Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Week 6: Unifying a Separated World

By: Grace Corbin

I am sitting here trying to figure out what to write for this blog post, because I have too many topics I want to/could write about and I can’t make up my mind.  For goodness’ sakes, I should just pick one, right?  Unfortunately, I’m very indecisive.  For starters, this was a regular week (if you could ever call spending a week in a foreign country regular) of classes, going to Zumba, hanging out with each other and people we have met in Namibia, and finishing the reading and homework we have been procrastinating on until the night before. A pretty regular week.

Well, during this “regular week” of classes, I found myself reflecting on divisions between people quite often. Learning and discussing about apartheid and race all of the time has me bogged down about how people perceive differences to be bad. And I continue to ask questions, because, as my classmates in Namibia have learned, I love to ask questions. Questions I ask do not have an easy answer, but I will discuss them anyway because they are important. These are some of the questions I have been dwelling on.  What causes divisions?   Why do we focus on our differences?  Why can’t we see that everyone has similarities, but we are not the same, and that our differences are beautiful anyway? 

One thing I’ve noticed is that we like to put things into boxes or categories. White, black; red, blue; good, bad, etc. Apartheid put people into boxes, for example. During apartheid, people were forcibly put into different areas based on the perceived color of their skin. White Europeans got away with separating people of different skin colors into sectioned off places of the world, hoarding what they could, and leaving the leftovers for people of color. People were put in one of three categories: black, colored, or white.  But, as we know, there are not only three skin colors. Putting people into racial categories allowed people of white skin color to say that they are better. Apartheid legally enforced divisions, but skin color is not just black, white or colored. The world is much more fluid than some people perceive it to be or try to make it.

There are many things in this world which are not black and white (I would argue that most things are not), but sometimes it seems like the world is insisting that things are black and white. Class, gender, religion, ethnicity, are some examples of labels that are imposed on people either by themselves or others; labels that are treated as if you can only be one or the other, but that is many times not the case. Things are much more fluid.  An example of fluidity in religion is a woman we met this last week for classes who is a traditional healer and a Christian. For those of you who do not know, a traditional healer is someone who is a doctor and pastor to a sick person.  Traditional healers call on their ancestors for help to cure the sick person. The woman we met with, Lesego Edith Movshosi, is, what I consider, a strong Christian woman whose love for Jesus radiates through her. She relied on Jesus to help her call her ancestors who would then show how to find a solution for her patients’ problems. She also believes prayer is an integral part of healing for her patients. This beautiful way in which she unites two religions together shows that there is no need to compartmentalize ideals or beliefs into boxes. Why do we put things like religion into boxes? Why do we put things in boxes when they only separate us further?  

My attempt at an answer is this: it’s easier. Associating with people who look, speak, act just like you is easier than truly getting to know someone who doesn’t have the same characteristics, or beliefs as you. I think of a story Annie told after she came back from her urban home stay. She was walking around with her host family at a mall, and they found people looking at them. Her host family told her that it’s weird for a white girl to be walking around with black people. In many places here, I have felt that segregation between race is still very present. Segregation by differences is easier for people.

Now, how do we overcome that? My answer comes from my experience in yoga class. Yoga, for those of you who do not know, is not only the act of stretching your body in crazy ways, but also, and mostly, a spiritual practice. Yoga is about unity of your body, the Earth, and the Divine. Isn’t that beautiful? I believe the goal of yoga is to realize that we are not separate bodies, but energy connected to the whole universe. We are all one: one with each other, one with the universe, one with the Divine. Even if you do not agree with that statement, I hope you appreciate the beauty of it. How can differences separate us if we are all one?

You might be thinking, ‘that’s nice, Grace, but come on, that won’t happen.’ But I’m allowed to dream, aren’t I? Even if it’s hard to see ourselves all as one, I know that I find glimpses of unity in everyday life at the CGEE house. We’ve had many nights here spent laughing and laughing at each other, without a care in the world. We find solidarity in each other: a small group of U.S. students who look similar, but who have all walked very different paths in life, and if we can come together, maybe, just maybe, the world will find unity someday too.

