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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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.

Grateful

When I was in Soweto, I learned that there are 300-400 funerals there every weekend for people dying from AIDS.  Today, as we go home to visit our friends and families.  It puts things in perspective and we are profoundly grateful not just for the opportunity to be with them, but for their health and well-being.