January 8: Live Without Fear

Today we did the Roving Bantu tour in Brixton, Johannesburg and then did an inner city tour of Johannesburg and Newtown including the graffiti art.

The Roving Bantu tour I can say was one of the best activities I have done on this trip and a lot of that had to with our guide, Sifiso. Sifiso was unapologetic about the current state of South Africa and gave us insightful tips on how to stay clear of bias and become great people. In my experience, I would say his visionary rhetoric is best compared to the late American rapper Tupac Shakur. Something about this man that was insanely unique was that he could turn anything he said into a form of inspiration and lit a flame within myself to go out a rise above the “bullshit.”

What I found most striking about Sifiso was his personal story. As a young child, Sifiso went to study in Swaziland the avoid the oppressive Bantu education in South Africa at the time. In his early adulthood, he traveled to Toronto, and later to New York in the United States. Sifiso said he always had anger towards other people because of the divisive nature of his home in South Africa. It wasn’t until he encountered a man named Jimmy that everything changed. When he first met Jimmy it was close to the 1994 election in South Africa. Jimmy was a nazi and had a swastika on his sleeve. Jimmy was quick to blurt out his opinions on how African groups were ruining the country and other similar rhetoric. I don’t quite remember what led up to this point, but Jimmy had a bottle of Bacardi and decided to share it with Sifiso. What was absolutely incredible is what came next. By the end of the night, Jimmy and Sifiso were seemingly best friends, shouting “were voting for Mandela, fuck De Klerk” on the city streets. Sifiso said it was that day in which his anger towards whites and other groups different from him changed.

Sifiso did not hide from us what Brixton was really like, as he took us to what he called the “hood.” On the streets there was trash everywhere, and people digging through it for valuables. One man pissed in public by a monument. We went by a “white monument” which commemorated historically oppressive names such as the surname “Delarey.” This monument was destroyed and many people threw trash at the monument. Sifiso claimed that only a few years ago there was no trash in the area.

Sifiso also took us to the grave yard which was also racially divided. The first spot he took us to was the European grave site. They had a much nicer space for their gravestones because they could afford it. Sifiso then took us to the Canadian gravestones and the Chinese grave stones. What was sad was that most of these gravestones were for young people aged 17-26 who died in the war for gold in Johannesburg from 1899-1902. This was disturbing because it was strikingly similar to many of the unnecessary wars in which people died in for the United States government. So much blood was shed by these young men simply in the name of human greed.

In terms of the Chinese, they were brought to South Africa to work as miners. The Chinese gravestone we examined was of a 17 year old girl brutalized by the South African government.

What drew everybody to Johannesburg over a century ago was that it was rich in gold. There was a huge conflict over who would get the gold however. So different countries outside of the African continent went to war to fight for it. African nations didn’t have a say because they had fallen to the hands of the Europeans at the time. The Zulu tribe, for example, up until 1838 was a great and powerful tribe. Once they feel to European imperialism, they were forever changed, as they were humiliated and considered to be second class citizens for the next 150 years. Sifiso mentioned how this affects Africans even today, as now, even though they are free from apartheid, they are not unified and are unable to form their identities. Sifiso even took us to a community center that was shut down because Africans couldn’t agree on who owned it. He claimed how tax payer money went to that recreation center and all the money went down the drain.

The Jewish gravestones were gated and Sifiso said that was because the Jewish people, although discriminated against, were mainly a unified community in South Africa. Sifiso ended the tour by taking us to the African graveyard. There was one monument in the middle to commemorate their lives, but no other gravestones were present despite the fact that many bodies were buried underneath.

After our tour, Sifiso took us to lunch at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant. The food was fantastic and the experience was delightful. Sifiso told us that he likes to go to the restaurant we went to when he feels sad about the divided South Africa he lives in today. He says he loves Ethiopian food because unlike every other country on the African continent, Ethiopia was never under European rule. He says because of this, the Ethiopians are not as divided and they don’t have “white food” or “black food” but “African food.” He took one of their business cards and said “they have their cards, they don’t care if you speak their language, they are authentic and true to themselves.”

On our way back from the car, Sifiso told us to break away and rise above all the fear in the media. He said that division of South Africa is controlled by fear, and we as the next generation have the chance to rise above it. He told us the story about his son, who unlike him had the ability to study at university in his home country of South Africa because through the struggle South Africans of his generation were able to break free from the chains of Apartheid and Bantu education. His whole story and his message was inspirational yet motivational at the same time. What I realized today was that South Africa has changed from Apartheid to basically segregation with political yet not economic freedom. There are still many problems in South Africa, but South Africans have always taken pride in their county and had the resiliency to improve. As Sifiso said to close out the tour:

“You will not find gold under these streets of Johannesburg anymore, but you will find gold in the people. You will find gold in the woman and man next to me. We cannot fear our own people, but instead we are proud of them. Because once we fear our own people, then all hope is lost.”