Week 5

As commanded by our week’s community leader Amanda, we were all wearing our PJ’s. I had this yellow and hole filled shirt, sporting a “Life is Good” logo and the phrase, “Remember where you came from.” The smell of pizza permeated the room. It was pretty good except for the vegan pizza, which tasted like old cigarettes (God bless Emily for her ethical decisions). We had just gotten back from our Urban Homestay. It was good to be together. We had become a family of sorts. The seven of us sprawled in a circle across the living room floor along with Attila, our mother hen. Amanda had shuffled a deck of cards and spread them out in between all of us. I picked up the first card, not really understanding what the heck was going on. I laid my card out in front of everyone; an ace. Amanda picked up her notebook and found the question associated with the ace: “What fulfills you the most in life currently?” While I’m definitely one of those people who likes to speak before thinking, this time I really had no idea what to say.

The day before, my host brother Donovan drove his siblings and I to a farm outside of Windhoek. It was hilly like South Dakota combined with the dryness of New Mexico. There was a big army tent set up across from this towering tree. It reminded me of all the trees mentioned in Genesis: the places where death and life happened, an orienting place, a place of reunion. Under this tree was where the people in my host parents’ generation cooked food all day long. The farm was, for today, the setting of a first of its kind family reunion. The matriarch of the family hadn’t yet seen all of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in one place. So for her 72nd birthday, she wanted a family reunion.

At first I was very conscious of difference. I was the only white guy around, the only one with a full beard, the only one whose first language was English, and the only one who was comfortable burping and farting in front of old people. It was about 10 in the morning when the assembly of young and old clustered under the old army tent. Great-grandma sat on the long side of the tent in the very middle. Everyone found a seat in a semi-circleish thing around her. My host-mom grabbed me. She had me sit next to her so she could translate form Afrikaans into English. Someone could’ve turned her speech into a cliche “trip down memory lane.” But even for a foreigner, it was easy to tell that this was something different. You could tell from the look in her eyes as she smiled down at her great-grandchildren. “Remember where you came from,” she said, like a mother spreading a blanket over her new-born.

She told us the story of her life. She had walked through a land ravaged by Apartheid. She had raised her children through Apartheid. She had seen the liberation struggle. She had seen the revolution. Though these statements are all true, Apartheid was not the main subject of her reflections: it was family.

The week away from the Center on Simpson Street was a week immersed in difference. But it was also, for me, a time to remember where I come from. The time spent accepting the hospitality of strangers reminded me less about difference and more about our universal desire to belong. I saw this struggle to belong with the little girl who’s complexion was lighter than the rest. This struggle was also evident with a gay man who was constantly denied respect and responsibility from family elders. And I saw this struggle with myself, not quite sure where I was supposed to stand.

It was Sunday evening when we got dropped off from our homestay’s. That night our unconventional family of seven plus mother hen was sprawled across the floor in a circle. Amanda read me the baffling question: “What fulfills you the most in life currently?” There’s a lot of ways I could’ve answered the question. And most of them would have been truthful. But being with each other, laying around in our pajamas and our communal breath of pizza smells, made me realize that I belong.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Week 4: Getting Acquainted with Windhoek

By: Amanda Knipple

We had the weekend to get settled into our new home in Windhoek, but after that we were constantly out and about to get a feel for the city. I could feel the excitement of the group when we talked of all the potential that Namibia had to offer. For some of us, the new landscape brought the realization that we still had so much to learn and as far as we had come, our journey was nowhere close to being completed.

