Week 1 (January 16-23)
Authors: Arianna Genis, Christine Montgomery, Yvette Ramirez, Helen Ward
Our first week in South Africa (SA) was incredible! After an extremely long flight, we were happy to be welcomed with a warm meal and a comfortable bed at St. Peter’s Guesthouse! The next morning, we spent time there discussing the main goals of our time in southern Africa. Molefi Mataboge then described his experiences taking part in the SA liberation struggle. Mr. Mataboge grew up in Soweto, the historically black township located outside of Jo’burg, and spent his time with us describing the injustices that he and his people endured during Apartheid (a form of legal segregation enforced by the SA government). Later that day, we went on a tour of Soweto’s famous Regina Mundi Church, which served as a refuge during the 1976 student uprising. During this time, students marched the streets protesting the teaching of Afrikaans in schools as a way to resist the oppressive forces of the SA government. Our tour guide showed us the beautiful artwork and stained glass designs inside of the church and explained their significance in commemorating the township’s struggle to assert basic human rights. Hearing Molefi’s stories and seeing the location of such an important turning point in South African history helped us to better understand the oppressive lifestyle that many black people have lived in SA.
One of the events that affected us was our tour through Kliptown, Soweto, an area that suffers from immense poverty. Many people in the group found it difficult to go through this area. We were concerned about giving a negative impression to the people who belonged to this community. We didn’t want to be seen as another group of tourists going through their community to feel pity for the poor. At the same time, we understood that being exposed to this reality, one that is often made to appear abstract and irrelevant to our lives in the Unites States, was necessary. Another event was hearing an insightful presentation by Dale Mckinley, a former Communist Party member and current political activist, about SA’s political economy. A highlight from his presentation was the distinction he made between SA’s political and economic power. He believed that political power had been distributed, for the most part, equally amongst the people, but he questioned how much of the economic power had been given up as well.
We also learned about politics in SA. Two of our guests were representatives of the ANC, the party that fought against apartheid under Nelson Mandela’s leadership, and which is currently the most powerful party. The two men explained the history of the ANC and answered our questions on subjects such as immigration and coal consumption. Later that day, we met a representative from the DA, the main opposition party to the ANC. He taught us about voting demographics in SA and the growth of the DA’s influence. Many of us agreed that hearing from representatives of the two main parties helped us to begin to independently form clearer, more comprehensive pictures of the current political climate in SA. The sites we visited added another layer to our understanding of the history and future of South African politics. Altogether, the speakers and sites taught us about South African politics throughout time and across different perspectives.
This weekend we were paired off and sent to various families in Johannesburg for our first of three homestay experiences. Everyone was eager to share his or her funny stories and weekend activities when we returned Monday morning. Cassie and Katie went to a wedding celebration on their block, while Hannah and Laura had the opportunity to attend a funeral. Both experiences seemed to be filled with love, celebration, and of course, tons of delicious food! Other people visited extended families or went sightseeing in the city. One major difference noted by most of the CGE students was effects of living in a high context society. Time constraints and punctuality sometimes do not seem not to exist in SA! Another common occurrence was the outpouring of generosity from our host families. Despite our unique experiences, I feel confident saying that we all enjoyed a wonderful weekend and successful first homestay.