Friday, September 4, 2009

Week 2: South Africa and the Great Beyond

Ken, Margaret, Carlee

After a weekend homestay in Soweto our group travelled to Pretoria on August 24. First we visited the US Embassy and talked to Foreign Service Officer Jonathan Smallridge. Since we had heard a variety of South African perspectives, hearing both US foreign policy and the official US stance on South African politics broadened our perspective and educational experience. Particularly interesting was his statement that “South Africa is seen as the pillar of Africa” since all of our previous speakers and activities focused on the challenges that South Africa faced. Those of us considering a career in Foreign Service also enjoyed Mr. Smallridge’s advice and stories about becoming a member of the US bureaucracy.

Our trip to the Voortrekker Monument on Tuesday, August 25th proved to be a contrast to the two museums that we visited in Johannesburg. Those (the Hector Pieterson Museum and the Apartheid Museum) focused on apartheid and, as such, placed the Afrikaners in a vilified position. While some members of our group (Ken) found the museum to be racially biased and imperialistic, others (Margaret) thought that it provided an interesting counterpoint to the first two museums. Ultimately, the juxtaposition of the three museums provided yet another example of a theme of the semester: a need to consider sources and avoid immediate judgment.

Later in the afternoon, we went to the University of Pretoria and heard from Professor Jackie Grobler on the subject of Afrikaner identity. Carlee thought that Grobler displayed an obvious bias. Margaret and Ken found his presentation and response to the group’s rather pointed questions to be quite impressive. He did not attempt to justify apartheid, but rather explained his own personal experience and observations during the apartheid era. By avoiding both denial and apology, he offered an Afrikaner perspective that seemed realistic, regardless of the listener’s personal opinion.

After our flight to Windhoek on Wednesday, August 26th and our introduction to the CGE house (which all three of us love!!!) we took a tour of the city on Thursday. There we learned about the history of apartheid in Namibia and about the current situation in the informal settlements. We were able to compare and contrast the settlements in Kliptown, South Africa with the settlements in Katatura, Namibia. The Namibian settlements appeared to have a much higher level of service provision than the South African settlements, but that difference may have been caused by the attitudes of our tour guides. In Kliptown, we were led through the streets by local residents who advocated against privatization; in Katatura, we looked down on the settlements from a nearby hill with professional tour guides.

We are looking forward to exploring more of the politics and history of Namibia in our classes and in our daily activities, so that we can understand whether the differences we observed were a matter of perspective or of tangible change and improvement. On Friday, we went to various political and social organizations in Katatura with local students as our guides. Saturday and Sunday we had free time and got to go out and explore the city and its nightlife, as well as having some much needed down time to prepare for our internships, scheduled to start on Monday, August 31. A highlight of the week was hearing local bands perform in a festival at Zoo Park on Saturday and we are looking forward to the remainder of our semester!

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