Today we were confronted with the complex history of South Africa. This morning we visited the Voortrekker Monument, a structure built to commemorate the Dutch farmers’ journey from Cape Town to the interior of the country. This historical landmark is the central symbol of Afrikaner pride, representing both the strength and determination of the pioneers. We were taken on a tour of this imposing monument, learning about the many battles and triumphs of the Dutch during their trek eastward. Encountering constant conflict with the natives, destructive diseases, and numerous deaths, their journey is now seen as inspirational to a majority of Afrikaners.
While visiting the Voortrekker Monument, I experienced extremely mixed emotions. Overwhelmed by new surroundings and struggles, they still found the strength to continue on their quest. On one hand I was moved by the Voortrekkers’ courage and willpower. Despite their inspiring story, I found it hard to justify the ruthless violence that underpinned this quest. The Dutch took land that did not belong to them, showing no consideration for the Zulu people. Throughout the tour, I found it difficult to deal with this emotional turmoil. I truly did not know how to react. I have a tendency to look for clear answers. I want to categorize things as humane or inhumane, just or unjust, right or wrong. But as Trevor Tutu said at the beginning of our tour, “nothing is black or white, no pun intended.” The Voortrekker Monument offered me a new perspective on the history of South Africa, forcing me to come to the unsettling realization that most things in life involve ambiguity.