Now in Namibia, I finally started my internship at Friendly Haven Shelter for abused women and children.  Friendly Haven is one of the oldest and best functioning shelters in Namibia, as well as a model often used by similar organizations. I’m grateful for the opportunity to meet all the amazing people behind the operation. Working with issues of gender-based violence can be very taxing, but they’re there day in and day out, constantly pushing for change in the community while educating and empowering the women staying at the shelter.  My role at the shelter will mostly be within the realm of raising awareness of gender-based violence and the existence of the shelter itself. I’m excited to try to take on this role because gender-based violence is so prevalent in Namibia and throughout the world. While reading up on Friendly Haven’s work, I came across a statistic from the Legal Assistance Centre that claims that 1 in 5 women in Namibia is in an abusive relationship. One shelter is nowhere near enough to combat such widespread violence. Raising awareness and educating the community can be such powerful forms of outreach in order to inspire more people to take action.  Gender based violence is so normalized that some people might not recognize the signs until they are explained. If more people can be equipped with the knowledge of gender-based violence and how to recognize the signs, perhaps we can move towards a more equal and peaceful society.

A guided tour of Windhoek was one of the first things we did as a group in Namibia. The intention was to get a broader view of the cultural and economic realities of the place we shall call home for the next three months. The group was driven around the city with a local guide. We saw all kinds of things, from shopping malls and busy streets to the informal settlements that house a large portion of Windhoek’s population. We weren’t mainly concerned with tourist attractions, but rather with the lesser known areas that have been shaped by the country’s history and the organizations that are working to create positive change.

Embroidered vest from
Penduka Village
One of the places we visited was called Penduka Village, which aims to provide jobs for women and teach them skills so they can provide for themselves. Projects included sewing, embroidery, and jewelry making. Lots of their products are made from recycled goods in order to make the operation more sustainable. I was very touched by the organization and all its efforts to help women; it reminded me of the fair trade cooperatives that I’m so fond of. Empowering women, giving them the confidence and tools to make a living can be one of the most important things you can do for a society.  Their organization is combating a variety of important issues in Namibia and the world today: unemployment, lack of skills, a large amount of waste, and a poor local economy.  The women of this village are able to support themselves and their community in a sustainable way that deserves much more recognition. We learned that unemployment is rampant in Namibia, and that it doesn’t affect solely women. In an attempt to find work, many jobless men line the streets in the hopes of being hired for a day job or some kind of manual labor. At first this seemed ridiculous and confusing to me, but what’s even more ridiculous and confusing is that the Namibian government has legitimized it.  You can now become a registered MSR (man on the side of the road) to try and be linked to work opportunities.

At this point in my journey through Southern Africa, I probably should not have been surprised by the poverty that I’ve encountered.  But yet again I was struck by the conditions that part of the population are accustomed and subjected to. I don’t yet fully understand the system, so it is possible that my criticism may be unfounded, but it seems to me that more should be done than just allowing people to sit on the side of the road all day hoping that something comes your way. And of course, when we made our way out to the informal settlements, we were again faced with vast fields of small, tin shacks much like in Alexandra and in the Cape Flats (mentioned in previous blog entries). I just remember standing from a distance, overlooking hundreds of shacks tucked neatly between the sandy hills. 

Overlooking the informal settlements
Learning about Apartheid for these past few weeks has rendered me very conscious of how privilege has been abused in history. I think it’s very important to be aware of what privileges you do have in your life so you can check how you use them. The intersectionality of privilege cannot be ignored. There is no way to talk about privilege and oppression without looking at all of the ways that they affect people’s lives. Being on this trip has exemplified this idea. One of my favorite things about the CGEE so far is that dialogue is constantly flowing and there’s a lot of opportunity for contact with ideas that differ from your own. It has helped me a lot to see things through the framework of other people’s thoughts. In one of the many relevant and enriching discussions our group has had, I was introduced to ideas about class and privilege that I hadn’t considered before and I felt grateful for the opportunity to listen to this new perspective. I learned that “class” isn’t just a measure of someone’s wealth. Too often, I considered my socioeconomic privilege to be a product of my family’s income, but there are more that goes into it. Class can also be determined by experiences. Education, travel, exposure to culture, etc. can be a huge part of where you see your place in the world. Not everything is as cut and dry as we’re led to believe. The glaring inequality is everywhere. Standing on that hill above the shacks in the informal settlement in Katutura, I had a hard time reconciling my place in all of this. I realized that I am deeply privileged in the simple fact that I can be here, thousands of miles from home, learning about all of this injustice.  I don’t know where we go from here, or how these inequalities can be rectified, but acknowledging their existence is an essential first step.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Week Three: Broken Systems, Broken Promises

