Interview with Roddy Bray of Great Guides

 

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Roddy Bray of www.greatguides.org talks to Jennie Carr of the Silver Travel Show about the tour in South Africa, Nelson Mandela: Footsteps of a Legend.

Nelson Mandela Monument in Cape TownWhere did the idea for the tour come from?

Rainbow Tours approached me as I’ve been working on the lives of inspirational people in Africa and I lived in South Africa for over 20 years. Nelson Mandela has always been someone I’ve cherished, looked up to and been inspired by, and so together with Rainbow Tours we developed this tour. I’ve worked in 21 African countries but for many years I was based in Cape Town. This tour presents a perfect opportunity to see South Africa through the lens of Nelson Mandela.

I’ve been doing a bit of research and trying to find out why apartheid ever happened, tell me, is there an answer?

People give different answers. Fear and greed mainly: a minority were living a very good life and they could see that this would come to an end, unless they controlled the majority, and they just got themselves into a deeper and deeper situation. It’s very sad. However, out of it has come a country we can call the ‘world’s workshop’, with every issue you can imagine. The good, the bad and the ugly are there in South Africa and Nelson Mandela was absolutely at the heart of it all.  It’s fascinating.

Amazingly, he was a lawyer.

He set up first black law practice in South Africa, in Johannesburg. It took him many years to get his degree and on a matter of principle he left Fort Hare University. Then he suffered discrimination at University of Witwatersrand and then he studied by correspondence, qualified and with help of friends, set up the first black law practice. It went for a number of years and he was doing many pro bono cases for people being evicted under the new laws, being increasingly drawn into political struggle. He realised it wasn’t just a matter of each individual’s case but an entire system actively discriminating against and oppressing black people. He was a deeply principled man from his youth and he saw that it was his mission in life {to oppose the system}.

The Wild Coast by Jon Rawlinson [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]So let’s go back to the beginning, to Transkei.

South Africa is fantastically diverse, Transkei is one of the most ‘African’ areas of the country, with beautiful rolling green hills, a marvellous coastline, the Wild Coast, and little rondavels, thatched homes, scattered across the landscape, and sheep and cows across the fields. So it’s a very beautiful African environment that he loved and he chose to retire to so we’ll be going to Qunu and Umtata, and to the Wild Coast as well, and that  will be a very special part of the tour.

It’s remarkable that it’s so unspoilt and unchanged as if it’s been like that for decades and decades

Of course when Nelson Mandela grew up it was only 50 years after the great colonial struggles as he was born in 1918, and it hasn’t changed a great deal; people will be amazed to see it if they haven’t been to that part of South Africa before as it’s so totally different to Cape Town and Johannesburg.  

Mandela was part of a family with royal links, wasn’t he?

His family was part of the Xhosa nation, part of the Tembu people, his father was a fairly junior chief but highly regarded as an advisor to the king of the Tembu. Nelson Mandela grew up in that atmosphere and the Regent wanted him to become a royal advisor, so he had that sort of regal dignity and sense of self. You have to go to Transkei to get the sense of dignity and where he came from. He wasn’t strictly speaking royal himself, however he was very much within courtly circles.

The way he stood and held himself: the key word for Nelson Mandela is his dignity, even on Robben Island. That dignity was part of his heritage and his land. 

So fast forward through the lawyering years to Robben Island, where he spent 27 years in prison.

Not strictly speaking: his imprisonment was 27 years, but in the later years included Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town, then Victor Verster in the winelands. He was gradually better treated over the years. Robben Island prisonHowever, those first couple of decades on Robben Island, especially in the 60s, were terrible. How he handled that and how he and his comrades managed themselves and their studies and kept their spirits up, and how they managed to win over the warders, which Nelson Mandela was particularly good at, is remarkable. It’s an amazing story. So Robben Island is a really chilling place to visit but also when you realise the intelligence of how they handled it, it’s a place of great humanity. UNESCO has made it a world heritage site because it shows the quality of humanity that went on there as well as the hardship.

Another great quality of Nelson Mandela’s is that man is man, whether he’s been to the moon, he’s a subsistence farmer, a President or a Spice Girl.

