As we joined the world in thinking about Nelson Mandella this past week, we were reminded of the rare opportunity we had In March, 2006 to visit Nelson Mandella’s neighborhood in Sweto, the famous township near Johanesburg, South Africa where Mandela grew up. What a fascinating, history the hometown of this great man holds!
Here are a few scenes from our journey:
Note the “amenities” of the surgery below:
We had hired a couple of delightful young men who proclaimed themselves “experts” on Sweto to guide us through the township! Having just started their own touring business, they were anxious to please.On our drive to Sweto, we asked if they knew anyone in Sweto that we could meet. One of the boys was delighted to tell us that his grandmother lived in Sweto and would be glad to meet us. So off we went.
When we surprise visitors walked in the grandmother’s back door with her grandson in tow, she greeted us with a big smile in her bathrobe and asked where we were from. When we said that we were from the U.S., she unabashedly threw her arms around us and declared that she had always wanted to meet an American and had never laid eyes on one. She was as delighted to meet Richard and I as we were to meet her. We became instant friends and she was so excited to give us a tour of her lovely little home. The walls were decked with pictures of her gaggle of grandchildren and her pink couch was carefully covered with plastic to protect it from the little cuties.
Next the young men took us to see memorials to those who lost their lives in fighting against apartheid and for equality in the beginning of the Mandela era. The first little boy to die was killed in a peaceful march of elementary school students.
School children still sing at the memorial every day in remembrance of their fallen friends.
Next we visited Mandela’s humble home which was decked with memorials of his valiant life.
Our admiration for the great Nelson Mandela had grown immensely as we had just come from Cape Town where Robbin Island, the horrid place where Mandela had been imprisoned for so many years can be seen from the shores of Cape Town, not unlike Alcatraz Island off of shores of San Francisco. We took a boat to the Island and were horrified to see what Mandela endured while he was there. This is the work yard where he and thirty other prisoners were given hammers to break up rocks every day. By the end of the day all hands were blistered and bleeding!
The details of his detention are too long to explain here, but having just heard a documentary with Mandela’s voice explaining his detention, the difficulty of those years were beyond our wildest imaginations. No visitors were allowed and mail was allowed only once a year. Just incredible!
At one point Mandela begged for a tree to planted in the yard so that the prisoners could see just a little green (their solitary confinement cells where they spent the hours when they weren’t in the work yard were about 6’X3′). They finally granted his request. Even though the branches haven’t survived, here is Richard standing beside the tree trunk:
The magnificence of Mandela’s soul came forth when he walked out of the prison after 27 years. To his militant followers, instead of agreeing that they should seek revenge, he advised, “Throw your weapons in the sea””
We know the rest of the story as through peaceful means, he became the President of South Africa and many of the men who served with him at Robbin Island, formerly known as his fellow “terrorists” became members of the Parliament. The astonishing life of this extraordinary man, even as we commemorate his passing, will be seen in a new movie released on Christmas Day.
Hail to Nelson Mandela!