Friday, September 5, 2014

Week Two: A Taste Of Southern Africa

By: Amy Delo & Celeste Erickson

The Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa
Leaving Johannesburg and our home stays, the CGE group headed north to the capitol of South Africa, Pretoria. Our first stop was the Voortrekker monument. This monument is dedicated to the Dutch colonizers who moved inland from the coast in the 19th century. The Dutch wanted to have their own area separate from the British, who also colonized this area.   In their quest to settle in their own area, the Voortrekkers (an Afrikaans word meaning roughly “first-movers”) inevitable came into conflict with, and displaced, many indigenous peoples. The monument is a complex which was created in the 1930's and 40's as a massive embodiment of Boer nationalism (Boer is an Afrikaans word for 'farmer'). Boer nationalism was fueled in response to the British winning the Anglo-Boer wars and taking control of what would become South Africa. 

A view of Pretoria from the top of the Voortrekker Monument
The monument includes a frieze with depictions of the journey undertaken by the Boers and their encounters with various tribes, as well as enormous statues of Boer national heroes, and a museum. This hyper-nationalism culminated in the creation of the apartheid policies.  The start of aparthied was around this same time that the Voortrekker monument was designed and constructed. It was uncomfortable being at a place designed to celebrate those who had caused so much pain to the black community in South Africa, especially just coming from our home stays in Soweto. The monument lies atop a hill in Pretoria, and looking down from the monument's observation balcony you could see all of Pretoria. Our guide pointed out the site we would finish the next day, the Freedom Park.
Students posing in front of
Freedom Park. 
The Freedom Park is a monument which was created in order to commemorate the liberation struggle of South Africa as well as other wars. This monument covers a sprawling landscape and includes a wall of names displaying those who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom, a museum, a spiritual area, and a winding path connecting them all in order to symbolize the journey to resolution. After the end of apartheid and installation of a new government the Freedom Park monument was commissioned in an open space, which happened to be overlooked by the Voortrekker monument. The blatant contradiction between these two monuments- one celebrating the perpetrators of apartheid, and one the victims- is troubling. It seems almost like a symbolic continuation of Afrikaner dominance in Southern Africa, them on the hill with access to everything and the rest of the population below. Being at Freedom Park was powerful and especially thought provoking while being in the shadow of the Voortrekker monument.

It was discussed whether or not to tear down the Voortrekker monument. It was left standing, and at first I wondered why they hadn't torn it down since it is a symbol of apartheid. However, it was decided that the monument represented an integral part of South Africa's history which is needed to explain the liberation struggle and the circumstances that modern South Africa finds itself in. In order for people who were not alive during apartheid to really understand what was fought for, they need to be able to see the extreme forms of propaganda and nationalism that allowed apartheid policies to exist and thrive. As someone who did not live in this area during apartheid, or in that time period, the giant representation of the power of the colonizers was helpful in understanding the struggle against apartheid. Instead, as a way to bridge the conflict between these monuments it was decided to link them by a road called Reconciliation. It brings hope that these two groups will one day be able to move forward with a shared history.
On Wednesday morning, we finally arrived in Windhoek! From the moment we set off from the airport on the drive to our house, I think we all had a “wow” moment. The landscape even just on this short drive was breath-taking between the vast desert and the mountains. We finally made it! We quickly settled into the CGE house and on Thursday morning, loaded into the van for a windshield tour of Windhoek.  It was interesting to see the contrasts between Windhoek West and Katutura. On first observation, we saw a quaint and well-developed side of Windhoek, but as we traveled further into Katutura, the discrepancy between incomes in such a small geographic area become apparent. Similar to Johannesburg, as Namibia and South Africa were under the same apartheid rule, the townships that blacks were forced to move to during apartheid were still extremely present. 

The change that we saw between leaving the city and entering a township was not subtle. While in Katutura, we walked around a little and got to visit a formal market place. Vendors were selling anything from dried worms, to every part of the cow imaginable. The sights and smells were slightly overwhelming, yet it was extremely exciting to see this part of Namibian culture. We drove through some more informal settlements and discussed how difficult it is for many people to move away from poverty, as schools are often too far away to attend, therefore making it hard to become educated and employed. This reality was sad, as we were able to see the dismal living situation so much of the population must survive in. From here, to see an even starker contrast, we drove up to the neighborhood where the President’s house is located and passed multi-million dollar properties- something that would only be financially available to a small fraction of the population. Also similar to South Africa, most of the more expensive property is primarily owned by whites, though this is slowly changing. It felt unfair to see the way that so many people were forced to live, and the luxury that other people could live in within the same city limits. 

The students at the Parliament Gardens in Windhoek
during their first community meeting. 

Following our driving tour, we had the opportunity to split into groups of three or four and explore Windhoek on foot, which was fun to get a different taste of the city. On Friday, we had to the opportunity to get an exclusive look at Katutura with members of Young Achievers (YA), an organization founded by a former CGE director. This organization strives to engage Namibian youth in activities that encourage them to further their education and help them discover their potential. Some of these members of YA started a tour group that led our group around. It was really fun to get a chance to learn more about the lives of local youth and see what they’re doing to break trends in Katutura. Different groups had the opportunity to visit a church, an orphanage, an art school, and an old folks home as well as explore the area more. We spent the weekend navigating Windhoek and catching up on sleep in preparation for many of starting local internships on Monday!

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1 comment:

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