The group of pastors I am traveling with, the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, just completed our first day of a study tour to South Africa. Having arrived late Sunday evening, after dark, we awoke this morning to a beautiful day and views of Table Mountain from our hotel.
After breakfast, we walked through the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront to catch a ferry to Robben Island, where many political prisoners were held during the apartheid years, including Nelson Mandela. We were joined for the visit to Robben Island by Eddie Daniels, a friend and fellow prisoner with Mandela. He helped us understand the critical role that the other nations of the world played in ending apartheid, including making possible what he called the greatest gift the world gave to him and other political prisoners – the ability to go to school and gain an education while in prison.
Mr. Daniels has the privilege of being given the key to Mandela’s cell – the key that once kept him locked up given today to the former prisoner to unlock an empty cell – and our pastors and the others who happened to be on the same bus as us were able to actually go inside the cell where Mandela spent the majority of his years in prison.
Following the visit to Robben Island, we ate lunch and then went on an overview tour of the city of Cape Town, learning about the history of the city and the country of South Africa and visiting such sites as the Company Gardens and Signal Hill, where we took a group photo.
We concluded the day with a fabulous dinner at a local restaurant, where many pastors tried South African specialties like springbok, ostrich, biltong, and bobotie.
Along the way, our pastors are learning about resilience, reconciliation, magnanimity, friendship, oppression, freedom, and much more as we begin to meet and talk with the people of this great country.
A closing thought for today – our tour guide this afternoon, Jamie, is trained in nature conservation and spoke about the problems caused when non-native trees from Australia and Europe were introduced to South Africa, how the African ecosystem does not know how to respond to their presence and they end up causing damage to the land and the living things of the area. This statement came from a white, young adult South African man. In a way, the same thing happened among the people who have lived here – non-natives came and introduced themselves on this land, and for many centuries the relationship between native and non-native peoples caused damage and separation and oppression and pain. This meeting of native and non-native peoples has happened in virtually every country and land all over the world, and throughout human history. Which makes me wonder … what does it mean as a people or as an individual person to be “native” to a particular land or country? What does it mean for us as Christians when St. Paul reminds us that our true citizenship is in heaven? And how can peoples of different backgrounds and beliefs and colors and origins and languages and customs live together, side by side, in unity and peace?