Published: August 17th 2012August 17th 2012
"NEVER AND NEVER AGAIN SHALL IT BE THAT THIS BEAUTIFUL LAND WILL AGAIN EXPERIENCE THE OPPRESSION OF ONE BY ANOTHER."(Nelson Mandela)
As I have wandered through different parts of South Africa, and my time has been relatively brief, I am overwhelmed by the imagery of Nelson Mandela everywhere I walk. Affectionately known as "Madiba", he truly has taken on a god-like status here, and after visiting some of the shocking and disturbing sites in both Johannesburg and Capetown, I can understand completely why he is held in such reverance.
No country has a "clean" record and I will not judge or chastise South Africa for some of it's inhumane and appalling record of "human rights". After visiting the Slave Lodge in Capetown, which incidentally, was not a "lodge" by any standards, I was forced to see that the inhumane treatment of people of colour began as far back as 1791 although as we all know, slavery was known to many ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and the Romans. Canada itself, has been no champion of human rights when we deal with the issues faced by our First Nations people. I cannot condemn South Africa, when there are people
living in my own country who have dealt with discrimination and abject poverty and continue to do so to this day.
However, it is quite fascinating to imagine that at one time, the credo of the former apartheid government was in the class distinction of "whites' , "blacks" (known as "Bantu") or "coloureds". Oddly enough, when I informed the curator of one museum that my own grandmother was of mixed lineage, he immediately informed me that had I been living in South Africa at that time, I would have been considered "coloured".
I wonder how my life would have been. It certainly would have been different than the one I have sewn into my memory book so far.
The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg had a very clever, yet very disturbing, "sampling" of apartheid when you purchased your entry ticket. My ticket said was labelled, "White-European" and Paul's ticket was labelled, "Non-White". We had to enter the museum by different entrances and were separated by a fence of some sort as we went through part of the exhibits. It was a very unpleasant feeling to say the least and yet this was the norm for most
"non-whites" for decades.
During my brief visit to the township of Soweto, scene of numerous anti-apartheid uprisings, I was moved by the memorial to 16-year old, Hector Pieterson, gunned down by the police on his way home from school as the citizens of this township were immersed in battle with the riot police. I was struck by another monument in Capetown, acknowledging "The Purple Movement" where protestors were pelleted with shots of purple paint, so they could be identified and arrested by the police during their demonstrations. One entire neighbourhood, "District Six" , as it was known in Capetown, being designated a "white zone" in 1966 and suddenly over the course of 15 years, it's citizens forcibly removed from their homes and "relocated" to substandard housing located far from the core of this city. Over 50 000 people were displaced. Choice didn't exist. Most homes were razed to the ground to build superior residences for the white population moving into their new neighbourhood.
By the mid 1950's, blacks and coloureds had to endure the humiliation of carrying "pass cards" which were basically identification cards that they had to carry with them at all times, or face the prospect of
arrest if found without one.
Nelson Mandela was just ONE of those citizens who gave a "voice" to the people. Many others were brutally killed or beaten in their quest to liberate the people of the deadly grips of apartheid. I love the fact that Nelson Mandela always credits these individuals, who in many cases were "White Europeans", in their decades-long struggle to end this tyranny of thinking. His humility is inspiring.
But I can see why they adore him. He is in a sense, their "liberator". A visit to the chilly confines of Robben Island, where he spent a large part of his 27 year imprisonment is a sober reminder of his fierce determination to continue the battle, no matter how far they moved him geographically speaking. Ask yourself this, "would you do the same thing if you were faced with these circumstances?" A difficult question indeed...it made me really wonder if I truly believe in anything to the point that I would face such dire consequences. I cannot imagine it despite my humble origins in the world because I have always been afforded one luxury...the luxury of choice. I am hopeful that the younger generation can
take their noses out of their I-Phones and Blackberries and take a stand on something that truly matters.
Of course, "Madiba's" work is far from over. I cannot help but to notice how the vast majority of visible minorities are still highly represented in the service industry and live in townships surrounding these big cities...some that seem decent and "normal" while others resemble shantytowns with their over-abundance of tin roofs and heaps of garbage strewn to and fro. One has to give it time indeed, it was only in 1994 that the constitution of South Africa was rewritten and Mandela assumed the presidency of this country. Every nation has something to work on and at least South Africa is on its path.
I join many citizens of South Africa in their deference to "Madiba" and to countless others who "liberated" this country. If I walk away with anything, at least it is with the insight that despite the "fortress" presented by oppression, the one thing that can never be taken away from any individual is the prospect of HOPE.
There are more photos below