We visited the Apartheid Museum, the Hector Pieterson Museum, and the Mandela House on June 7th. While each exhibition affected me in their own way, the Apartheid Museum provoked me the most. The museum captures how terrible Apartheid was and its commitment to separate people of color from the white population. Nothing hurt me more than the nooses hanging down from the ceiling. I felt a tight clench around my neck as I immediately thought of lynchings in the Southern United States. Though I knew anti-blackness is a global phenomenon, seeing those nooses made me comprehend how violence against black people often takes similar forms. I walked past laws, anecdotes, and descriptions of how white supremacy seeped into politics, education, government services, public transportation throughout the Museum. Each law seems insignificant and arbitrary on its own, but together they affect every aspect of life. With violence and intimidation, the racist system becomes somewhat sustainable.
I found this insightful because my mom’s side of the family is from Johanessburg. On 16 Smal Street, my Ba (grandmother) and Dada (grandfather), their brothers and sisters, and their children operated a quaint cosmetics shop and lived on the floor above. Though my family’s Indian identity may have allowed them some privileges (to some extent), they too were subjected to Apartheid’s discriminatory practices. Because of their skin color my family was not allowed to travel to certain areas, they were forcibly moved from their home and many opportunities were denied to them. Like every other non-white, they were victims.
While the Apartheid museum captured the precarity of my family’s as well as many other peoples in South Africa, the museum did not demonstrate how people of color still held on to their humanity in spite of Apartheid’s encompassing oppression. My grandmother recounted to me stories of her life in South Africa. My Ba received the highest marks in her schools, played with the children of Gandhi, and eventually met my grandfather in Joburg. Together they ran a quaint shop and started a family. My Grandmother took her children window shopping during Christmas and to the beach during the Summer. My Ba’s life was not easy and she sacrificed a lot to give her children opportunities but they managed. Not only did they have a roof over their heads, and food on the table, but they were happy. When it became obvious that South Africa was no good for their children, my grandparents found a way to immigrate to the United States and give them more opportunity.
Apartheid was an atrocious system predicated upon white supremacy and anti-blackness that negatively affected my family and many others. However, my family managed to sustain themselves, find a community, and create happiness for themselves despite that system. While Apartheid is an example of humanity’s shortcomings: how people in power horribly marginalized and deprived other peoples, Apartheid also exemplifies humanity’s resilience in spite of its own shortcomings. My Ba, my family, and many others managed to maintain their humanity and their dignity though Apartheid said they were lesser. Though Apartheid was a horrible system, I am comforted that Apartheid is no longer a system.
We learned a lot about South African history and how South Africa grapples with its past through the Apartheid Museum, the Hector Pieterson Museum, and the Mandela House. Traveling to these areas and learning South Africa’s history is useful to understand our place in South Africa during this course. Understanding that the suffering, and realizing how that harmed my family, as well as every other person of color in South Africa, was disheartening as is any injustice that happens in the world. While South Africa, as well as many other places in the world, is far from perfect, I remain hopeful because they attempt to right the wrongs of the past and move forward.