Here in South Africa, Nelson Mandela is viewed as a higher being. With all his contributions to this country, it is understandable. His work in assisting the transition of the country out of apartheid and into the democracy was crucial.
Throughout the trip, we have visited various sites dedicated to preserving Mandela’s legacy, such as the statue outside of the Union Building, Robben Island, and the Apartheid Museum. However, on Saturday during our day in Stellanbosch, we visited the Mandela statue outside of the Drakenstein Correctional Centre.
Upon arrival at the center and exiting the van, we were met with odd stares and confused glances from groups of South Africans entering the Centre. I did not think much of the looks at the moment but I felt very out of place.
As we walked over to read the engravings and take in the statue, my groupmates and I were more focused on arriving at our next destination than this monument. After a few minutes of taking in the statue and taking a couple of selfies, our tour guide/driver gave us a brief history of the statue and its historical significance.
When he finished talking, he took a group photo of us and we proceeded to return to the van. As I was entering the van, I heard my site coordinator say that the Centre was still open and that people were still incarcerated there.
At that moment, the light bulb went off in my head. I realized why the people earlier had given us such confused looks. They were here to visit their loved ones, while we were there to visit a statue for five minutes. Upon this realization, I felt unsettled.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed the events of the day, I feel as though I disrespected the visitors to the Centre who were visiting someone there. The stop was disconcerting and awkward. How would I feel if I was the one visiting my loved one who was locked up and someone else was there just to see a statue so that their program of events could be considered “educational” enough to validate a wine tour? How would you feel if it was you?
I think that for our program to continue to visit this statue, we need to include the statue in a day of learning about Mandela. For instance, including a trip to the statue after a visit to Robben Island so that the day makes more historical sense. If not, these awkward visits will continue.