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Kosmopolis Institute Publications Day 15: The Weekend: A Rollercoaster of Impressions and Thoughts

Day 15: The Weekend: A Rollercoaster of Impressions and Thoughts

Last weekend we went to Johannesburg and Pretoria. We went to Soweto where we saw Mandela’s house, the Hector Pieterson museum about the Soweto uprising in 1976 and the Freedom Charter. The next day we went downtown Johannesburg where we visited Constitutional Hill and the Apartheidsmuseum. The last day we drove to Pretoria and we saw Freedom Park and the Voortrekkersmonument.

The stories we were told and the surroundings were impressive: the uprising in Soweto where police shot children; the women jail and section four on Constitutional Hill; the architecture of the Constitutional Court which represents a tree (like the African tribes who make their decisions under a tree) and uses material from the old jail; the imposing architecture of the Apartheidsmuseum which makes you feel very small; all the names of people who were in several wars on the big walls in Freedom Park and the enormous Voortrekkersmonument. But what struck me the most is the entrance of the Apartheidsmuseum.

Driving around the corner a big giant yellow entrance gate shows up which says ‘Theme park’. As we drive through the gate I see a little sign: ‘Apartheidsmuseum’. I think a lot of people won’t even notice the sign when they’re going to the theme park. Is this entrance symbolic for the way South African people think about their history and their past? I remember JC telling us that especially the young generation doesn’t want to look back, but wants to look forward. They simply want to forget what has happened in the past. I get reminded by this, because it looks like the entry is telling us: ‘Come to our theme park! It has got a lot of amazing attractions! O yeah, on your left is the Apartheidsmuseum that will tell you more about our history, but we’ve got roller coasters and even a helicopter that will fly you all over Johannesburg!!’ Even when I was inside the museum I could here people screaming in the roller coasters.

Can the South Africans just forget about the past and move on? I don’t think they can. Reconciling with the past doesn’t mean forgetting what has happened. There’s a big wound from the past and the scars will last as long as the South Africans don’t reconcile with their past. As the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ has shown, reconciling isn’t easy; it will take courage and a lot of time before the South Africans will cope with their history. Until today the division between black and white is visible on the streets of South Africa; as Fleur wrote earlier, it’s even visible at the University of the Free State, where they actively try to mix black and white. Reconciliation will therefore be a true roller coaster of emotions, fears and hopes. Why not have the courage to take this roller coaster and turn to the left at the entrance gate instead of going for the short term excitement?

Vicky Hölsgens