Friday, September 23, 2011

Tiyo Soga Commemoration with Thabo Mbeki

September is Heritage Month in South Africa, with the official Heritage Day recognized on September 24.  As part of the month long celebrations, Sis Ghana invited us at the last-minute to an evening lecture in Butterworth to commemorate Reverend Tiyo Soga.  I had never heard of Tiyo Soga but the church was packed with community members, academics, members of government, traditional leadership, and other dignitaries.  The most exciting part of the evening and the reason we all frantically tried to sort out transportation was to see former President Thabo Mbeki give a short commemoration.  The crowd roared when he stepped on stage as we were directly in his stronghold of support in the Xhosa Eastern Cape and about an hour from his birthplace.   
The next day, we returned to Butterworth and then drove just outside of the town to the rural village of Thuthura near Centane to be part of the unveiling of the commemorative tombstone for Reverend Tiyo Soga.  It was absolutely packed again with dignitaries, community members, academics, traditional leaders, and government.  The keynote speaker was former President Thabo Mbeki and while being introduced, the member of Parliament referred to him as their current president, a not so subtle jab at the manner in which he was removed from the office of the President and Xhosa sentiments toward his Zulu replacement, Jacob Zuma.  Again the crowd went wild when he stepped on stage and it was fascinating to see a former (and controversial) head of state speak.
After the program ended, the Master of Ceremonies made an announcement that very strict security protocol was in place because of the invited guests.  The police blocked off the aisle next to us so we were able to get a front row glimpse of Thabo Mbeki, government members, and traditional tribal leaders.  Although Sis Ghana and I were wearing the "commoner" wristband, we ripped ours off as she convinced me that no one would question the two of us entering the VIP tent because I was white.  I'm a terrible liar and I was terrified that we would get found out especially because I was dressed very casually and look 14 years old.  But Sis Ghana grabbed my arm and confidently strode into the tent like we were also former presidents.  No one blinked an eye or asked to see our wrists.  I was both relieved and excited that we had made it into the VIP tent and embarassed that the colour of my skin became more important than the colour of my wristband.

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