Today we left the people of Soweto and ventured into the heart of Johannesburg. We visited the Apartheid museum and then Constitutional Hill.
The Apartheid museum was very informative, yet very hard to look at. It was difficult because Apartheid was a systematic form of racist institutionalism that kept black colored Africans as second class citizens. The Apartheid era officially began in 1948, when the Nationalist Party came into power and D F Malan became prime minister of South Africa. During Apartheid, blacks had to carry passes to prove themselves as legal citizens, while whites did not. A black South African could be stopped by police at any time and if they did not have their pass on them, they would be arrested and thrown in jail. Blacks were not able to vote, did not have desks or other necessary supplies in their schools, and were forced to move out of their homes at the convenience of white citizens. White citizens of South Africa during the Apartheid era had the luxury of being free to walk without the need of the pass and had the privilege to vote in their elections.
It made me very angry to see what happened in the past in South Africa. What made me more angry than anything else was the justification for Apartheid according to former prime minister of South Africa Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd. Verwoerd proclaimed that Apatheid policies were a form of “good neighborliness.” This statement enraged me because this was justification for the mistreatment of human beings who look different; a form of justification that has happened throughout human history around the world and still happens in the present.
Although the museum made me feel a sense of disgust about the policies of South Africa’s past, it also gave me a sense of hope and inspiration because of all of the people who resisted Apartheid and overcame the oppression of the government. There were leaders both in South Africa and around the world who helped to bring Apartheid to an end in 1994. Of course the biggest name that came to mind was Nelson Mandela. However, there were many others who worked together to bring Apartheid to a halt.
George Bizos was a key figure in the struggle. He was one of Mandela’s lawyers who fought legal battles to help alleviate his punishment. George Bizos went on to author a book called Odyssey to Freedom in which he shares his story.
Oliver Tambo was another huge factor in the struggle along with Mandela. In 1952, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela actually formed a law firm together, for before they became labeled as terrorists by the government, they were lawyers by profession. They were also co-founders of the ANC Youth League in 1943. Although Mandela was arrested and incarcerated for 27 years, Oliver Tambo managed to flee the country and escape to Zimbabwe up north. As previously stated, Oliver Tambo began the Free Mandela campaign, and was able to gather international support to free all political prisoners from Robben Island and other prisoners around South Africa. Many countries placed economic sanctions on South Africa due to Tambo’s efforts. When I was in Soweto yesterday, my “mama” actually told me that she initially thought Oliver Tambo was going to be the first democratically elected president in 1994 rather than Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela did not spend his time in prison without also furthering the progress of the ANC. Mandela built relationships with many people outside of the struggle and got them to support his cause. President De Klerk was the president who came before Mandela; and during his inauguration in 1989, Minister of Justice Kobie Coetsee, who got to know Mandela during his incarceration, came up to Robin Reneick and asked him for help in persuading president De Klerk to release Mandela.
Mandela sacrificed more than people realize for the ANC. Mandela was offered release at one point in the 80s, on the condition that he forfeits his role in politics. Mandela refused, and gave up a chance to see his family for the sake of the movement. Had Mandela accepted this offer, the ANC may never have become a legal political party in South Africa, and the Nationalist Party would probably have been able to keep their apartheid laws post-1994. Not all of Mandela’s family was on board with his decision to stay incarcerated, as his eldest son Thembekile never came to visit his father in prison. This made Mandela very sad, but it was a choice that worked out for South Africa in the long run.
Following the Apartheid museum, we went to Constitutional Hill. Constitutional Hill used to be a prison (including one of the prisons in which Mandela spent time in, as well as even Gandhi in the earlier 20th century) but is now a court for South Africa. On the entrance of the court was the words “Constitutional Court” written in all 11 official languages in South Africa. Our guide told us that the languages were ordered in random to indicate that no language was valued more than the other. This expression supports the concept of South Africa being a “Rainbow Nation” in which all people of South Africa are equal under the law.
Also on the front of the court building are the 27 constitutional rights guaranteed to all South Africans. One of them is the right to life. This means that the death penalty was outlawed in South Africa in 1996. During the Apartheid era however, capital punishment was legal. It took the work of incredible lawyers to help Nelson Mandela and others in the Rivonia Trial in 1964.
What I took mostly from today in terms of my area of research was that Nelson Mandela did a lot to help his movement through his incarceration yet also had a lot of people who supported him and gave him the ability to come into power and change the country for the better. Mandela had the skills to end Apartheid policies yet without the support behind him, he may have never made it through his incarceration.