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Glimpses of South African Sojourn

by Sushama Arur 

First Online: November 01, 2006
Page Last Updated: October 18, 2017

It was in the centenary year of the birth of Satyagraha that by the grace of God that we visited South Africa. What a co-incidence for a passionate student of  history!! Our first conversation with the taxi driver as soon we landed in Johannesburg, en route our hotel was, ‘oh! From India, Mahatma Gandhi`s India, we have great respect for him in South Africa’ itself was quite heartening. This is the only country in the entire African continent to have achieved freedom and democracy by following the footsteps of Mahatma's satyagraha and civil disobedience in the latter part of this century.

 Johannesburg-City of Tribal and Contemporary Cultures   

The economic and commercial capital of South Africa is also the greenest city of the world. It is said that about six million trees have been planted all over the city during the last century. The city has beautiful European styled residential houses with slanted roofs made of red, blue and gray terracotta. 

Apartheid Museum  

Apartheid was a curse on South Africa and the blacks have suffered their humiliation, which has been effectively demonstrated in this museum. There were separate entrance for blacks and whites. The placards and banners in each of the entrance were poignant with the segregation made compulsory in their everyday life.    It was more than a three-hour tour through the history of South Africa – The rock cut art and paintings of the earliest inhabitant of South Africa beckoned us with this caption ‘Humanity is born in Africa and all humans are Africans’!!     The discovery of South African southern tip by the Dutch and the Portuguese, the formation of Dutch Boer Republic in Transvaal and Orange Free State, the discovery of diamond mines, and gold mines, the entry of the British into South Africa, the two Anglo-Boer wars and the ultimate victory of the English all these have been well documented. 

The Birth of Satyagraha

The new British Union had no place for Blacks, despite their constituting over 75% of the population. The Act of Union denied them voting-rights in the Transvaal, Orange Free State areas, and in Cape Province. In addition the Union passed a barrage of oppressive legislation curtailing the powers of the blacks and the colored. The blacks began to organize themselves in opposing the oppressed rule and led to the formation of the South African Native National Congress. Mahatma Gandhi who had come to South Africa in1892 became a leading figure in resisting the European authority who encouraged the Indian populations of Natal and the Transvaal to fight against the ever-increasing encroachment on their rights. Satyagraha and passive resistance a formula was tried by Gandhiji in South Africa which became successful. The photographs of his various associates in his struggle to get justice to the Indians in South Africa have been displayed.   The South African Native National Congress became more forceful and came to be called as African National Congress, in short ANC. Its youth League had Lembede and Nelson Mandela who were greatly influenced by Gandhiji`s political ideologies. From 1948 onwards successive National Party administrations slowly legalized the system of apartheid which lasted for four decades. ANC had used peaceful means to resist apartheid for years until the Sharpville shootings, wherein the black peaceful protesters were shot at by the South African police mercilessly.   In the latter part of the 20th century, there was increasing opposition to apartheid and South Africa faced economic and cultural sanctions by the international community and pressure from the anti apartheid movement around the world. The open revolt within the ruling National party and many more reasons led to the State President F.W Klerk`s announcement of reinstating the ANC and other political parties as well as the release of Nelson Mandela on 2nd Feb 1990. This event signaled the beginning of a transition to democracy. After lot of deliberations and negotiations apartheid was removed. Decades of white supremacy ended in 1994 .Nelson Mandela became the first president of South Africa. These events have been shown very effectively through movie clippings and through ongoing television shows, interviews etc. History has been made alive. 

Lesedi cultural village

This village must have been particularly recreated to attract the tourists. With a welcome drink made of guava we were taken through four tribal dwellings-the Pedi, Basotho, Xhosa and Zulu to show their life and activities. Their huts with thatched roof made up of long and thick dried grass, which is in plenty in their jungle and their floor treated with cow dung mixture and front door and walls beautifully painted, resembled the rural dwellings in India. To our surprise these huts were rented to the foreigners providing bed, breakfast and dinner for 460 Rand per couple (460x7 = 3220 Indian Rs).   We were ushered into their dark auditorium, which was made up like a village. A bevy of tribal girls dancing entered with lighted torches and brightened the venue. We were shown a movie clip on the life of the African tribes, while simultaneously live dance drama was going on with a bonfire in the middle and a man dressed in the traditional Zulu attire was compeering in chaste English. Their dances were all with swords and hoolahoo and we all joined them.. The tribal dances were varied mostly martial and enthralled the onlookers. Later we were taken out to see their artifacts, which were in display, and the variety was amazing. 

Gold Reef City-Gold Mine of Johennesburg 

Johannesburg attracted many Europeans ever since gold was found here. It was called Egoli meaning city of gold, Gauteng meaning place of gold. Before the gold rush the landscape of Johannesburg had only African homes and a few white owned farmhouses. By 1896 more and more whites came into the city giving it a cosmopolitan look.     We were taken into a cage with a helmet on our head, down 220 meters on a mine tour. The guide took us underground showing and explaining how the miners worked; the safety measures used etc.40% of the gold had been mined here. The debris has been dumped on the outskirts of the city, which look like small hillocks. Now the mine is just the ghost of the past proclaiming the other side of European rule, the economic exploitation. The mine has been surrounded by a theme park of city’s yesteryear in the times of gold rush. The tourists can make merry with water sports of different kinds, restaurants and shop African handicrafts, gemstones and gold ornaments. 

The Sun City

From Johennesberg it took us two hours to reach the world famous Sun City, South Africa 's premier holiday resort. The Palace of the Lost City is a fantasy world of Africa 's jungles, trekker’s pathways, a big golf course, streams, waterfalls, valley of waves, which is a beach, swimming pools, and entertainment areas. Legend tells us that the Palace of the Lost City was built as the royal residence of an ancient civilization of South Africa, but was destroyed by an earthquake. It has now been restored to its former glory and offers the best to its visitors. Long walks, long drives into the jungle for game watch, eating outs were our daily routine. ‘The valley of waves’ is an amazing site, where waves are artificially created and there is a beach like environment. The bonfire and barbeque in the deep forest ‘Bush Brai’ of Bakubang was something out of the world. Africans are great meat eaters. Apart from chicken and lamb, pork and beef they eat venison, duck, crocodile ….. Their favorite is Babotie, a Dutch and Malaya dish made of lamb or beef with dry fruits baked with egg. The other one is Sosaties, steak of any meat. Indian samosas have entered into South African menu without any fanfare.


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