After the Roving Bantu tour, we toured more of the inner city of Johannesburg, including the law firm that Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo started together in 1952. We then looked at graffiti art around Newtown, which is art used to give young people in the community a voice of expression and an identity, something that Sifiso previously mentioned was mentioned in the post-Apartheid era of South Africa.

The big epiphany a realized today was that although Mandela and the original members of the ANC made a huge shift in the struggle, they did not end it. Nelson Mandela, as great of a man as he was, he was still a man and not a god. His incarceration led to a major change in an oppressive system, however South Africa’s government is still filled with corruption and the struggle lives on to this day. It was a humbling experience but also a motivating one. All over the world there are problems and it is up to the youth to do something about it. We as young people have full lives to live, and wherever the world will go, it will come down to collective choices that we make. Although that seems like an initially scary thought, it’s one that motivates me greatly. My hope is that it motivates others as much as me.

January 7: Liliesleaf and the Secret Hideouts

Today we went to Liliesleaf museum to take a look at the secret hideouts in which members of the ANC came to congregate and discuss politics. This was an area in which many of the 12 people were arrested who later faced charges on the Rivonia Trial in 1964.

Unlike others who were arrested in Liliesleaf, Nelson Mandela was already in prison during the Rivonia Trial. Nelson Mandela was originally arrested in 1962 when the government realized that he had a fake passport to travel in and out of the country and went by the alias David Mobsari. Eight of the men who stood trial in Rivonia, including Nelson Mandela, were sentenced to life in prison. They were in chance of getting the death penalty at the time. One of the key people in helping Nelson Mandela avoid punishment by death was a man named Bram Fischer.

Bram Fischer was a white man who was born into a position of power, for both his father and grandfather held political positions during the Apartheid era. It would have been very easy for Bram to follow in their footsteps and continue the cycle of oppression of black South Africans. He decided however, to turn against the system which supported him in favor of the majority of people who were oppressed.

Fischer studied at Oxford and when he came back, his political ideology had a major shift. After returning from school, Fischer joined the Communist Party of South Africa which was later banned in 1950 by the South African government. Bram Fischer was the lawyer who represented the 8 men on the Rivonia trial, and because of his efforts, none of them were sentenced to death, but rather to life in prison.

Bram Fischer was later arrested in 1964 due to his political affiliation and later died in prison in 1975. In 1995, while Mandela was president, Mandela offered praise to Bram Fischer for his bravery in helping people in the struggle rather than conforming to the system which benefitted himself:

“Bram was a courageous man who followed the most difficult course any person could choose to follow.”

– Nelson Mandela, 1995

Mandela even referred to Bram being more courageous to himself, for Mandela said he “fought for his people,” while Bram made the difficult choice of sacrifice and “fought against his people.” What is learned from all of this is that had it not been for Bram, Mandela may have never survived through incarceration and fulfill his mission to his country.

Prior to his incarceration, Mandela traveled to many countries outside of South Africa to gain support for the ANC. These countries included: Morocco, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia, and even the United Kingdom.

During Mandela’s incarceration, the Morogoro Conference was held in Morogoro, Tanzania in 1969. This was a conference in support of the development of the ANC throughout the African continent. Many of the Northern countries in Africa were already liberated at this time. Ghana was one of the first African countries to be liberated from European imperialism in 1957. The liberation of Ghana set off a chain reaction, as many other countries gained independence shortly after. Because of their past struggles, they felt sympathy towards South Africa, which was still under the system of Apartheid.

Representatives from South Africa came to represent an Anti-apartheid branch known as Umkhonto we Sizwe, or “Spear of the Nation.” Oliver Tambo was present at the conference in support of Unkhonto we Sizwe, and he said:

“Close Ranks! This is the order to our people; our youth; the army; to each Umkhonto we Sizwe militant; to all our many supporters the world over. This is the order to our leaders; to all of us. The order that comes from this conference is: Close Ranks and intensify the Armed Struggle!”

The biggest result of the Morogoro Conference was that for the first time, the ANC was truly established as a legitimate, international political organization. The continent of Africa, and eventually other countries from other continents around the world, rallied in support of the Free Mandela campaigned and placed economic pressure for South Africa to end Apartheid government.

One last valuable highlight of Liliesleaf was the display of the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter was a statement of what the ANC believed in, which was political freedom for all South Africans and the end of Apartheid policies. The South African government banned the Freedom Charter, for they claimed that the policies outlined in it could not be achieved unless through violent means. South African media distorted the meaning and intent of the ANC, and labeled leaders of the ANC like Nelson Mandela as terrorists.

