Past, Present, Future: Can One Be Without the Other? By Katryna Mattern

It is continuously noted that kids are our future, often times using this to emphasize the importance of offering education opportunities for our children. How, then, can we allow our children to pave our future for us if their education is taken away from them? What are those children to do? What are we to do?    “Soweto came to epitomize the evils of apartheid.” Among its evils apartheid took education from African students. By insisting that lessons be taught in Afrikaans, a barrier was created between the African students and the white students. The frustration of the African students grew. Soon the implementation of Afrikaans in the education drove students to stop attending school in attempts of creating recognition that the use of Afrikaans in the classroom needed to end. 

    Frustrations grew and groups of students decided their voices needed to be heard. They wanted to take their education back. On June 16, 1976 these African students, children and young adults of all ages, became south Africa’s future. With placards in hand and determination in their souls, these students marched from high school to high school gathering more and more students as they marched their way across town to Orlando West High School. Although these students were not fighting or violent, violence broke out between police authorities and students of all ages resulting in the taking of young lives. This was the Soweto Uprising. These brave students, this uprising is known to have been a starting force for the ending of apartheid. 

    We want to put all these pressures and responsibilities on our children to do great things and to be our future, but we take away their opportunities to do so. These students of Soweto didn’t have adequate lessons because they were taught in a foreign language. Today students don’t have textbooks, supplies, or even desks or they’re attending schools lacking hygienic healthy environments. It seems as if there’s this belief that because schools are no longer segregated or that things such as the Soweto Uprising occurred in the past that we are so much further along and problems of inadequate education environments are nonexistent. This belief however is naive of reality. 

    We cannot count on our students to claim their education if we do not provide them with the opportunity to do so. There are those who like to say that children are just lazy or choose not to be active in their schooling, while instead it should be recognized that public schools don’t receive funding, or children are taking up jobs to support their families instead, or going to school isn’t even safe anymore due to hygiene or robbery. Soweto Uprising happened because of oppression of Africans and because students were having their educational and human rights taken right from under their feet. Twelve year olds’ lives shouldn’t have to be taken in order for our kids to be our future. As Hector Pieterson’s sister — individuals who were a part of the uprising — said, “Hector was an ordinary twelve year old. We shouldn’t be celebrating his death.” How we educate our youth and how we provide that education is what we should be worried with not that kids are “lazy” or “deviant,” and we shouldn’t have to celebrate young children’s deaths in order to spark change. Kids are our future, but there can’t be a future without recognizing the past and realizing the truth of the present. 

8115 Vilakazi Street by Ariana Jordan

Born July 18th, 1918 and elected South Africa’s president the year of 1994, Nelson Mandela was a man whose revolutionary and political actions sparked attention to the people of South Africa during Apartheid. Today, I was granted the chance to visit the Mandela House located in Johannesburg, South Africa. Before entering his house, I did not set expectations. I imagined this experience to be rewarding by being in a landmark/museum that was known as his house. 
When getting off the bus, I observed the neighborhood which was cluttered with both tourist and people of the community. In a way, I seemed invasive because I was an American tourist who entered a community that wasn’t of my own. Still, I was excited. Finally, I entered the gates of the museum where we met our tour guide. The tour guide spoke to us for about 10-11 mins about Nelson and Winnie Mandela. 
Afterwards, we got the opportunity to walk around and explore. The house was very small with 3 rooms, excluding the kitchen. Presented in the house were tons of awards and pictures displaying Mandela and his family. Looking at the Mandela family picture, his family was beautiful but I was sadden to hear about his great granddaughter who died in a car accident. It was a great experience to be in the house that Winnie Mandela resided in during the time of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment. 
Speaking of Winnie, something I noticed inside the Mandela house is the many awards that were given to her. It made me dwell on her importance of being apart of a movement of equality during apartheid. I’ve researched about Winnie along with visiting the Women’s Gaol which visualized/emphasized the importance of women during apartheid. I began to think about why and had so many awards and recognition. To me, it was a symbol of Winnie’s loyalty to her husband, family, community and house during what I imagine to be the most dreadful years of her life [while Mandela was in jail].
I enjoyed having the experience of visiting his house. Although their were several repairs on the house, it’s still an area where people can reflect on a family who were revolutionaries. (Fun Facts: Me and Nelson Mandela has the same birthday! Also, he became president the year I was born!) 

