On Monday morning, I made my way up to the university area of town in search of the car rental place. I recalled that on my last trip Corrie and I had wandered quite far trying to find the place. The problem is that in SA numbered addresses do not always show up on the right cross-streets on internet maps or GPS, so it’s always best to confirm the cross-street with the actual person/business before you go. But I had forgotten to email in advance, and I don’t have a phone here, so I wandered quite a ways again on foot before I found it. (One of the things I miss most now that I’m used to having it all the time at home is a cell phone. You don’t realize how much you rely on it for directions and to make up for mistakes or poor planning–until you don’t have it.)
After dropping the car off at the hotel, I met with Professor Jonker at the Faculty of Theology. We discussed the defense, teaching possibilities, and postdocs. More details on those things later, but for now I’ll say that it was very encouraging.
After lunch I drove about a half-hour east to Franschhoek, which is one valley over from Stellenbosch. Franschhoek (lit. “French corner” in Dutch/Afrikaans) was settled by the Huguenots in the seventeenth century. The views are just as stunning as in Stellenbosch–mountains, fields, vineyards.
On Tuesday, I got up early to drive to the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town to see the Two Oceans Aquarium and take a tour of Robben Island, where political prisoners (including Mandela) were held for many years. I got stuck in traffic and missed the 9am trip to the Island, so I decided to hit up the aquarium first. It’s beautiful, with many species only found in South African coastal waters. I recall hearing/reading on one of my previous trips that South Africa is the most biodiverse nation in the world, in terms of number of species of flora and fauna. The oceans’ diversity does not disappoint in this regard. They have several “ragged-tooth sharks,” which we in ‘Merka call “sand tiger sharks,” and a few giant spider crabs, which were fascinating.
I took my time at the aquarium and sampling some local cuisine at the food market on the pier, planning to catch the 1pm ferry to Robben Island. When I arrived at 12:30 to buy a ticket, however, the trips were sold out for the rest of the day! I hadn’t wanted to purchase a ticket online in advance because I wasn’t sure what time I’d get there–but I wish I had. Learn from my failure! The consolation prize was some neat displays at the museum on-shore.
If you don’t know much about Mandela, de Klerk, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the end of apartheid, you really should learn. The early ’90s in South Africa were a remarkable historical moment, where power was peacefully handed over to a democratic government. Mandela’s passing last year precipitated many fresh retellings of his biography. He was not a perfect person, but he has become a symbol of something far more important than one man. And I don’t think it’s fair to judge a mere man by the standards required of a symbol or an idea.
All I would say is: let’s learn about both “Mandela the man” and “Mandela the symbol,” and not make the mistake of thinking that the quest for freedom is done. On the contrary, history teaches us that if we don’t examine the past carefully and learn from both the good and the bad, we are doomed to make the same mistakes. Personally, I fear that South African politics will continue to be dominated exclusively by a political party surviving only on Mandela’s memory rather than on good public policy in the present. There certainly seem to be parallels to African-Americans’ unswerving support for the Democratic Party since the Civil Rights Era.