Monday, September 5, 2011

A Youthful Perspective

Week 2
Gloria and Leah

Our second week was full of many speakers and tours, which served to both expand our knowledge base and simultaneously draw attention to growing contradictions. The more we are learning about South Africa’s past and present, the more it seems that it is riddled with inconsistencies and conflicting ideologies.(Photo 1 "Eternal Flame in Freedom Park")

We had the amazing opportunity to meet with a group of inspiring students at the St. Martin’s school, a Semi-private school located in Soweto. They helped us to get a more personal and youthful explanation of South Africa’s history and a hopeful taste of what the future can become. Students from the Leadership Council brought us into several different classrooms in small groups. In each classroom, important questions about the history and development of the United States, comparing and contrasting issues in the USA and South Africa, as well as questions related to race were brought up to us by the students.

Having spent much of the past week hearing from adults in positions of power, many of us felt shocked and refreshed by the new perspective these students shared with us about their opinions of the future. Meetings with the dominant and competing political parties had left us with a cynical sense of South Africa’s ability to combat much of its inequity. Host families and speakers alike expressed frustration with fellow South Africans whom they believed were either unable to forget enough of the Apartheid injustices or too quickly forgetting their past. In both instances, there was no common ground to allow for people to move forward. For many of the older generation, the firsthand trauma they went through during the liberation struggle is still fresh in their minds and is preventing a clearer vision for true unification. Students at St. Martin’s, however, readily identified the need to find a balance (Photo 2 "Members of the Saint Martin's Leadership Council with CGE students") between remembering and forgetting in order for progress to be made.

Many of these “born-frees” (children born after 1994) have been able to understand the injustices suffered by their parents, but are simultaneously able to distance themselves enough to allow for a more open approach to reconciliation. Our interactions with these energetic and bright students characterized the hope and promise of the upcoming generation, who are fighting and working hard for a better South Africa. We left the school humbled by the spirit, openness and self-motivation of the students. The energy and optimism we witnessed at St. Martin’s was a refreshing contrast to the negativity we had been hearing from many of the older generation. Our experiences at the school served to break down much of the cynicism some of us had built up about South Africa’s future.

In leaving the school, however, we couldn’t help but also hesitate in thinking about the motivations for many of the students. We were asked a multitude of questions about wealth and prosperity in the United States, and there seemed to be a devaluing of South Africa in favor of an idolization of the US. We have seen the damage that the implementation of western ideals can cause, and can’t help but fear that for many young South Africans, “progress” really means Westernization.

After ten days of examining the competing narratives of South Africa’s past and present, we departed the country to head to Namibia. Once there, we settled into what will be our home for the next three months and got to know the staff who will be living and working with us. We are all very excited and eager to learn more about the past and present struggles and hopes of the Namibian people, with a careful eye toward the similarities and differences to what we have experienced already in the different townships throughout South Africa.

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