by: Luke Beasley and Patrick Toomey
Sunday, our group had achieved a large degree of familiarity with the area in which we were staying in Cape Town. Our street was quiet, with several quaint cafes and restaurants across from the guest house, while only being a block away from one of the busiest sections of the city center. Coming back from our free day, which many of us spent at Camps Bay Beach (which sits right at the base of Table Mountain), we were excited to explore a very different part of Cape Town.
We spent our Sunday morning at Way of Life Church in Khayelitsha, the second largest township in South Africa, and home to millions of people. It is difficult, if not impossible, to gauge the exact number of residents in Khayelitsha because such a large percentage of them live in “informal settlements,” made up of tin shacks with no access to running water. At Way of Life Church, we met Pastor Xola Skosana, and observed his congregations service. It was definitely an unorthodox type of “religious” ceremony, and was far more of a safe place for black South Africans to gather together and discuss matters of white privilege and their experiences with oppression. Pastor Xola Skosana made a point of asking us our names and majors, and immediately after we finished sharing, he informed us that he “didn’t care” and did not try to remember our information; as he explained, this was an exercise in helping us as privileged Americans, many of us also being white, in understanding the experience of being a “forgotten” member of South African society (i.e. a black South African). The Pastor also asked us, “How are you able to sleep at night?,” referring to the fact that we were visiting South Africa to learn from its past, but in order to do so we required that victims of Apartheid relive and retell their traumatizing experiences.
The meeting was definitely shocking, and it took many of us several days to process. Although some people were angry and upset, and certainly much of the group was at least confused, in the end it was a vital moment for our group. It was jarring, and it made us question our role in the world, and in Africa, as white people and as Americans. For many of us, it was the first time when we were required to feel nameless and forgettable, not to mention unwelcome, but it was undoubtedly a learning experience.
The next morning we spent at the District Six Museum learning about the area through the eyes of Noor Ebrahim. According to Noor, District Six is an area of Cape Town where around 60,000 black South African people were forcibly removed and placed into the area of the Cape Flats during Apartheid. Noor was living with his family in the district at this time and was one of the many that who through this difficult and unjust experience. Noor has told his story to many prominent figures including Nelson Mandela. After learning so much about Apartheid the previous week in Johannesburg, it was valuable to hear from the perspective of an individual that was profoundly impacted. It once again made everyone try to comprehend and understand an event that is so difficult for any of us to relate to.
Wednesday was our last full day in Cape Town and we were free to do whatever we wanted. After a week of thoughtful and challenging conversations with speakers and each other, it was a much needed break. Everyone had their own day full of adventures around the city, including seeing penguins, relaxing on the beach, going to a wine festival, paragliding, and surfing. We were exposed to the incredibly beautiful touristy side of Cape Town that has captivated people from all over the world. However, after the week’s experiences we know that there is much more to Cape Town than catches the eye of most. We saw the incredibly complex and difficult problems that the local people face every day–poverty, privilege, racism, discrimination, and HIV/AIDS that affect everyone in some way. Amidst all of these problems are many individuals and organizations that are working tirelessly to make a difference and fight against the injustice.
After our challenging, thought-provoking, and incredible two weeks in South Africa, everyone was anxious to finally arrive in Windhoek and get acquainted with our new home. In our first few days we took walking and driving tours trying to get sense of our city. Now that we are becoming settled into our new home, there is so much to look forward to in the next three months. With classes and internships starting soon, we reflect on the incredible amount we have already learned while preparing for the opportunities and experiences that are soon to come.