Monday, September 10, 2007

Pretoria and J'burg, amazing places

I've not posted a thing here for the past two days for a good reason, you might come to discover. On Friday, I took a bus to Johannesburg to visit a Kenyan friend and a family I had met previously in Nairobi.

At 4pm, I joined a queue of giggly students of Rhodes University in front of the Grahamstown Conference Centre, waiting for Translux City to City bus. It came on time and we left for Johannesburg. We'd been warned the journey would be a tiring 13 hours, so I looked around the country as much as I could before dusk and sleep overcame me. The bus was quite comfortable and the roads smooth. Sleep came easily.

I woke up a few times at Queenstown, Aliwal, Bloemfontein and places with such strange names. I arrived at park City, Joburg, at 6am, and called my Kenyan friend to pick me. He was there within minutes.

South Africa is a really westernised place. The underpasses and overpasses in the roads are one story. My first stop was the Nelson Mandela Foundation, a beautiful building in a leafy neighbourhood. For context, it is a few blocks from 12th Avenue where Madiba himself lives.

Luckily for me, a photo exhibition had been held a few days previously, so I got to see some rare photos. Among them was one of the Rivonia accused, some of whom were acquitted and some of whom were sent to Robben Island, Mandela included.

The aura of Madiba's office (from a waiting room, of course), the corridor he takes to the office, and the conference room where he has met people like former US president Bill Clinton. Simply overwhelming.

I had previously read A Prisoner in the Garden, a book of never-before published photos, diaries and notes by the respected Madiba. Now I got the chance to see and touch some of the documents themselves. One of them was a book in which Madiba drafted letters to his family and friends. You see, he had been restricted to 500 words, so he first drafted the letters and crossed out the excess words to make the most of the opportunity.

I was joined by Felix, a Tanzanian, and Mutula, a fellow Kenyan. The tour was conducted by Verne Harris, the foundation's memory programme manager, and Shadrack Katuu, the IT manager. Hats off to these great gentlemen! And good job too!

Later, as Verne drove to Pretoria, he explained the history behind amazing places such as the dark, imposing Voortekker monument above (See, the unmistakable ocean liner-shaped UNISA campus, the Kruger statue, the police headquarters, and the Union Building housing president Thabo Mbeki's offices.

The one that touched me most was the Union Building and the well manicured lawns where we met happy newlyweds taking pictures with flower girls. In 1994, all the world focused on the lawns as Mandela was sworn in as democratic South Africa's first president. I watched the event on TV live from Nairobi, and here I was at the same place 13 years later.

Not far from the lawns is the church square, where several groups of school children (obvious from the girls' miniskirts and buses parked nearby) were taking pictures or listening to someone who looked like a preacher.

i will tell you more of what Verne told me about the monuments and how South Africans are dealing with their dark past later.


Anonymous said...

Excellent blog Dan! I enjoyed reading it.

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