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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Stockholm’s Archipelago

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Archipelago – ar·chi·pel·a·go. noun \ˌär-kə-ˈpe-lə-ˌgō,

  1. An expanse of water with many scattered islands
  2. group of islands

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There aren’t that many true archipelagos; Stockholm’s archipelago is the real deal.  It has more than 30,000 islands!  I guess it’s not all the surprising.  Stockholm itself is made up of 14 islands that are connected by 50 bridges on Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea.  It’s definitely a maritime city.  When we visited in March, I took a boat tour of the area, but it was too cold to really enjoy the outer islands in the Baltic.

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For Stockholm’s residents, the archipelago is a easy escape and their holiday retreat.  There’s an island for everyone.  Partiers, those looking for peace and quiet, sunbathers, woodsy hikers, campers, B&Bers, luxury hotel lovers…there’s an island for everyone. The archipelago is easily accessible via ferry.  There are two main ferry companies.  One with larger, faster boats (Cinderella Båtarna), the other (Waxholmsbolaget) with charming smaller boats that make it feel less like a commute and more like a pleasure cruise.

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We took the Waxholmsbolaget boat to Vaxholm.  The journey was half the fun.  The boats are adorable with wood interiors and brass details.  It’s the perfect place for a picnic.  We sat outside and watched the hustle and bustle recede.  I was worried about not hearing our stop.  The boat docks, people disembark and it pulls away with remarkable speed.  I shouldn’t have been, locals (who all speak great English) volunteered to let us know when we got close.

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The Cinderella boat back was larger and a bit faster, but didn’t have quite the charm.  My advice, take either one.  You can’t go wrong.

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Stockholm’s archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It consists of 20,000-50,000 islands off the coast of Sweden that offer a buffer to the Baltic Sea.  “Skärgården,” as the area is known to the Swedes, was formed by glaciers that carved out and deposited granite that protrudes from the water.  As a result, it is full of reefs and shallows The islands get progressively less rocky, sandier and smaller with fewer trees the further you get from Stockholm.

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Vaxholm  is an idyllic archipelago town with well-preserved wooden villas from the turn of the 19th century.  Everything about it says cottage cute. It has nice restaurants (especially if you like fresh fish), a wonderful bakery, charming cafés, and way cooler shopping than your average resort town.  I wanted to decorate with and wear things from just about every shop.

DSC_0234DSC_0247DSC_0232Although you can rent bikes, we spent an afternoon doing a big walking tour of the area.  There are plenty of trails, sidewalks and quiet streets.  We tried to get away from the business district to get a look at how people live there.  Even without the cute shops, restaurants and hotels, it was very picturesque.  I loved the brightly colored houses and cute gardens.  We saw backyard meals, people walking their dogs, mowing their lawns and cleaning out their garages.

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The have a decent sized marina and with the essential nearby farm stand and ice-cream stand.  Across the narrow strait is the historic Vaxholm Fortress.  From the shore, you can see several small islands with adorable but solitary houses and a dock.  Vauxholm is the last easily accessible place in the archipelago by car from Stockholm and is even accessible by bus.  In fact, it is the most populated archipelago town and people live there year-round.  Tiger Wood’s ex-wife Elin Nordegren grew up there.  Don’t worry through, there’s no hustle and bustle, it’s perfectly tranquil.

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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.

We Rocked The Boat – Our Boat Trip Up The Rhine

One of the Rhine’s most renowned sections is the Rhine Gorge in Germany (aka the Middle Rhine, Rhine Valley and Romantic Rhine). Technically, this area starts in Mainz and ends in Koblenz (that area is the stretch of the river designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site).   A boat trip down the Rhine is an excellent way to see the area’s magnificent landscape, towns, vineyards, castles and fortresses.   We’d heard that the stretch between Bingen and St. Goar (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was particularly beautiful.   It was.

It’s UNESCO World Heritage Site means that there are no bridges.

Castles + vineyards + valley = storybook cute   There are at least 30 castles in the 66 kilometer (41 mile) stretch from Rudesheim to Koblenz.   Why are there so many castles there?

The Rhine has been a major transport route since Roman times.  Where there is money, there are those that want a piece of it.  River barons built the castles to impose tolls on the river traffic by controlling their stretch of the river.  If boat captains didn’t pay the toll, they would be treated to “complimentary room and board” in a dungeon until they paid.

From the dock at Bingen, we could see something that looked like the Statue of Liberty.  We weren’t far off; it was Rüdesheim’s Niederwalddenkmal.  Built by Kaiser Wilhelm I from 1881-3, it commemorates the founding of the German Empire after the end of Franco-Prussian War.  Essentially, it sits near the French border and serves as a warning to France that they will get another whooping if they try to invade again (or at least that’s how it was explained to us).