The Space and Shape of the Apartheid Museum ft. Hostas by Shukri Bana

We went to a lovely lunch a couple of days ago and I asked a professor (who maybe likes plants too much) if she were a plant what plant would she be and why. Her answer was a hosta, and for someone who cares as little about plants as I do, this answer and this plant–resilient, persevering, and maybe not the most beautiful–have stuck with me since. 


See, not that cute, but I’ll return to the significance of this rather wack metaphor.

It would be rather easy to detail the history presented at The Apartheid Museum (ok, not easy but I could quote the history of apartheid from Leonard Thompson’s A History of South Africa), so here I’ll be thinking about the space and rhetorical shape of the museum with some reflections on my viewing.

The museum uses a chronological approach and begins with some foundations of apartheid–the mid-nineteenth century Great Trek, the popularization of the idea of Africans “swamping” South Africa, and mass anti-African propaganda movements–and while organized chronologically, the shape of this portion was rather circular and winding, showing how the rise of particular ideological movements became the impetus for the political actions taken by both Africans and colonials and respective subsequent responses.

Following this portion was the induction of specific petty and grand apartheid laws, with Jan Smuts and JBM Hertzog being the leaders of this ideology based on white supremacy. The policy of apartheid, or separateness, when the National Party brought apartheid rules and goals into law. This era of the museum was characterized by heavy use of images depicting petty apartheid laws (water fountains for whites only), images depicting cross-racial tension, and images of the Sharpeville Massacre. Particularly jarring about these years from early to mid-twentieth century was the use of metal grid work, depicting the kind of separation and subsequent imprisonment. The feeling of isolation was one that followed me throughout this era as well, especially when thinking about the efforts behind the demolition of places like Sophiatown and District 6.

The next hall was one of Ernest Cole’s, a freelance black photographer, photographs showing life on the mines for black men. Rather than walls moving forward and jutting out, this hall was plain and bare, save for the images, which in many ways reflected the bare and minimal (not in the trendy way, but as a result of deprivation) feeling in the mines. 

Connecting the parts of the early apartheid era was a large installation with panels for the 121 apartheid laws passed from 1948-1971. The laws drew these non-disparate halls together, with certain laws reflecting white supremacy, economic and political suppression of African folks and segregation laws. While these laws organized neatly on the walls were supposed to enforce hyper social organization, the nature of the halls reflects the many areas at which these laws were arbitrary, unjust, and often rejected

This kind of bare-ness of the last hall in the beginning era was followed by a room more stark and jarring, which featured nooses hanging from the ceiling, and try as I might, there are few words to capture the harrowing and unnerving the sensation of this room. In museums covering such a large span of time with lasting impacts on so many people both dead and alive, one of the greatest parts about this room was the center box, with names, ages, dates, and causes of deaths of 159 political prisoners from 1963-1990. This kind of personal intimate memory is something we have seen in other museums we’ve visited, and but something that struck me on this particular instance was the frequency of question marks on causes of death or age–there is only so much that can be precisely remembered.

To get a sense of the precise terror of the prisons, the next room featured three solitary confinement cells, of which I lack the ability to articulate the sheer unnerving quality of the room. However, there is a bench positioned facing the three open cells, which in a room so open and suffocating, provided time and space to reflect on the ways in which time and space were created and forced upon prisoners.

There were many benches for reflection in this museum, which leads me to questions as to the ethics of viewing in a space like this: for whom was this space constructed and why, who is it accessible to, what sort of dialogue is happening inside the space, and how is that reflected in the physical space? While there are many possible ways to think about those questions, the last portion of the museum offered me this: in thinking about memory and publicizing memory for who Joan Faber McAlister would call victims and visitors, this museum carves out the spaces in which we can begin to conceptualize what diversity, respect, reconciliation, equality, responsibility, democracy, and freedom look like. 


I snuck this photo because I had to.

And I promised return to the plant that will continue to haunt this trip, and while this space and many others like this in Johannesburg are not creating and immortalizing spaces that are necessarily positive, they are spaces that preserve resilience and are the result of memory and roots made public that will continue to be part of collective public memory. I told you the metaphor was wack.

