Between Paarl and Stellenbosch.

After a night at the Aquila Game Reserve, we took a meandering route back to Cape Town, through the “Karoo” – a semi-desert region.

The road ran through valleys formed between massive mountains, dripping head to toe with waterfalls from the recent downpour. At times, the road hugged these giants and our charter bus teetered as we wound around each curve. The river below, our guide pointed out, was teeming with trout. The views were magnificent.

The area is known for being very fertile, and on either side of the valley we could see vineyards and fruit farms. One of the top selling products from this region is brandy. Our guide said there are about 200 farms and 8 million vines in the region, and 20 or so natural hot springs. We stopped at a small store on a farm that sold homemade goods where I got some rooibos tea to bring back home and sun-dried figs for the road.

Then, we took a short detour through the small farm town of Worcester.

Before we reached the center, we began to see small houses and informal settlement communities. Then a turn off the main road and we came across a bustling town, walkable with many shops and restaurants. Remnants of the town’s colonial roots were littered throughout – old, white buildings with thatch roofs from the 17/18th century Dutch colonial period.

Professor Scully explained that Worcester was one of several sites across the country where victims hearings were held at the end of apartheid as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. You can actually read the transcripts from all of these hearings online: http://www.justice.gov.za/trc/hrvtrans/ct_victim.htm

She told us the story of a woman whose case offered an example of how women were treated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Her name was Yvonne Khutwane, and she came forward because she had been arrested by police in 1984 and subsequently released not long after. At the time, among anti-apartheid activists in the ANC, there was fear of informants – people who were sent by the police to spy on them and report back information. Khutwane’s arrest and relatively quick release was seen as suspicious, so she was accused of being such an informant and essentially ex-communicated from her ANC community. Her house was burned down and she lived as an “internal exile.”

In June 1996, the hearing for victims arrived in Worcester. Khutwane sought to clear her name. As she told her story, she mentioned somewhat in passing that when she was arrested, she was also sexually assaulted by the police. One of the commissioners paused here and asked for more details about this part of her story.

Eventually, her story came out in the papers framed as a case of rape. That is also how the TRC final report framed it in 1998.

Sully explained that some scholars have used this as an example of how women’s experiences during (Colonialism through) apartheid were reduced or overlooked, opting to only see them in the single dimension as victims sexual violence as opposed to people exercising political agency.

There was a book written about how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission dealt with women and the issues that they uniquely faced called “Bearing Witness” by Fiona Ross, which includes a detailed account of Khutwane’s experience. There were many challenges in creating spaces where women felt comfortable coming forward to tell their stories, some of which were addressed by creating a special hearing for women. The final TRC report had a chapter dedicated to gender issues, and many critics said it reflected that women’s issues were an afterthought.

(See also: “War in Worcester” by Pamela Reynolds on the experiences of black youth in this town.)

Onward, we wound our way around and down the mountains, stopping just outside the prison where Mandela was released in 1990, the site of the iconic photo of him and his wife Winni Madikizela Mandela holding up their fists in triumph. We then stopped for lunch at a restaurant called De Warenmarkt in Scully’s hometown of Stellenbosch. There we sampled some absolutely mouth-watering biltong and Droëwors (dried sausage), shout out to butcher Ryan Boon. And, finally by sunset, we arrived to our hotel near Cape Town’s waterfront district for dinner – ostrich burgers. Tastes like beef.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s