Day 1: Cape Town, South Africa—A Glimpse into the Anti-Apartheid Struggle and Meeting Local Women Leaders

Day 1: Cape Town, South Africa—A Glimpse into the Anti-Apartheid Struggle and Meeting Local Women Leaders

Day 1: Cape Town, South Africa—A Glimpse into the Anti-Apartheid Struggle and Meeting Local Women Leaders

Our Day’s Itinerary:

 

Aerial View of Cape Town, South Africa
Aerial View of Cape Town, South Africa

It was a beautiful day in Cape Town, South Africa, as 18 Movement Makers along with Move to End Violence faculty and staff, gathered together in Cape Town after long journeys from their home bases in the United States.

Movement Makers gather for Day 1 of International Learning Exchange
Movement Makers gather for Day 1 of International Learning Exchange

We started by re-connecting and grounding ourselves in our purpose and who we do this work for. 

Our purpose: We are in South Africa to learn from and with allied activists and sister movements on how we can build global movements for liberation and social change.

We had the privilege of being joined in our opening by Herschelle Milford of Surplus People Project and Mary Tal of Whole World Women Association, who will be hosting community visits for us in the coming days.

Afterward, we met with Mmatshilo Motsei, spiritual healer, author of The Kanga and The Kangaroo Court: Reflections on the Rape Trial of Jacob Zuma, and extraordinary leader with decades of experience working to end gender-based violence in South Africa.

Originally, Mmatshilo had prepared a formal presentation to help set the stage for the learning, experiencing, and exchanging we’ll be doing here in South Africa. But when she joined in our grounding circle and understood that we are here to connect personal transformation with systemic change, she quickly changed tack. She sat on the floor with us and shared her own story of personal and spiritual liberation. She led a provocative discussion about the healing role of forgiveness in justice, especially in the complex arena of gender-based violence. She shared how defeating a common enemy (in their case, apartheid) is actually just the first step in transformation, and that dealing with the complexities of governance is an essential part of the struggle.

Sitting in Circle with Mmatshilo Motsei
Sitting in Circle with Mmatshilo Motsei

Ultimately, she spoke to how love enabled her to be resilient when she lost everything and had to piece together a new path. She spoke from the heart, reminding us that “all of us have an innate sense of knowing, all of us are guided, and all of us are loved.”

The opportunity to sit in circle with Mmatshilo whose history of fighting gender-based violence is rooted in spirituality, transformation, and storytelling was a perfect opening to help us all connect to our own struggles for liberation.

RobbenIslandPrison
Robben Island. Photo courtesy of Movement Maker Patina Park

To further help us ground ourselves in the rich history of South Africa’s fight for liberation from oppression, we set out, by ferry, to tour Robben Island. Robben Island was used between the 17th and 20th centuries as a prison, a hospital for “socially unacceptable groups”, and a military base. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there for 18 years, along with several other leaders of the African National Congress. Today, it is a symbol of triumph of the human spirit over adversity and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

 

Robben Island Prison. Photo courtesy of Movement Maker Alexis Flanagan.
Robben Island Prison. Photo courtesy of Movement Maker Alexis Flanagan.

 

After a bus tour of the Island’s impressive natural beauty and historical buildings, we were met by Sparks Mlilwana, a former political prisoner who now leads tours of the maximum security prison. While we gathered in the spartan facilities, Sparks painted a sobering picture of the daily injustices, hardships, and discrimination faced by the prisoners. But, we also saw signs of hope – the small garden in the prison courtyard where Mandela buried the manuscript for his memoirs, Long Walk to Freedom; the monument of stones built by former prisoners after returning to Robben Island for a healing ceremony; and Sparks himself, devoting his time to educating visitors and new generations of South Africans.

RobbenIslandTour
Former political prisoner Sparks Mlilwana leading Movement Makers on a tour of the maximum security prison on Robben Island.

Many of us left feeling overwhelmed by emotion and with gratitude for all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Many of us also left wondering whether we are willing to make the same sacrifices – and, if so, what possibilities then open up for us in our own movements for change.

Tonight, full of positive energy and new seeds of thought, we all retire to our rooms to rest up for what promises to be another full day of learning visits.

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