Freedom Now: South Africa and the Apartheid Museum

I’ve never been to the Holocaust Museum. Though I have friends and ex-girlfriends whose families were impacted.

I’ve gotten to see first hand the occupation of Tibet by the oppressive Chinese regime.

I’ve never seen an in-depth history of something horrible and horrific that had happened in my lifetime. Until now.

I stopped in Joburg, as they call it, to explore the history here; especially Nelson Mandela and Apartheid.

It did not disappoint.

In the 80’s and 90’s, I was not particularly engaged in the struggle that was occurring in South Africa. I had heard about it, but without it being in your face, it was quickly pushed to the back burner. I was on to my next fraternity activity or studying or looking for a job.

The 80’s were when knowledge of goings-on in the world were brought to the masses via big name musicians. Live-Aid etc. and Artists United Against Apartheid. U2’s iconic “Rattle and Hum” album made reference to South Africa in a few songs.

It wasn’t until 1999 when I was getting my teaching credential at Chico State and had to teach a section on Africa that it grabbed me.

Since history wasn’t completed yet while in high school and college, I hadn’t read about Nelson Mandela’s 27 years in prison before his release and ascendancy to the president.

Having grown up in the 60’s and 70’s, I was unfortunately numb to reports of racism and violence. Having witnessed it first hand in small doses.

When I taught the class on Africa, I focused on Nelson, Bishop Tutu and Stephen Biko. All big ñames. During that time, I had also been studying Gandhi and the Dalai Lama so I understood non-violent protest.

For those that don’t know, after Mandela was released, South Africa nearly devolved into Civil War. More people died AFTER he was released than all the years of apartheid combined.

Once negotiations for a new gov’t were achieved, he was elected president. Once in office, Mandela had to devise a way to bring the country together. The answer was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

If you confessed your crimes, amnesty could be granted and healing could begin. That was the plan. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if it worked or how well.

The museum slowly walked you through the history of South Africa and apartheid, mainly through the black and colored lens, but also the world lens.

Through pictures and videos, the museum movingly displayed how mercilessly apartheid was administered and how lives of all colors were impacted. Most notably the non-whites.

After two hours of education, you were deposited into a small theatre with a 40 min video of live testimony from the commission. Whoa. Tears were shed. It was intense to hear someone openly admit to murder, face the surviving family and, in some cases, be forgiven.

Being able to see these events unfold chronologically, much of it in my lifetime, had particular resonance.

Seeing how people treat each other and are treated, and their ability to rise above things, is a deep view into humanity.

And being insulated from much of this while living in the US in my 20s makes me sad. But not anymore.

It’s why I came to Joburg.

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