In Part One of this series I talked about Wilhelm Verwoerd and the legacy of his grandfather Hendrik. I left it off with Wilhelm leaving for Europe in the 1980s, where by virtue of being exposed to a more liberal worldview he became increasingly disillusioned with that legacy. Learn more about Verwoerd's life, his relationship to Nelson Mandela, and the atonement for his family's sins.
One of the best stories I got out of last year's reading of Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari was the one told to him by an ex-prisoner in Ethiopia. The man had spent the better part of ten years in jail as a political prisoner and his experience was both heartwarming and harrowing. This made me think of some of my own observations about prisons and prisoners in South Africa.
Watching the coverage of Nelson Mandela's memorial in Johannesburg, I was struck by a thought: Our family's years in Johannesburg were book-ended by the two biggest events in South Africa’s recent history - the 2010 Soccer World Cup and the death of Nelson Mandela in 2013. We arrived in time to witness the former, and departed before we could partake in memorializing the latter.
I have a hard time remembering what sort of feelings I had about Nelson Mandela prior to our expat stint in Johannesburg, South Africa. I knew who he was, of course. That he had been a civil rights leader stuck in prison for a long time, and that he eventually became president, an inspiring leader who wisely navigated his country into democracy. And yet I knew nothing.
What is apartheid? When you live in South Africa, it is a topic that goes through your head pretty much all of the time. Or maybe not yours, but mine anyway. Maybe I'm more sensitive towards it as I come from a country with its own ugly past of racial segregation (and more), or maybe it is just because The Power of One happens to be one of my favorite books.
South Africa. Nelson Mandela. You cannot think of one without the other. They often come up in the same sentence. Think of George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. combined, and you will have an idea of what Nelson Mandela means to this country. This week, July 18th, was Nelson Mandela's birthday. It's easy to remember for me because it's the day after mine.
This is Africa. Have I said that before? Actually, I’ve once been chastised by a reader for saying that (when complaining about inefficiency), because by extension I’m saying that all Africans are inefficient when of course there is no such thing as one type of “African.” But ...
I finally did it. I finished Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom. It wasn't a short hop for me either. I'd be lying if I said it was an easy read. I usually fall in love with books readily and am also not typically discouraged by very thick specimen, but this one did test my willpower. The story is fascinating, but the writing itself didn’t captivate me as much as that of other authors.
By the way, I always thought it was spelled Lilieslief, which somehow seems more Afrikaans, but I have since seen that it is spelled both ways. I’ll go with the spelling used by Wikipedia and the Liliesleaf Trust.
Liliesleaf Farm Museum today
Liliesleaf Farm in the 1960s
Liliesleaf Farm was where Nelson Mandela, after the founding of the militant arm of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, also called MK), was hiding and plotting for a time before being captured. It is not a far drive from where we live, ...