5 Oct, 2016
Johannesburg – The world celebrated World Tourism Day 2016 in Bangkok, my home city. As global tourism leaders congregated in the Thai capital, I left to spend World Tourism Day and indeed most of September 2016 in South Africa – Nelson Mandela country.
This, because I felt it important to respond to a higher calling. Travel & tourism, I believe, is a celebration of the best of humanity. It is less about jobs, economic growth, social media and all the other hackneyed clichés that dominate travel industry events these days. At a time when the world is almost entirely bereft of quality, principled leadership, I sought out a place where such leadership did exist, so that I could learn something from it.
South Africa has experienced the worst of humanity – slavery, colonialism and apartheid, and all the torturous excesses that kept these abhorrent systems in place, until time ran out and the tide turned. The country’s range of unmatched museums are grim reminders of these excesses. For history-buffs and museum-junkies like myself, they are motivating factors. They teach us that dedication, commitment and focus can always bring down a more powerful opponent trying to maintain an oppressive but ultimately doomed system.
The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg should be a must-visit in this age of neo-colonialism when the West is seen as being the Best, and Might is considered Right. Indeed, satellite museums should be set up worldwide as a reminder both of the horrendous way people were treated as well as the the opposition campaign, now widely regarded as a role model for protests to end tyrannical dictatorships.
An immoral, repugnant system which segregated human beings by skin colour and ethnic background, apartheid was unsustainable but that did not stop its irrational white supremacist practitioners from believing themselves to be invincible.
A visit to the Apartheid Museum is a highlight of a visit to South Africa, just like a visit to the Holocaust Museum would be of a visit to Israel.
So what did I learn from my visit?
I learnt that the world has learnt nothing from the apartheid experience. Indeed, its lessons today are specifically applicable to Israel, a close ally and supporter of apartheid-era South Africa, and an ongoing practitioner of subjugation, separation and segregation, this time against the Palestinians, as well draconian dissent-stifling measures such as harassment, threats, assassinations, torture, racial profiling and imprisonment. The difference is that Israel is supported by a much more powerful global diaspora of financial, technological, geopolitical and economic backers.
I learnt that white supremacist hypocrisy is still alive and well. Europe, the United States, Australia and leading industrialised powers were at the forefront of the sanctions and embargoes that turned the screws on South Africa. Today, these same powers allow Israel to perpetuate an occupation that Haaretz newspaper commentators Gideon Levy and Oren Yiftachel have publicly branded apartheid (click here and here.)
I learnt that the leaders of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Islamic world also learn nothing. Their penchant for demagoguery, cronyism, corruption and stupidity knows no bound. The cycle just keeps on turning.
One of the display panels (see picture below) in the museum cites a Nelson Mandela quote about the need for leaders to have a Moral Compass: Mandela says, “One of the temptations of a leader is that he may use his powerful position to settle scores with his detractors, marginalise them and in certain cases get rid of them and surround himself with yes-men and yes-women. A leader must keep the forces together, but you can’t do that unless you allow dissent. People should even be able to criticise the leader without fear or favour.”
Exactly a century ago this year, World War I was raging, with two years still to go. Since then, the world has witnessed several more hot, cold and tepid wars, all of which have perpetuated human suffering, inequality and injustice.
How many times can you recall any speaker even mentioning that at a travel industry conference? As my own daughter herself said, sadly but realistically, “Nobody really cares.” The only game in town seems to be the Holocaust. That alone is symptomatic of an exclusive, supremacist mindset that must end.
The Apartheid Museum website contains a phenomenal amount of information for those pursuing a more fair, balanced and just world order. It may prove to be a game-changer, just as Nelson Mandela lived and died for.
See my pictures of just a few of the hundreds of display panels below.
The rise of Nelson Mandela
FREEDOM AND LIBERATION
A NEW ERA DAWNS