By: Amy Delo and Gaby Gretz
Our week in Cape Town, South Africa has brought us to the end of our four-month journey in Southern Africa. Cape Town is the home of the largest white population in South Africa and it is also known to be a tourist destination. For this reason, Cape Town is very different from Johannesburg and even Windhoek, despite it having some of the same characteristics.
Many of the themes that we noticed in Namibia were the same that stood out in South Africa, but they were portrayed at very different levels in each country. One of the themes that stood out the most was the legacy of colonization and apartheid and how it related to racial and class inequality. We saw much of this in Cape Town, while driving from the central business district to the townships on the outskirts of the city. It was a common sight to see the wealthier homes out in the open and in the center of the city, while the informal settlements were off hidden somewhere in the distance.
In addition to the continuing racism we observed walking around Cape Town, we also focus our meetings and guest speakers around the classes we take in Windhoek: Environmental Studies, History, Religion, Politics and Development. During our time in Johannesburg at the very beginning of the semester we mostly focused on History, Politics, and Development as a way to put our minds in the context of Southern Africa. So this trip to South Africa, we shifted to focus more on Religion and the environment.
To kick off our fist day in Cape Town we visited the Way of Life Church to meet with Pastor Xola Skosana. We attended Sunday morning service and then had the opportunity to meet with Pastor Skosana afterwards. This church and this man are infamous for comments that the pastor made a few years ago insinuating that Jesus had HIV. This was quite controversial- but having Pastor Skosana explain what he had meant by that comment opened our minds to the power of religious symbolism to connect to modern day social issues. He compared the way Jesus associated himself with the most downtrodden of society and sought to lift them up with those of modern day southern Africa who are HIV positive- arguably the most marginalized population in ZA. Pastor Skosana was full of life and energy during his sermon and when conversing with us. He was animated and passionate when explaining the realities for those who live in the townships around Cape Town and the plights they still face and what he is doing to try and change that. Whether this be conducting a pastor-swap with a local Dutch Reformed Church, or organizing a march through the townships to raise public awareness of the living conditions there, Pastor Skosana is tireless.
A few days later we visited a Methodist church in town headed by Pastor Alan Storey. This church was extremely progressive- boasting social programs to support the homeless of Cape Town, to Pastor Storey's own efforts to integrate the congregations. From the mere fact that the church houses an on-location coffee shop, to how he recognizes the struggle that his own community is having while adjusting to new members of the church (i.e. non-white members), Alan was straight up with us and didn't try to hide the shortcomings of the church, or its successes. Seeing a white descendant of colonizers who occupies a position of influence in the community be so in touch with his privilege and so passionate about trying to bring about positive change through that influence as beautiful.
Having gone through townships (both in South Africa and Namibia), having seen the huge disparity between rich and poor and how this is still linked to race is incredibly disheartening. Interacting with people who are seemingly complacent is disheartening. Hearing people talk about how they think very little will change for Southern Africa in 20 years is disheartening. It's pretty difficult to be optimistic in this part of the world or any other. Going through the semester it has felt at times that nothing has changed since the end of apartheid. Yes, people are not the victims of formal legal systems which segregate them but there is still so much separation, still so much uncertainty and fear surrounding the 'other', and so much hatred because of this. The idea that nothing has changed and never will is a dark gloomy cloud that hangs over my head when thinking about Southern Africa. But the things that religious leaders like Pastor Skosana and Pastor Storey are doing to engage their communities and the larger society of Cape Town and get people to really think about the inequalities around them… that gives me hope. We met with secular speakers during our time in Cape Town and with other religious officials and centers while here, but these two organizations and individuals stood out through their efforts to improve the surrounding community and their faith that eventually something would change. I could really get behind these two Christian organizations and their social programs, and that's a lot coming from an atheist. Closing out the semester on a note of optimism for the future of Southern Africa was the perfect way to end our semester.
This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.