Nelson Mandela’s Home And The Apartheid Museum

DSC_1309Yesterday, I gasped when I heard Nelson Mandela died.  Although he’d been ill, I remained hopeful that he might make a recovery.  When we travelled to South Africa, I tried to learn about South Africa’s history and apartheid.  While I held Nelson Mandela in high esteem before, I came away from South Africa in awe of him.  While the country still faces significant challenges from its past discrimination, violence, historical and economic divisions, South Africa would not be where it is today without his leadership. I find his acknowledged fallibility makes him even more relatable as an ethical model.  According to Richard Stengel, “he is a hero precisely because he always admitted his errors and then tried to rise above them. And he has never stopped learning.”

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I was lucky enough to tour Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto.  It was a great opportunity to learn more about Madiba.  He lived there from 1946-1961, when he was forced to go into hiding.  It is on the famous Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world where once two Nobel Peace Prize laureates lived (Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu who lives there).

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Winnie Mandela lived here with their children while he was imprisoned.  Upon his release from Robben Island, he spent 11 days here.  There was a constant stream of visitors, so he didn’t remain longer.

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Many of the furnishings are original, but the most interesting parts were learning the role this building played in their lives.  In the pictures below (and above), you can see the scorched bricks from firebombs.

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You can still see the bullet holes from government drive-bys.  The family had to stop sleeping in the front bedrooms because they were so frequent.  Below, you can see where they erected a brick wall to hide behind to avoid being hit by a bullet.

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Only one person is allowed to sit in this chair.  It was Nelson Mandela’s.  Now it will remain empty forever.

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The brick line in the floor below reads: “[a] partition was built here to divide the kitchen from the living room.  This was later replaced with a brick wall which served as a shield against police attack.”  Seeing this helped me to understand the type of danger Mandela and his family faced and the courage he showed.

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I saw a letter from the State of Michigan (our home state) asking President Bush to formally apologize for the CIA’s role in Nelson Mandela’s arrest.  My guide was eager for information about Michigan.  I noticed that Carolyn Cheeks KilpatrickKwame Kilpatrick‘s mom, is one of the signatories.  Needless to say, I was a little embarrassed trying to explain the background, the text messaging scandal and his subsequent actions.  During my visit, I was disheartened to learn about America’s involvement with and support for the Apartheid government and proud of the change in our collective mindset.

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I also visited the Apartheid Museum, while pictures are not allowed inside, no visit to Johannesburg would be complete without it.  It is incredibly informative and moving. There is a large exhibit on Nelson Mandela detailing his amazing life.  May it continue to inspire others.

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What We Learned About The Area Where There Was Mine Violence When We Visited South Africa

We were saddened to hear that at least 30 people died at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa this week.  When we were in South Africa (road signs, Braai, Fences in South Africa, Bongwe, Kliptown, Planes Trains and Automobiles to South Africa, Pilanesburg, We Saw Lions, Grateful) we went by that mine.  It is enormous and it was the only man-made thing of any real size for over an hour.

Driving near the mine, we were struck by the area’s poverty and lack of infrastructure.  Our guide explained to us that locals have not really profited from the mine’s success and the high price of platinum over the previous decade.  Local communities still face a lack of employment and agricultural collapse.  Sewage backs up and spills into rivers, there are squatter camps, and the locals have a myriad of health problems.  The large well lit and fortified mine, stood in stark contrast to the poverty of the surrounding area.

 

Although I couldn’t find any pictures I took of the mine itself, these were taken in the surrounding area.  For some beautiful pictures of the nearby National Park, check out our photos of Pilanesburg.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles to South Africa

We took several modes of transportation during our journey to South Africa.  We flew Egypt Air to Cairo then on to Johannesburg.

 
On the descent, we saw pyramids silhouetted against Cairo’s lights!  It made us want to go to Egypt. He sat next to someone on the plane who was going to Cairo to retrieve their valuables because they were moving back to Germany.  The gentleman said that the situation was too problematic and unstable to stay.  Hopefully, things will improve over the coming months and years.
When we arrived in Johannesburg and picked up our rental, we were surprised by its size.  He did a wonderful job driving the big rig, but unfortunately, it was not always the easiest to park.
Cabs function as a form of inexpensive mass transit in South Africa.  People use hand signals to indicate their desired destination and vans headed in that direction stop.   Below you can see tons of them at a cab stop on Soweto.

Notice the cabs look exactly like our van.    They constantly break every conceivable traffic law.  We joked that since our big rig looked just like a cab, he could run red lights, cut people off, speed as much as he wanted and no one would think anything of it.   In case you were wondering, he did not take advantage of his apparent ability to break every traffic law known to man with no foreseeable consequences.

We saw people crammed into the giant taxis.  As there isn’t a large mass transit system, they were crammed into every vehicle, including the beds of pickups on the highway.

Our big rig turned out to be a great vehicle on the animal preserve.  I spent a fair amount of time hanging out the open door with my camera gawking at wildlife.
Oh yeah, when you arrive at Geneva’s airport, there are free regular trains to the city.  All trains go from the airport to the main train station!  From there, it’s just an easy tram or bus ride home.