Something in the way he interacted with people made them feel at their very best, made them feel they could do better than they’d ever done before and he did that whether they were Bill Clinton or somebody working in his office as a cleaner; he touched everybody’s lives. And I think there’s so much to learn from him about how to treat other people, how do we carry ourselves, how do we handle the little injustices and the irritations of life? I have found him deeply inspirational both on a personal level as well as a national level.

Tell me a little bit about the marches that happened before Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, they happened all over South Africa but particularly where?

There was a great movement in the 50s involving huge numbers of people, non violent, very much modelled on Ghandi. Nelson Mandela had worked with some of the Indian Congress leaders, and they tried to change apartheid through simply massive protests, so everyone would boycott the buses and everyone would walk for months on end, tens of miles. And they also marched on the Union buildings. I’m afraid the protesters weren’t dealing with the British Government who were half hearted about India; they were dealing with a very much harder, more fearful and greedy power in South Africa, so in the end that non-violence simply didn’t work. It was another very difficult episode in Mandela’s life as he began to realise that. And he chose to take up arms.

South African townshipOn the tour you will be going into the townships, now we’ve seen pictures of these on the television over the last 2 decades, how have things changed there or have they not?

I’ve been in and out of the townships all my adult life, since I was 18 working in a children’s home there in the late 1980s when Mandela was still in prison, and I’ve made so many friends there. I think with the townships people are often very nervous and they don’t want to look at poverty and they feel they wouldn’t be safe there. Once tourists have taken their nerve and they meet people, who are so full of passion for life, so good with their community, so creative and entrepreneurial, visitors are amazed and are humbled by the wonderful people who are out there in the townships.

So things are slowly changing. Imagine London receiving well over a million poverty stricken people in ten years. Well, that’s what happened to Cape Town. How do you handle that? So it did create a situation in the 90s that was shacks, for miles and miles, that’s all you would see.  Then slowly, slowly, steadily it is changing into these concrete block houses but what I think you have to do, is find the wonderful people and the wonderful projects within all this and then you see the humanity. And what an inspirational place many of those townships are! They’re full of life, full of vibrancy, full of happy children who love to play and want to come and meet you and see their photographs on the back of your camera, and actually if you haven’t been to a township, you haven’t visited South Africa. For me, it’s often the highlight of any tour. So we won’t major on the townships but we’ll drop in and see some of the projects.

Of course, there are days where there’ll be fabulous foods and fine dining, so you’ll get the contrasts and balance. It’s a 5-star trip. I’m interested in the cities: Cape Town it’s a beautiful city. And has many links with Nelson Mandela.

It is where I lived there for twenty odd years, it’s a marvellous city and has done very well in the last couple of decades. It was founded on hospitality, that’s where Cape Town comes from whereas Johannesburg was founded on gold. And the two have a very different character. Camps Bay, Cape TownAnd for Mandela, Cape Town was very significant. Obviously sitting on Robben Island, he could see Table Mountain but always a bit of distance away. So Cape Town represented freedom for him and the day that he was released from Victor Verster prison, my friend Gordon Oliver welcomed him, as the mayor of Cape Town, and invited him to come up to City Hall and a hundred thousand people gathered there. The mayor invited him to give an impromptu speech which he did, but he’d forgotten his glasses in prison so he borrowed his wife, Winnie’s glasses.  In the twilight of the evening he gave a very balanced, measured speech to this vast crowd in a totally unfamiliar world that he hadn’t seen for 27 years. We’ll meet Gordon on this trip, he’s now a priest actually and has embraced reconciliation in a very deep way all of his life and was very brave. He led one of those marches with Tutu and Allan Boesak, of 30,000 people through the streets of Cape Town. So, a fantastic man and one of several we’ll meet on this trip.

So you’ve actually got two weeks of not quite jaw socking but almost, history in location if you like. You could almost be making a documentary.

We could. It’s one thing to read about a place or visit it, but to actually meet people who worked alongside Mandela, to go the places that were so significant to him, it’s going to be very enriching. The life of a remarkable man who we can all learn from.

And to literally walk in his footsteps.

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