Where in the world are we?

Where in the World are We?

30 April 2011

Two Days in Jo'burg

After our excursion into the wild for game viewing we traveled to Johannesburg for our last day and a half in South Africa. Our only plan was to visit The Apartheid Museum and gather more information on this time in the country that only recently ended in 1990 with an announcement by then-president FW de Klerk. We arrived in the city on Good Friday, which is the day South Africa celebrates the Easter holiday and is one of only two holidays that closes the museum (but we knew that from planning ahead). We were able to find an open ginormous grocery store and got what we needed to eat for the next two days and then just spent the afternoon relaxing since nothing was open. On Saturday, we traveled through the city to make our way to the museum.

The museum documents historical events in South Africa and how Apartheid came into effect as well as provides anecdotal tales and historical records showing life during this period for all South Africans. It was an important stop on our tour of the country and is a museum not to be missed. It is just this year that a class of primary school students will graduate who has not lived through Apartheid and strict separation policies.

The tour begins when you purchase your ticket and the computer randomly categorizes you as either non-white or white. We were split and had to enter through our designated entrances: ginnie in the whites only area and Anthony in the non-whites only door. Apartheid's list of 150 laws made the country a sign-filled space to ensure that whites and non-whites (further split into three groups: blacks (those with the least opportunities), coloureds (a step above black, we never really could figure out who fit this category - and with the identification system that was entirely arbitrary and up to the whim of the official working that moment probably means nobody actually knew), and Asians (a classification added to include the Indians and Chinese in the country, many of whom had been brought in for gold mining or came for opportunities). ginnie found in her entrance hall that whites were split between European and non-European and she didn't know under which sign to pass since she has both in her background.

"To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." ~Nelson Mandela

We saw giant poster-sized replicas of the passes citizens had to carry that showed their racial classification - which they were given by the assigned official who did not necessarily have any formal education of background. A question about what happens to coffee when milk is added led to a man being demoted from coloured status to black status. It's truly unbelievable to both of us that this was able to exist for so long. We learned that the list of laws kept growing as anti-Apartheid activists continued to find ways to fight the system.

Sadly, the impetus for establishing this system came from political leaders representing poor white farmers, boers, who were concerned about losing opportunity to native Africans and other non-whites. They felt they had been given this land by a supreme being and it was there's to do with as they pleased. Much like in the USA, these Europeans took native people's lands and relegated the local people to small portions, often not truly able to own the land outright. The Apartheid government strictly controlled the media and propaganda so people did not always fully understand what was happening (though it's hard to comprehend how one could not notice groups of people being evicted from their homes and moved into townships or that the signs everywhere made it clear they could not mingle; even white people suffered from this in some ways). People were not allowed to mix for any type of relationship and there were groups who would look through the windows of mixed race couples to see if they violated the law by engaging in intercourse. It was serious and intense.

We are both impressed by the many people who would not stop fighting against this injustice. There are people, both non-white and white, who consistently stood by their beliefs and accepted prison time or even lost their lives (mysterious poisonings and such) because they would not sit idly by as the government mistreated a large portion of its population in favor of another (a minority in reality).

It is really not possible to go through the museum in a brief post since it took us over 3 hours to explore and even then we had to start skimming the information. Look at the link to the museum site and take a trip to South Africa to learn more.

ukuthula na-uthando!

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