On the last day in Cape Town we got the awesome opportunity to learn how to surf at Muzienburg beach, while this experience did not hold a lot of educational value in regard to our program it was one of the highlights of the trip. We said goodbye to South Africa with a dinner at Gold Restaurant where we got to engage in a drumming session and watch dances as we ate our food. Despite getting sick and enduring a horrible 35-hour travel day going home this was one of the most exciting and vibrant places I have ever traveled to.
The genuine experiences that we got to have on this trip were things that if we had ventured to South Africa alone for tourism, we would not have gotten to have. The group dynamic on the trip was also something that helped me to have an unforgettable experience. With only seven girls we were, for the most part, able to connect and bond in such a short amount of time. Elim and our Professor were great leaders that had a lot of information and knowledge about South Africa to share with us making the trip more personal.
We had a lot to learn both culturally and in regard to our program theme. Before going to South Africa, I had only visited the continent one other time, to go to Nairobi, Kenya. After being in Kenya I had a broad idea of what “Africa” could be like. I came into the program with the just a basic overview of apartheid and left with a well-rounded understanding of different social movements in South Africa. I was surprised when I got to South Africa to find that it was so different from Kenya. Cape Town felt like it was a city in California and Johannesburg felt like Philly, a city only 30 minutes from my home in Pennsylvania. Each thing we did had value and contributed to the program theme of social movements from the obvious things like the Apartheid Museum to a Winery visit. Both had relevant information for us to learn and create a stronger cultural context for our understanding of the people, place and dynamics. One thing I was pleasantly surprised about was the high quality of all of our tour guides. Their ability to communicate the information with us in an engaging and information manner really allowed us to absorb everything we were experiencing. The tour guides in Alexandra and Soweto gave us such personalized visits and really opened up their own communities to us so we could feel that we were at least a little part of the local community.
As far as my paper and storytelling as a communication tool to resolve conflict, there are so many examples that I can pull from this trip. All the places we went we either directly heard from someone or read about their stories. I am excited to further explore this topic in the next week.
Today we went up Table Mountain, on a tour of the bo-kaap area of cape town and then had a cooking class with a woman who lived in that area. Pushing through the sun burn, Table Mountain was really fun, obviously it is mostly a tourist spot but the views were incredible. Walking around at the top with the clouds flowing below us was an indescribable feeling. I also got some really great pictures of the wildlife up there.
The tour of Bo-Kaap was one of my favorite tours of the trip. One of the things I didn’t like about Alexandra was how I felt a little as though we were observing the people living in this horrible area for own benefit which made me feel somewhat of an invader, or in the words of our professor as though we were on a “Human Safari.” Don’t get me wrong, this was one of the most interesting parts of the trip and I think I learned a to from it, but I felt very out of place walking around watching the people there. Bo-Kaap is a much more diverse neighborhood with tourists on the streets taking pictures of the beautifully colored houses. It’s interesting that Bo-kaap has a rich history like the townships but has evolved into a high demand expensive area.
The cooking class had me a bit worried because I know I am not gifted in the kitchen, however it ended up being much more of group experience than I thought. Food is something that is universal, everyone eats food and food is often something that is good for social occasions. Every culture has something unique about their food dishes and food is such a great way to learn about culture through a shared experience rather than just an observation. We learned a lot about the culture of the Muslim and Malay community living in Bo-Kaap just through one dinner experience. We learned about some of their traditions such as curry on Sunday and the spices they use to create an authentic taste in their food. As we all sat around and listened to her speak about her memories that centered around food it was clear that food is something everyone can relate to. A lot of family events such as weddings and holidays all stem from traditional meals which can bring together people from all different cultures.
Jenny came to speak to us tonight about her experience with storytelling in the form of music. Last semester in one of my comm classes on social movements we talked about protest music as a way to develop and add to a social movement. These kinds of songs have been present and prominent in all kinds of movements from slavery in the U.S. to Apartheid in South Africa. Songs help unite and motivate people in a way spoken words cannot. Her music was absolutely beautiful and perfectly complemented by the sun setting behind her.
We were asked to touch on the subject of authenticity in a cultural emersion trip. A lot of experiences can feel unauthentic because we are visitors in other people’s homes. Things like observing the penguins, though they were so cute, felt very touristy. Some of the things that felt the most authentic so far on the trip was the tour of Alexandra, though it did feel a bit intrusive. The lunch with the women in Soweto was certainly an authentic South African experience and couldn’t have been achieved through personal tourist travel. I think a lot of the food places that Elmin has taken us to also have had an authentic feel to them. It is definitely hard to get a truly authentic experience in any place in which you don’t call “home” and you visit for a short time.
We had a late start to the day at Parliament with a guided one hour tour around the building. It was really interesting to see all the different chambers where their government makes decisions for the country.
