January 11 and 12: Safari and Trip Conclusion

Today and yesterday we traveled up to Pilanesberg for an evening safari and a morning safari today and the day after. On the safari, we saw many different animals including elephants, lions, giraffes, wildebeests, bucks, jackles, hippos, zebras and more. We learned different things about each animal. For example, female lions are hunters while male lions are protectors because their manes make them stick out. Hippos are faster than humans. Elephants have the cognitive ability to grieve when one of their own dies. All together it was a great way to wrap up our trip.

This trip to South Africa was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life up to this point. I have been interested in learning for about Nelson Mandela and the social movements in regard to Anti-apartheid for about five years now and I can’t express how incredible it was to experience the culture of the South Africa that came out of that movement today as well as the dark history of the countries past. Apartheid was a dark stain on South Africa’s past, much like the segregation era in America. It was interesting to evaluate how the two movements compare and contrast, as well as how the incarceration of Nelson Mandela and the detainment of Martin Luther King Jr. both contributed to their respective movements. Both established a position of passive disobedience while incarcerated, and both methods worked well as they both brought meaningful social change to their country.

Unlike Dr. King, Nelson Mandela had to spend a much longer time behind bars. Instead of spending brief periods of time incarcerated, he spent 27 years in prison, with 18 of them on Robben Island. He also managed to gain political power as president through the ANC, while king did not. Although Dr. King never gained political power in America, he, like Nelson Mandela, have decreased racial injustice and have made a mark as some of the greatest leaders across the globe in the contemporary era. Neither of them did it alone, as it took many leaders of the ANC and others to help Nelson Mandela succeed throughout his incarceration as it also took many American citizens to protest the unjust laws which Dr. King described in his Birmingham letters.

What I gained mostly from this entire experience was that while South Africa is a much different country than the United States, they are both very similar in how their unjust racial laws were reformed. Not only that, in both countries racial injustice still exists today. Both countries experience an economic gap between black and white people. This economic inequality is major because it leads to huge differences in life expectancy and quality of life. Although both countries have political equality, there is still a long way to go to ensure all people of both countries have completely equal opportunity in all areas of life. Although Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King did many great things for their societies, it is up to the new generation of America as well as the “born free” generation in South Africa to shape the world in the image we wish to see it in the future. Through educating ourselves like we have done on this trip, it hopefully can translate into us making more informed decisions.

January 10: Alexandria Visit and the Origins of Humanity

Today we took a morning tour of the Alexandria township. Then we went to The Cradle of Humankind Visiting Centre Maropeng (this was not on the academic schedule, for it was a trip we decided to take with the free time we had).

Alexandria was quite an eye opening experience. Staying in Soweto opened my eyes into how the effects of Apartheid had not changed much in terms of land distribution but even Soweto had been expanding for quite some time. Alexandria on the other hand did not have that luxury.

Our tour guide was born in 1947, right before the Nationalist Party came into power and also right as apartheid laws became stricter. He lived through apartheid, and admitted to us that he was not really against apartheid until Mandela and the ANC came into power in 1994 (our tour guide was a white man). Our guide believed that the rush for gold in the early 20th century is what led to the division that South Africa sees today. He claimed that had that thirst for resources had not happened by the Europeans, the Africans would own most of the countries resources and wealth.

Our tour guide also proposed another idea. He claimed that by 1980, the South African government knew that there was about to be a shift in power balance throughout the country. He also claimed that Mandela could have been released from prison and have become president by 1987 had it not have been for the state of emergency which was declared in 1984. Although most of Alexandria that we saw were occupied by shacks with trash all over the streets, there was also a nice part of the town that we saw. He claimed that these parts of town were allocated to people by the government from 1980-1984 as long as people could afford it. That allocation of land was disturbed according to our guide when the government declared a national state of emergency in 1984.

Like the Roving Bantu Tour two days ago, the Alexandria tour today also opened my eyes into seeing just how much work South Africa still has to do to bring economic equality to the nation. The government has an opportunity to clean up the trash on the streets and to help people rebuild Alexandria but for different reasons they do not. It is sad but at the same time today’s experience was humbling because it made me appreciate what I had and also put into perspective that although Mandela’s incarceration and struggle helped change the political boundaries of the Apartheid state, it did little in bring economic justice to the county as a whole.

Although it wasn’t a part of our class, we decided to go to the Cradle of Humankind exhibit following the Alexandria tour. We decided to do the cave tour, and got to see where the discovery of the “half ape” and “half human” known as “Little Foot” happened. We also got to see where many other discoveries were made in learning about human origins, including the genus Ardipithecus.

