Monday, September 25, 2017

Week 4: Week of Firsts

By: Caroline Pratt

Reflecting back on this week has brought up a lot of emotions. This week we had so many firsts. We had our first exploration of Windhoek, our new home for the next three months, our first day at our internships, our first day of classes, and the first time I have ever been in the same room as a President of a country.  It was truly a week to remember,
Some of us took a trip to some local markets and the art gallery
on Saturday in downtown Windhoek
We started the week going on a ‘quest’ through Katutura, a township of Windhoek where Blacks were forced to move to during the years of Apartheid. Much like Soweto, and other townships we visited in South Africa, Katurura is much more than what meets the eye. While there is extreme poverty, there is also a rich culture. On our quest, we were split up into groups of 3 and were assigned a local guide. My group went to Base FM, a non-profit radio station that focuses on bringing the Katutura community news, sports updates, and entertainment. We learned a lot about how a radio station works and while in the United States radio may be becoming less relevant with other sources such as television, and podcasts, in Namibia, radio is still one of the leading sources for news and entertainment. After the radio station visit, we went to a local store in Katutura and went to the meat market. This market was unlike anything I have ever seen. Vendors are butchering and cooking meat freshly on site. While health codes may not be in existence, it might have been the greatest lunch I have ever had.
Tuesday was “community day”. After passing springbok, an ostrich, and a wildebeest on our drive in, the students and staff found our way to a beautiful lodge. We started the day with some get to know you games and after that we dove into some self reflection. We broke into small groups to discuss identity with topics such as: race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. I enjoyed this part of the day because we got to hear from our Namibian staff on their perspective and how their backgrounds have shaped their identity while being able to compare our own experiences, being from the United States.
Michele and I's first day at our internship in Namibia
After community day, the firsts really began. Wednesday was our first day of internships. My internship is at Sister Namibia, a Namibian non-profit that empowers woman and girls through putting out a magazine, workshops, and providing resources in their library on topics such as women's health, gender based violence, and legal rights, to name just a few. Some other internships are: Friendly Haven, the Hope Initiative, and the Namibian Women's Health Network. I am so excited to start my work at Sister Namibia and see how I can help impact women’s life in this area and be able to bring back what I have learned here to my work in the United States.
Still exhausted from a full day of work, we had the opportunity to go listen to PLO Lumumba. This talk was one of the most powerful talks I have ever heard. Topics included globalization, a unified Africa, government corruption, poor wealth distribution, and growing inequality. This talk really put into words everything that I have seen on the trip so far. For example, seeing Sandton, the richest suburb of South Africa, just minutes away from Alexandria, the poorest area was sickening. While I am unsure of the Afro, a common African currency similar to the Euro, that PLO Lumumba would work, clearly a more unified Africa is needed. At the end of the event the most surprising thing happened, the President of Namibia walked into the back and heard what the speaker had to say.  It was really amazing that a president could walk into a room, without tons of security, and without making a big scene. He listened to what Professor Lumumba had to say even if some of it went against current politics.

Classes started on Thursday, and while I just had history, I am excited to apply what I learned from the speaker to the classroom and continue to make connections. It was a week of firsts and I am going to take advantage of every moment in Namibia before our lasts begin.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Week 3: Two Countries, One Continent

By Mickey Liebrecht

Mural at District 6 museum
In the past week we’ve transitioned from exploring Cape Town in South Africa to exploring Windhoek and our semester schedule in Namibia. I’ll start off with telling my experience with learning more about what Apartheid did to many communities of color from the District Six museum. Then I’ll move to talking a bit about Namibia and the budding possibilities that I’ve been able to see coming in my future.
While still in South Africa, we went to a museum called the District 6 Museum, and though its building is small, the gravity of its contents is not. The museum is a collection of donated items not just from the destroyed community of District 6, but the people who were forced to ‘relocate’ to another area so their community could be used for white homes – spoiler alert, they never did anything with the land after destroying the community that’d already been there. Our tour guide had his own stories from when he lived in District Six, and with them there was an air of pride about him that really stood out to me. He was proud because the district itself was filled with people of all kinds – race, religion, etc. – living together as harmonically as human beings can live with one another. This, in his opinion (and mine too), was what made the district a threat to the government, as they believed this could never happen in real life, or at least were selling that idea to their “fellow whites;” the most important ones at the time to sell this idea to, as they did have the easiest position within the structure of the country to do something about it.

