A walk through the shadow of the valley of death
Trip Start Jun 14, 2011
70Trip End Sep 21, 2011
This morning we were up long before dawn, we watched the sun rise into a clear blue sky and the world looked at peace. The hustle and bustle of the city below was still yawning lazily before the day began. We had a long comfortable breakfast, numerous cups of coffee. At about 730 we met with Mr Jerry our driver and guide for the day. He was very pleasant and he would take us around to some of the sites we wanted to see. Our first stop was the Apartheid Museum. He said he would meet us back outside in about an hour...but from the minute we got handed our entrance tickets the hours slipped away as we were forcefully pulled out of our happy reality to a time frighteningly not long ago filled with evil.
Your ticked randomly labels you as white or Non-white. Jonas and Mikael where white and Maija and I non white, we had to enter the small metal gates through separate doors, you had to scan your ticket so there was no getting around your assigned race. Separated by a floor to ceiling chain link fence the metal gate shut behind us and walls filled with signs and passport-identification cards that had to be carried by all non whites.
It is unfathomable to me that this was during my life time. How, and after WW 2 could something like this have occurred? We spent hours just reading, looking , listening to speeches. Learning the history of South Africa's struggles. We walked through prison cells, execution room with nooses and with each step it literally felt that there was one around my neck tightening. Names and ages of prisoners were listed along the walls , how many days they spent there and how they died there. Many we listed as unknown (name or age or both) Maija and I sat on the floor in a small solitary confinement cell--the law was for non whites that they could be held for 90 days in solitary confinement without trial or question. We walked through the Nelson Mandela exhibit and read some of his diaries from his 27 years spent in prison...we learned of his personal tragedies and I Loved the exhibit. It was honest and not propaganda like it portrayed him as a human and not a subhuman god. It spoke of his strengths and weaknesses and his personal growth and journey to the incredible Man that he became and what he truly did for this land.
"To be Free is not merely to cast of ones chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. " Nelson Mandela
One wall was filled with quotes and they each had a color assigned, we all chose a quote and chose a spear in the color of our choice and raised it in his honor.
It was definitely difficult for the children to grasp and they obviously did not understand and it was intense and horrifying and evil and I think they will remember those moments forever. They have never known or seen a difference in race. They simply do not understand," was it tanned people too mamma? " You are tanned?"
When we finally exited to into the heat and the sun we all sat quiet in the car and rode in silence to Soccer City and saw the FIFA world cup stadium 2010--and it is so significant in its own way, it brought the eyes back to SA in a positive light and the attitudes towards whites and towards tourism was forever altered.
We drove through an area called Houghton (made me think of you Dave) it is the area for the rich and famous large homes in compounds with armed guards, barbed wire and surveillance cameras. There in one house on the corner (the one that looked like it had the least amount of security ) and outside gardens filled with colorful rock with messages such as HOPE COURAGE RESPONSIBILITY FAITH EQUALITY DEMOCRACY TRUTH and in this yellow house lives MR Nelson Mandela today at the age of 93 he is able to see his dreams come to fruition.
Soweto was our next stop. Entering Soweto was disheartening, the shacks and "box like" homes and temporary shelters where people live in wait for government housing was frightening and we did not even enter that neighborhood for safety reasons. As we drove on we got to the street where two Nobel Prize winners lived, Mandela and Tutu. The street, Vilakazi st looks like any ordinary street when you first turn onto it. Mandelas home was donated by him to the state and is open to the public as a museum and we went in. Here was saw the tree in his garden where he and his first wife buried the umbilical cords of their 4 children (from earth we rise and to earth we shall return) We saw his personal pictures and certificates, diplomas , recognitions. A framed letter of apology for the CIA for their involvement in his imprisonment blaming their actions on the cold war. (signed by most governmental dignitaries BUT for Bush). Mr Mandela was a boxer and had once said that is was too bad he never got to wear a World Championship Belt. Shortly after his release from prison, Sugar ray Leonard who was the champ gave him his championship belt and it was proudly displayed there. The staff fondly refereed to him as Pappa and showed us the chair in which he sits when he visits. "Pappa is old and tired now" they said. We learned how his daughter dies at 9 months, his eldest son ( which never visited him in prison and this deeply affected him) had died in a suspicious car crash on the way to finally visit his father. Only one daughter of the 4 is still alive today and she lives in Soweto and has nothing to do with politics. His first wife left him. She became a Jehovas witness while he was imprisoned and she was not to mix relegation and politics and was forced to chose between her new religion of him. He came home to an empty house.
After our visit there we drove down the street and saw the school where then end started with horror. It looked like any ordinary school there were lots of children playing in the school yard. We turned at the street and our driver explained " this is where the children walked, this is where the police came with guns and dogs and started shooting the children".
It was 1976 the children in the schools around SA had been told they would no longer be taught in English but in African, a language they did not speak. They had signed petitions and were peacefully walking down the street to present the petition to the police station. The police was released and in showers of bullets over 600 children died thousands were imprisoned , tortured and later killed and 12 thousand were forced to flee the country. Hector Pietersen was one of the youngest boys killed that June 16th not so many years ago and a boy named Mbuyisa Makhubo picked him up and carried him. A photographer snapped a picture of this and with Hectors sister running beside them... in 2002 they revealed the Hector Pietersen memorial site (now a world heritage site) in memory of all the children that lost their lives that day. The picture is there above a fountain of tears and a memorial rock..like the rocks we sat on at the museum. It was just too much to take. This little boy, the picture or his body, the horror of the evil we are capable of...
there was more to our day but it is a blur from here and I will leave you for now and hold my son.