By: Emily Campbell

“The people shall share in the country’s wealth.” Originally written in South Africa’s 1955 Freedom Charter and adopted by the current ruling party, the ANC, this sentence took on new life when we saw it spray painted across several overpasses in the Cape Flats. When displayed in the primarily black townships southeast of the city center, these words seemed to highlight the existing discontent with the current system. Sixty years after it was written, this promise, and many others, have yet to be realized. We repeatedly heard frustration over the perceived lack of follow through on promises made during the liberation struggle and how little has changed for the living conditions of many people residing in townships. Despite the ANC’s promises of 1994, many black South Africans still lack basic services such as power, clean water, housing, healthcare, education, and employment. 

On Tuesday, we met with Mandla Majola at the Treatment Action Campaign. His work exemplified the failed promises of the ANC. Located in Khayelitsha, a township within the Cape Flats, TAC was founded to increase HIV and AIDS awareness and to provide universal access to antiretroviral drugs. Since its formation in 1998, TAC has spread its reach far beyond HIV. Poor sanitation and failing infrastructure are tied to a wide range of health issues, and Majola has been an advocate on many of these fronts. In Khayelitsha, there are many homes without electricity or clean water, one (infrequently cleaned) public toilet for roughly every ten families, a high rate of TB, four reported rapes daily, and poor maternal health care, to name a few of the issues Majola is passionately tackling. Many of us left TAC carrying the emotional weight of Majola’s heart-rending stories, but inspired by his tireless work for his community. But these issues are not unique to his area and represent the symptoms of a weak infrastructure nationwide. As Henrik described in an earlier blog post, we saw many of the same issues when we visited Orange Farm outside of Johannesburg. The government system is set up in such a way large segments of the population fall through the cracks, receiving virtually no government services. The conditions in both townships illustrate this issue and how many of the rights secured by the 1994 South African Constitution are still nonexistent for many people across the country. 

On display at the District Six Museum, a member of the
demolition crew saved these street signs for decades. 
Land rights are another contentious issue that many activists feel the ANC has failed to address. During the Apartheid, segregation forced many black and coloured South Africans to relocate. One such area was District Six, a mixed neighborhood in Cape Town. In 1982, it was declared a whites-only area and 60,000 people were forcibly relocated to the Cape Flats. On Monday, we visited the District Six Museum and met Noor Ebrahim, a former resident of District Six. He explained the many financial, physical, sociological, and emotional impacts of the forced removals. Homes and businesses were destroyed, many were left without work and paying rent for their new residences. Those who had once walked to work had to start paying for transportation. The Cape Flats were overcrowded, leading to poor sanitation and additional health issues. Communities, and even families, were split up and segregated. People were pulled out of their communities and uprooted from their support systems. This is part of what makes forced removals such an effective tool of oppression. A community divided is less powerful and less able to organize against the unjust system. Since the official end of Apartheid, there has been a movement to restore the land rights of people forcibly removed from District Six, The government promised to build homes for former residents who wished to return to the area, but to date, few houses have been built and the area still remains largely empty. Hearing from Ebrahim and exploring the museum helped us to understand the many ways people are still healing from the scars of Apartheid.