The toll tower “Mäuseturm,” known as the Mouse Tower, was the first sight we saw from the boat.  The name comes from a legend in which the tower belonged to a cruel ruler who oppressed and exploited the local peasants. in his domain. During a famine, he refused to distribute any of the tower’s grain supplies to the starving peasants.   When they threatened to rebel, the ruler tricked them, telling them to wait in an empty barn for him to come with food. He ordered the doors barricaded and set fire to the barn, commenting “hear the mice squeak” (referring to their cries).  Returning to his castle, an army of mice began to swarm him.  He fled to the tower, they followed and ate him alive.  Yikes!

We barely had time to listen to the story before seeing our first ruin, the ruin of Ehrenfels Castle (Burgruine Ehrenfels).  The rapid succession continued for the rest of the trip.  Wow!  We were amazed.

Built in the early 1300’s on a strategic hilltop, is Burg Rheinstein.  Prince Frederick of Prussia bought the castle and rebuilt the castle in the 19th century.  Nearby the impressive medieval Burg Reichenstein is a now a modern hotel.

Burg Sooneck, also known as Saneck, Sonneck and Schloss Sonneck (click on the link to find out its relationship to Swiss history and the Battle of Sempach), was an infamous haunt of the river’s robber barons. The Crown Prince of Prussia, Frederick William IV, and his brothers Princes William, Charles, and Albert bought the completely derelict castle and rebuilt it as a hunting castle.

The tiny town of Niederheimbach has the 13th century Heimburg Castle and the little church called St. Mariae Himmelfahrt.

Lorch is a small town that has a lot for its size.  You can easily spot it’s church, Pfarrkirche St. Martin (Saint Martin’s Parish Church), from the water.  In the 18th century, the witch’s tower served as a sort of jail for wrongdoers and “witches”.  The Nollig ruins (Ruine Nollig on the Rheinsteig trail), overlook the town and are the remains of the old town fortifications on the rugged ridge.

Bachrach is over 1,000 years old, and I thought we were getting a little long in the tooth.  Just like the house of an octogenarian, it accumulated bits and bobs over time (the walkable city walls, 16 watchtowers, the picturesque “Malerwinkel”, the ruins of St. Werner’s Chapel).  Stahleck Castle (Burg Stahleck), one of the most photogenic castles, sits on a hill above.  It was destroyed by the French in 1689 and is now a youth hostel.  I’ve stuck him in some cheap hostels before, but never a nice one like this.

If Alsace’s Storks Really Do Deliver Babies, We Could Be In For A Big Surprise

We’d heard storks were the emblem for Alsace, we just didn’t expect to see two giant nests the minute we drove up to Euguisheim, our first Alsatian town.

Two nests

Storks were once plentiful in the area.  For centuries, the storks of Alsace lived among humans, building their nests on Alsace’s buildings.

They migrated every year to Africa ( mostly Mali and Mauritania), a 12,000 kilometer (7456 mile) journey.  Over the years, their  population decreased until the 1980’s, when only two pairs remained in all of Alsace.   There were several causes:

  • 90% died on the migration due to hitting power lines, exhaustion and dehydration.
  • Pesticides
  • Urban growth
  • Draining of the marshes along the Rhine
  • On the annual migration to Africa, large numbers of them smashed into power lines.
  • African droughts in their wintering habitat depleted food supplies.
  • In warring African nations, starving residents ate them.

Alsace under took a program to repopulate the area with storks.   They built stands for the nests in Alsatian trees chimney stacks and bell towers.  They also developed stork parks for breeding and raising storks.

For the first three years, young storks are kept in enormous enclosed aviaries to rid them of the instinct to migrate. Alsace took other steps to encourage their repopulation.

  • They provided addition food, in the form of fluffy, yellow, day-old chicks (they also  eat field mice, snakes, frogs and smaller birds such as sparrows).
  • Electric company developed special screens to keep the birds from nesting on poles to decrease electrocutions.
  • Between breeding seasons, they repaired deteriorating nests.
  • Residents are strictly forbidden to remove nests from their chimneys and rooftops.

Today, many storks do not make the dangerous migration and live in Alsace year round, delighting Alsatians who adore them.  Only about half of the Alsatian white stork population migrates.  Half those migrating storks travel to the traditional wintering grounds in Africa.  Others go to Spain, where open dumpsters provide easy meals.  Now, Alsace’s stork population is over 400 nesting pairs!

We visited one of the aviaries and watched storks feed their babies.  It was pretty cool.   Watching them, we could see why the people of Alsace love these majestic birds.  Not all the nests were enclosed.  It was exciting to watch the parents soar overhead.  Each time, I was so busy staring that I didn’t get my camera ready in time to get a picture.  Sorry.

Storks symbolize of happiness and faithfulness/fertility and luck.  According to legend, storks deliver new babies to their families. According to Alsatian custom, a child wanting a little brother or sister places a piece of sugar on the window ledge to attract the stork.  The hope was that it would leave the precious bundle in exchange for the treat.   In case you were wondering, we didn’t leave anything on the windowsill of our hotel room.

Visitors to Alsace, don’t have to look hard for storks (La Cigogne in French).  From souvenir shops to decorations, they are everywhere.

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!