On Friday morning I departed for a whirlwind weekend in Johannesburg. The city is one of the largest in the world and is the capital of the Gauteng province. Jo’burg rapidly grew in population during the Mineral Revolution in the late 19th century, as migrant workers moved to the area to mine for newly-discovered gold.
The flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg was less than two hours and a much different experience than flying in the United States. I didn’t have to take off all of my clothes and shoes or walk through an X-ray that violates my privacy. They didn’t worry about liquids. At the terminal everyone boarded at the same time and didn’t jostle like crazy in the line. It was the most pleasant airport experience! Makes you wonder how much good the TSA regulations are really doing…
My first impressions of Johannesburg made me really glad I chose to live in Cape Town. Jo’burg is… kind of ugly. There are mine dumps everywhere, the skyline wasn’t very enticing, and there wasn’t any foliage worth mentioning. Although I didn’t have a chance to explore downtown in the city itself, I can’t say that I am very disappointed about it.
We went straight to the Apartheid Museum after landing in Jo’burg. Upon entry you are issued a ticket that randomly declares you ‘white’ or ‘non-white.’ You are only allowed to enter the museum through the designated door for your race. It was quite a shocking experience. Inside we were physically separated from the other group by metal gates and bars. I can’t imagine living in a society that actively promotes segregation. I am the first to mention that segregation and racism still exists, but it felt very jarring to be confronted with it in such a forward manner.
For those of y’all who have visited a museum with me before will know I am very serious about it. I could spend days in museums where other people visit for only an hour or two. My experience at the Apartheid Museum was no different.
I first spent time in the temporary exhibit: “Mandela: Comrade, Leader, Prisoner, Negotiator, Statesman.” The section outlined the life of Nelson Mandela, supplemented by quotes from Long Walk to Freedom, friends and peers, as well as photographs and videos. It was fascinating to read the words from his auto-biography (which I had recently finished) and put a photograph with the event. The exhibit was very powerful and well made; I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed at certain parts especially as I recalled visiting Robben Island. The final section of the exhibit was by far my favorite. In the courtyard was a large display of famous Mandela quotes. There were five sets of three quotes, each set vibrantly printed in a different color. The sign asked visitors to choose which quotes impacted them the most, then select a stick in the corresponding color and add it to the interactive art pieces around the courtyard. There was no indication that one set of quotes was selected more often that others either; all colors were displayed proudly. It was such a great reminder of how Mandela has impacted all of us in different ways.
I learnt that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
The permanent exhibition of the Apartheid Museum begins at the very beginnings of Johannesburg in the late 1800’s up until present day. I ran out of time and had to be fetched to catch the bus. And I hadn’t even made it to 1980 yet! There is no way I can put into words the feelings I had while exploring the museum. The history of South Africa and apartheid are so complicated and deeply impactful, I could never explain it fully. Not that I even understand it in its entirety.
As a citizen in this world, I feel that we all must become aware of what can happen to a society after even the slightest segregationist policies are implemented. It is not an issue isolated to South Africa – there is segregation and racism in every country of the world. It is our duty to combat these evil societal forces so our children, grandchildren, and so on, never have to experience its horrors.
That evening we attended an opera/play called “Mandela Trilogy,” which outlined three main phases of Nelson Mandela’s life. During the first part of the play, all of the songs were sung in Xhosa (a clicking language and Mandela’s native tongue). I was impressed that the actors were able to sing opera and click at the same time! But I suppose if you are fluent it wouldn’t be unusual at all. The second part of the play highlighted Mandela as a womanizer. This shocked me as well. I had heard some rumors, but I didn’t know they were actually true! The crowd loved the mistresses and laughed hysterically. I can tell you that it was never mentioned in Long Walk to Freedom!
I will elaborate more on Day 2 of my Johannesburg trip tomorrow! Thanks so much to everyone who is commenting and reading this. I always look forward to writing about my travels, especially when I know someone is actually reading!