this is why I came here
This morning our guide met us in the lobby and drove us around Johannesburg (J'burg), giving us a thumbnail sketch of the history of the city, which is the largest in the country. Although landlocked, it became important because of the gold deposits found. Today it seems very vibrant and I guess it is experiencing some kind of renaissance with more cultural events and younger home owners. Our first actual stop is Chancellor House, the building where Mandela and Oliver Tambo practiced law until the anti-apartheid struggle began to take all their time.
We were then taken to the Apartheid Museum where we spent two hours. That was not nearly enough time. Thankfully (guide) Darrell is so well versed in its contents (plus, he lived during that era) that he was able to walk us through the highlights, telling the story along the way. The story starts when you enter a courtyard and then encounter two gates that lead you into the actual building. The side-by-side gates are labeled "White" and "Non-White". Darrell has all of our tickets and he hands them out. The tickets are labeled either "White" or "Non-White" and thus we are also each labeled and we each then enter the museum through our appropriate gate. This impactful little exercise sets the stage. I was relieved (and admittedly honored) to have been labeled "Non-White". I know this is guilt and I completely acknowledge that if this was 40 years ago, and I had been given a choice, I would not have been brave.
The museum is a journey that you take from the beginning of race classification ("black", "white", "colored") - through identifying, documenting, segregating - into extreme inequality and oppression - onto disclosing the horrendous deprivation suffered by the impoverished native Africans and brought on by the White government - then through the struggle and upheaval. Of course throughout is the story of Mandela and his mentors and followers who orchestrated the movement that finally led to the era of hope that they are experiencing now. It was exhausting - draining, I finally gave up fighting back my emotions, as did a couple others, and as did Darrell. I have never experienced anything like this. This is the reason I came to South Africa, not for the animals. [Several of my co-travelers expressed amazement when, during game-drives, I told them that I am enjoying the safari part but that's not why I'm here. "Then, why? Why are you here?" For the culture. To satisfy some longing I've had since I was thirteen. To get it out of me. I failed. It's still in me.]
After that experience, one wants to collapse, but that is not in the itinerary. We are driven to Soweto, the area where the non-whites (mostly blacks) were allowed to live during apartheid. Back then it was many square miles of abysmal, filthy, cardboard, no utilities, shanty town. There is actually still a bit of that left, but for the most part Soweto is a poor and mid-class black suburb of J'burg. There are areas of it that are undergoing a bit of gentrification, a slow transformation with better housing and new restaurants and clubs. A few blocks from one of those areas is where Darrell took us for lunch. "Alina's" is a neighborhood event venue on the site of a typical 500 sq ft Soweto home. The family lives there and have covered over the driveway to make a dining area and they cook in their little home. It's very popular but you can't just drop in - you have to make arrangements. I was amazed and delighted by Darrell's choice for our lunch. It was wonderful, perhaps the best food I've had on the trip. All typical African vegetables and starches, with chicken and lamb dishes. Oh - and a local beer.
Still in Soweto, Darrell takes us to the Hector Pieterson Museum, which honors a young boy who was killed during the 1976 Soweto Uprising. After about 45 minutes there, it's time to go to the airport to catch our overnight flight from J'burg to Dubai and begin the journey home.