Top view of District 6
His stories, along with the many others illustrated within the museum, were heart-breaking yes, but they didn’t break my heart in the same way other stories I’ve heard about Apartheid in the past few weeks have. Other stories have left me close to tears, or just flat out crying, as I hear them and/or read them, but I believe the stories of District Six had a different effect on me, because the storyteller was a man who experienced this atrocity and managed to leave me smiling after ending his story with a few jokes and some hope thrown in there for good measure; the government is currently working on a project that will rebuild District Six from the rubble that’s still there. The tour guide was a fun, happy, and naturally light-hearted spirit, a lot like who I used to be when I was younger. Also, the fact that he went through all this and still manages to make fun of it and be happy with himself and his life and the simple pleasures of it, gives me hope for myself. Hope that eventually, I’ll be able to do the same thing with some of the darker parts of my past, and move on to do something about them – within society – in the future. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had so far, for that reason.
My future in Windhoek also seems brighter because of this, as I’m continuing to learn more about the area and the organizations that reside here, fighting the good fight for their groups of humanity who are being “screwed over” essentially by the government and society – my words. I look forward to learning more from the two organizations I’ve been focusing on as the semester goes on, and helping in any way I can – if they’ll have me. The first is an orphanage that goes by the name of Village Hope, and the other is an LGBTI advocacy group that goes by the name Outright Namibia.  

Visual lounge space in HIV exhibit at Slave Lodge

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Week 3: The On-going History of Slavery in South Africa

By Adelina Alcaraz  
Our week started with a powerful tour informing us of the history of slavery in the Cape. As we went on our tour, we were informed that the places are ancestral grounds belonging to the Coy and Sun tribe. Common amongst colonization stories, when the colonizers came to Cape Town, they did not distinguish people by the various and divergent tribes, but simply by the color of their skin. It was better for colonizers to not use the Coy and Sun as slaves from the beginning. However, when slavery did come to the Cape, it came with a great force. Among the imported slaves were tens of thousands of children.
Small slave memorial in Cape Town

Later, our tour guides pointed out the surprisingly small memorials of slavery in Cape Town which exhibits the problem of being ignorant of the past. For example, there was a memorial of black blocks small enough to sit on. These block had words like slavery, resist, and a list of names to symbolize the horrors of the slave trade and following oppression in Cape Town. Although artistic, the message of the blocks is unclear to those that aren't familiar with that history therefore, is not efficient in educating others.

One of the most troubling memorials is a block in the shape of a tree trunk to symbolize the trees used to auction off slaves. This horrifyingly inhumane practice is ironically meant to be remembered by placing a circular block, not even big enough to sit comfortably on, in the middle of two busy roads, where people pass it daily, not even getting a glance at it. From this, we learned that ignorance of the past can not only threaten the future but also hurt and disrespect descendants of the oppressed.

After the tour, we were guided to an emotional HIV exhibit. We not only saw the pictures and stories of HIV survivors around the world, but were also introduced to an HIV survivor who is also a transgender woman, cancer survivor, former drug addict and sex worker. Her story of surviving so much trial proves her strength and amazing capability. Her main message to us was to break down stereotype of those living with HIV. They are not only capable of living a normal life, but strong in facing not just the HIV disease, but the harsh stigma put on them by the society they live in. Her story was inspirational and empowering to not only those living with HIV, but those being unjustly punished by society for not fitting into the box each society places every person in.

Some of us ended the day with a Swami yoga instructor. Interestingly, he identifies no religion, but is knowledgeable of many so that he may offer guidance to those that wish to connect the spirituality of yoga with her or his religion. The spirituality of yoga is something that mainstream yoga in the U. S. rarely mentions. One of the things the yoga instructor emphasized was the idea of selfishness in today’s world. He argued that selfishness is the base to the world’s problems and that happiness should come from making others happy. Coming from a society where self-care and helping yourself before you can help others is a common thought, it was interesting and frankly hard for some of us to accept. As for myself, I’m still struggling on what this means for complex situations, like what this looks like across cultures. Although the yoga instructor insisted this being a simple teaching, I think in practice it’s much more complex.
Photo from the HIV exhibit.

