AFRICA – 1971, 1986 and 2014

Barbara and I just returned from a trip to Africa. It is obvious that many people do not realize the size of the continent of Africa. Some have suggested that some people think if it as a country and not as a continent. On our 2014 trip, we flew into Johannesburg, South Africa, at least five times.

In 1971, we were part of the Palmer Seminar and spent one week in Johannesburg studying apartheid. We met with government officials in Pretoria and spent some time with those opposing apartheid, most notably Beyers Naude’. I came away from that experience very pessimistic about the future of South Africa. I anticipated a blood bath. I was wrong. It is not a perfect country, but it has signs of hope for the future. This time we visited the prison on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent at least 19 years and we went to museums sharing the story of the past and the present in the move from apartheid to equal rights for everyone: Hector Pieterson Memorial and the Apartheid Museum. A visit to the Supreme Court was impressive, built near the closed facilities where Gandhi was once in prison.

One item deserves further study. When we were in Soweto, we were taken to the Constitution Monument which celebrates the Freedom Charter that was adopted by the people in 1955. There were ten areas of concern in this charter. I will just pick one that explains why there has been so little blood shed in recent years: “All Shall Be Equal Before The Law”. And “all” seems to mean “all”. Those who are part of sexual minorities are not harassed in South Africa. In fact, one member of the Constitutional Court is homosexual. If only other countries in Africa would get this message of freedom for all.

In 1971 we ate a meal at a home in Soweto (an illegal gathering) and in 2014 we went to a street in Soweto that celebrates the fact that two winners of the Nobel Peace prize once lived close to one another: Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

When we participated in the 1971 seminar sponsored by Bishop Palmer, he was of the opinion that the vast number of game animals would disappear soon. He was wrong. In general, African nations now realize that preserving game animals will attract tourists and with some exceptions, game parks and reserves provide ample opportunity for eco-tourists to enjoy glimpses of a wide variety of animals.

In comparing 1971 and 2014, there is still lots of poverty evident, but at least everyone has a chance now. Corruption is rampant is many parts of Africa and that is also true in South Africa. In one part of the country, the ruling party was voted out of office and the powers that be just ignored the vote of the people. Animals are valued, but pouching is a serious issue. One large rhino horn can fetch as much as $400,000.00. That explains a lot.

Some one asked about the highlight of this trip and I think it would have been a night drive at Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre when we saw army ants (Matabele Ants) migrating across the road. Our driver waited until the vast horde were safely across the road before proceeding onward. I won’t begin to estimate how many were involved. We also enjoyed seeing 100 elephants at a water hole at Ivory Lodge in Zimbabwe. And that experience was not on our agenda. It happened because the three of us who had been to the Congo to visit the Jamaa Letu orphanages were denied entry to Botswana. Our tour director provided us other options in Zimbabwe until we could rejoin the tour three days later in Zambia.

We had joined the Odysseys Tour in Johannesburg and all was well until we got to the border of Botswana. When health officials saw that we had been in DRC (Congo), they denied entry to three of us. That was a shock to the tour director and to us. For one hour, I could reflect on what it is like to be an unwanted visitor to America. We were thousands of miles away from the Ebola outbreak when we were in Lubumbashi, DRC, but the directives in Botswana were clear: NO ENTRY to anyone from DRC (Congo).

Within one hour, Odysseys had arranged for an alternative experience for us. Fifteen minutes later we were safely at Imbabala Zambezi Safari Lodge. If you wish to understand the setting, look it up on the internet. Their hospitality felt very good after being rejected at the border. Our refugee status was ended.

Another highlight occurred at the Royal Zambezi Lodge in Zambia. As we were settling into our lodging, I heard a knock at the door. I opened the door to be greeted by seven elephants in our little courtyard, stopping for some grass while moving down to the Lower Zambezi River. From our front porch, we could see (and hear) hippo.

As we prepared to depart Johannesburg on KLM airline, we were eventually informed that our airplane had been hit by lightning during landing. Our new pilot did not wish to fly the airplane until it had been checked completely. I concurred. We flew out 24 hours later on Delta Airlines and returned home safely. We did not recover very quickly, but at least we recovered.

Great Quote from Weekend Argus in Capetown, South Africa. “Surprising Things Can Happen When You Go To Church” by Michael Weeder in his “By the Way Column”: During the 1986 State of Emergency, 189 God-fearing souls (were) arrested at St. Nicholas Anglican Church. Their month-long detention at Pollsmoor caused Uncle Hennie, Aunt Melsie’s husband, to take me into his confidence after a visit to our imprisoned loved ones. “You see, my boy, what happens when you go to church?”