Every country has a history. Its people carry the history—not only in their textbooks, not only in their minds, but they carry the history in their bones. Although we knew about apartheid and Mandela before we embarked on this journey to South Africa, there was so much more information to learn. We visited Alexandra, the first township that Nelson Mandela called home. It was a place full of poverty. The homes seemed to be built from tin scraps and people filled the streets that were paved in dirt. We also went to Liliesleaf, the hideout for the leaders of the ANC during apartheid. It was the location in which Nelson Mandela and many other men who were fighting for freedom were arrested. While there, we had the once-in-a-lifetime honor of meeting Denis Goldberg, one of the last survivors of the men arrested alongside Mandela during the raid in 1963. The hideout had been transformed into a museum with a plethora of information. It was an experience that can’t be forgotten, but the most memorable moment was our visit to Soweto.
While in Soweto we first visited the home that Mandela shared with his wife Wini. It was filled with so much memorabilia and so many pictures of Mandela’s life. Walking through created an understanding and connection to Mandela and made him seem more like a simple man than the icon he has become. His home was also located fairly close to the memorial sight in which students died during the 1976 uprising. The sight was created to remember all the children who died because they were protesting apartheid. One of those children was Hector Pieterson, a twelve-year-old victim of apartheid violence who became an icon because of a picture taken of his dead body being carried in the streets. While standing at the sight silence overtook everyone. There was a somber feeling of disbelief as we all began questioning how our world could allow a massacre of innocent youth. The apartheid government gunned down black children simply because they were black and nothing else, and we stood on the ground that was once coated in their blood. The ground was made of stones because in South Africa stones are laid to honor the dead. Although the recorded death total was 23, over 200 people are said to have died because the incident sparked widespread violence in neighboring areas.
Every country has a history; some countries have experienced darker days than others. South Africa has lived through a time in which being born with black skin was like being born with a poisoned spoon in your mouth. People carried the poison of blackness in their bones like marrow and now it is important to remember and learn about the history of the land. If we were to forget the atrocities of the past and the struggles of the people who kindled change, then we would be disgracing the memory of valiant people who died to create freedom and it would be so easy to fall back into a pattern of hatred. When Mandela lived in Alexandra he wore the same suit every day, yet he somehow rose up with enough strength and heart to liberate millions. Learning about the brutalities that plagued this world and the people who decided to write stories of love instead of hate is what will allow us to surpass our predecessors.
- Cambriae Bates