Monday, September 14, 2015

Week Three: Broken Systems, Broken Promises

By: Emily Campbell

“The people shall share in the country’s wealth.” Originally written in South Africa’s 1955 Freedom Charter and adopted by the current ruling party, the ANC, this sentence took on new life when we saw it spray painted across several overpasses in the Cape Flats. When displayed in the primarily black townships southeast of the city center, these words seemed to highlight the existing discontent with the current system. Sixty years after it was written, this promise, and many others, have yet to be realized. We repeatedly heard frustration over the perceived lack of follow through on promises made during the liberation struggle and how little has changed for the living conditions of many people residing in townships. Despite the ANC’s promises of 1994, many black South Africans still lack basic services such as power, clean water, housing, healthcare, education, and employment. 

On Tuesday, we met with Mandla Majola at the Treatment Action Campaign. His work exemplified the failed promises of the ANC. Located in Khayelitsha, a township within the Cape Flats, TAC was founded to increase HIV and AIDS awareness and to provide universal access to antiretroviral drugs. Since its formation in 1998, TAC has spread its reach far beyond HIV. Poor sanitation and failing infrastructure are tied to a wide range of health issues, and Majola has been an advocate on many of these fronts. In Khayelitsha, there are many homes without electricity or clean water, one (infrequently cleaned) public toilet for roughly every ten families, a high rate of TB, four reported rapes daily, and poor maternal health care, to name a few of the issues Majola is passionately tackling. Many of us left TAC carrying the emotional weight of Majola’s heart-rending stories, but inspired by his tireless work for his community. But these issues are not unique to his area and represent the symptoms of a weak infrastructure nationwide. As Henrik described in an earlier blog post, we saw many of the same issues when we visited Orange Farm outside of Johannesburg. The government system is set up in such a way large segments of the population fall through the cracks, receiving virtually no government services. The conditions in both townships illustrate this issue and how many of the rights secured by the 1994 South African Constitution are still nonexistent for many people across the country. 

On display at the District Six Museum, a member of the
demolition crew saved these street signs for decades. 
Land rights are another contentious issue that many activists feel the ANC has failed to address. During the Apartheid, segregation forced many black and coloured South Africans to relocate. One such area was District Six, a mixed neighborhood in Cape Town. In 1982, it was declared a whites-only area and 60,000 people were forcibly relocated to the Cape Flats. On Monday, we visited the District Six Museum and met Noor Ebrahim, a former resident of District Six. He explained the many financial, physical, sociological, and emotional impacts of the forced removals. Homes and businesses were destroyed, many were left without work and paying rent for their new residences. Those who had once walked to work had to start paying for transportation. The Cape Flats were overcrowded, leading to poor sanitation and additional health issues. Communities, and even families, were split up and segregated. People were pulled out of their communities and uprooted from their support systems. This is part of what makes forced removals such an effective tool of oppression. A community divided is less powerful and less able to organize against the unjust system. Since the official end of Apartheid, there has been a movement to restore the land rights of people forcibly removed from District Six, The government promised to build homes for former residents who wished to return to the area, but to date, few houses have been built and the area still remains largely empty. Hearing from Ebrahim and exploring the museum helped us to understand the many ways people are still healing from the scars of Apartheid.

Frustration over the government's lack of attention to these problems and its perceived inability to develop effective infrastructure has led to service delivery protests across the nation. During our time in Cape Town, we witnessed one of these protests (don't worry parents, we didn't participate). A group of citizens gathered in front of a government building to protest a government that has failed to provide the basic services its people need. Not only has the current system failed to close the gap between the wealthy and the impoverished, but the failure to deliver services and improve the infrastructure has deprived many people of basic human rights. Just as the spray painted overpasses in the Cape Flats proclaimed, the people are still not sharing in the country’s wealth. 

The group gets comfortable at the
CGE house on our first night in Windhoek.
My own frustration grew as we saw a different side of Cape Town. It seemed that everywhere we went there were mountain views and unending seascapes, delicious restaurants and busy marketplaces. It came as no surprise that Cape Town is consistently ranked as one of the top tourist destinations in the world. But as we experienced the tourist side of the city, we learned about places tourists don’t go. It seemed that the stories Majola and Ebrahim shared with us aren’t stories routinely heard. It was unsettling how easily their perspectives can be overlooked, despite the fundamental role they play in the history and present reality of the city. I found myself very lucky not only to hear their stories, but to share them. It was the dichotomy between their underrepresented perspectives and the overcrowded tourist destinations that helped us to understand more about post-apartheid South Africa. We came to Cape Town to explore identity. We left wondering about the two seemingly irreconcilable identities of the city, the many identities of its people, and our own identities in relation to everything we learned. Experiencing these many sides of Cape Town pushed us to ask questions about history, politics, inequality, and ourselves as we began to develop a global perspective. And now that we’ve settled into our home in Windhoek, we’re excited to dig deeper into the history and politics of Southern Africa as we continue to grow in our social and cultural understanding of the region.

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