Back in 2008, Mr. A’s company was accoladed with a prestigious award, “Printer of the Year,” given annually by Sappi. They flew us to Cape Town, South Africa where three-day celebration culminated in an award ceremony in Groote Schuur, which once housed Cecil John Rhodes and a succession of South African Prime Ministers and Presidents.
Everyone we befriended during the event told us that we should do at least two things before we leave Cape Town. One – visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela served 27 years as a prisoner, which now is open to public. Two – take cable car to the top of Table Mountain where you can view pretty much the entire city of Cape Town along with Robben Island. So after pomp and circumstance when we were left on our own, we went down to the water to catch a ferry to Robben Island. When we got there, they told us no ferry rides today due to the severe winds. We were skeptical about the cable car operation at this point, but went up to the foot of the mountain anyway, only to find out that it was also out of commission. This was our last day in the city before we flew out to Botswana.
We stood there by the cable car ticket booth and looked at each other and said, “Screw it. We’re hiking this thing.”
It was a surreal experience altogether – the idea that we are in Africa hiking one of the famous mountains in the world, on one of the windiest days, in our denim jeans, and me, a purse in hand. It’s not the tallest mountain or anything, but it was a steep challenging climb. The wind definitely did not help.
At the top, it was pristine and beautiful. The view was spectacular and out of this world. I have never seen anything like it. It was also very quiet. The only thing that we could hear was the wind. And thanks to the cable car not working, we were the only ones at the top. It was a strange paradise. We came upon different signs informing us as to what we are looking at. When we saw the sign for Robben Island and the island in the distance, we both felt very, very humbled.
Twenty-seven years. That’s a life time. An innocent human being was locked away in prison for 27 years for standing up for basic human rights. As a part of preparation for the trip, we had read Long Walk to Freedom. Even though it was an abridged version, the information, the history and complexities that make up South Africa were all very overwhelming. Does it take 27 years of confinement and hardship to build a leader who can lead such a complicated nation? It was an unfathomable thought. It still is, as I watch the world celebrating his life and mourning his death.
As we made our way through different camps in Okavango Delta, Botswana, we couldn’t shake off the rather spiritual experience up on Table Mountain. Next stop was Johannesburg, and we knew what we were going to do – visit Soweto and the Apartheid Museum.
We were lucky, or maybe it was meant to be. Maria, a young lady who worked at the hotel in Jo-burg that we stayed in, commutes a long way to work from her home in Soweto. She was kind enough to get permission from her boss to take a long break from work to show us Soweto.
I don’t know how it is now in Soweto, but back in ’08, it still had that look of “township.” But it was also growing and changing. They were very proud of their shopping mall, their youth center where kids learn how to use computers and learn about AIDS, their own college, the historical locations where lives were lost and the anti-apartheid movement was catalyzed, but most of all, they were very, very proud of Madiba, the gentle giant who stood against the mounting waves of opposition and parted the sea of racism.
Maria also took us to the Apartheid Museum that day. It is one of the best museums that I’ve ever been too. Obviously, there is a lot of history to cover within a single structure, especially if it’s a museum about “apartheid.” And they did an amazing job comprehensively displaying that history, one significant event after another. One experiential part of the museum that is singularly memorable was at the ticket purchase. As you purchase your admissions ticket, you get segregated. You’re either “white” or “non-white.” You receive a “passport” that displays your race and enter through a race-designated door as you start your walk through the museum. One might easily forget the complicated historical information displayed in the museum, but one can never forget the act of segregation that they experience as they enter the museum. And that was at the core of apartheid – segregation.
I don’t know why a simple truth – that all men are created equal – takes such a huge sacrifice to become accepted. Do haters truly believe in their hateful thoughts? That somehow they are innately and intrinsically better than the ones that they hate? It is such a grandiose denial that it is criminal.
And how thankful we ought to be for someone like Nelson Mandela. To me, he is up there with Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Buddha and Jesus. He conquered by surrendering. I am fortunate to have seen the history turning its course by a person who was locked away in jail in a distant island.