Cultural SHAWCO

When we first arrived at Johannesburg airport, the fact that we had arrived in a whole other country did not hit me immediately. I feel as if that is because I have traveled out of the United States many times before, but the longer we stood in the airport waiting for people to exchange U.S. dollars to rand, the realization that I was in South Africa, a place I have never envisioned myself going and never thought that an opportunity like this study abroad trip would ever appear. I’m not sure if it was the various languages they speak here that caught my attention or the fact that people were looking at us that reminded me that we were foreigners.

In Johannesburg, we were privileged with a fantastic hotel that we stayed in for a couple of nights while we traveled to our excursion destinations. Unlike common misconceptions, we definitely were not staying in little shacks with dirt floors and tin roofs. Johannesburg also wasn’t like the desert, dry and isolated. In fact, the city is where Mandela Square is and it rained quite a bit during our time there.

Despite the rain, the group powered on and we went on several different academic excursions. My favorite probably being Constitution Hill where a significant amount of people were imprisoned during the Apartheid period. Our group was led by a tour guide through the women’s prison, where women were extremely mistreated, and Number Four, where Black men were imprisoned. In fact, significant anti-Apartheid leaders were even locked up here, such as Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo

From Johannesburg, we traveled to Cape Town, another part of South Africa where we moved in for the remainder of our stay. Everyone got to meet Cecil, our amazing bus driver., as well as many SHAWCO coordinators that couldn’t have been more welcoming to us.

When we arrived in Cape Town, we hit the ground running, going to our first academic excursion to Langa township so that we could get a feel for a more rural view of South Africa, which would be a different point of view than Johannesburg. I really appreciated  going to this township instead of going to a tourist area or a museum, because we kind of got to see how people go about their day in this township, but at the same time I almost like we were spying on the lives of the people who live here. I had to remind myself that I’m sure the people living here were used to seeing Americans walking around with Mike, our tour guide, because he went on a certain route, went to certain vendors, and so on.

Along with studying at the University of Cape Town and doing academic excursions, the group and I are also working with sixth graders at Manenberg Primary School. The three subjects we are focusing on are maths, English, and social studies. I think SHAWCO is the coolest learning program because the kids we are working with are choosing to stay after school to further their education. I think out of everything about this study abroad trip, I was the most nervous about the service learning section. Each Grand Valley student was assigned two learners (sixth graders) to help with each subject. I was terrified the kids wouldn’t like me, but they were so excited to see all of us the second we stepped off that SHAWCO van the very first day. It’s crazy that it is only the second week, and I love all of these kids. I know it’s going to be so hard to leave them.

Time has been flying by and I love it here. I love my peers, the friends I’ve made here, and the new things that I learn everyday. The currency is still a bit tricky, and I still freak out when I see prices that are in the hundreds, so my currency converter app is definitely my best friend right now.



Week Two in Cape Town

It is week two of our Cape Town study abroad trip and I have already learned so much. We had a really awesome lecture yesterday given by Nandi Vanqa-Mgimija where she talked about women and reproductive labor. She informed us of the “triple burden” women face in life and their unpaid domestic work that they are expected to do. Nandi made solid connections to their oppression and the economic position of women in South Africa. Having different people come to give lectures is going to give us a lot of different perspectives on the issues that face South Africa today, and this is definitely one of my favorite parts about this study abroad trip so far. But my number one favorite thing we have done is working with the kids. It has only been three days of working with them and we have already been thrown quite a few curve balls. I personally have never had to write a lesson plan and prepare for a whole three hour’s worth of activities, so it’s been a little bit of a struggle. I have found that I expect to get much more done in a less an than we can actually accomplish. I definitely need to take a step back and really figure out what is a reasonable amount of information to work on in one day. Although some of the kids seemed to struggle, they were all super excited to learn. It is the cutest thing when kids are eager to raise their hands and are actually disappointed when they do not get to go up to the board to write out their answers to their math question.