I have decided to reshape my research question to fit more of my original interest of storytelling. Since being here we have heard countless accounts of different stories of the hardships people have faced in south Africa over the years, we have also heard stories of happy times and how people are living now in a post-apartheid government. I want to focus on these individual stories as a tool of communication which leads to empowering and sustaining social movements. These stories are often ones of hope for people in lower positions.
As far as the exhibits at the slave lodge, I loved the one in the main room on violence towards women. The one that was the most powerful image was the one where the woman had been cut out of the canvas photo and the caption read somewhere along the lines of this women asked to not be displayed due to pressure from her community and family. Another voice silenced. Even though this trip hasn’t focused a lot on gender based violence I have done a lot of studying on that topic in my conflict classes.
Another thing that was cool to see was Lionel Davis’s little blurb along with some of his art work in the district 6 museum. His artwork was not what I was expecting it to be based on what he described the previous night, however it was still nice to see his images and better understand his work and what he was talking about. Seeing how he was important and high-up enough to have a little feature in the museum was really cool to me because we were able to engage in such personal dialog with him.
I have to say Robben Island was not one of my favorite places on this trip. I felt like this aspect of the trip was hyped up a lot as highly engaging and in-depth, however, I was slightly disappointed in the depth of the program. The ferry ride to get to the actual island was actually really cool as we could see Cape Town from a distance. Our tour guide for the walking part gave us a nice personal story about his experience which was the highlight of the island. We were not given a lot of time to really go through and read everything in all the cells in the first part, and then I was surprised how little of the actual prison that we got to walk through. It felt a little bit like they were herding us through the set program to get everyone back on the boat. I felt like there was so much more that could have been talked about and elaborated on in the museum.
Lionel was a great addition to the program, his inside knowledge made up for the lack of information presented at the prison. He really was able to change my mind about the visit to Robben Island. My favorite thing he addressed about his time in the prison was the matter of education within the prison. He said the political prisoners as well as the criminals, engaged in a hunger strike in order to have education provided to the prisoners. This protest along with the efforts of other organizations that stepped in and lobbied for the prisoners helped garner access to education. He said the only good thing that came out of his time there was his education. Interestingly, he also said, “the biggest mistake of apartheid was throwing all of us into those big cells to learn to live together and teach each other.” After hearing Lionel’s story of his time and why he shares his story, I felt like I had really understood the prison life during his time. I wish we had heard from him before we went to visit the jail.
This morning we said goodbye to Johannesburg as we made our way south to Cape Town. Even with only being in Cape Town for a few hours the differences between the two cities are so extreme. As I mentioned before, Joburg gave off a very east coast city vibe and cape town is the complete opposite and is very west coast –ish. From the beaches to the city everything feels more touristy and a little bit more westernized. We went to an awesome café for lunch with world renowned coffee (truth Café) and amazing Instagram worthy food.
After getting settled at the team house (which is in a breathtaking location with a beach front view) our evening was filled with new information on post-apartheid violence in South Africa. Rehad Desai director of the documentary Miners Shot Down came to the team house and had dinner with us and then spent a good amount of time addressing our questions and telling his story in correlation with the story he documented. Since my paper addresses story telling this was one of the most useful and informative sessions for my topic.
The documentary itself was very informative in the regard to the story telling of the miners. The story of the massacre of the minors was the first act of sever violence and racism since the apartheid regime. The facts of the incident were very unsettling. For example, to footage of the main assault on the 16 of august, the people were in no way conducting any sort of insulting behavior, many in fact were walking home. The police opened fire on the nonviolent protest killing 34 and injuring countless more. Hearing the personal account and life story of the director put a new spin on the film. He talked about his families exile from south Africa and the hardships of growing up like that, what his take on current and future political scenarios are, and why he believed this. We talked to him for well over two hours and he had a wealth of information to share with us.
The game drives
People always refer to the U.S. as a melting pot of culture; today on the drive Pilanesburg we stopped at a super market which had a very Dutch feel to it and carried a lot of Dutch products which exemplifies the abundance of cultures throughout all of South Africa. The game drives acted as a bit of a relaxation part of the trip where we could clear our minds from the critical thinking aspect of the other sights we had seen so far and just enjoy the beauty of the natural landscape. Seeing all the wild animals up close was really like something from a movie, we were so incredibly close to the one elephant on the morning drive you could see all the detail in his skin and ears; it was really amazing. The lions, giraffes, zebras, rhinos and more were all out in the preserve living a free life where humans can go observe them in their natural habitat. Our driver was very knowledgeable and was able to find good spots to drive us to in order to get the best views out of our drive. He even picked up a chameleon from a tree and passed it around for everyone to hold (it climbed up my arm into my hair which made for some funny photos).
