Minnesota Farmer

South Africa Bound – Apartheid

Fifteen people from the Shetek conference of the ELCA flew to South Africa on an agricultural mission that departed on January 31, 2011.  To get oriented to the country we took a tour of the Johannesburg area the day after we landed.  Our stops included the Mandela house and the Apartheid Museum.

The Mandela house.

Former South African President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and his family lived at 8115 Orlando West, Soweto from 1946 into the 1990’s.  Although technically his home address, much of this time period Nelson Mandela was in a South African jail.

The Mandela House, on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane Streets, Soweto, was built in 1945, part of a Johannesburg City project for new houses in Orlando. Nelson Mandela moved here in 1946 with his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, They divorced in 1957, and from 1958 he was joined in the house by his second wife, Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela (Winnie).

He was to spend little time here in the ensuing years, as his role in struggle activities became all-consuming and he was forced underground (1961), living a life on the run until his arrest and imprisonment in 1962.

Those years that Winnie was living here were years of terror.  They never knew when police cars would screech to a stop outside their door and spray the house with bullets.  At one time a cement wall was built to protect the children’s play area and the kitchen from those bullets.

Nelson Mandela returned here for a brief 11 days after his release from Robben Island in 1990, before  moving to his present house in Houghton. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, herself imprisoned several times, lived in the house with her daughters while Nelson Mandela was in jail, until her own exile to Brandfort in 1977, where she remained under house arrest until 1986. The family continued to occupy the house until 1996, when the Mandelas divorced.

Nelson was given the name Rolihlahla by his father.  It means trouble-maker.  Nelson was not a trouble maker in his youth.  But the struggle to be free from the oppression of Apartheid turned him into one for the white government.

‘The house itself is identical to hundreds of others built on postage-stamp-size plots on dirt roads. It had the same standard tin roof, the same cement floor, a narrow kitchen, a small front yard and a bucket toilet at the back. Although there were street lamps outside, the homes were not yet electrified. The bedroom was so small that a double bed took up almost the entire floor space.’

The Apartheid Museum

It starts with your ticket.  Our group was randomly divided into black and white sections and we entered the museum through the assigned doors.  Large identity cards hang in the hall and an explanation of how people were judged to be of which race, and how your race could be at times changed on a whim are in this area.

As you move on the groups are brought together to review the history of South Africa in the images found on rock walls and in caves.


Ancient South African images


As you move on you come to a vista of Johannesburg, complete with the still standing hoists of the gold mines.


Jo'burg overlook


From here you move inside and follow the lives of those who shaped the area and the Apartheid system, as well as those who brought it down.

Our time here was too short to do the museum justice.  We really only got a quick overview.  It is a place to spend time in, allow plenty of time when you visit.

Although our day in Johannesburg was not yet done, we went back to the hotel to catch up on some sleep and prepare for our trip south.  I hope you continue to follow my journey in South Africa.


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