Madiba’s story is a jour­ney across our land

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

JOIN me on a jour­ney to some very spe­cial places in our coun­try, places that tell a re­mark­able story to the whole world.

Many in­ter­na­tional tourists and some South Africans would have ex­pe­ri­enced parts of the trip, when they vis­ited the tourist sites that re­late the story of our first demo­cratic pres­i­dent, on Man­dela Day.

I hope many more will have an op­por­tu­nity to do so be­fore Man­dela Month draws to a close.

For those who can­not travel right now, let’s start our tour among the rolling hills around Qunu in the Eastern Cape. Scat­tered home­steads are some­times clus­tered into lit­tle vil­lages reached only by dusty, bumpy roads.

The cat­tle you see dot­ted around the land­scape would have been tended to by a young Rolih­lahla Man­dela as they grazed all day long, nearly a cen­tury ago. There would have been a small school in this area, where a teacher be­stowed the name “Nel­son” upon a young man, lit­tle know­ing he was to become a uni­ver­sal sym­bol of the spirit of hu­man­ity and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion among people.

Places like this are not only about pic­turesque hills and sparse dwellings. They re­veal layer upon layer of our his­tory and her­itage. They re­flect the thoughts and val­ues of lead­ers like Nel­son Man­dela, and con­vey the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness of our people.

You can have an au­then­tic in­ter­ac­tion by liv­ing in pri­vate homes and lo­cal lodges in many ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties like these.

Here, you can gain first-hand in­sight into how tra­di­tional be­liefs and cul­tural prac­tices in­ter­min­gle with mod­ern life. You can understand how the his­tory and hard­ships of our people guide our as­pi­ra­tions to trans­form our econ­omy and bring marginalised com­mu­ni­ties into the tourism main­stream.

This place was so im­por­tant to for­mer pres­i­dent Man­dela that he chose to re­turn here to re­tire, af­ter lead­ing a di­vided nation striv­ing to rec­on­cile it­self, and serv­ing our coun­try as the world’s most revered states­man.

Let’s leave the quiet ru­ral coun­try­side of Qunu for now – we will re­turn later.

Let’s head north to Gaut­eng, to Soweto in Joburg. It was here, in Vi­lakazi Street, that Man­dela lived in a small red brick house typ­i­cal of apartheid’s town­ships. Fur­ther down the road lived Des­mond Tutu. To­gether with church col­leagues and com­rades-in-arms, Tutu and Man­dela led the long Strug­gle to tear down the poli­cies that con­fined their people to live within their tiny boxes. Vi­lakazi Street be­came the heart of the Strug­gle against apartheid.

To­day, the precinct is bustling with restau­rants and street ven­dors who de­pend on the bus loads of vis­it­ing tourists for trade. Most vis­i­tors are in­ter­na­tional tourists, but more and more of our people are start­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence the ben­e­fits of ex­plor­ing their own coun­try as our do­mes­tic mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tional cam­paigns take root.

More tourist traf­fic through Vi­lakazi Street means better prospects for the econ­omy of the precinct. Here the layer of our his­toric so­cial Strug­gle is in­ter­wo­ven with many eco­nomic di­men­sions: the precinct sup­ports jobs, small busi­nesses and many en­trepreneurs. Tourist guides, trans­port op­er­a­tors and ven­dors of mem­o­ra­bilia all ben­e­fit from tourism.

The for­mer home of Man­dela and the Vi­lakazi Street precinct that de­vel­oped around it, demon­strates the power of tourism to con­vert cul­tural her­itage as­sets into tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits for com­mu­ni­ties to­day.

We leave the City of Joburg and head for the quiet town of How­ick in the KwaZulu-Natal Mid­lands. It was here, along a wind­ing back road, that Man­dela was cap­tured by se­cu­rity po­lice, lead­ing to the Trea­son Trial, his im­pris­on­ment on Robben Is­land, and the re­mark­able trans­for­ma­tion in our coun­try fol­low­ing his re­lease.

The cap­ture site is marked by a sculp­ture which gives vis­i­tors a sense of the im­por­tant his­toric event which changed the course of our his­tory so dra­mat­i­cally. The tourism econ­omy around the site is not as well de­vel­oped as that of Vi­lakazi Street, but it has become a must-see site for pass­ing tourists.

That sin­gle mo­ment in time when a po­lice­man stopped a car driven by a man dis­guised as a chauf­feur, was to become a defin­ing mo­ment in our his­tory.

Stand­ing here at the cap­ture site, you feel the full sig­nif­i­cance of that mo­men­tous event along this very or­di­nary road.

From here our jour­ney fol­lows Man­dela to the prison cell he oc­cu­pied on Robben Is­land. A short ferry ride from Cape Town takes you to the is­land’s small har­bour. A tour of the prison con­veys the hard­ship its oc­cu­pants were sub­jected to.

Stand­ing in the cell that held Man­dela cap­tive is an ex­tra­or­di­nary, life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. You can­not stop think­ing about how some­one who was con­fined to the bru­tal­ity of this place can emerge with hu­man­ity, even to­wards his cap­tors.

This ex­pe­ri­ence forces all of us to look deep within our­selves and to ques­tion our own sense of hu­man­ity.

It forces us to dis­cover the Man­dela within each of us, and to ex­press the val­ues he es­poused in what­ever ways we can.

The penul­ti­mate leg of our trip once again fol­lows the foot­steps of Man­dela, this time from Robben Is­land to the Union Build­ings in Pre­to­ria, where the pris­oner be­came the pres­i­dent.

On the front lawns, an im­pos­ing statue of a smil­ing Man­dela stretches out his arms, pro­tect­ing his people with the warmth it ex­udes.

It is a fit­ting trib­ute to Man­dela the man, the states­man, the fa­ther of our demo­cratic nation.

From here we will make one more stop be­fore our jour­ney ends. We re­turn to a tra­di­tional fam­ily grave site in Qunu, to Man­dela’s fi­nal rest­ing place.

As his fam­ily and com­rades gath­ered here to re­turn his body to the very soil that sus­tained his early life, the nation re­sumed life with­out one of the great­est sons of Africa.

But the story is far from over: Nel­son Man­dela will be with us for­ever, through the po­lit­i­cal legacy that brought free­dom and democ­racy for all and through the many sites that con­tinue to re­flect on mo­men­tous events in his life.

We end our jour­ney as changed people, with a deeper un­der­stand­ing of our­selves and each other, ful­fill­ing the ul­ti­mate pur­pose of tourism.

Stand­ing in the cell is an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence

Tokozile Xasa is the Min­is­ter of Tourism

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.