Liliesleaf brought us back to reality and back into a school mode. After sitting three hours on the game drive and then another two plus hours driving back to Johannesburg it was nice to get up and walk around. Though we were all tired the information was really interesting. This was one of my favorite museums that we’ve been to because not only is it history but the farm had a specific story and purpose. The first room in the museum (after the movie) had little stories of all the arrested and what their purpose was in the ANC meetings. The small details from the day they were all arrested are things that make the story interesting, for example the kids lying to the police about bombs being all over the grounds, or the police falsifying information found at the farm. My favorite story displayed in the museum was that of the escape of Goldreich, Jassat, Moolla, and Wolpe. This story illustrates the role of leaders in sustaining a social movement in that after the raid of Liliesleaf people felt lost as most of the prominent leaders of the movement had been sentenced to life in prison. However, when news broke of these four escaping, people could have hope and the movement could be sustained by these individuals. Their story of bravery and bribery was very interesting especially with the video interview of a few of the remaining people who helped enact the plan.
Tour of Alexandra
Another sweltering hot day in Johannesburg but we stuck to our schedule and powered through to tour the township of Alexandra. Alex was not exactly what I expected, I thought it would be more like Soweto but it was a lot smaller of a community and had three clear classes within it. The rich had beautiful house that were gated Emmanuel said some even had swimming pools. The middle-class area is what I expected the whole thing to be like (electricity, running water, shared bathroom, etc.) the poor area was really surprising to me, I could not imagine that people could survive living in those metal structures in the heat of the summer, with no electricity or running water. This area was very similar to what we saw when we had the short walk through kliptown in Soweto.
My favorite place that we visited today during the tour was the gym that was set up by the professional body builder. Athletics has always been a large part of my life and growing up I have seen the impact that it can make on someone’s lives. His vision to provide a place where kids can become invested in sports in their free time. I definitely think in an area like Alex it is important for the kids to have an outlet to have fun and engage in a healthy and legal activity instead of turning to drugs or other unhealthy patterns. It was also cool that he was so high up and recognized in the world of body building, and can act as a positive role model for the young kids in the area.
At the end of the night after a nice dinner we ubered home and we were talking to our driver and he was asking us about our stay in south Africa and what we had done. When we told him that we had toured Alex he said “ohh you were down by the slums” he said he is also surprised how they can stay alive and survive. Which was the first time we had heard someone refer to the area as the slum. Before coming and seeing the places I would have thought Soweto was known more to be the “slum-ish” part of town but clearly the local think Alex is.
Despite the blistering heat todays tour of inner city joburg was very interesting and engaging. One of the things I liked most about it was all he murals on the walls of the building all over the city, it took me back to my home town (right outside of Philly) as the artwork and architecture were very similar. I also loved the panoramic view of the city you could really see all the buildings and the landscape clearly. I was most shocked by two facts that we heard today from two different tour guides. One was that in the tall round build or “vertical slum” until recently, garbage had piled up 18 floors outside of the building. Secondly, he said that inmates in the prison potentially may not have showered for up to a year because of overcrowding. By the middle of the day the heat started setting in and I felt like I couldn’t get as much out of the constitution hill tour because I was so hot and tired but I found a lot of the facts that our tour guide mentioned really interesting. For example, the solitary confinement cell 13 and 22. Seeing the supreme court room was also really interesting and the flag was absolutely gorgeous.
Going through day two with the same focus on individual stories of south Africa there was a lot to be heard and found in the sights we visited today.
At the apartheid museum one of the first things we were exposed to was an outdoor walkway of people who were the children and grandchild of people who were prominent figures in the resistance agaisnt the apartheid regime and the building of south Africa to what it is today. One of these people was Moira Seligman, the daughter of Lithuanian Herman Tobiansky, who was the founder of Sophiatown. The family was one of the first Jewish families to settle in south Africa and allowed for Sophiatown to have land that could be bought by anyone of any race, religion, or ethnicity. Another Story that really stood out to me was that of Ernest Cole, who was the photographer for the one section of the museum. The apartheid era was known for being prosperous for the white people of South Africa and quite the opposite for the black people of the nation. He devoted his skills to documenting and capturing the hardships that were the everyday lives of colored people under the apartheid regime. He left South Africa and released a book called “House of Bondage” which publicized these images to the world. Of course, the book was banned in South Africa and the first time the photos were on display in the country was at this museum. The role of journalism and photo journalism gave a voice to the courageous people who decided to take a risk and publish the information about the cruelty during apartheid.
Lunch today with the local women of Soweto was an incredible experience. It was one of those things that if I had just come to South Africa on my own for a vacation I would never get to experience. The women were so open and inviting (and cooked a great meal for us). Siting there in the courtyard of Lindies house you could really feel the authenticity of the answers to our question that the women provided. Hearing the personal narratives of how they dealt with oppression during the apartheid regime to the feeling they had during their first time voting was so powerful. One thing that stuck with me was one of the older ladies who joined us a little late talked about the power of personal story telling she said, “sharing your own story and experience has power” which is pretty much the epitome of the paper I am writing. Her saying that really concluded and solidified my idea that all these stories whether they be tragic or happy is what part of makes a social movement powerful and successful.