At the District 6 museum, we learned the story of someone who experienced inhumane relocation. He explained to us what it was like being forced out of his home during apartheid.
On Wednesday, we went to church, to school, and then to the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force. At each place were taught about love for each other and helping one another though things like acceptance and support. One of the most striking things to challenge my perspective was being introduced to the term sex worker, a more respectful way to address prostitutes. It was the idea that sex work can be just like any other work: a choice done willingly by the worker that should be protected by law instead of being criminalized. Unfortunately, a majority of the media, public, and politicians do not distinguish the difference between sex workers, those that choose their occupation, and human trafficking survivors, those forced into sex slavery.
The rest of the week involved moving into Windhoek, Namibia, a place we’ll call home for the following three months. Here, we reunited and met with the rest of the staff, or more appropriately labelled the rest of our family.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Week 2: Exploring Identity by Carly

By Carly Dillis

A view of Cape Town from historic Wale St, a community that
has historically been predominantly Muslim.
Over the past week, our group has been exploring Cape Town and different parts of the Eastern Cape. Throughout this time, we have been learning the story of South Africa through the people in these places. Our learning in this program is designed to be through experience, including that of others. Thus, we rely greatly on shared personal narratives to humanize and contextualize the more traditional learning that we have been engaging with in museums and historical sites. Simultaneously, we are also navigating our own identities in a new country and learning who we are and how we relate to the world.

Portraits of Steve Biko in front of the museum.
For our first day in the Eastern Cape, we drove from Port Elizabeth to King Williams town to visit the Steve Biko museum. The museum was about the anti-Apartheid struggle, but more so it was about Steve Biko as a person. The museum helped bring a human energy to the history of Apartheid. As Apartheid is such a violent system, it begins to feel the opposite of human. Therefore, reminding ourselves of the humans involved is a much-needed facet of a complete education in the subject. We have also found this human element at the Red Location Lodge, a women’s co-op that we have been staying in for our time in Port Elizabeth. The co-op is a women’s empowerment and support group with about a dozen members. They have been sharing their stories with us as well and showing us a more everyday type of resistance in their solidarity.

As we move onto Cape Town, we again get a new perspective on the history of South Africa and Apartheid. We took the ferry to Robben Island, the site of the prison in which Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Robert Sobukwe were held during the anti- Apartheid struggle. Our tour guide was a former prisoner at Robben Island and was able tell the story of prison life from his authentic experience there. He gave us a sense of what it felt like to be a prisoner under Apartheid and to be taken away from society. The story of Apartheid is one that is still being written. As the first democratic elections took place in 1994, the official era of Apartheid is over, but it is still very fresh in the minds and lives of the people of South Africa.

A collection of the original signs of District Six
before the Apartheid government tore down all
houses. Behind the signs, there are also handmade
quilts that depict everyday life in District Six. 
 We were also able to tour the District Six Museum. Our tour guide’s name was Noor and he was born in District Six. He was the third generation to raise his family in his home and was forcibly evicted when the area was declared “for whites only.” He watched his house be torn down and had to begin a new life away from the community which had become a part of his identity. He told his story with enthusiasm and passion, which gave us a sense of his greater self and identity and made his story exceptionally human. District Six and Noor’s story are a microcosm of Apartheid and help us understand how the events and policies enacted by the government affected everyday people such as Noor.

Learning through a personal lens helps one to internalize the curriculum and understand its importance. It also helps to decolonize our education by diversifying our knowledge source and helping us to be critical of institutions of knowledge. It has also helped us to understand our own places in the struggle, as we are connected to this history, and all histories, by our existence in a globalized world. 

Week 2: Exploring Identity by Evan

By Evan Carr
Cape Town skyline with a cloudy Table Mountain in the background
Our week in Cape Town has presented us with numerous opportunities to engage with the community as South Africa grapples with its identity. We have met with individuals from across the political spectrum and from various racial backgrounds, including those involved in sex workers’ rights, presenting alternative historical narratives, and Parliament. A critical element of this week, especially for me, has been the time we’ve spent reflecting upon our experiences and exploring our own identity.

