Friday, September 5, 2014

Week One: A Non-Communist, Post Apartheid, Manifesto.

By: Miranda Weinstein & Gaby Gretz 

We’ve had an amazing, busy, invigorating, educational, and eye-opening first week in Johannesburg. We did so much in only 168 hours (7 days). We have seen so many different things, ranging from an art exhibition on hair, speaking to a human rights advice center, driving around Soweto and seeing the hostels, going to different history museums, and much more. There were two events that stood out during our first week, and it is those that we thought we would share with you more so you could feel as though you were in Johannesburg yourself! The first is the politics of South Africa.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the non-discriminatory and equal democratic country of South Africa and the ending of the apartheid era. One motif that we kept seeing as we drove around Johannesburg was that while the segregation of the blacks and whites had ended, there is still a great amount of improvement in reintegrating the different ethnicities and cultures needed in order to make one cohesive country. In driving around the city, we have seen that the suburbs are still inhabited by the white community and the blacks still live in the townships. Another thing that stood out is the incredibly unequal distribution of wealth between the people. Since the end of the apartheid government, the income inequality has increased substantially. The people living in the townships are still being overlooked and their needs are not being addressed.

When we met with representatives of the different political parties, both representatives talked about the problem that South Africa is facing and how they plan on fixing it. We talked to Dale McKinley, a former member of the South African Communist Party, a representative of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) [1]. When talking with Dale, he kept stressing that South Africa has a long way to go before it can be considered the great country everyone wants it to be. He also kept stressing that even though the state of South Africa has the most socially progressive constitution in place, there is a serious flaw in the implementation of the constitution and the protection that it offers. Women still face inequality, as do homosexuals, even though the constitution states that all men and women should be created equally and that you should not be discriminated against based on your sexual orientation. This lack of implementation is seen in this economic inequality that many people face.

As Dale stated, even though the ANC has taken over the government, the inequality has gotten worse, land redistribution has not really occurred (only 15%), the intelligence and security forces are beginning to act like the old apartheid state. People are fed up with what the government is doing (or not doing), but they do not know where to turn. People either tend to vote for the ANC, or not vote. This is because they do not want to vote for the opposition party, the DA, because they are still perceived as the ‘white’ party.
The students after meeting with a representative
from the Democratic Alliance. 
During our meeting with the DA (which coincidentally happened right after our meeting with Dale), our representative kept stressing that the DA and the ANC have the same ideas on paper [2]. They both want the same thing for the country, but they tend to implement it differently. I think it was interesting to hear the different representatives talk and give their views on how the political situation is in South Africa, because without a balanced overview, we would have been very biased against the government. This being said, there is still a great deal of improvement that needs to happen in South Africa. There is a large amount of corruption in government, the income inequality is drastically rising, sanitation, health and education are often overlooked and the constitution is not followed. 

The other interesting aspect of our time in Johannesburg was our home stays in Soweto. Soweto stands for South West Township and is a suburb of Johannesburg made up of 34 townships. The home stay in Soweto was very relaxing. When Nikala and I (Gaby) arrived in front of their home on Friday evening, we received a warm welcome from our host family. As soon as we sat down in their living room, our host mother told us that we were part of the family and that we could come back to stay the next time we were in South Africa. She then offered us a blanket and some tea and biscuits. It did not take long for our host brother to cling on to us and invite us to play his video games.

I only noticed a few differences while staying with my host family. The one that was most striking was that our host mother was in the kitchen most of the time cooking, or doing other chores around the house. From what she told us it didn’t seem like she had much time to sit and relax during the weekend. Although our host family had big dining room table, they ate their meals in the living room in front of their large flat screen television. I noticed that when mealtime came around, our host father would be served his food on a tray, while everyone else had to dish up their own food. The first night for dinner, we were served pap, creamed spinach, gizzards, and chicken feet. Our host mother suggested that we go to the mall to buy some fried chicken from a restaurant equivalent to KFC, in case we didn’t like the chicken feet and gizzards. While we were waiting in line, I noticed how a lot of people were wearing their slippers. Our host mother told us that it’s common for people to go to the mall on Friday nights and order take out from fast food restaurants since they want to take a break from cooking.

On Saturday, we visited the Johannesburg Zoo, and on Sunday we visited a China Mall, following a soccer game at FNB stadium, which is were the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was held. Later Sunday evening, we visited  parent’s house and her father spoke to us about what it was like growing up during apartheid. It was very intense listening to a personal experience and imagining what is like for him. It will be interesting hearing other people’s stories as well as we move forward this semester. 

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


[1] Dale McKinley, political activist and theorists; Conversation on 20 August 2014, Johannesburg, South Africa. 
[2] Representative from the Democratic Alliance; Conversation on 20 August 2014, Johannesburg, South Africa. 

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