Today was our day to see a bit of Joburg-FNB staduim, the Apartheid Museum, and Nelson Mandela’s house in SOWETO.
FNB Stadium-It was a point of interest because this is where the main memorial service for Nelson Mandela was held. The one where President Obama spoke, the fake interpreter of sign-language, where it was a full-on downpour. It was also one of the stadiums used when South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup. We were not allowed to go inside the stadium, only take pictures on the outside. We were told that we could not go in because Bruce is playing tomorrow night. One member of our group asked if this was a South African performer and the security guard said, “No, Bruce Springstein.” I thanked him for the clarification and told him that I wish I was on a first-name basis with The Boss, like he is. We took several group pictures outside, which we are getting good at assuming the position.
Next was the Apartheid Museum. *deep breath* Where to start? They did have a temporary exhibit about the life of Nelson Mandela, which was very good. Some other exhibits were under construction and so we could not see them. But the main museum was really moving (doesn’t seem like a strong enough word). When you purchase your ticket, it is issued with either a “white” or “non-white” status; my ticket designated me as non-white. It is with this status that you enter the museum and each entry is different with information applying to that group of people. I thought the designation might carry through the whole museum, like in the Holocaust museum in D.C. The museum did a good job taking visitors the history of South Africa. There was a movie made that reminded me of Birth of a Nation. They were made about the same time ad both of them served as propaganda for the white ruling class keeping power over other racial groups. The museum had scenes from this movie playing on a loop, the imagery was disturbing. The next scene that I had a visceral reaction to was a room full of nooses. These were hanging from the ceiling and there were lots of them. They symbolized the actual nooses used to hang political prisoners. This portion of the exhibit also talked about the prisoners who died in police custody. The official line was that a lost of these prisoners committed suicide while in jail, but evidence points to the police killing them. In a movie talking about the student uprising, one of the activist talked about his time in police custody. He was tortured and the police often told him, “We can kill you at any time and just say that you hung yourseld.” The bravery of student activist is amazing to me. Oh, and when I say “student activist”, I am not talking about college students. No, these students were ages 8-18. Many of them were arrested, tourtured, killed, disappeared, or fled the country.
Speaking of student activists, before we went to Mandela’s house we visited Hector Peterson Square. Hector Peterson was a student killed by police and became famous because of a picture taken of another student carrying his body with a female student walking next to him. The boy carrying his body disappeared after this incident and was never heard from again. It is suspected that he was picked up by the police and killed. The female in the picture is still alive and is an executive of the museum there in the square that commemorates the event. Unfortunately, we did not have time to go through the museum. The reason for the student uprising in 1976 was the government’s announcement that school would be taught in Afrikaans. The students widely protested this move by the government because it would be detrimental to their education. Afrikaans was not a language that many of the students knew and there was a shortage of teachers who could teach in Afrikaans, thus the students protested. The police were tipped off about the students protesting this day and were waiting for them as they walked toward Orlando Stadium. The police had their dogs with them (think Alabama and Bull Connor). As the dogs attacked the students they fought back with stones against the dogs, since the dogs are police officers (many of them out-ranking the black police officers), the police opened live fire on the students.
Where we were in SOWETO was a crossroads for the freedom fight in South Africa. Just on the other side of Hector Peterson square was the church where Desmond Tutu starting preaching, and then close by was Nelson Mandela’s house.
Nelson Mandela’s house reminded me of Lincoln’s small log cabin boyhood home in Kentucky. It is located in the SOWETO township and is a small township home. When we drove up to the home I was impressed with the businesses surrounding it. There were a couple of resteraunts, some shops, and lots of street vendors (street performers too). Everything was small, small bedrooms, small bathroom, and small cooking area. The house itself is not set-up like a lot of historical sites, where it is full of actual or replica furniture because if it was visitors could not easily walk through the house. The house is full of memorabilia though. There are plaques and declarations of support for Nelson and Winnie Mandela. It was interesting to take note of the places on display such as: Morehouse College, the State of Michagan, the City of Newark just to name a few. I’m really glad that SCSU made us read A Long Walk to Freedom before coming to South Africa. When there is so much to take in when you are visiting a country for the first time, the trip is more meaningful when you’re not getting all of this historic information for the first time.