Robben Island Prison - Several anti-apartheid activists,
 including Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe,
were imprisoned here. 
The week began with a boat ride out to Robben Island to visit where Nelson Mandela and many other heroes of the Liberation Struggle served political imprisonment sentences under the Apartheid government. By attending a performance by a Coloured stand-up comic in the evening we were able to hear not only a lighter take on race relations in South Africa, but also an in-depth account of the experience of people who straddle the divide between black and white and had a unique experience under Apartheid as Coloured (or mixed race) people.

We also did a walking tour of the city with Lucy Campbell and learned about the history and impact of slavery in the region as she presented us with a history that one can only decipher by reading between the lines. It was imperative that we understood this alternative history given that so much power in South Africa is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy and government, rather than with the people. One of the starkest examples of this power discrepancy was through monument memorialization. We observed the contrast between the looming, grandiose monuments of white South African generals compared to the essentially invisible monuments commemorating the plight of slaves. Despite the change in government in 1994, the historical narrative of Apartheid still lives on in South African spaces.
Cape Town buildings
This week has also afforded us the opportunity to better understand issues of health and sexuality, particularly surrounding HIV/AIDS. We heard from a transgender and HIV/AIDS rights activist who told her story and advocated for more work to be done in eliminating stigma surrounding these issues. A photographic and sculptural exhibit also allowed us to immerse ourselves in the experiences and lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. This valuable experience was coupled with a visit to the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Team, or SWEAT. Activists there outlined their work in pushing for the decriminalization of sex work in South Africa and again for the need to eliminate stigma.

South Africa's Parliament Chamber
A visit to Parliament, culminating with a discussion with Andricus van der Westhuizen of the Democratic Alliance (DA) party rounded out our experience in Cape Town. He presented us with an insightful overview of his party’s stances and of the South African political climate more generally. He also stressed that unemployment was the biggest threat to the nation. Especially interesting were van der Westhuizen’s comments on current race relations and the legacy of Apartheid. When asked about the possibility for an increase in right-wing, racialized politics and populism, Mr. van der Westhuizen explained that “in South Africa we have a free association of people where you go where you feel comfortable.” I found this to be quite a privileged comment and wondered whether people living in the ghettoized townships would say they felt comfortable. The blatant contrasts of South African identity extended to the perspectives we heard this week as Pastor Allan Storey presented us with his personal take on how to own one’s privileges, love and respect others, and move forward with a more equitable South Africa and world. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Week 1: Development & History of South Africa

By Mickey Liebrecht
Much of what we first learn in South Africa begins – like the history books within the schools of the country during Apartheid – in the early 1600s when the Dutch first colonized the region. This is helpful information and very much the beginning of the racial oppression, tension, and division within the country that eventually led to the tragic, wrongful events of Apartheid – which is the time period with which the development of South Africa to it’s modern state is mostly sourced from.
This chapter of History in South Africa – and Namibia – of atrocity started in WW2, when British troupes arrived in the country, claiming they were there to protect South Africa from the Germans. Then WW2 ended, and the British did not leave. They instead colonized the already colonized region, but also were appointed or appointed themselves into governing and law making positions. They then created the separation laws of Apartheid in 1948. In the Apartheid museum you’ll read that initially Apartheid was just meant to separate people so they could cater to their different needs – as whites would have different needs than blacks they would say – but as you read on and think about it, you realize this is complete and utter BS. At least that’s what I’ve seen as you get into the specific laws and policies the black, “colored”, and Asian communities were subjugated to. The history after this date is chalk full of pain and misery, some stories of human anguish that I never thought possible to be committed by a human being, happened to the most wonderful people I’ve spoken with whom are still living today. Even visiting museums such as the Apartheid, Hector Pieterson, and Constitutional Court are emotionally tolling as you read the descriptions of the events that took place and look at the guns, chains, and torturous devices used to hurt the people within the photos and now within my life; Antoinette Sithole was only 16 when she participated within the protest of June 16th 1976, which was initially meant to be peaceful and only a march against the use of Afrikaans as the teaching medium for black students. Things turned violent when the police shot at the students in attempt to stop and scatter them. Antoinette's little brother Hector was killed as a result of this, along with many others, and in the coming years the protests and rebellion was quiet. The people were healing from the wounds inflicted on that day, until students began to fight again in the ‘80s.
Antionette while being a woman harbouring immense emotional pain from her past, is without a doubt one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever met. She deserved better from life. However, in sharing her story with us, she opened our eyes to the horror and vulnerability her people were constantly exposed to during the time of Apartheid. It was a hard, but necessary lesson to learn. And useful not just for understanding the History and Development of South Africa as it is today, but also for understanding more of my own emotions to my own life’s horrors. Though none of my life was lived in intense poverty or racial Apartheid, I did lose a good friend of mine to violence when I was Antoinette's age in high school. I felt her loss on a more personal level due to this event I believe, and thus could understand more the ‘mental darkness’ that comes with such horrors and their many impacts on people’s lives. It meant a lot to me that she cared so much for me while I was with her, and that she and her husband shared the stories they did with us.
Fall 2017 class photo with Antoinette Sithole at the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum in Soweto.
In the background is Sam Nzima's, famous photo showing unconscious Hector being carried
by Makhubo, with Antoinette running alongside. 


