Monday, September 26, 2011

Johannesburg-Day 2

A day of rest today emotionally and physically as we ponder all that we've seen so far. Our South African guide, Linda, picked us up at 7:15 yesterday morning for our tour of Soweto, the Hector Peterson museum, Nelson Mandela home and the overwhelming - I'm using that word a lot lately - Apartheid Museum which I find very similar in set up and thought to the Holocaust museum in DC.

Linda was an extremely politically astute young man and seemed to feel free to talk with us openly about his thoughts on the past and the current climate in South Africa. We were the only ones with him and I'm sure Don's questions provoked him to open up.
He took us by his father's home in Soweto and, much to our surprise, especially Don's who was here in the '80's, his Soweto neighborhood was similar in value and appearance to my own Florida neighborhood. Not all is as you see on the news and we discussed at length how the  media has an agenda that not everyone has the ability to see through.

That's not to say that there isn't extreme poverty because there is. The government is doing its best to build new housing where once there were only corrugated iron roofs and cardboard sides. Water and electricity are slowly being brought to the worst areas so that the women won't have to walk with their jugs to the local fountain and carry the water back to their homes on their heads. This is still prevalent in many places,

Originally developed as migrant housing - sound familiar? - these worst areas of Soweto segregated males and females in long dormitory like areas where they were forced to sleep up to 12 to a room. They came to work in the gold mines for which Johannesburg is famous, for a salary of about 10 cents a day, or was it a week. Upon leaving the mines at night, they were stripped naked and searched to insure that they hadn't confiscated any small pieces.

Only minutes away is a booming city that could be New York or Chicago with high rise towers, hotels and world class restaurants. We are staying in an outlying area called Melville which is very young and hip, home to a branch of the U. of Johannesburg, where we'll be walking to this afternoon as, naturally, we must check out the library and the local bookstores.

It's truly mind boggling to think that it's only been less than twenty years since apartheid was the law of the land here in South Africa. The Apartheid Museum should probably be an all-day experience with a break for lunch. I had read that one would need a minimum of three hours to see and absorb it all. We were only halfway through in two.

When we got our tickets, I was given the non-white entrance and Don was given the whites only entrance ticket, a clever trope that tries to get you into a segregated state of mind. It wasn't quite horrific enough though. We met inside to begin the run up to the historical events that shaped the separation of the races in South Africa, a shame from which I'm not sure they can ever recover.
Truth and Reconciliation can only go so far when an entire people has been deliberately kept unemployed and uneducated. We asked our young guide how he saw the future for his generation of black South Africans and his reply echoed much of my same thoughts. Though one cannot exist in a constant state of negativity - he prefers to make lemons from lemonade - he does not believe that his generation has made enough progress. It is very disheartening.

Meanwhile, yes, I'm finding time to read and will report on books eventually. Meanwhile, stick with me as I continue my little travelogue of our eye-opening adventures in Africa. Everywhere we go we find wonderful, interesting folks to talk with. Last night, while looking for a quiet supper destination, we ended up exchanging cards with an art gallery owner from Ethiopia and getting book recommendations from a feminist performance art producer attending a local conference. Go figure!

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