  WHEN A LIFE CUT SHORT LEAVES A LONG LEGACY by Dea Hollowell 

To say that going to the Hector Peterson Memorial was moving is a complete understatement. 

Located in Soweto, built on the very same grounds where Hector was gunned down, his older sister Antoinette photographed wailing to the skies in absolute devastation over his lifeless body gave the building a haunting atmosphere, a sharp contrast to the surrounding neighborhood. 

The Soweto Uprising began June 16 1976. Over 2000 students assembled to protest the required usage of Afrikaans in school, a move pushed by apartheid supporters. It was a largely peaceful protest, until officers unexpectedly opened fire. Echoing the explanations given after the Sharpeville Massacre years earlier, officers claimed they discharged their weapons under desperation and imminent threat. Problem being the grand majority of attendants were aged 11 at the youngest, 18 at the oldest. Other gaping problems with the justification was that many shot were unarmed or simply in the area. Hector was 12 years old and merely crossing the street.
His death sent shockwaves through Soweto, and South Africa in general. The Uprising and Hector’s subsequent murder are oft cited as a major turning point in the South African Anti Apartheid movement. A quote from Antoinette featured in the memorial puts this into perspective, however. At the end of the day it’s problematic to deem Hector a martyr, he was just an average child.

Since arriving I’ve been drawing parallels between the South African and American apartheid and the racialized sociopolitical events that have occurred since their end. The death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin reignited discussions of race left untouched since hurricane Katrina, inspired the creation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and a genesis of millennial led activism. 

At the end of the day, Trayvon was just a teenager on a trip back from the corner store with skittles and an Arizona. He’s not a martyr, and he, just like Hector, should still be here. May their lives continue to be remembered. 

“I Could Hear The Whispers, I Could Feel The Hurt” by Penni Kimble 

Taken by Alli Montaie

Photo of Sierra Jennings


I had no idea what I was really getting myself into….Number Four, from my perspective, was and still is a menacing piece of the past that still stands to, not only be a lesson on mistakes of the last, but also a story to instill in others a bout of change for future generations. That doesn’t mean it was not absolutely terrifying to walk through. 

Once you arrive at the meeting point before the tour you are lead down the very same path that prisoners were taken to enter the jail. I couldn’t bear to hang my head because I could almost feel the weight of shackles, guilt, and sadness weighing on my neck…but in turn it was also hard to stare straight into the tunnel because I knew I was going to a place that was the last stop for some and many of them didn’t even know it.

I couldn’t bear to walk inside a regular cell, let alone solitary confinement. It was like I coud hear the malice, I could hear the voices of those people being treated so badly that I cannot think of a word to describe it. People say they were treated like animals but I have never heard of ay animal being treated as badly as the [Black] people in this prison. It is hard to recount what I saw without my eyes welling with tears of sadness. 

Prisoners were told to strip naked, forced to reveal every inch of themselves to wardens, and “dance” to unveil any hidden items. This was done in front of other prisoners as well, young and old alike. Prisoners were to eat over the makeshift toilets as they were being used in order to prevent them from hiding or stealing anything. There was not proper plumbing so bacteria and infectious diseases ran rampant, especially in toilet and “shower” areas. One of the most devastating sites was that of the isolation cells. They were barely stand able rooms of a cold concrete material with a small hole at the top for air. Prisoners were locked in there 23 out of 24 hours of a day and sometimes stayed in the cells for months or years on end. One of the most horrid realizations was when you look at the way Number Four was built, you noticed it was built on a slant into the side of a hill, the isolation chambers being the lowest part that, when it rained, those cells would flood…with prisoners trapped inside. 

There is, however, a small silver lining. These people, these former prisoners. . . they survived. They lived. They cared enough about future generations that they shared their stories in the hopes to prevent such unspeakable events from repeating themselves. And that, however sad the story, is the most important part.

The Symbolism of Justice by Casey Wisely

Friday, we got to visit the Constitutional Court of South Africa. The court is located in the Old Fort, just outside the doors to Number Four. The building is beautiful, and amazingly incorporates well thought out symbols to represent the past, present and future of both Constitutional Hill and South Africa as a whole.

