Monday, May 17, 2010

Rainbow country

Over past years I have been traveling (purely for sustenance) I have been fortunate to see quite a few countries and places. And have been often asked if I have visited LA and Las Vegas. If I was blessed with wealth to throw around and if it was a few decades ago well then the idea would be tempting. But not any more, more because there are more Spartan places that gives you goose bumps.
I remember the few moments I spent at the Rjghat in Delhi. That was like visiting a haloed piece of land .It was awe filled indeed.
But then the visit to the SOWETO in Johannesburg South Africa was one unique  experience to the heart and mind.

A tour operator of Indian origin from Meerut UP was my guide. He took me around in his tour taxi. He was a third generation  migrant in South Africa.

SOWETO gives one a cultural shock of sort. Perhaps it would have been a traumatic one if I went there in the seventies. But now the roads into what is called the largest slum in the world have a four lane traffic running all way through the town. The slum as it is blithely called is a far cry from the sweltering dusty sewage dump that the slums of  Bombay  are. The houses are decent looking and all sported satellite dishes. Only in some interior corners did I notice shacks,open drains and muck. Though traffic and traffic rules are impudently ignored! Prominently even now, not a single white is seen in SOWETO. The tour guide told me of an instance in the seventies when two Afrikaner policemen who unwittingly wandered into SOWETO were lynched by a black mob. Their body was never recovered.

I was eager to visit Nelson Mandela’s house. We went past a steep gradient- a hillock and past what is even now the official residence of Winnie Mandela.. The former residence of Nelson Mandela is now  museum. It was from here Mandela oragnised the ANC resistance against apartheid. It was here he had those undercover rendezvous with his colleagues in the resistance Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo etc.
The house was made of red bricks and could not be not more than 500 sqft. It was on slightly larger piece of land perhaps 1000 sqft. Spartan I thought, was an understatement and blasphemous if one can compare it with the official residences of the Pontiffs who head the religious flock in different corners of the world

. One is engulfed with unbridled excitement when one enters through the small gate and steps into the drawing room. It was like going back into the moments of history. A rocking chair, a pair of leather boots, a single wooden cot a sofa, a table and a couple of chairs were all I can remember in the house. It had one living room a bed room and a kitchen. There were now photographs of the past, displayed. I was told that Mandela came straight from Robben Island off Cape Town after his long incarceration there to this house and lived here for a few days. 

The guide, a young black who did his History major told me with impassioned face how he as a little boy along with his little friends peeped through the air vents on the compound wall and saw Mr Mandela sitting in a chair on the verandah. The guy was quivering with excitement. He showed me bullet marks on the wall of the house. They were gun shots that were randomly and indiscriminately sniped at the house by the Afrikaner police force when ever they got the information of Mandela’s presence in the house. The three quarter of an hour I spent in that small little place of history  will be etched in me for ever.
The Regina Mundy is a catholic church in SOWETO and is a symbol now of the resistance. It now sports a new look. But there are bullet scars that tells the agony of the past. It was into this church police fired live ammunition at students who were taking cover from the police firing during the SOWETO uprising in 1976.
                                                     "Where Hector Peterson Fell"

The Hector Peterson Museum tells the story of white mans savagery and reminds you of the days when more than half of the white race over the world turned a Nelson’s eye to the brutality of the white Afrikaners. This museum stands where Heector a little boy of 8 fell to police bullets while unsuspectingly walking with his sister during the students March against the white rule in 1976. The photograph of his sister running wailing by the side of a black man (who was never seen since) carrying the lifeless body of Hector Peeterson is haunting in memory. The photographs and the  video feeds in the museum  sometimes can bring out the gut from your stomach. It tells us the appalling and gory level human beings can go down when in relation to a fellow being.. And the revelation came to me was that it was not the English perhaps who inflicted the most horrifying savagery on the natives all over but the Dutch in South Africa and the Spanish in the Americas.

                                                         IN SOWETO

When one leaves these symbols in salutation to the human spirit and sufferings it is difficult to understand the heart and the vision of Nelson Mandela that would plead for a ‘rainbow nation’ after all that took place on its soil.

I felt that not even many trips decades ago to LA and Las Vegas with my pockets filled with green backs would let me experience the experience that these places in SOWETO rendered.

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