First stop in Africa was Joburg (ie. Johannesburg). More specifically, Rosebank – Clearly a well-to-do suburb as evidence by the numerous tree-lined streets, the two-metre high brick fences topped with barbed wire, and the absence of people walking and interacting on the street. As uncomfortable as this environment made it feel, there were some highlights of my stay here. Seeing a guy on the footpath having a cigarette while casually carrying around a machine gun was one. Free drinks during “Happy Hour” at the hotel was another. From here, we ventured into other parts of Joburg led by our fearless AVI leaders: Justice, Rejoice, Lusanda and Emma.
Apartheid Museum: I have to admit, my knowledge of apartheid was rather dismal when I arrived in Africa. Perhaps because so much of it occurred before I was born, or perhaps because I had little interest in global and political affairs until after apartheid had officially ended. Needless to say, the Museum was rather an eye-opener as I read through the chilling and uplifting story of South Africa’s most recent 100 years. Discovering where famous names like Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko fit into the picture, helped me to realise why this story is so incredible and why three South Africans have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because of their actions in this struggle.
Soweto. This suburb is known for many things – the place where Nelson Mandela grew up, Desmond Tutu’s residence, a fantastic Gospel choir, site of the World Cup, and of course the Soweto uprising of 1976. To think that one of the key events leading to a change in apartheid policy was led by 10,000+ youths – youths with the astuteness to recognise the prejudice behind the introduction of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, and who felt empowered enough to protest it. Many of these youths lost their lives protesting this policy, most famously 12-year old Hector Pieterson. Reading his story, and those of other children, was one of immense sadness, but also of overwhelming pride at the power of youth and community-led advocacy.
After visiting these sites, there were two main things that stood out to me (and bear in mind, that I have been in Africa all of 5 minutes so most likely have a very superficial view of things):
1) South Africa seems to openly and honestly acknowledge the wrongdoings of segregation and apartheid, and recognises as positive, the fight that was undertaken by a number of Africans to overturn the policy. This is in stark contrast to Australia, where we still seem to be making excuses and justifications for our treatment of Aboriginal people, and playing down their stories and struggles.
2) In the 15 years since the end of Apartheid, it appears black Africans have made huge progress toward improved employment and economic status. That’s not to say that there isn’t still great inequalities, but while driving around, it wasn’t uncommon to see black Africans driving BMWs and holding high positions within organisations. When considering that the White Australia Policy was abolished 40 years ago in Australia, the progress that we have seen since then appears marginal, at best.
Why? Is this is due to the fact that black Africans form the majority of the population, or that they were led through this period by an extremely wise and influential indigenous man? Whatever the reason, it raises in me a certain element of shame and frustration in being Australian…..and this is only day 4.