South Africa is an amazing country with such diversity in people, language and culture. It is hard to know where to begin. Our trip really began on Thursday, when our group were tourists. We were supposed to start on Table Mountain (see previous post) but the wind was so bad at the top of the mountain that the cable cars were not running. So instead we went to see Seal Island and the Cape of Good Hope (obligatory photo on Facebook), and the African penguins at Boulders.
On Friday, we were both tourist and pilgrim as we started our day learning more about the reality of apartheid and how it effected the citizens of all races, particularly the Blacks and Colours (usually those not native Africans or of mixed heritage). We went to the District 6 Museum, and infamous area in Cape Town where the white government forcibly removed the Black residents and moved them to a different location far away from their homes without any remuneration for their property. This happened in 1946 (I believe), and it just got worse from there. Men were required to carry pass books (like the Jews did in Germany), and were arrested if they did not have them when stopped by the police. It was a sobering look at the history of this country and the deep wounds that were created by one race exercising extreme power and control over all others.
We then toured a community called Lango that has many "informal" houses - what we would call shacks - many only 80 sq. ft. Bathroom facilitates are communal. Schools are available, but not all children are encouraged to go by their families. We stopped at a cultural center that encourages artists in the area to make and sell their works as well as teach business and entrepreneurial skills. It was strange to see such poverty and feel like a tourist, flying in for a moment and then moving on while this is many people's lives.
We then made our way over to Robben Island, a former leper colony, which houses the maximum security prison where many political prisoners were incarcerated. Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 28 years in prison on that island, most of it in a single cell and forced to do hard labor in the rock quarry. Our guide for the prison, Sipho, was also a political prisoner, but he was in a general public section, living with up to 40 other men. He was repeatedly tortured for information about the actions of the African National Congress (ANC), twice with acid dripped on his head. Gut wrenching.
We finally got to the top of Table Mountain after that. The views were breath taking! Mountains and ocean are an obvious attraction to Cape Town.
Saturday had us up at 5 am to catch a 7 am flight back to Johannesburg, or Jo-burg as the locals call it. We were blessed to have the O.R. Thembo Memorial Center open up just for us (it is good to have connections with a local Bishop!), to learn his story. Thembo was once a law partner with Nelson Mandela, but he was also a political activist with the ANC. In fact, he was exiled from South Africa for 30 years because of his political views. That was both a blessing and a curse - to be so far away from his home and people suffering under the terrible oppression of apartheid, but he and his wife worked tirelessly to bring international attention to the plight of apartheid and encourage condemnation from countries and corporations alike. The UN did liken apartheid to the Holocaust in 1973, but it still look several decades for apartheid to end in South Africa.
We then when to the Hector Pieterson Museum. That is a name you may not be familiar with - I wasn't, but I did remembering seeing the picture above at some point. Hector is the child being carried. His sister is running next to the young man carrying his dead body. He was shot by the police on June 16, 1976, when students in Soweto organized a peaceful march from their schools to the Orlando Stadium in protest to being taught in Afrikaans rather than English. It was the decision of the Secretary of Education that all upper level instruction would only be taught in a language not only that none of them knew, but all represented the oppressors power.
Unfortunately the march got violent. One theory is that the police had dogs that were brought in to keep the protesters in line, and one of the dogs was killed. Eventually the police started firing into the crowd and Hector was hit in the head. The picture was taken when they were trying to find Hector help, but he died before they did. Over 600 students were killed and 1000 wounded on that day. It also sparked a riot that lasted days where many government offices and private property was burned.
We ended our day with a tour of Nelson Mandela's home in Sewato - just up the street where Bishop Desmond Tutu and his family have a house (although he prefers to live in Cape Town). It is a humble abode with 3 rooms and much sorrow, as Nelson and his 2nd wife, Winnie, both spend time away from it in jail. During Nelson's incarceration, Winnie, was constantly harassed by the police. There are bullet holes visible on the house as well as scorching from being fire bombed at least twice.
I have barely scratched the surface of sorting out my feelings of being a pilgrim tourist, but one thing is certain - we cannot forget. Forgetting the difficult past will not change it, but it will almost guarantee that it will be repeated. We must learn from the hard lessons taught us by Thembo, Mandela and Pieterson. We owe it to their memories as well as our own survival as human beings to change how we choose to treat others, especially those very different from ourselves.
I pray we will learn our lessons well. The future is depending upon it.