Frustration over the government's lack of attention to these problems and its perceived inability to develop effective infrastructure has led to service delivery protests across the nation. During our time in Cape Town, we witnessed one of these protests (don't worry parents, we didn't participate). A group of citizens gathered in front of a government building to protest a government that has failed to provide the basic services its people need. Not only has the current system failed to close the gap between the wealthy and the impoverished, but the failure to deliver services and improve the infrastructure has deprived many people of basic human rights. Just as the spray painted overpasses in the Cape Flats proclaimed, the people are still not sharing in the country’s wealth. 

The group gets comfortable at the
CGE house on our first night in Windhoek.
My own frustration grew as we saw a different side of Cape Town. It seemed that everywhere we went there were mountain views and unending seascapes, delicious restaurants and busy marketplaces. It came as no surprise that Cape Town is consistently ranked as one of the top tourist destinations in the world. But as we experienced the tourist side of the city, we learned about places tourists don’t go. It seemed that the stories Majola and Ebrahim shared with us aren’t stories routinely heard. It was unsettling how easily their perspectives can be overlooked, despite the fundamental role they play in the history and present reality of the city. I found myself very lucky not only to hear their stories, but to share them. It was the dichotomy between their underrepresented perspectives and the overcrowded tourist destinations that helped us to understand more about post-apartheid South Africa. We came to Cape Town to explore identity. We left wondering about the two seemingly irreconcilable identities of the city, the many identities of its people, and our own identities in relation to everything we learned. Experiencing these many sides of Cape Town pushed us to ask questions about history, politics, inequality, and ourselves as we began to develop a global perspective. And now that we’ve settled into our home in Windhoek, we’re excited to dig deeper into the history and politics of Southern Africa as we continue to grow in our social and cultural understanding of the region.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Week Two: Cape Town, A City Not What it Seems

By: Rachel Briegel

Never in my life have I been anywhere as beautiful and complicated as Cape Town, South Africa. After an intense week in Johannesburg learning about the Liberation struggle, and having emotional, thought-provoking conversations, Cape Town initially felt like a much needed vacation. Beauty shone from every angle; from the turquoise sea, to the steep, rugged mountains, to the brightly painted houses. The main street, which we stayed only a block away from, was constantly crowded with tourists of all different nationalities. It was a wonderland.

But as our tour of the city progressed my discontent grew. Although I desperately wanted to believe that Cape Town was a perfect paradise in comparison to the hardships of Johannesburg, I soon realized that was not the case.

Although Cape Town is known as a beautiful tourist attraction, just beyond the main roads were townships just like in Johannesburg, where the residents are mainly poor, black citizens. A sea of metal and wood constructed into homes with the skill of third world engineers expanded around us as we held discussions with pastors, HIV/AIDS  nonprofit leaders, and political figures who discussed the past and very current state of apartheid in South Africa. We learned more about the cruelties encountered daily by Africans, by LGBTQ individuals, by women and I could feel my own heart harden.

Before I came on this trip to Southern Africa, I admit I knew little about the struggles of this country. I knew apartheid existed, that it was now officially over, and that a Mr. Nelson Mandela “saved” the country and created equality. But the longer I have spent here the more obvious it has become that many Americans do not truly understand apartheid and what happened in this country. The horrors of night time raids, the harsh conditions for political prisoners on Robben Island, and most important, how many of these issues are still present in South Africa twenty years after liberation. Much of the city is disguised so you cannot see these issues, but if you talk to any South African on the street they will speak otherwise.

A banner flying outside the Methodist Church
in Cape Town protesting the Marikana Massacre.
Photo credit: Grace Corbin
While our group was digesting all of these present day issues, we went to talk with a pastor at a Methodist Church in downtown Cape Town. I have had a complicated relationship with religion and preachers that condoned discriminatory environments, but this church was clearly different. The first thing I saw walking up to the church was a giant banner protesting police brutality and the Marikana Massacre, and I immediately knew this would be an interesting discussion.