The building is located where the Awaiting Trial Block once stood. This block was created solely to house black prisoners awaiting their trials and sentencing. There are reclaimed bricks from the block that create a walkway between the prison and the court; a bridge from the oppression of her past to the hope of the future.

The outside signage reads constitutional court in all eleven official languages of South Africa, and behind it, engraved on the ceiling beams are the words “dignity, equality and freedom” written in the different official languages. The engravings are in the handwriting of the first judges of this new court. Dignity, equality and freedom are the core constitutional values of South Africa. I think it’s really significant that they are engraved in the foundation of the building, as they are the foundation of any decision to be made inside the court.

In African tradition, resolution of disputes occur under the shade of a tree. This motif is incorporated in much of the court, with art installations in the lobby to the carpet in the court chamber, to the logo of the court. The tree is a really interesting motif to use, as a tree protects no matter who is underneath. The branches will continue to grow and adapt and offer more protection, just as justice should.

My favorite piece of symbolism is the ladder in the lobby. This ladder depicts the history of oppression and change in South Africa. Each rung marks a stage of progression to where south africa is now. The top three rungs really explain South Africa in a nutshell. There is a white elephant bone, representing that the past much never be forgotten, followed by a snake that signifies that the country will be forever be moving forward, never backwards. South Africa has experienced a really tumultuous history that shouldn’t be forgotten, but that past can’t hold them back.


The final rung is a representation of the many diverse peoples of South Africa. It really is the rainbow nation, and it is amazing that such diversity is so celebrated and that that celebration continues in the highest court.

Inside the court, the Justices sit at the front of the room at the same level as the lawyers. There is no witness box so there is no intimidation in the courtroom. There is also a place for the audience on risers, so that the people are above the justices.

I can’t help but compare this courtroom to the Supreme Court. The Justices all sit above anyone else, reminding the they are the all knowing and the final word. The cases are also not open to the public as the South African Constitutional court is. There is even a posting get outside the courtroom that anyone can read that says what the cases are for that day.

I am trying to imagine what it would be like if our judicial system was set up like South Africa’s. I feel like more people would be involved in the Court’s decisions. Constitutional Hill is so accessible to the public, where the Supreme Court is closed off. Having an transparent relationship with the judicial system would create a lot more trust, and I feel that people need that. We can strive to be more like South Africa’s judicial system.

Women’s Jail: A Painful Past but Resilient Future by Kortney Ondayko

Women’s Jail: A Painful Past but Resilient Future
Friday, we visited the Women’s Jail located on Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg. It started in a rush as we were running late & had little time to tour both the Number Four prison, the Women’s Jail & the Constitutional Court. Though we hustled into the jail- turned-museum, our pace abruptly slowed as the reality of the space hit us.

The Women’s Jail is a very powerful & symbolic place as the museum is full of former inmates stories, experiences & memories that recount the oppressive policies of apartheid. It serves as a re-collection of the memories and experiences of the women who spent time there – it serves as a place to better understand the past, to read the truth, to seek justice but also to influence the future.

To read these women’s stories as if they were there standing with you, narrating their experiences, was haunting but empowering. It was haunting because you are standing in the exact place that these experiences of discrimination, inhumane and unjust treatment took place. You read the stories and imagine it happening right next to you & at that moment you feel helpless. But, at the same time, you feel empowered by reading their stories. You feel empowered that eventually, these women were able to tell their stories. That their stories are taken seriously.

Even at the most intense & somber point of the Jail, the Wash Room, I was inspired and given hope for the human rights of South African women. The Washing Room is a big open space with no roof- where wardresses would strip down inmates and violently search them for hidden objects among other degrading events. However, as I walked out of the Wash room, while struggling to comprehend the realities of where I was, I ran into a group of women. They were dressed up and walking with purpose into a room with a white piece of paper next to the door labeled: Women’s Liberation Dialogue. It appeared to be a conference or meeting of some sort where women gathered to discuss the needs, wants and status of their liberation. I was struck by the resilience of these South African women. They are being activist and fighting oppression in the very walls that oppressed them just 30 years ago.

I think I can speak for the group, when I say, that even though we had limited time in the Women’s Jail the experience was powerful & taught us about both the past and current situation of women in South Africa.