We were so fortunate to have been welcomed by Rhoda Toker on the first day of our trip and then to spend the last three days of our trip at her home in the Johannesburg suburb of Benoni. She was an exemplary host! We chuckled as she insisted on paying for our first dinner, “after all you fed my daughter Kim for three months!”
Rhoda has been living in a condo since her husband passed away 6 years ago. She also provides a private room and living area for Lucy, a black woman from the township of Ladysmith who has been working for Rhoda for 27 years. It was obvious that there is a special bond between these two warm and caring women.
We were privileged to morning walks around the bird sanctuary reservoir a few blocks away from Rhoda’s home.
Rhoda arranged a “Hop-on-Hop-Off Bus tour of the Soweto township including Nelson Mandela’s home. Our daughter Laura told us that there was an Honorary Degree conferred to Nelson Mandela from Northeastern University Law School, and indeed we found it! It was conferred in 1988, before Mandela was released from prison in 1990. Mandela served 27 years in prison because of his involvement in the African National Congress, which opposed the Apartheid policies of the Afrikaans government.
At Maropeng, we briefly visited The Cradle of Humankind Museum where we learned about archeologists’ discoveries confirming that all humankind originated in Africa. The visit Lesedi Cultural Village gave us a chance to learn about traditional cultures of South Africa.
In Soweto we went to the Hector Pietersen Museum. It is a memorial to the shooting of 13-year-old Hector, who was part of a large peaceful student protest on June 16,1976. The protest began as a demonstration opposing the Africaaner government’s implementation of a rule requiring English and Afrikaans would be the only languages taught in all schools, regardless of locally spoken language. Afrikaans was viewed by black Africans as “the language of the oppressor,” according to Bishop Desmond Tutu. The arrival of police provoked the riot, as police fired tear gas into the crowd. and Hector was one of the students killed by police gunshots. The photo shows Hector being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo, with Hector’s sister Antoinette walking beside him.
As always, Linda appreciated the local crafts. Alex is one of the craftsmen, whom Rhoda knew. He creates animals from beads. Linda is wearing the Zulu jewelry given to her by Buhle, our exchange student.
In 2006, we hosted two other South African students in Vestal for three weeks through a Binghamton University Leadership Exchange Program. When we began planning our South Africa trip in November 2017, one of the exchange students, Buhle Dlamini proposed that she drive the four-hour trip from her home in Ladysmith to see us in Benoni. We are very grateful to Rhoda for hosting Buhle, her fiancé Mlungisi Gamede and their three-year-old son Melo Kuhle Dlamini (he is holding the gifts of two monkeys that our grandchildren Hannah and Samuel picked out for him.)
The warmth and special connection we felt previously with Buhle was reinforced in our conversations. She is a life sciences secondary school teacher and Mlungisi teaches elementary school. They each have over 60 students in a class and 4 classes a day, plus homework to correct. This is exhausting work for not much pay, and long hours. She is now considering going back to school to study radiology, a natural fit for a science teacher. The pay would be better for fewer work hours.
We also discussed the Zulu custom of a man giving a lobola, or traditional bride-price, to the family of his betrothed. The lobola is a monetary equivalent of 11 cows. Mlungisi has paid for half of the lobola, but their main focus has been on building a house so they can live together. The lobola is traditionally allocated for the wedding costs.
The time with Rhoda and with Buhle’s family helped us in understanding South Africa’s rich cultural diversity. The entire trip was deeply moving and a profound immersion in the people, the history and the natural beauty of South Africa. Let our adventures continue!