Saturday, August 14, 2010

Imagining Mandela - Part 1: District 6 Museum

On July 19th, Mike and Melissa Harrington exited their hostel on Long Street and entered a day of reflection. Brian Smith, tour guide for African Eagle, met the couple at the front door of the hostel and helped them into the tour van. Mr. Smith greeted the couple and imparted the news that they were the only two on the tour this day, meaning the tour could be more personal and more imformative as well as more easily managed for their afternoon committment. Mr. and Mrs. Harrington had had many doubts about going on a Township Tour, fearing it would weigh heavily on the voyeuristic experience and would lack a practical, tangible, hands-on aspect. Immediately, their guide put them at ease with his gentle explanation of what would take place as well as his own connection to the townships as well as the tour companies committment to giving back to the townships.

With anticipation and a readiness to learn the Harrington's went with Mr. Smith to the District 6 Museum. District 6 was an area in Cape Town where many blacks, Indians, coloreds (term used in South Africa to refer to those of mixed race) and even Jewish families lived. As the Apartheid Government set in, this districts people were forced to re-locate. The district had gained the governments attention for it's prime location and beautiful views of the waterfront and Table Mountain, it was then determined that the area would be designated as "for whites only." The Museum is dedicated to the history and lives of those who lived there, in community prior to their forced removal.

The Museum showcased various momentos from the times that were shared and enjoyed in District 6 and their forced removal throughout the 1960s. Mr. Smith added to the history shown in the Museum by sharing his own stories: telling the Harrington's of the views he and his brother used to enjoy out their window and that which they saw from their parents window. He told the couple that Harrington was a main street, and seeing the couples name had triggered many memories of playing on Harrington Street with childhood friends. The Museum was filled with personal reflections such as these as guests had been encouraged to leave notes and fill in their names and memories on a large ariel map spread across the main entryways floor.

Although the couple had only an hour or so in the Museum, they had begun a long process of reflecting. They considered the ease and beauty of their lives. The hardship and brokenness of the worlds people. The ugliness of history, that in South Africa, Germany, the USA and many other nations. The truth that similar stories are currently being played out in countries such as Sudan, India, Burma and many others. The complexity of it all. The difficulty in changing things. The confusion and frustration of determining our individual and community role in such injustices. The Grace of God. The imperfection of a fallen world. The promise of a brighter tomorrow, of eternity. And, within minutes, the couple would see the strength and beauty of the same families who were relocated from District 6, their resilency and love for one another shining through the ugliness that had been Apartheid.

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