I’m not shy about how much I love the library. And it just so happens that our local branch is pretty amazing. In addition to a great selection of books, I can get my hands on pretty much any movie whether it’s a new release, an 80s blockbuster, a foreign film, or an obscure film festival nominee. I assure you that I take advantage of where my tax dollars are spent and check out an array of books and movies. I’m hoping that my excitement spills over, even just a bit, and you might be interested in some of the things that keep me so highly entertained when I’m not traveling.
Recently, I’ve been reading and watching all things Africa. While I wish I had been more knowledgeable on historical events before I went to Rwanda and South Africa, I think I can definitely appreciate and recall the information better now that I have seen and experienced things firsthand. Since there are so many great books and films out there, I thought I would break them down by country. First up? South Africa!
Long Walk to Freedom:
The first book I’d like to touch on is Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. While I found it difficult to get into at first, after 200 pages, I didn’t want to put it down. Even after visiting Robben Island, Mandela’s detailed account of ending apartheid goes much more in depth on the events leading up to his imprisonment, his childhood, and the growth of his political party the ANC. Not only did I learn a great deal about his life, I now have a better understanding of how so many people could have the mindset that apartheid is acceptable. This was one book that I really wish I had read before going to South Africa. However, with that said, it was also interesting to be able to identify with certain points in the book. For example, he discusses a particular protest in Langa township that essentially kicked off the police violence. My friend that I met in Langa was at this event as a child, and her cousin and future husband were arrested at it. Having been to Langa means that events that may feel abstract and detached from what I know as everyday life suddenly become very real.
I wrote down a few of my favorite parts as I read through the book, but two stood out to me very clearly. The first is when Mandela took a plane from Khartoum to Addis Ababa. He stepped on board the airplane, saw a black pilot, and initially panicked, Why? Because he had never seen a black pilot before and wondered how a black man could fly an airplane. Even though he was in the midst of fighting one of the greatest injustices in the world, it was still difficult not to be influenced by the apartheid mindset.
There is a quote at the very end of the book that really struck me. I was exhausted just from reading about Nelson Mandela’s hardships. Living in hiding for several years, spending 27 years in prison, going days without food sometimes, never having a normal family life- I can’t imagine. And I’m not sure how he had the energy to lead the country at the end of apartheid. You would think after being released from prison in your 70s and realizing you have assisted in forming a free South Africa, you’d want to kick up your feet for a while. But Mandela is a leader at his core.
“I have walked the long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”
The Truth & Reconciliation Commission was established by President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a court-like system for perpetrators of violence to apply for amnesty in exchange for publicly testifying about their crimes. People came forward on both sides of the argument, from police who had slain ANC party members to Africans who killed an innocent white female who was studying abroad from the U.S. This film ranks high on my list. However, I must warn you that you may want to have a box of tissues in hand. Not only are the crimes horrendous at times, but I think I was almost more struck by the power of forgiveness displayed in the film. In an attempt to heal many of the open wounds and unsolved cases, the Commission created dialogue among plaintiffs and those who thought they were unable to forgive. This exchange of words played a major role in people moving forward with their lives and forging partnerships in unexpected places. If your library has it, check it out. If not, you definitely need to hunt this one down.
This short documentary follows a beauty pageant with a twist in Cape Town. Here is a synopsis from the California Newsreel website:
Everyday the working class Coloured women in the garment industry of the windswept flats around Cape Town toil anonymously to make clothes so that other women will look beautiful. Invariably they cannot afford these garments themselves. But for one day a year they come out in all their glory at the Annual Spring Queen pageant. The pageant is created by the workers and their trade union to bring their families together for an evening of solidarity and fun. After working for weeks on glamorous costumes, which one will be queen for a day? Set against the preparation for the 2003 pageant, this film explores the lives of working women and celebrates them as creators of beauty. Although the end of apartheid has not taken away the drudgery of repetitive factory labor, this pageant shows working class women inventing their own lively folk culture.
The factory followed in the film cites a decrease in absenteeism and an increase in camaraderie during the time of year when employees are training for the pageant. The film has tender moments and sends a message about a sense of community. However, it still reminds us of the effects of apartheid that still ripple through society today.
To keep this from getting too lengthy, I’ll briefly mention a few others I have read or seen that I also recommend: