That organization works to help forge international ties between governmental units of different countries to promote cooperative learning and advancement.
“This group is here to develop a longer working relationship with the state of Indiana, with IU and Purdue, and also with two cities in the state,” Rutledge said of Marshoff’s delegation. “The cities that are under consideration are Indianapolis and Gary.”
Rutledge said Gary’s inclusion in the program was based on cultural similarities and on the level of common interests between the city and the South African province.
“It’s an African country, and this is largely a black city. It has a black mayor and a council that is interested in these types of things,” Rutledge explained.