 

Soweto

As a child I learned of Soweto from seeing it on the news.  It is known for its uprisings and as the home of Nelson Mandela (Winnie still lives there, but Nelson now lives in a suburb of Johannesburg).  I had always thought of it as a neighborhood or a suburb, but with a population of over 1,300,000, it could be a city in its own right.  Although Soweto is large, it is densely populated.

I couldn’t imagine going to South Africa and not seeing something that played such a pivotal role in its history. I prepared myself to see extreme poverty.  In addition to poverty, I saw a large, culturally and economically diverse community.

On June 16, 1976, students peacefully marched from schools to Orlando Stadium in Soweto.  They protested the teaching of Afrikaans in schools. South Africa has 10 official languages and Afrikaans was strongly associated with Apartheid.
Phefeni Junior Secondary School was the start for one of the routes students took on the peaceful march to Orlando Stadium (yes, like the Orlando Pirates mentioned in the Kliptown post) below.  Soweto’s schools were underfunded and of poor quality.  They were severely overcrowed with more than 60 or more students per teacher and many of the teachers had no qualifications.
Police opened fire on student protesters while they were en route.  Their shots killed 16 year old, unarmed, Hector Peterson.  Photos* of a dying Hector Peterson traveled around the world and shocked the international community.  June 16, 1976 is remembered for the police’s brutality against schoolchildren and the subsequent uprisings.
This statue depicts the schoolchildren facing off with policemen with dogs, the point just before the police opened fire.
Vilakazi Street (note the name on the curb) the street where Hector Peterson died.  It is also the only street to have given rise to two, separate nobel prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu).

In the days after June 16, students (including whites who expressed solidarity) were imprisoned and tortured.  Police moved in with force and were met by an angry community.  Violence escalated into riots.

The massive Soweto uprisings soon spread to other parts of the city and country.  Apartheid was not abolished until 1991.

The Freedom Charter Memorial in the heart of Soweto commemorates the June 26, 1955  Freedom Charter that is the cornerstone of African National Congress policy and served as the foundation for the new constitution.
 
These are the cooling towers of the now defunct Orlando power station in Soweto.  When this was working all of the power went  on the lines out of the area.  The pollution remained.  Now, you can bungee jump from them.
*Hector Peterson was not the first child to be shot and killed by police that day.  The immediate aftermath of his shooting was, however, the first to be caught on camera.  Hastings Ndlovu was actually the first student killed.  Hundreds more students sustained injuries.
 

Kliptown

Soweto is a township, a urban residential area where only blacks were permitted to reside until the end of apartheid.  The area remains almost exclusively black, are often underdeveloped and sometimes lack basic infrastructure.
I visited Kliptown, which is home to around 50,000 people.  It is one of South Africa’s poorest communities.  They have no official power supply or sewage disposal.  There are around 50 water pumps for all of the residents’ water needs (laundry, drinking, cooking, washing, etc.)!
Living in one of the richest countries in the world, I have found myself the only woman at my tram stop not carrying a Louis Vitton handbag.  While I know that’s not most people’s reality, Kliptown definitely helps put things in perspective.  Geneva, Switzerland is a world away from Kliptown.  The living conditions were startling and heartbreaking.
One lady was nice enough to let me tour her home. She was older and never saw herself moving.  Her tiny home was extremely clean and just like us, she hung certificates and awards up.  Although there’s no official electricity there, where there is a will, there is a way.
Nevertheless, any electricity is sporadic and unreliable.
The Orlando Pirates are one of the most popular area soccer teams in the area.
I also toured the Kliptown Youth Program.  It is one of the pillars of this community.  If you are looking to donate time or money to a charity, theirs is an excellent one.
They have a trailer with 6 computers for communication, information and to learn computer skills.  They also provide tutoring, have a library, educational programs, garden, sports and recreational areas.
I can’t explain their watching John Travolta’s acting (or lack thereof).
They also provide meals to children who would otherwise go hungry.  After seeing six women cheerfully getting ready to cook for hundreds in a tiny trailer, please don’t complain to me about the size of your kitchen.

Pilanesberg

Pilanesburg Game Reserve is different from the rest of the area because it was made from a volcano millions of years ago.  While in the park, you only notice its incredible beauty.  From the air, you can see its volcanic origins. 
Unlike Kruger, Pilanesburg has only been open since 1979.  It is known for it’s natural beauty.  We spent a day driving through the park looking at wildlife.  I wrote about seeing lions up close, but we saw lots of other animals too.  The elephants were a favorite.  The are massive animals, but they aren’t gruff.  Their depth of feeling is immediately apparent.  We saw a few solitary males.
How did we find the elephants?  When we drove around, our guide looked for signs of them.  The park’s big, so seeing them was not guaranteed.  We saw big piles of fresh poo, indicating elephants are nearby (notice the dung beetles in the pictures below).  If you want to feel better about you job, dung beetles spend their days pushing giant balls of poo all over, including up hills.

