January 17, 2007

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

By Amanda Stek

January 17, 2007

Greetings again from Johannesburg, South Africa.  Today was yet another day of interesting and memorable experiences.  We started the morning off with a drive to Pretoria and the Voortrekker Monument.  The monument, besides being an architectural beauty, stands as a memorial to the Boer Afrikaners that once dominated the interior of South Africa. In the Battle of Blood River, on December 16, 1838 the Boers defeated the Zulus, killing 3,000 people.  The monument is a place of gathering every year on December 16 to celebrate this victory and the history of the Afrikaner people.

After eating lunch on the monument grounds (and after thoroughly enjoying some wonderful South African sun) we traveled back to Johannesburg to the Apartheid Museum.  We met our guide Lynn upon our arrival at the museum.  Our Calvin group was the first group to also have an ex-political prisoner along for the tour, named Thandi Chezi.  The museum focuses strongly on educating people about the development of the idea of segregation.  Apartheid did not just fall out of the air.  Near Johannesburg in 1886 gold was first discovered.  This changed the history of South Africa and increased the struggle between black and white.  Gold mine owners needed cheap labor and looked to black people to provide it.  The museum had an interesting flow and structure, each exhibit distinct and specialized to help educate about different aspects of the struggle against Apartheid.

There was a moment in the museum when our guide Lynn gave the floor to Thandi Chezi.  We had just walked through a room with 131 nooses hanging from the ceiling representing the 131 documented political executions that took place during Apartheid.  We then went into a room that had replicas of three isolation cells used in jails for political prisoners during Apartheid.  Thandi described, with emotion and fervor, her experience in jail.  She was a member of the MK and was captured in 1988.  She was taken from her family and held in prison for a year in solitary confinement. While standing in front of the replicas of isolation cells, Thandi described being brutally beaten for not giving information, being given electric shock and experiencing many other forms of torture that I will not go into here.  She described how God reached out to her and gave her the strength to survive.  She realized that all she had to do to keep herself strong was remove her soul from her body.  These men could hurt her body but she had the power to protect her soul from their wickedness. 

After Apartheid ended Thandi testified before of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  She does not know to this day if the men that hurt her during those years were ever granted amnesty or not, and it doesnít really matter to her.  She realized that she needed to reconcile these things within herself.  That would be the only way she could move on, keep living and prevent herself from becoming a bitter old woman.  The amount of strength, faith and wisdom Thandi revealed within this short 15 minute talk was enough to overwhelm the strongest of us.  South Africa is about reconciliation.  South African blacks are about forgiveness and strength. These people have shown me the depth of human strength.  I have never known or seen such forgiveness, open hearts, smiling faces, strength, love and pure and utter respect for all of humanity, whether white or black.  These words do little justice to the emotions we all felt sitting in that room today with Thandi.  Apartheid came alive and reconciliation was personified.

We drove back to our accommodations after the museum visit, had a wonderful dinner, celebrated Grandma Heunís birthday (which is actually on the 23rd, but we will be traveling that day so we thought we would celebrate tonight), and had a meeting in which Laura Vogelzang gave a wonderful presentation on poverty in South Africa.  Now we are all in our rooms relaxing and watching yet another South African lightning storm.  Please know that you all are in our prayers and we look forward to seeing you soon!  We covet your prayers for the next few days as we head into totally unknown territory in a rural village and also in Kruger National Park.  God bless!
 

 

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