We then met Preacher Alan Storey, who taught me how to look at the Bible and Christianity in a whole different light. His main message was to follow what Jesus would do as an activist, a revolutionary, or wherever else life takes you. This message was incredibly inspiring for me, and many others in my group, who have been trying to reconcile our lives and religious beliefs with the pain faced with so many in South Africa. We then asked him about something that had been troubling a lot of us of this trip, which was how to find hope in a world so lost. In response, Pr. Storey stated that we were in a sense addicted to hope and had to come to terms with the reality we lived in. 

This statement left many of us left thinking about Pr. Storey’s concept of hope, if it truly exists, and ultimately where we are to find it. Many of my friends in the CGE program thought about this question in terms of religion, and although I very much commend their ideas, and believe strongly in the values they discussed, the way I have been finding hope the most throughout this journey has been through a different conduit: the people of this country.

The sunrise over Cape Town a top Table Mountain.
Pictured: Myself, Grace Corbin, and Annie Dierberger.
This morning I got up at 4:45am and climbed a mountain in order to see the sunrise over all of Cape Town.  It would be naive to see this beautiful landscape and think the town was perfect. In South Africa, no matter how well it is hidden, there are always signs of poverty and despair, but as I gazed into the peaking sun, I was dwelling not on the wretched conditions that plagued the poor of this country, rather I was thinking of all the incredible people I had met that week; the fighters and revolutionaries, the courageous people who stand up selflessly and commit themselves to a righteous cause. Like Alan said, I agree people today are addicted to hope, so much so that sometimes we choose to ignore the suffering surrounding us in order to believe the world is a better place than it actually is. Yet I also think there are deserving places to find hope, like in the depths of Robben Island where political prisoners hid in the gravel pits and taught each other how to read, in the LBGT community where activists stand up for equal rights and protections, in the past and present feminist heroes of the slave community, and even at the pulpits of churches. Cape Town, like all of South Africa, is not perfect. There is pain and poverty, discrimination and unemployment, but there are also courageous people, and signs of hope.

So that morning, as I watched the sunrise over the whole town and reminisced about all the difficult things I’ve learned in just the few weeks I’ve been in this country, what stood out most in my mind was all the amazing people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made, and I couldn’t help but still think that despite its struggles and inequalities, Cape Town still stood out in my mind as a beautiful city. Be it the people, a spiritual sensation, or the magnificent landscape, there was something inspiring about watching that morning sun rise over the mountain tops, and just like all the people I’ve met here, shine on for another day.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Week One: Unpacking South Africa

By Henrik Weber

We finally made it! After months of waiting, planning, and paperwork the seven of us arrived in Johannesburg ready for a semester learning about Nation building, Globalization and Decolonizing the mind.  From the first time we all met at Dulles International Airport in Washington DC, it was clear this was a group ready to ask the difficult questions and be receptive to the heavy truth.

Picture of Hector Pieterson's death.
Hector's body is being carried by another protester,
while his sister runs alongside.
Photo by Sam Nzima, 1976.
On the very first day we dragged our jetlagged bodies out of bed. Diving right into the atrocities of apartheid, we listened in horror as we heard Hector Pieterson’s sister tell the story of the day she witnessed the transformation of her brother from a young protesting school child to a martyr.

As we explored the Hector Pieterson museum we found ourselves astonished by the accomplishments of the students. They stood up to the apartheid Government despite being tear gassed and shot. 1976 student protest’s resulted with a change in social attitudes that toppled apartheid less than two decades later. Seeing this brought out the groups sense of student activist pride. These students had such a tremendous impact on the world because they chose to act, as students we felt overjoyed to see the youth had taken a stand for what they believed in.

