Thursday, December 1, 2016

Apartheid and Union

The South African capitol building is called the Union building. It has two wings, one representing the English settlers and one representing the Dutch/Boer settlers. There was a lot of conflict between them in the early days (1800s), so the union between them was important.

My kids paused when I told them that. "You mean, it isn't about the union between black and white South Africans?" Nope. That came much later. To do a bad job glossing over a lot of South African history, the English-speaking white South Africans were in power initially, and there was a lot of conflict between them and the Dutch-speaking white South Africans (Boers). When the Boers came to power in the 1940s, they put in place a lot of laws to keep black South Africans apart from white South Africans. This system was called apartheid. For about 50 years, their ability to own property was severely curtailed, they weren't allowed into white parts of town unless they had a special pass, and they couldn't vote.

After much internal and external pressure, they finally ended apartheid in 1994. With the ability to vote, they elected Nelson Mandela, aka Madiba. While many people wanted to use violence to restore black South Africans to a more equal footing, Mandela urged peace through a Truth and Reconciliation commission. Today his statue stands at the prominent stair entrance to the Union building. Here are the kids walking in his footsteps while we hold hands with him.

They also built an Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, where you aren't allowed to take pictures inside so we have rather fewer pictures to share from our trip. From the outside you can see the seven principles of their "new" constitution: democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom.

When you enter the museum, you receive a ticket that says you are either white or non-white. Joy was white and the rest of us weren't. Turns out it makes a lot less of a difference than you would think, but you enter through two entrances with a longer line for the non-whites. After one room, you are reunited. We watched a short video about 1800-1940s history, explored a history of Madiba's life, and then toured the main part of the museum that shows artifacts, videos, and lots of written material about the experience of apartheid.

There's one room you walk into and see a large collection of nooses, representing political murders that were committed during that period. You visit a jail cell and see the kind of monster military vehicle they used to suppress dissent. They have video of the student riots that erupted in the 1990s. You leave with a reminder that, while some people find reviewing this history painful and others find it liberating, we should all take time to ponder on what it means for us, "Then walk away free." It was an emotionally powerful visit.

Here are Joy and the kids standing at the World War I memorial at the Union Building. "Their ideal is our legacy. Their sacrifice is our inspiration."

The kids loved the Union building and all wanted to come back again. Superstar wanted to see the Apartheid museum again. There was far more information there than any one visit could absorb.