South Africa My Personal Journey: Soweto and Mandela House

Outside Mandela House personal photo
Outside Mandela House personal photo

The recounting of my personal journey through South Africa has so far been fraught with the dangers that people face in certain parts of the Johannesburg area. But the whole trip was not all about the crime and precautions, although a lot of it was. There were two areas that welcomed people and visitors into their world.

Soweto was on my list of things to see mainly because of the Mandela House Museum.  As we approached the township my two companions (our driver L, who was a star and D our correspondent) pointed out that the area we were entering welcomed outsiders. Apparently it had to do with the fact that the denizens of Soweto liked the idea that  white visitors weren’t too terrified to visit.

On the way there, while stopped at a traffic light, a mini-pickup truck with a small group of black men in the back, noticed me taking pictures. They began to wave and smile and make camera gestures (this consisted of making a square with both hands and holding them up to their face). I was happy to oblige and after getting a few shots of these friendly people, they gave the universal “thumbs-up” sign and “okay” sign.

One very enthusiastic fellow blew us a kiss.

The friendly chaps in the white pickup truck outside Soweto
The friendly chaps in the white pickup truck outside Soweto

“See?” Our correspondant asked. “Soweto is very friendly and welcoming, even before we’ve entered the area!”  They were indeed both friendly and helpful.  We made our way to the Mandela House Museum, which was not full of people, although a steady trickle of South African tourist were entering. I appeared to be the only “real” foreigner there.

As you go through the museum, tour guides explain the significance of the house. The little lady who spoke to me got inadvertently ignored for the whole first part of her spiel as I’d assumed that she was just someone else who was there to see the house and not a guide.  She didn’t let that stop her though.

L had to have it pointed out to me that the elderly lady was a guide and that she wanted me to see things in order. Thankfully, I’m too old to blush, otherwise I’d have gone a brilliant hue of red.  I dutifully followed the lady around the small museum and took pictures as she talked.

Mandela House was a solemn moment in a friendly town. The overall feeling was that Soweto was proud of the man who’d moved there and became the first black South African president. The house where he lived, but was not born in, is a stark reminder of the days of Apartheid and the world’s acceptance of it.

The only jarring note at the museum was the price of admission. Not that it was too expensive. Rather it was the pricing system. that was disturbing.  The sign by the ticket kiosk had a list of prices.  South AFricans paid one price, non-South Africans paid slightly higher, and “tourists” paid higher still. I missed the sign, but it was pointed out to me as we left. Rather an unsettling moment where it seems that while “outsiders” are more than welcome, they will pay for the privilege of “not being South African.”

This “triple” pay system was used at other “tourist” attractions as well.

The overall experience of visiting Soweto was relaxed and pleasurable. The streets were full of apparently happy and smiling people and there was a good feeling to the place, with none of the undercurrent that ran though the other areas visited on the trip.  It was  as though the place was an oasis in the tense high crime arena of Johannesburg.

All too soon we had to leave the peaceful surroundings of Mandela House Museum and head off to our next destination. I want to return to Soweto and spend more time there if for no other reason than to soak up some more of that friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

To be continued…

Mandela House Museum photo by author.
Mandela House Museum photo by author.

Racism

The word racist is an ugly word. It immediately conjures up images of white robed people burning crosses and hanging black people from trees. No, not a pleasant word at all.

It is also “over-used.” Let me explain.

My heritage is strong Native American. Both sides of my family tree in the not too distant past married “full-blooded” Native Americans. Cherokee on my mothers side and Choctaw on my fathers side. We also have a smattering of Wyandot (goodness knows where that came from). In essence, using the Old West term for it, I am a ‘breed.’

Granted, through the “watering down” process that comes with generational growth, I am only about one-quarter Native American. Not a lot, but enough that the US government uses that as a gauge for handing out benefits. Interestingly, none of my family are eligible. Why? Because our ancestors did not have reservation numbers. The reasons for this I won’t go into here.

So when I fill out the ethnicity forms I always have to pick the “other” box. Because I am not “White Caucasian” and living in the UK, they do not have a box with “mixed” that includes Native American. At any rate I do not think of myself as “white” nor do I think of my self as Native American. I just think of myself as a person.

The same way I think of other people.

But I have had people in the past accuse me of racism. Generally because I am upholding a rule that they do not like. I have said in the past, “I am not racist, the white man slaughtered my ancestors and stole their land, they were forced to live in hellish places and were given numbers that were in most cases tattooed on their bodies. I’ll put my ethnic background against yours any day.” This usually stops the accuser dead in their tracks.

It bothers me though, that people feel the need in this day and age to pull the “racism card.” Yes I know that racism still exists. But people who suffer these out-dated attitudes are ignorant. I don’t just mean academically. All racists maintain that “pure blood-lines” are tantamount to superiority. I think if they were a little more intelligent, they would realise that “pure blood-lines” are practically non-existent.

As for the people who continually throw out the Racist Card. Please stop. Just because you hear something you do not like or feel like you’ve been ignored or even mistreated. Stop for just a moment and see if maybe these things happened because of you personally and not just because of your ancestral background or ethnicity.

Like I said racist is an ugly word. And until we can get people to stop bandying it about, it will continue to blight the English language with it’s ugliness. Let’s try to eradicate this word’s existence by refusing to utilise the word and  its definition.