Our journey then took us to Regina Mundi Church. As you walk around the inside of the building it is impossible not to feel the historical importance of the space. As the largest Roman Catholic Church in South Africa, Regina Mundi served as a gathering space for community leaders to meet during apartheid. Even when gatherings of three or more blacks were ban, the apartheid Government still let people congregate in Churches. This made the pulpit all the more important. Community leaders, at a great risk to their families and themselves, would make political speeches until warning came that police were in the area. At this point ministers would take the pulpit to give the illusion that worship was all that was happening in the building. Hearing stories and standing in the same spaces that have been occupied by the likes of President Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Chancellor Merkel, and native heroes Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, drives home the rich history that the building holds inside.  The bullet holes intentionally left in the wall and windows serve as a reminder of the tragedies that occurred and that no space was sacred to the authorities.

On our third day in South Africa we journeyed to Orange Farm. This experience was the “Classic Africa” many Americans have the image of. The power lines loose in the street and the tin houses smashed together like sardines greeted us as we got out of the van. Shock set in. We saw the living conditions that had been allowed to develop. The area has been deemed “temporary housing” since 1997. People are attempting to live in uninhabitable conditions whilst being met with empty promises from the Government about how they will be relocated to permanent structures. As we reflected on what life would be like if there was one fresh water spigot for the block, we recognized the difficulties of attempting to balance current needs with long term solutions to systematic issues. No one expects poverty to be eliminated now, but to walk around extremely impoverished area and recognized the realities of everyday life for such a large population was challenging for many of us. And that is the point of this journey. To challenge our world views and to expand our knowledge of the real world is the reason we traveled to the opposite side of the globe.

Photo of our group at one of the homestay houses in Soweto.
By the time the weekend reached us we felt as if we had known each other a year not a week. We said goodbyes and split into three groups to do homestays in Soweto. Soweto is made up of 30 or so townships. Under apartheid the townships were developed as housing areas for blacks, little was invested into them. To this day many live in hostels that could easily be mistaken for jails. Just over a hill and around a corner however, you start to see houses that resemble middle upper class American ones. This is the area we stayed. One group spent time with younger children, while another toured the neighborhood with a pair of teenagers, while another stayed with students of university age. Some groups spent a lazy Saturday at the mall while others volunteered within the community. On Sunday all the groups went to Church and gathered in the afternoon for a meal. The time in Soweto helped everyone to grasp the similarities and differences in day to day life between our respective home towns and this community that adapted us for a weekend. We all pushed ourselves to feel uncomfortable and at the end of the homestay came out better for it. 

Coming to terms with Soweto remains a challenge. To experience living in a poor neighborhood in comfort leaves an uneasy feeling of complacency. Leaving Church to a parking lot of BMW or Mercedes makes it easy to see those who are doing alright. It rapidly shifts how I view the world. More and more I find it to be true that we only see what we are looking for. Soweto is a place where you can see people doing well for themselves or others in desperate need of help. I’ve stared to see the bonds of economic apartheid that still exist today. Thinking critically about the types of obstacles in the way of equality leads down a road with no clear answers. Thinking, learning, and responding, to these experiences is something we are all eager to do.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Week Sixteen: Becoming A Part Of The Solution Rather Than A Part Of The Problem

By Miranda Joebgen and Eli Miller

            After saying a difficult goodbye to our home in Windhoek, we departed for Cape Town, South Africa on Saturday, April 25th.  The next day we attended service at Way of Life Church and had the opportunity to speak with Pastor Xola Skosana afterwards.  We knew going into the service that Pastor Skosana was no ordinary pastor – he has a history of making radical statements, including once stating (in a 2010 sermon) that Jesus had HIV.  Naturally, we were intrigued to discover what he would be talking to us about that day.  In his sermon, Pastor Skosana began by addressing Xenophobia – which is currently a large issue in South Africa. Xenophobia is the fear or dislike of people from other countries. Unfortunately, this has been the cause of much violence in South Africa, particularly against people from other African countries.   Pastor Skosana talked about how people should not be strangers in their own land.  Though people may come from Zimbabwe or Botswana or Namibia, they are all children of Africa – country lines are simply arbitrary.  Eventually, Pastor Skosana transitioned into addressing what he believes to be the main source of South Africa’s problem: white power.  White power, he believes, has existed ever since Africa was first colonized and the country lines were established. White power created apartheid, which in turn created the poverty and inequality that have remained a part of this country. White power is what causes black people to turn on black people in an effort to become more like “the white man” and gain power and wealth.

