Last Days at ALA posted by Maud Smith Hamovit

It is Saturday, our last full day at the African Leadership Academy. Jalina, Imogene and I have had a very busy week.On Tuesday we visited Constitution Hill, the site of a late 19th century fort, turned infamous prison, and finally the current site of the constitutional court. The remains of some of the prison blocks, the toilets and outdoor showers, the solitary confinement cells serve as grim reminders of South Africa’s past, but they stand right next to the present and the future.  One of the interior walls of the court is built from bricks salvaged from the demolished prison walls and the stairwell from the Awaiting Trial building from the prison houses the eternal flame of South African democracy.

From Constitution Hill we made our way to the Apartheid Museum, driving past the stripped bare remnants of the gold mines that built Johannesburg.  The Apartheid Museum is an impressive place, filled with images that are haunting, many of them so familiar for those visitors who were alive and aware during Apartheid, especially the photos of Steve Biko, beaten and tortured to death in a Cape Town jail. The museum winds like a maze, but in the end there is Reconciliation (and daylight)!

Thursday (the first real rainy day we have had; a steady rain very different from the afternoon thunderstorms that come out of nowhere and rumble on into the evening) brought us to Soweto. We were accompanied by Roger Katende, the teacher from ALA who will be coming to Govs in a few weeks with Elisabeth and Hayat, the exchange students.  We began at the Hector Pieterson Museum. Hector Pieterson was the 13 year old boy killed by the police in Soweto during a 1976 student demonstration to protest the Bantu education laws–the laws that mandated that Black children be educated in Afrikaans, a language that almost no Blacks in South Africa spoke. Once again, we were riveted by the images presented to us of events that occured a mere thirty-five years ago. Next we cisited Nelson Mandela’s house in the Orlando section of Soweto, right up the street from the house where Bishop Desmond Tutu lived for years.  In fact, this is the only street in the world that can boast being the home of TWO Nobel Peace Prize winners. Finally, we ended our tour of Soweto with a visit to the Regina Mundi church at the center of Soweto. This is the church to which the children fled when the shooting broke out at the student demonstration.  There are still bullet holes in the ceiling of the church.

Last night we saw a performance called “Umoja” (the spirit of unity) at the Victory Theatre in Joburg. The production traces the history of South Africa through music and dance–both of which were incredible. And now it’s Saturday morning classes, then dorm cleaning, then a trip to a local mall. Tonight we will have a farewell party in the dorm. Then a hike by a waterfall on Sunday, and then it’s off to the airport.

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