This was a very fascinating tour, especially since I took a biological anthropology class at Mason last semester. In class we discussed how Africa was seen as the birthplace of humanity and that although Kenya is where the earliest hominid ever was discovered, South Africa also has many great discoveries that contribute to our knowledge of human origin.

There is one point from this research that relates to the social movements in South Africa such as Anti-apartheid. There is much debate as to whether the Homo erectus or Homo ergaster species are actually separate species. Anthropology has a typically racist background, especially when it comes to Africa. Some people will argue that the Homo ergaster is actually not a separate species from Homo erectus and the only reason why it’s seen as such is because previous anthropologists during the age of colonial imperialism and apartheid couldn’t accept the fact that Homo erectus developed from Africa. This debate still continues today, because taxonomy and binomial nomenclature is not as clear cut as it might seem overall.

January 9: History of the Bantu and the Split of the ANC

Today we first went to the Vooltrekker monument. Then we visited Freedom Park and ended the day with taking pictures at the Union Buildings.

The Vooltrekkers were a group of people who colonized the Zulu tribe in the 19th century. The Zulus and Vooltrekkers had a long history of conflict with each other, yet is was eventually the Vooltrekkers who defeated the mighty Zulu nation.

But although that supports the main purpose of today, it wasn’t what was really meaningful to my research. What was more meaningful was Freedom Park. There we learned about the challenges of commemorating South Africa’s history as a whole by observing all sorts of different perspectives on what the history of the nation should look like. Our tour guide was excellent in facilitating this, and challenged us to not just see history through the lens written by the victors.

This came to a surprise, as the museum was not just a institution glorifying Nelson Mandela and the rest of the ANC during the Anti-apartheid struggle. Rather, this museum gave us a great opportunity to see many important names from around the world in Anti-apartheid and other South African conflicts throughout the nations history. To my surprise many Cuban names appeared, including the controversial leader Fidel Castro. Many names from the United States also appeared, including big names such as Muhammad Ali and W.E.B Du Bois.

In the indoor exhibit of the museum, we took a look at ancient Africa. According to the fossil record, Africa is considered the birth place of humanity, and tons of imperial evidence suggests that humans migrated out of Africa to all other places around the world starting about 50,000 years ago into the Middle East and Asia and finishing around 15,000 years ago to the Americas. After the migrations however, Africa was divided into three separate regions of power. In Northern Africa from Morocco to the edge of the Egyptian region were the Maghreb people. Slightly below them were the Sudanese Sahel. What was amazing to see though was that most of Africa, including South Africa, was made up of the Bantu civilization.

The Bantu civilization embraced a spiritual practice known as “Ubuntu,” which basically represents the virtues of compassion and humanity. When the Europeans first came to Africa, the indigenous people treated them with the principles of Ubuntu. The start of all of the major conflict that would change the course of African History forever was when the Europeans thought of themselves as superior people and fought for African land through imperialism. The Vooltrekkers in particular would use an outlet such as religion, in particular Christianity, to justify their atrocities. Around the world we still see acts of violence being justified through religions and other belief institutions.

So why is that important in regards to my research? Because it seems as if the Ubuntu principles is what eventually prevailed and led to Nelson Mandela’s presidency in 1994. His perspective on handling the struggle was through non violent means, and his parties principles followed the Ubuntu principles.

What I found interesting and eye opening today was the discovery of what the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress) principles actually were. Before this exhibition today I had some misconceptions about what the PAC stood for. The PAC split from the ANC in 1959 due to conflicting beliefs about the direction of South Africa as well as the African continent as a whole. Robert Sobukwe, a former colleague of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, also split from the ANC and became president of the PAC. Robert Sobukwe, as we learned during our tour of Robben Island, also turned out to be the most special prisoner on the island.

The PAC proclaimed that the government of South Africa should be run by Africans. But what I didn’t realize was that the PAC accepted anyone who accepted this to be a citizen and an African. Essentially what the PAC wanted was a congress more representative of the African majority rather than the white minority during apartheid. While the ANC probably had hoped to create a more representative government as well, the methods were not as aggressive, and it seems that why the split truly happened.

In 1990 when Mandela was freed from his 27 year incarceration, the ANC was declared a legitimate political party recognized by the state. However at the same point of time, the PAC still was not recognized. The question of debate is, should this have been the case? Mandela wanted political equality, but because the PAC was still illegitimate following his release, was there really full political equality? This is certainly something very interesting to ponder.

Following the trip to Freedom Park we ate lunch and then took pictures by the Mandela statue at the Union buildings.