Although they usually just stood there, I took a lot of pictures of the wildebeests because they look so striking.  We usually saw them in large groups.  You can see them playing follow the leader in one of the photos below.
Even when we didn’t see animals, we enjoyed the park’s amazing natural beauty.
We’d already seen giraffes at Bongwe and found them enchanting.  They were also favorites at Pilansberg.  Their personalities were delightful.  They were curious, social, engaging and a bit coy.
Zebras were everywhere.  At first, we took pictures of each one we saw.  By the end, we’d seen so many that we didn’t reach for the camera and joked about them being a buffet for other animals.  They are the only animal related to the horse that has never been domesticated.
How can you not fall in love with a baby Zebra?
This Rhino was pretty entertaining.  I wish I’d gotten him on video.  He walked over and rubbed himself all over a giant rock (The rock is at 10:00 in relation to Mr. Rhino).  Seeing animals interact with their surroundings in such a natural way was one of the big highlights of the day.

We heard all about how many rhinos are killed every year by hunters (for their heads an tusks) and the severe problems this presents for the survival of the species.  When we were in at Cabela’s in the US, I felt entirely differently about the owner after I saw a photo of him with the rhino he’d killed.

The hippos were surprisingly graceful for their size.  If you look closely, you can see the babies.  Even the babies were enormous.
The ostrich was entertaining, really funny and got close to our car.  He was not afraid.  If he had been, he could have run quite fast.   Their eggs are enormous and are sometimes decorated as souvenirs.
We loved seeing the baby warthogs.  Our guide told us that they were probably no more than two weeks old!
Not surprisingly in such a beautiful natural preserve, you saw lots of birds.  They had a covered pavilion by the pond/watering hole that would be a perfect place for birdwatching.
Pilansberg ruined zoos for us.  Seeing the animals just doesn’t compare to seeing them in their natural habitat.  There, you can really start to see their characteristics and personalities.  I think we just added “safari” to our bucket list.

 

Road Signs In South Africa

While we were in South Africa, we saw a number of road signs that we’d never seen before.  Cow. Impalas. Horse. Crocodile.  Enjoy.
We won’t be swimming in that river.
If only I could have gotten out of the car to take a picture in front of the sign…
In areas without signs, street vendors were everywhere.  I’ve never seen so many people roadside.  There were even pedestrians on the sides of highways.
The sign below warns you of flooding.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get one of the sign warning you of no fences.  We were too busy looking at the cow in the road!


 

We Saw Lions!

The lion cares less about being the king of the beasts than about finding his dinner.” –Mason Cooley
When we were in South Africa, we visited Pilanesberg National Park.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with lions hunting behavior, the lionesses do the hunting as they are more aggressive by nature.  The males usually stay with the young and wait for the females to return.  Lions usually hunt in groups and rely heavily on the element of surprise as they don’t have great stamina.  They hunt, among other animals, impalas.
We saw four lions (two males, two lioness).   We also saw four male impalas.  Surprisingly, the impalas seemed to taunt the lions.  They stomped their hooves, snorted, shook their heads while facing the lions and moved closer!
Our guide was over the moon and said he had never seen anything like it.   We kept expecting the smack down on their brazen behavior and braced ourselves to see some blood.  Our guide said that the lions must have had eaten recently because they walked away…right in front of us!
The coolest thing was that they walked right toward and past us!  It was amazing to see a lion stroll around.   Check out the scars on his back leg!
I now understand why kings like lions on their heraldry, they are truly powerful, majestic and regal (even if the ones we saw weren’t hungry).

Braai

While in South Africa (at Bongwe), we attended a few Braai (barbecues).  They are a South African institution with its own etiquette that stretches across ethnic and class lines.  Since Christmas is in their summer, their traditional Christmas dinner is a Braai!  They are also have them regularly as get-togethers, weekend dinners, the preferred means of celebrating South African Heritage DayBraai Day and for visitors like us.
You can use almost any kind of meat.  Locals do it as a sort of potluck with BYOM (bring your own meat).  The meats are a bit more exotic than you find at a typical US barbecue. Common ones include: lamb, steak, chicken, ostrich, gemsbock, springbock and ducks!
This twist, using Coca-Cola, on Beer Can Chicken may look familiar to many Americans.  Other popular Braai dishes include:
  • Droewars, a dried sausage eaten on the Great Trek
  • Potbrod, bread baked over coals. It’s kind of like a biscuit, but less sweet and toasted.  It’s delicious.

  • Melktert, a milk based dessert, not too different from cheesecake

Fences In South Africa

Johannesburg is a place where they take security pretty seriously.  As you can see from the sign in the photo above, random boot checks will be carried out.
Panic buttons, guard houses, bars on windows, private security firms, metal detectors and gun safes are commonplace.  Be sure to check your firearm before entering the mall.  If you don’t, you won’t make it past the metal detectors and searches. They even have gun safes at the airport!

 

I have never seen so much fencing.  They exist for security and also to keep animals in, out or just off the road.
When I visited Soweto (a generally poorer area), I still saw fences.
 
Oh yeah, and we saw these all over the highways.  That is a serious vehicle.   It’s like a tank!