Friday, September 8, 2017

Week 1: Breaking Stereotypes

By Keith Nagel

Stereotypes of a place are easy to recognize and hard to forget. The images that I expected to see upon arriving in Johannesburg, South Africa were immediately challenged, strengthened, and altered by what I saw in front of me. Johannesburg is a city in transition, a transition that began in 1994 and has continued to this day. The mainstream media’s mantra of a starving and forgotten Africa is in small part truth but in large part far from it. There is clearly wealth in South Africa. Even before I stepped foot on the continent I saw the gold mines scattered around the city of Johannesburg. The wealth from the countries resources I would soon learn is unequally shared among the population, leading to some of the highest inequality in the world.

A dilapidated hostel in Soweto stands in sharp contrast to the 
government houses that were left empty after poor policy
While touring Soweto, a particularly infamous township in Johannesburg, Molefi our local companion gave us a clear picture of the history and current conditions in the community. The picture was one that puzzled me. I came expecting extreme poverty, and there were certainly pockets of poverty that no human should be stuck in. However, I did not see the stereotype of poverty that I had expected, instead of shacks I saw houses nicer than my own and business centers sprawling with activity. There is much work to be done in the townships but I would argue that there are pockets of poverty in many parts of the United States that would rival those in Soweto, particularly in immigrant labor camps and Native American reservations. This realization put into perspective that although conditions are tough in South Africa, there is certainly hope in strengthening the middle class in Johannesburg if the inequality train does not run off the tracks.

A picture with our host family in Soweto, the Nkosi family 
welcomed us with open arms. Getting to know the community 
through their eyes was an unforgettable experience.
My confidence in the community was only strengthened by my homestay with Mr. Nkosi and his lovely family. Staying in Soweto for a time, engaging with friends and neighbors in the community, and learning from both young and old residents of Soweto revealed to me that the conflict in South Africa is no longer along racial lines, but along class lines. There is a clear divide between the have and the have not’s. Community leaders that we visited in the Orange Farm region blamed globalization and the capitalist system for the country’s woes, while a guest speaker and the youth that we spoke to blamed aging leadership in the ANC. The ANC brought South Africa out of a long oppression under the apartheid regime, but many believe that the African National Congress is holding the country back.

The wealth disparity was clearly evident in the extravagance 
of Sandton mall, which was a departure from the poverty 
we had seen earlier in our tour. 
A short visit and presentation at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria showed that the United States is very interested in continuing to strengthen economic and political ties with South Africa in order to foster a better economic environment for the many U.S. companies in the country. This is good news for the South African government as trade with the U.S. is an essential portion of their GDP, however where that wealth ends up is another question altogether. One must look no further than the wealth disparity between the poor townships of Soweto or Alexandria and the extravagant luxury of Stanton to realize that the wealth in Southern Africa does not trickle down as one would hope. The good news is that from what I have seen, South Africa has far more wealth than I expected, though the elephant in the room is how is the wealth to be shared in such an unequal society and whether or not the current political climate is fostering the necessary environment for continuous change. These are certainly questions worth exploring further.