Thursday, February 6, 2014

Week 1: The Beginning of a Journey

By: Samantha Boatright & Joshua Kumi

Our first week in South Africa was quite an eye opening experience. We spent a little over a week in Johannesburg where we were constantly on the move listening to various speakers and visiting museums. The biggest theme we picked up during that time was the disparities, such as wealth distribution, between different race groups. Molefi Mataboye, who was an activist in the liberation struggle and our personal tour guide for the week, gave us a lot of insight into the struggle that is still happening today [1]. He attributed the unequal distribution of wealth within South Africa to unequal education rights within different races during apartheid. He noted that during apartheid, “White students were given top notch resources for learning, and black and colored students were given second hand resources.” This has contributed to the large income disparity between whites and blacks today because blacks did not have the appropriate skills to apply for high skilled jobs. Molefi also said, “A lot of black students dropped out of school to be a part of the liberation struggle, therefore they did not gain the same level of education as white students.”

A typical street in Orange Farm, a very poor community 
located about 30 miles outside of Johannesburg.
We saw what Molefi was talking about first hand when we visited the Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Center. Gladys Mokolo, who has been a part of the human rights advice center since they opened in 1997, told us that Orange Farm is an extremely poor community of about two million people [2]. Many of the people that live in Orange Farm lack the basic skills needed to get a job. She also mentioned that many of the people in the community collect items out of the trash such as bottles, cans, and papers and bring them to the advice center’s recycling center. The people receive money in exchange for the items they bring in. Unfortunately, this is the only means of income for many families in Orange Farm. Along with the recycling center, the advice center also runs a day care and provides community members with legal advice. All of these services are free for community members.

We were also able to listen to the founder of the organization, Richard “Bricks” Mokolo, talk about what the Orange Farm community needs from the government [3]. He said, “Orange Farm is only recognized during election seasons because government officials only want their votes. They come to the community, build one house, leave and push Orange Farm into the back of their minds until the next election season.” Bricks would really like to see more support from the government to help improve the infrastructure of the Orange Farm community. They need paved roads and jobs closer to home so community members do not have to travel 30 miles to Johannesburg to search for work. We were able to observe Brick’s concerns first hand and agree that Orange Farm needs many improvements.

Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, a wealthy section 
of Johannesburg about 30 miles from Orange Farm.
We also saw the other side of the spectrum when we visited Sandton. This visit really opened our eyes to the unequal wealth distribution that exists within South Africa. Sandton, an extremely well developed community, is only about 30 miles from Orange Farm. They have paved roads, expensive cars, nice buildings, and a lot of good job opportunities nearby. We saw how the apartheid regime affected wealth distribution by creating two different worlds within the same country. Historically white communities, such as Sandton, are very well developed and have great infrastructure, while mostly black communities, such as Orange Farm, are underdeveloped and need a lot of infrastructure improvement. 

We heard representatives from the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the African National Congress (ANC) talk to us about what they want to do about the unequal wealth distribution within the country. Both the ANC and the DA have progressive goals meant to fix the inequality in South Africa. Marius Redelinghuys, Director of Communications and Research in the Democratic Alliance talked to us about the DA’s vision for the country [4]. He said that the DA wants to create an open opportunity society where every individual is equal. Marius indicated that everyone should have equal distribution of resources and wealth. The DA has a brand promise that includes delivery, reconciliation, redress, and diversity. Using these four methods the DA promises more equal opportunities for all South African citizens. Moreover, Thami Mcokwane from the ANC discussed with us their future goals for the country [5]. He expressed that the ANC plans on growing the economy by eliminating corruption in the government. Thami denoted that the ANC wants to bridge the wealth disparity that exists within the country by creating equal opportunity for all citizens. Furthermore, he said that if the ANC is reelected in to power they will work hard to redistribute land. 

The group in front of the Guateng Provincial Legislature, 
where we heard representatives from the DA and the ANC talk.
When comparing the United States (US) to South Africa we concluded that apartheid and slavery had similar effects on unequal distribution between different racial groups. Slavery dehumanized African-Americans in the US and stripped their human rights. African-Americans were not allowed to own land, go to school with white people, or vote. Slavery and apartheid created an economic gap between black and white people. Although the gap is being bridged in the US and South Africa there are still some disparities between racial groups. 

We were able too see the unequal distribution in the country, and also how different political parties plan to fix it. Wealth distribution is a complex issue in South Africa because of the history of the country. Apartheid created a system where whites were privileged and other races were oppressed. This has caused a great gap between the different racial groups. Even today, whites still have most of the wealth and land in the country. This has made it very difficult for the government to redistribute land and wealth to the citizens. South Africa has a long road ahead of them, but the future is bright and there are a lot of positive changes on the horizon.

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


[1] Mataboye, Molefi, former liberation struggle activist; tour guide between January 20- January 28, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

[2] Mokolo, Gladys, employee at the Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Center; conversation on January 21, 2014 in Orange Farm, South Africa. Other sources, such as the 2011 census, list the population of Orange Farm as less than 100,000.

[3] Mokolo, Richard “Bricks”, Founder of the Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Center; conversation on January 21, 2014 in Orange Farm, South Africa.

[4] Redelinghuys, Marius, Director of Communications and Research in the Democratic Alliance; conversation on January 22, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

[5] Mcokwane, Thami, Representative of the African National Congress; conversation on January 22, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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