Like previous days, I am coming to a realization that although Mandela was very effective in gaining support through his incarceration, it took many other people around the world and in South Africa to help the ANC succeed in gaining political power and ending the evils of Apartheid.


January 6: Anti-apartheid, Mandela, and ANC Support

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.

January 5: The History of Soweto

This morning we flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg and then spent the day (and night) in Soweto. Soweto has a huge historical significance in the Anti-apartheid struggle.

While in Soweto, we attended a museum regarding the history of the Town. Soweto certainly has not been exclusive to Apartheid. Back during the Apartheid era, the black schools in Soweto were directed to switch language of instruction from English to Afrikaans. Afrikaans is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa; and it was a language that was created by the Dutch settlers of the country. The problem with this policy was that Afrikaans is a language only used in South Africa, and would not allow South African blacks to be marketable anywhere outside of South Africa. Not only that, but many people, including the instructors themselves, had a very difficult time with teaching and learning material in the new language. As a result of the new policy, school children in Soweto organized a protest in June of 1976 to speak up. On June 16, 1976, a massacre endured, as the police open fired on the students.

One of the first students to die in the massacre was a boy named Hector Pieterson. There is a famous photograph of Hector Pieterson being held by Mbuyisha, who fled the country and never returned, even after Mandela became president in 1994. He fled to Botswana and was last seen in Nigeria.

In 1987 there was an Anti-apartheid march in Soweto at a local stadium called Orlando stadium. This was at the time when Nelson Mandela was offered his release from prison if he agreed to be done with politics. Mandela refused, and proclaimed that he would refuse to be free until all of his people were free. This led to more tensions in Soweto which contributed to political tensions across the country which forced the government to reconcile with the ANC and bring one man one vote to all South African people.

Along with the museum, we also visited Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto. During Apartheid, many meetings would happen in churches to discuss politics, and this church was no exception. The reason for this was that talking about politics in public, including the state of the ANC, was forbidden. The government responded with violence when they found out about these secret gatherings, and Regina Mundi was no exception. Throughout the church there were bullet holes through the structure of the building as well as old stained windows of theirs.

On June 16, 1995, president Mandela declared June 16, 1976, or the day of the Soweto massacre, as the first National Youth Day. Since then, South Africa has recognized National Youth Day as a national holiday. Mandela did this as a gesture to honor those in Soweto who fought in the struggle.

Mandela always believed that educating the youth properly was something that would lead to a fair and equal society that he was fighting for. He repeatedly honored people of Soweto during their protests of Bantu education including the Afrikaans language policy. He honored those who died in the struggle in Soweto, those who lived, and those who are disabled from it.

We also got to see Mandela’s old home today; for he moved from a small village to Johannesburg when he was young in order to escape an arranged marriage. In his house, which is now a museum, we learned about his early life before incarceration. Mandela was actually initially arrested in 1962 for false identity, as he had a fake passport and used it to frequently travel in and out of the country. He was sentenced to 5 years for that offense. It wasn’t until the Rivonia trial in 1964 that Mandela was charged with life in prison for conspiracy against the government. Mandela would spend about three decades of his life before returning to his home in Johannesburg and near Soweto once again.

One major factor from today was that we got to stay in the homes of the people of Soweto. I had the opportunity to learn so much about the culture of Soweto. We had an open discussion about both politics in South African land reform as well as politics in America. What amazed me and my group was how open the dialogue was and how open everyone’s mind was open even when we disagreed. Sometimes I think if we had more of that in America, we could bring about more necessary change. We also ate traditional South African food and spent the night in the Soweto homes themselves.

The homes were small and compacted, almost like an apartment. This goes back to the land reform, as much of the land in South Africa is owned by the white minority, leaving many people including those in Soweto to live in small compacted houses in urban settings such as Johannesburg. In fact, about 1 in 5 South Africans live in Johannesburg. The stay was quite engaging, as we discussed many things about the history of South Africa and Soweto with our host “mama.” We always refer to elders in South Africa as either “mama” or “papa” regardless of whether or not they are actually our biological parents. This is because these people have more experience than us, and as a tradition, South Africans use those terms as a sign of respect.

Soweto was a major part of the struggle, and a key example of Mandela’s decision to stay in prison even when offered freedom. For Mandela, he would never considered himself free if the people of his community were not free. His decision to stay in prison created a national state of emergency, which eventually forced his release and well as the political freedom of black South Africans. Had it not been for the people of Soweto and their part in protest of apartheid, Nelson Mandela may never have been released; and his mission may have never been accomplished.