Tag Archives | Apartheid

My Mandela: #RIPNelsonMandela

 

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela Statue outside Victor-Verster Prison

We have lost a hero.  When I read the news of Nelson Mandela’s passing, I was shocked. I knew that his health was failing for sometime, but the fact that this great man is no longer with us is still difficult for me to grasp.  Mandela was elected to the presidency of South Africa during my senior year in high school.  At that point in my life, I could not help but feel the sense of optimism and hope that the man personified.  Our first trip to his beloved land South Africa was in 2010.  During our stay in Johannesburg, we visited the Soweto.  Below are a few pictures from our visit with some of our favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”–Long Walk to Freedom

Soweto Johanesburg

Soweto, Johannesburg

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”–Mandela

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”–Mandela

A mural in the Soweto.

A mural in the Soweto.

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” —Rivonia trial, 1964

 “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”–Mandela

 

Soweto family

Soweto family

“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”-Long Walk to Freedom

God Speed Madiba.

 

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A Ticket to South Africa

“All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa.  We had not left it yet, but when I would wake in the night, I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.”—Ernest Hemingway

They say that you shouldn’t start blog posts with a quote.  They say that it some how takes away from rest of the post.  I think that is bunk.  Hemingway was onto something.  His thoughtful comment completely captures how we feel about Africa.  While our visit to South Africa was short, it changed us forever.  We want to take you along on our discovery.

Township south Africa

A view of Soweto

The Soweto

Our African experience began in Johannesburg, South Africa, affectionately known as Jo’Burg.  We endured the long flight from the States.  It continues to amaze us that you can board a flying tin can and travel half way around the world in less than a day.  Once we got our feet underneath us, we joined up with our guide Henry and headed for the Soweto.  Soweto is short for “South Western Township.”   The sprawling shanty metropolis is the home to 1.3 million people.  It has a rough and difficult history that we won’t dive into here; needless to say, we felt that it was important to see and attempt to understand first hand.  Our guide drove us around the Soweto, pointing out the hospital, when electricity came to the area, and how all the city functioned. Our guide took us into a couple of homes. We met the families that lived there.  Our “abundance guilt” bubbled up in our hearts.  A visit to the township was powerfully instructive. We ended our tour at Nelson Mandela’s house and mentally exhausted.

The next morning we hired our rental car for our adventure.   You would think that we would engage a Range Rover for the self-guided safari that we were embarking on?  No, we went cheap.  We opted for the four-cylinder Chevy Aveo.  Bad decision.  But we will save that story for a little later.  We headed north on highway one.  Our destination:  Zimbabwe.

Going into Zimbabwe

Crossing the border into Zimbabwe

Destination Zimbabwe

One of Luci’s lifetime goals is to visit Zimbabwe.  Why would an Idaho farm girl set a crazy goal like that?  We do not know.  The journey took a little over 5 hours.  As we approached the border crossing, we began to have second thoughts.  Zimbabwe does not have the friendliest relations with our fair country.  We parked at the South African checkpoint on the south bank of the Limpopo River.  We went in and were greeted by a grim-faced bureaucrat.  We explained our intent to cross into Zimbabwe, get our Passport stamped and return.  We both saw the blood kind of drain out of his face.

“Why are you doing this thing?” He politely asked.  We smiled and tried to explain.  Rather than attempt to counter our stupidity, he instructed us to do a number of things for our safety.  “Pull your car around to the front of the building, it will likely be stolen or broken into.  Go there, come back quickly and see me when you return so I know that you have returned safely.”

Zimbabwe border

Welcome to Zimbabwe

At this point, both of us were having second thoughts.  If our rental car company didn’t want us to drive across this river into this country, why in the world are we going across?  Like walking the plank, we bravely marched across the baboon ridden bridge.  We were headed by foot to Zimbabwe.  We were obviously tourists. Luci had her camera around her neck.  We didn’t have our belongings wrapped in a sheet or carrying grocery sacks across the bridge on our heads like others crossing.  As we approached, we were welcomed by camo-clad militia men with AK-47s strapped to their backs.  Each in turn looked at us with healthy suspicion.  We nervously whispered back and forth to each other…”keep walking, keep walking.”   We entered the run down custom’s house.  It was sheer craziness.  Crowds pushed forward to face the three to four border agents that were behind bars.

The heat that day was blistering.  Humidity was off the charts.  The air was close in the steamy small room.  We were unsure of ourselves.  Our naivety was written on our faces.  A couple of different agents came from one of the back rooms and pulled us aside and suggested that we pay them to make the process go faster.  We declined.  The price was adjusted.  Again we opted out.  In the developing situation, it soon became clear that the likelihood that we were going to make it out of the experience without our wallets being lightened significantly was highly unlikely.  Was it worth it for the Passport stamp?  I said, “Let’s go.”  We walked out.  We dashed back across the bridge to check back with our caring friend and find our car unmolested.  We had accomplished our goal.  We had set foot in Zimbabwe.  The adventure was just beginning.