            Now, as a white person, it would be easy for me to hear someone say this and immediately become defensive, declaring that “not ALL white people are like that,” thereby defending myself.  However, this semester has taught me a lot about racism, specifically in South Africa and Namibia, and I have learned more about the immense pain that white people caused black people during apartheid.  While apartheid is over, the pain and inequality caused by the system still exist today, and it is the reason why so many black people still live in extreme poverty.  White people who are not too consumed with denying their role in any oppression often find themselves left with “white guilt”, yet don’t know how to address these systems of oppression, so they instead simply remain quiet.  However, something that we have learned in more than one of our courses this semester is that in issues of oppression, those who choose to remain silent have chosen the side of the oppressor.  In other words, if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. 

            Pastor Skosana then proceeded to tell us of something which he thinks could help solve issues that have been created by white power such as inequality and poverty: a wealth tax. The money taxed from the wealthy would be used to aid those who are in need, thereby bridging the massive amounts of inequality that exist in this country still. This is a controversial topic in South Africa right now.

            The theme of white privilege and white power continued throughout the week in Cape Town. On Monday we took a walking tour of Cape Town with Lucy Campbell; a staunch human rights activist who advocates human rights through cultural tourism. It is easy to view Cape Town as a beautiful shining city - which it is - but crime, poverty, and the roots of slavery and apartheid are still very present in modern day Cape Town. It is very important when you come to Cape Town to see the reality of the City.  The large amounts of homeless people in the downtown area alone signal that not everything is perfect.  Lucy took us to the Cape Town slave lodge museum, which was a place to house slaves for the Dutch East India Company. Lucy also showed us some of the monuments around Cape Town that represent slavery and the apartheid era. While the recent removal of the Rhodes monument gained a lot of national coverage, there are still many monuments around Cape Town that represent slavery and apartheid that many people feel should also be taken down.
The CGE group with Lucy and Collin, our wonderful tour guides
            On Thursday we took a ferry to Robben Island to see one of the most famous prisons in the world. All of the tour guides of the prison at Robben Island were former political prisoners during the apartheid era and make incredible tour guides. Many of the tour guides at Robben Island underwent immense physical, psychological and emotional turmoil. Many were tortured and still wear the scars they received on the island to this day. After apartheid ended many of the guards at Robben Island and others who assaulted and killed black South Africans were given blanket immunity. They went on with their lives like nothing happened. Many point to the lack of reconciliation and reparations after apartheid as the source of South Africa’s present problems.
The cell where Nelson Mandela lived when he was in prison on Robben Island.
            Economic inequality, poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS are still huge issues in South Africa and we think it’s fair to say equality for all has not been reached. Black South African’s still face discrimination and marginalization today and we believe institutional racism that was not changed after apartheid is at the root of that cause. As we have learned more about the current political and social landscape in South Africa, we can’t help but find similarities to America’s current issues with police brutality. Institutional racism is at a boiling point in America and these cases have revealed the depths of how much racism is embedded in our society. We think it will be interesting to see how we view and understand these issues of police brutality after our experiences in Namibia, especially since this is an issue that gained a lot of attention before we left for Namibia and it is still continuing now that we are returning after four months. America is not without its own history of oppression that has yet to be completely dismantled. Now that we are returning to America, we are left wondering, “How am I going to become a part of the solution, rather than silently standing by and condoning the acts of the oppressor?”
The sun sets on our time in Southern Africa…for now at least.

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.augsburg.edu/global