The Island. Cape Town, South Africa.

8 Jan

Went to Robben Island to check out the prison, where they kept Nelson Mendela.

Going to be kicked for saying this, but the place is not all that bad. Nice boat ride over.  Picturesque island. Great views of the cape. Large cells, with windows. Paintings on the walls. Inmates worked from 8 am to 5 pm. Had nights off to read, write, draw, sing or do drama….

Not that bad, considering what I’ve seen. Yea, Yea….Why they imprisoned Nelson Mendela was terrible. I will give you the why. How some where treated. I give you the how. But, the where, not that bad when comparing it to Cambodia, Vietnam, Israel and the concentration camps. Just an observation….

The former political prisoners gave us the tour. When they were released, many could not find jobs. So, the state – I assume – wanted them as paid tour guides. I mean, they need someone to tell us “what really happened” so we’ll be shocked and vow never to let this happen again.

And, the former prisoners, now tour guides, are great story tellers. As I looked around, I could see their story really resonated with the tour-ons, as it should. It’s powerful.

That being said, I say next to Scotland transplants. They’ve lived in South Africa for 30 years. They are white. They leaned over about half-way-through the tour and said, “There’s another side to this too…” I smiled.  And, agreed. There’s always another side. Another story. Another slant. My response was, “Are we open to listen. Understand. And, accept the truth from both sides?”

They just nodded. Their looks was, “You’re white… Whose side are you on…” I just smiled back but wanted to scream out, “Our souls – this moral, moving force living inside each of us – knows NO color, dude..”

South Africa is shredded into bits for its arrogance that color predetermines a person’s worth, education and value in society. I did not know what to expect in South Africa. Many told me the country is racist. It’s dangerous… Hello, tell me a place on this earth where racism and danger does not exist…

I will give South Africa credit. Since 1990’s, this country has tried to bring forth every misdeed, transgression brought on by Apartheid. As someone said to me, “Apartheid is an open wound, and for years we’ve pick and pick and pick at the open sore. South Africans are entering a healing stage, but we have along way to go.”

From an outsider very far removed, I see talking and communicating about the recent history is healing. It’s when you push things under the table, is when they reappear in unwelcome places down the road.

In Cambodia, they don’t even mention Pol Pot and the Khomer Rouge’s extermination of ¼th of the population in school. In Thailand, if you talk about the Royal Family and the military, you are placed into prison. In South Africa, if you’re not talking about the country’s history, then you are the one with the problem.

Talking about the past is one thing. It’s leading into the future is a whole other can of worms. Nelson Mandela’s party, the ANC, is still learning how to lead and manage a country littered with division – try 11 languages and just as many tribes – and littered with natural resources like gold, diamonds, coal…

The ANC came to power under the umbrella of unity and justice. They over-promised and can’t deliver. They promised every black person a house. This has not happened as fast as first envisioned. People are upset. And, for the ones who do have houses, many don’t want to pay taxes, utilities or for the upkeep. Instead, they are renting out their free houses and moving back into shacks where the govt pays for all utilities, cable, etc.

As we know in the states, when people are angry, they go to talk radio. Here, they complain about govt. corruption. And, govt. perks.

Govt politicians want to shut it down by reigning in the media and stopping social networking sites. Here we go again…Same story, different country.

I believe it will have to get worse before it will get better in South Africa. A person’s ability to lead should not be based on color, religion, politics or economics. It’s based on listening, understanding, envisioning, planning, implementing and changing. Oh, flexibility, patience, thick-skin and a triple dose of passion is must as well… If they elect leaders based on party affiliation or color alone, then the future is a toss up. As my father has said many, many times… “The people get what the people deserve.” And, South Africa deserves an honest, transparent and fiscally answerable government, supporting the education of its people to become productive, responsible citizens.  But, don’t we all?

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