January 4th, 2017
For our first day in South Africa, my group and I travelled to Pretoria, the executive capital of South Africa, to visit the Voortrekker Monument, Freedom Park, and the Union Buildings. The Voortrekker Monument commerorates the Afrikaners, Dutch settlers, who participated in the Great Trek into the interior from Cape Town in the first half of the 19th century. Since Afrikanners were the white minority that controlled South Africa and insituted apartheid in 1949, the Voortrekker Monumemt, erected in 1950, was considered the dominanting symbol of Afrikaner nationalism. Our tour guide gave us quite a thorough and well presented history of their experience and we were later told by our study abroad guide, Prosper, that our tour guide was above average because he incorporated Zulu names and words, which most guides would not bother learning or would gloss over. Furthermore, I was thoroughly impressed with our guide because he stressed on several occasions the importance of the Voortrekker women’s role in motivating the men to keep going, even after the loss of leadership and massacre from the Zulu chiefdom or other native African kingdoms they encounter during their voyage. I left the Monument satisfied with our tour, but not without noticing that not a single black or colored South African was visiting the Monument.
After the Voortrekker Monument, we ventured across the freeway to Freedom Park. Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument are arguably juxtaposing memorials. While the Voortrekker Monument was used as a symbol for apartheid, Freedom Park celebrates individuals who participated in or influenced the liberation struggle. Similiar to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., Freedom Park has walls in which those names are engraved as part of an ongoing process to recognize anyone who contributed to the end of apartheid and the instatement of a democratic government. Even Cuban soliders who fought in bordering countries of South Africa were included on the wall for their covert, but integral part in ending apartheid. Freedom Park is entirely constructed with symbolic intentions, both to represent African philosophies and folklore about creation myths and sentimentality of place, but also as a memorial of mourning and healing. Our tour guide at Freedom Park commented on the presence of the Voortrekker Monument looking down from its hill on Freedom Park. He recalled the history of the Voortrekker Monument during the apartheid era and how the convenant myth of the Voortrekker’s (they prayed to God to be spared from the Zulus so they could finally settle, which happened, ergo; they were perceived as God’s chosen or preferred people) to fuel their apartheid narrative. I was flabbergasted! Why was I hearing this at Freedom Park and not at Voortrekkers? If South Africa is in the process of reconciliation, why wasn’t a site of Affrikaner hertitage not embodying the full history of its people? I feel that the Voortrekker Monumemt has a responsibility to address that part of its symbolism to create a space to discuss the atrocity that was generated from such a harmful narrative to be able to move forward. It’s a shame that they choose to ignore such a defining charateristic of a period that still permeates South African society. Also at Freedom Park, we explored their museum that provided visual representations and proof of black South African experiences. While concise considering the length of history, I appreciated the art and the visceral environment.
Lastly, we planned to enjoy lunch in the gardens of the Union Buildings, which is where the executive branch is located currently under President Zuma. While our plan was cut short due to rain, I found peace in my memorialization dilemma at the sight of smiling Nelson Mandela with his arms outstretched forming a triangle, geographically, with the Voortrekker Monument and Freedom Park. While it was the perfect representation of the change from the apartheid government to a democratic one, it also represented the process of healing, understanding, reconciliation, inclusiveness, and forgiveness exuded by people such as, Nelson Mandela, which South Africa needed then and still needs today.
Picture 1: Freedom Park’s Wall
Picture 2: The Voortrekker Monument
Picture 3: Me in front of Nelson Mandela in front of the Union Buildings