I thought I’d share some images and thoughts from a recent day trip we took. It was our first outing beyond Pietermaritzburg and our destination was a national historic site – the location of Nelson Mandela’s capture in 1962.
We drove about 45 minutes on a large highway and then on a country road along rolling hills. The site is home to a humble museum (a grander one is under construction) and a stunning sculpture. The sculpture was erected in 2012 on the 50th anniversary of his capture. Visitors walk toward 50 steel posts down this path.
As you draw near there is a point at which the fifty beams align and Mandela’s profile is revealed.
I enjoyed seeing people of all ages and races honoring the importance of this spot in history — taking pictures, walking about, talking, thinking.
It is a beautiful, peaceful place and invites the mind to consider what it must have been like for Mandela. After avoiding capture for so long what did it feel like on that day? He was disguised as the “driver” for a white friend when the police stopped them. He is quoted as remembering, “I knew in an instant that my life on the run was over…I had always known that arrest was a possibility, but even freedom fighters practice denial, and in my cell that night I realized I was not prepared for the reality of capture and confinement.” That confinement lasted 27 years, a reality that continues to baffle me when I consider the compassionate global leader who emerged.
Both Scott and I appreciated that there was an area in the museum that emphasized his “mistakes and contradictions.” It is so easy to see ourselves as separate from greatness. The decision to include Mandela’s weaknesses in his portrayal reminds me of the promise every one of holds, despite our imperfections, to be a positive force in the world.
The day we visited was also a public holiday – National Women’s Day. It commemorates the role that women played in the struggle to end apartheid, in particular when 20,000 women marched in 1956 to protest legislation requiring black women to carry passes. Mandela is known for elevating the importance of the role of women in democracy: “As a tribute to the legions of women who navigated the path of fighting for justice before us, we ought to imprint in the supreme law of the land, firm principles upholding the rights of women.”
I wasn’t aware of specific national or local activities and events celebrating this holiday. But neither did I encounter a big commercial push to leverage the day off to get consumers shopping (per America’s “President’s Day Sale” etc.) Have you seen this blunder by Bic Pens in a recent online ad campaign “honoring” Women’s Day in South Africa?
It is hard to fathom how this ad concept could have even been realized! Maybe another quote from Mandela is appropriate: “As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure.” While great strides have been made in women’s equality, every indicator seems to point out what we have yet to do – in all corners of the world.