Today, I was priveleged to visit one of the most unique environments in the world. Before travelling to Cape Town, I had no idea that this area boasts its own floral kingdom, with over 2,200 species of flowers. Considering there are only six floral kingdoms in the entire world, most spanning multiple continents, this place is truly unique.
We drove to the top of Signal Mountain, where many native species still thrive. The natives, in their stunning diversity, are both great and small. The Yellowwood Tree is the largest native tree. Towering above all other native plants, it takes hundreds of years to fully mature and can live for thousands of years. The Protea flower, in contrast, lends the area a resilient beauty, retaining her beauty for over a month in a vase.
Given the area’s human history, it’s environment is even more unique. One of the places we visited was the legendary Company Gardens (originally planted by the Dutch East India Trading Company to resupply ships as they sailed to and from Europe). In the garden, species from all over the world are still being cultivated and grown.
In the company gardens, many exotic and native plants thrive together.
There were Bird of Paradise (native) flowers as I’ve never seen before.
There were roses (imported) of every color.
Under the eucalyptus trees (imported from the east) and aloe trees (native), (native) Cala lilies bloomed.
Unique as the flowers were, none were more intriguing than a man I met on the ferry ride to Robben Island. As a part of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, I was blessed to spend much of the day with Eddie Daniels. Eddie spent fifteen years of his life imprisoned on the island, with almost all of his sentence served alongside Nelson Mandella.
When I saw that Eddie was sporting a Michigan State University hat, I had to sit next to him to take a selfie. We then began a conversation about where we were from. What I learned from Eddie wasn’t how different he is from me. But how similar our desires are.
Eddie only had about an eighth grade education when he went into the workforce, as did many people who were born in 1928. He started working in print shops and factories, but wanted to be a whaler. A fisherman myself (and fan of Deadliest Catch), I was much interested by his eight month stint on a commercial fishing troller. He signed-on for the sole purpose of eventually being hired by a whaling vessel.
Eddie only spent three months on a whaler. He was still able to tell me much about size limits, how a whale was hunted and how they were processed upon capture. Regardless of one’s personal view of the whaling industry, I found we had a love for fishing in common. As a fisherman, you can’t get any bigger than whaling. Yes, we have fishing in common, but he had taken it to a much different level than I ever have.
After fishing, Eddie went to work in the diamond mines and then returned to the printing industry. I remember what it’s like to go from job to job as a young man, to provide for yourself and family. We had this in common.
Where our stories diverge, however, is where his politcal involvement became an embodiment of the struggle he and fellow South Africans went through to obtain freedom from apartheid.
Apartheid was the government’s racial segregation of people based upon the color of their skin. People were forced to move into certain communities because of their race. They were told what occupation they could or couldn’t do based upon the darkness of their complexion.
This systematic segregation was enshrined by law in 1948. It blows my mind this happened right after the fall of the Nazi regime in World War II!
Eddie was very active politically. He attended hundreds of anti-government rallies. While working and attending rallies, he said he, “bombed things along the way.” He talked about planning and carrying-out bombings as nonchallantly as you or I would say, “I had a cheeseburger.”
By some, he is lauded as a freedom fighter. Others would label him a terrorist. What would you call him?
Before you decide if Eddie is a freedom fighter or terrorist, consider what you would do if you had known freedom for nearly 20 years, before your world was taken from you because of the color of your skin. What would you call him if it was your mother, father or child who was hurt by a bomb planted by the African Resistance Movement? Can you know for certain how you would “bloom,” had your world been turned upside-down by a governmental edict?
This blog is the first of a series on post-apartheid South Africa. If you would like to be notified of future blogs, please subscribe. Thank-you.