17 December 2012

South Africa: Walking the Freedom Fighters' Street

Johannesburg — On a dry land of Vilakazi Street in Orlando West to the South of Johannesburg, well known as the city of gold, you will come across a man-made stream close to the Soweto Museum.

The water that is made to flow consistently in the stream is said to symbolize the blood that was lost during the struggle for freedom.

There isn't that much wealth and beauty in Soweto Township except for the rich history that made South Africa what it is today, free at last.

At the Museum surroundings also, there is a huge stone that the tour guide who introduced his name to us only as Abel, says it represents the only weapon that was used to fight for their freedom.

It is a 30 minutes drive by commuter from the heart of Johannesburg at De Korte street in Bloemfontein to the Museum where memories, from the loss of lives to the brutal acts done to many South Africans by the apartheid government is witnessed through recorded voices and images.

We were 15 of us, all journalists from the SADC region selected to attend the "Freedom and responsibility of the media", the training courses offered by GIZ, the German Society for International Cooperation which also sponsored our trip to Soweto and Vilakazi street.

The training mainly focused on participants from the SADC region countries of Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Mauritius and Democratic Republic of Congo.

As we arrived walking towards the entrance of Soweto Museum surroundings, we came across a thick huge stone that our tour guide Abel said symbolizes the only weapon that was used by South Africans to free themselves from the apartheid government.

The stream origin is seen with a huge picture frame of Hector Zozile Pieterson, a 13 year school girl who was shot dead by the then apartheid government, as students staged a protest against the use of Afrikaans language as a medium of instructions in Soweto in1976.

She is seen being carried by her brother as her elder sister run alongside while shedding tears. We weren't lucky to see Hector Zozile Pieterson sister who is said to work at the Museum because she had a day off that Saturday.

Abel says the picture showing Hector Zozile Pieterson in a frame at the Museum surrounding being carried by her brother after she was shot dead is actually the factual one taken in 1976.

Hector Zozile Pieterson died at an early age of only 13, she never had a chance to prove to the world about her rights, and the work for what she stood for, fighting for her country.

But, she left to us with a history that makes South Africa and Africa at large proud of what it is today, free at last.

The outside of the Museum is as reach in history as the inside. From the stream, there is also a thick broken wall from where the stream is said to originate. These broken walls Abel says represent leadership failure to protect civilians from bullets.

There is also in the stream basement a line of grass planted at the middle of the stream that symbolizes the bullets that were being fired at civilians.

Abel says the trees that are planted surrounding the building and the area depict the sole protection that the citizen could seek.

"The authorities had failed to give us protection and the only protection we had, was from tree-trunks" says Abel who is in his 30's as he paraded us from the outside Museum.

He might not have experienced the freedom fighting the likes of Hector, but he knows his roots well and is well informed of all the happenings then.

The inside of the Museum is full of the tales of the struggle to freedom of South Africa, the only country which bears the continents' name.

There are pictures of freedom fighters heroes hanged on the walls of the inside Museum scribbled on with strong messages and the persons' profile.

There are messages of "Ubuntu" translated from Zulu as "humanity to others" and of course the ANC slogans which was used to evoke the struggle to freedom.

Though, you will not be allowed to take pictures from the inside of the Museum and no one dared to ask our facilitator Sigrid Thomson about how much GIZ had paid for us as an entrance fee to the Museum.

"You won't be allowed to carry and take photos from the inside Museum and there is no need for a tour guide there because all the messages are self explanatory, but you will enjoy taking photos of the outside surroundings of Vilakazi street home to two internationally recognized activists."

But we did have a chance to see video images of the hardships and torture that our fellow freedom fighters, the young energetic citizen fighting for their rights had endured. The loss of lives and torture that people had endured being previewed in video tapes and audios revolved the sad colonial memory to our mind and we couldn't hold our tears from running down our cheeks.

Yet the best thing that one can do after watching all those tapes from the recorded video images and audio sounds is to learn to forgive, a thing of course best practiced by the man himself.

I mean Nelson Mandela whose 27 years imprisonment left him without a grudge against the apartheid government. He (Mandela) alone knows the term "forgiveness" best than anyone else and has lived to walk that talk.

It is this Soweto we visited where the famous actress Whoopi Goldberg and Leleti Khumalo's stage movie of "Sarafina" was developed to commemorate the loss of school children who died in 1976 in protest of the use of Afrikaans' language as a medium of instructions in schools during the apartheid government.

And it was here at Vilakazi Street where the first house of Mandela was located and still remains but as a Museum.

Mandela stayed here for 13 days after his release from prison on February 11, 1990 and went on to stay at the Beavily hills, (the other side of Soweto) with his wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela for less than five years.

You will still spot a number of European tourists taking photographs as you walk around Vilakazi street and in front of Nelson Mandela's house where there is a wide glass frame scribbled "Mandela House"

There is also Bishop Desmond Tutu's house on the same street of Vilakazi that made me rethink of why out of all the places the two men decided to come and experience first with the poor locals of Soweto in Vilakazi street.

Abel says the Vilakazi street was so famous during the 2010 World Cup championship that the authorities had to ban more tourists from visiting the place because the place couldn't hold any more tourists.

Soweto with a population of over 3 million people has with it 32 townships which are all ethically divided.

But life is still improving in the city where a number of tourists visit each day to the famous home of the first black President of South Africa,

After almost two weeks stay in Johannesburg, South Africa, without any experiences of power interruption to buildings, traffic lights to the sounds of generators, I was welcomed back to Dar es Salaam airport with darkness from streets to buildings.

There was a loud sound of generators that could be heard coming from few houses with light on as I headed back to my home in Kinondoni district. It is an experience well learned.

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