Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Playing the Enemy AKA Invictus

Back in December, a friend lent me the book Playing the Enemy. She knew my love for South Africa and thought I would enjoy it. I saved it for my trip to South Africa, departing the US Dec. 31, and read it on my way over and back. While I was there, my South African friends and I discussed it: was it true to their experience? What about the movie?

Finally, tonight, I watched Invictus--the movie version of the book. I know there were things in the movie that were not like my experience there, and things that were not like the experience of my friends there. No doubt, things that were not like the experience of Mr. Mandela either. Still, it was a poignant (there is that word yet a second time for me this week) reminder of why I love the people of South Africa.

I made my first trip to South Africa in 2001. I just randomly selected pictures (by scrolling down the list and clicking on the numbers) of some of the shots over the years. It seemed fitting to illustrate my experiences there, and the contradictions that are South Africa. Indeed, the contradictions that are the world.

This is Alfred & Victoria Wharf, in Cape Town (Kaap Stad), with Table Mountain (Afrikaans pronunciation taafelberg) in the background. It illustrates the colonialization of South Africa: the influence of the English and Dutch in names and architecture.
This is a vehicle used by the South African Police Force during apartheid. This photo is from my 2004 visit, and while I was visiting the South African Police Service, in Black Heath, out of Eersteriver. Eersterivier (First River) is located between Cape Town and Stellenbosch.
This photo comes from Khayelitsha, one of the black townships near Cape Town. This was during my 2004 visit as well. As I was visiting the community with Tututhela, we passed this family, who wanted me to take their picture. Mother was getting ready to cook dinner.
In 2002, I had the first opportunity to visit Robben Island, where Mr. Mandela was first imprisoned. This was his cell. Like Francois Pinaar in Invictus (or Playing the Enemy if we want to be correct) I was struck by the size and how in spite of spending so many years here, Mr. Mandela could emerge willing to forgive his captors.
This was my first view of Khayelitsha, in 2001. As Jeanne (my student then, and tour guide) and I pulled up to a stop sign, I took this picture through the windshield. I just remember being overwhelmed at the size of the township, and truthfully, my fear. I was afraid to even step outside of the car to take a picture. Many years later, and many trips later to South Africa, I understand this fear, and yet, do not. I suppose like most people, the fear of the unknown can be overwhelming. On the other hand, every person, family, organization that I have met in South Africa has been warm and welcoming to me. That just makes me wonder: why is it that our experiences are like that? Why do we simultaneously fear and love?
Also during my visit in 2001, we visited a pre-school (creche) in Kayamundi, outside of Stellenbosch. Over the years of my visits, I would come to visit this community many times. What was impressive in this visit was the joy of the children first of all, the commitment of the women in the community who taught them second of all, and the responsibility of the government to supply curriculum and resources. Looking at the walls (where the curriculum is displayed) we might not be so impressed. What this represented (according to these women) was the commitment of the government that every child would be ready for school, having mastered the necessary pre-requisites to be successful.
In 2002, I spent 3 months in this community. This was a rainy day out in the township of Khayeltisha.

When I was in South Africa in January 2010--some 9 years after my first visit--in many ways it had not changed. You can still drive down the N1 or N2 into Cape Town and see communities like the above--in sharp contrast with the places in which tourists or wealthy or even middle-class people stay.

Watching Invictus tonight was both inspiring and hard. It was inspiring because it is a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit. I remember in 1990 when Mr. Mandela was released, and being astonished and proud that he would walk out of prison after his whole adult lifetime of incarceration holding a clenched fist. I would not know until many years later that the clenched fist held aloft and over the heart represented a sense of loyalty and commitment, rather than defiance, and that commitment is a defiance--a resistance to the status quo that believes we cannot be better than we are.

2007. The commitment continues.

So, as I watched Invictus tonight, I had mixed emotions. I was tearful throughout--partly for my love for this country and her people and their forgiveness and resilience and how so many of them have welcomed me and love me and supported me. And partly, because of my feelings of loss--for this country and her people, and for my country and her people. There are so many parallels between us.

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