South Africa Safari woman

The view from the veranda of the lodge.

 

A peaceful outpost

We made our way back into the savanna of South Africa.  We had done our research and found a quaint bed and breakfast on a small reservoir, the Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge.  This was our first taste of the night sounds of Africa.  It was wonderful.  We had our dinner on the veranda overlooking the water and listened.  We recounted our brave adventures that day and started to connect with the place that we had traveled so far to see.

The next morning we would head out on our self-serve safari to see some of the most incredible animals in the world.

Africa was truly a grand adventure!

 

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Observations about race in South Africa

I can’t help but always take note of race; it is a byproduct of being an employment discrimination lawyer, I suppose, where I was paid to analyze issues in racial terms.

Shortly before we traveled to South Africa, Karen Waldrond, one of my favorite writers and photographers, who I’ve mentioned recently, wrote that she believes that everyone should spend an extended amount of time outside of their home country, in a place where they are a visible member of the minority class at least once in their lifetime.  I thought of her words while we were in South Africa.  The percentage of blacks and whites in South Africa and the United States are roughly flipped: 79% of the population in South Africa are black, and 9.5% are white.  75% of the population in the United States are white, and 12.4% are black.  (Of course, I realize the issue of race is more complex than black and white, but I am focusing upon the biggest majority group in each country).  Early on in our trip, we walked into a crowded department store off of Long Street, a trendy street in downtown Cape Town, and realized we were the only white people in the store.  This experience repeated itself again and again during our month in the country.

(Pass cards listing one’s deemed race that controlled where a person could go during apartheid.)

Being in the minority kept race on the forefront of my mind.  Even more than that, the relatively recent fall of apartheid made it impossible to travel throughout South Africa without thinking about race.  Like many of the other countries we have traveled through that have gone through significant historical transformations, it was fascinating to learn about what life was like before and what life was like now.

(Old sign displayed in the District Six Museum)

Apartheid – literally the state of being separate – was similar to segregation and Jim Crow laws in the United States, but much, much more extreme.  And its official demise was only 16 years ago.  Which means that during our lifetimes, blacks lived without the same rights as whites.  And now blacks live with the same rights as whites, at least legally.

(The seven pillars of South Africa’s current constitution displayed outside the Apartheid Museum: democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom.)

At the District Six Museum in Cape Town, we learned about the forced removal of 60,000 people from a neighborhood during apartheid.  On our trip to Robben Island, the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years, we learned a little about what prison was like directly from a former political prisoner.  The most informative experience, by far, was the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.  We’ve been to a lot of museums on this trip, and I felt this museum was the most educational and organized out of any of the ones we have visited.  What I liked best was that you could choose to only read a brief overview of each section, or delve into the details should you so choose.  The museum also packed an emotional impact just by presenting neutral facts.  You are randomly assigned a race as you enter.  I was white.  Sean was “coloured” (a racial category used for people of mixed race that had more rights than blacks but much fewer rights than whites).  This meant we were separated upon entrance and each had different experiences in the beginning of the museum.  When we left the museum, together, we could peek back through a slit to see the entry point, where the races were separate.  A reminder about how far the country has come.

Renewing my education about apartheid made me scrutinize race relations much more closely than normal.  I’ve read that the biggest issue today is the drastic differences between the haves and the have nots, and not the relations between the races.

This may be true, but I didn’t see any white people living in the townships and shantytowns on the outskirts of almost every city and town we drove through.  At the beginning of our trip, it seemed like all of the owners, managers and patrons were white in all of the places where we stayed and ate, but the staff was black.  Most of the suburban enclaves we saw were white, with the exception of maids.  The rural, poorer towns we drove through had all black inhabitants.  It wasn’t until East London and further north that we saw more upscale neighborhoods full of black people living and eating there.  Finally, one of the B&Bs where we stayed was owned by a black person.  But in these more upscale neighborhoods, we still didn’t see much integration between blacks and whites.  In Johannesburg, we finally saw much more diversity.  One of the places where we noticed this the most was at a secure suburban mall, where people of every race and color shopped and hung out.

Like crime, race is a sensitive topic in South Africa, so I only have my observations to go on.  I always have the feeling that any observations are incomplete, and can only help facilitate learning more instead of being the final say on any particular topic when I travel.  I’m not sure what all of my observations mean, but my suspicions are that the society has come a long way, but progress is slow.  The fall of apartheid means that both a black and white cop can stand together and demand a bribe from two white people in lieu of a parking ticket – thank goodness for progress, right? – but the effects of years of discrimination, oppression, and violence can’t be erased overnight or even in 16 years.

Guest blog post by Amy at Surrounded by the Sound.   Amy and her husband Sean are smack dab in the middle of a year long trip around the world.    Before they voluntarily became homeless and unemployed, they lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Amy worked as a lawyer and Sean worked as a computer programmer.

–We came across their blog this week, and we were so intrigued with their impressions of South Africa.  Happy travels Amy and Sean.  (We hear they even fight on occasion!)  VISIT THEIR BLOG!

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