I think that tutoring all of the learners will be a personal growth experience for everyone and I will be better working with kids in the end. Yesterday I needed to keep coming up with new things to do with my learners because they were not talking at all. They definitely have never talked to each other before, so we kept sitting in awkward silence. So I just started asking them different questions to try to find things we all had in common in order to make them feel more comfortable. By the end of the day, they were talking a little bit more, but it is for sure going to take some time and work. I’m excited to see what the rest of the time we have with the learners is going to bring us. It is also kind of fun because some of us are learning with the kids. So far we have been doing maths and English. A lot of us have forgotten how to do all of the things that we learned to do in elementary and middle school. Yesterday we were doing language composition and a few times, I had to check back with another GV student to make sure I was doing everything right, because I had not done the stuff in so long. I think making us kind of learn along with them was making them a little more comfortable because my learners began to be less afraid of making a mistake. Overall, this study abroad trip, mixed with service learning, has been a great experience so far, and I can’t wait to see what else this journey brings us.


Langa Township: Culture, Connections, and Community

The township of Langa, located in Cape Town, South Africa, with its distinct culture, friendly people, and amazing artwork has so far been my number one excursion that we’ve had. Looking back on my first day within South Africa to the day of our excursion, I feel as thought he walk-about excursion really made me feel as though I wasn’t just a tourist, eve if it was only for a short while. Touring the township with our guide, Mike, I was given the chance to experience first-hand what the people of Langa were like and to view their stories up close, outsof of an impersonal tour bus. Walking around and visiting some of the homes, as well as noticing the close proximity to which those of various statues of wealth lived together, I understood even more the deep rooted impact that the Apartheid system had over not just this community, but others as well throughout the country of South Africa. Touring the neighborhood, I was informed of how many of Langa may still choose to live in one of the poorest areas, even though they may make enough to be considered middle-class. Viewing expensive cars parked in the driveways of homes within such areas, and having been explained to the type of work the owner does, and what they do for the community, revealed to me how this community is much like the communities back home in Detroit, Michigan, and how even though someone may go away to school or may get a top position at some company, they still are humble enough to think of where they come from and to go so far as to actively take part in their community and give back to those who will come after them.

While Langa township and Detroit may not be entirely the same, I was still excited to be able to draw some comparisons between the two. Being across the Atlantic and within an entirely different continent, country, anc culture, I felt as though many connections were made that lay in the township that just weren’t experienced previously as was the case in Johannesburg while visiting Soweto and learning about the town behind the glass of a tour bus. While Langa confronted major concerns such as crime, and education of the younger generation, the structure known as the Guga S’Thebe Cultural Centre made sure that there was a safe space for youth and others of various ages to gather after school and learn about the arts in order to stay out of trouble. It was here that I got to witness many various forms of art such as locally made pottery, glass art, sand art, paintings, and small items such as different types of jewelery. Not only did the art created speak to me as I enjoy all forms of art, but the spaces in which such things were housed in did so as well. The architecture and design of the Cultural Centre stood out to me the moment I strolled off the bus as the outside and entrance were covered in beautiful glass works. Not only that, but the Centre als had a beautiful, large, tiled piece that was constructed to be a part of the theatre where many performances often took place. I was reminded of the beautiful Detroit Institute of the Arts and was in awe at the various collections and creative spaces of the Cultural Centre.

From a casual and informative walk about the township, to the visitation and explanation of homes of the people lived there, and the exploration of the Cultural Centre, my dad ended with a grand finale in the home of Mike. Once here, his father, now as the “Ace of Fun” prepared a welcoming home-cooked South African meal and afterwards taught myself and the group how to play a song together using the instruments of the in-home band, in addition to some Langa dance moves.

From these kind gestures and a beautiful, adventurous day in Langa township, I felt as though I received a warm welcome into Cape Town. A welcome that reminded me of Community Bay in my hometown, where everyone got to know each other, listen to some good music, and try some delicious traditional dishes. Despite the system of oppression that hung over both communities heads, and the dangers that many of the communities may face each day for simply trying to exist, I feel as though both have managed to flourish in their own unique ways. Even though I was not fully a part of the Langa township community, it reminded myself and countless others in our group of their own experiences with their homes and communities. In conclusion, I find that this excursion really caused me to deeply refectory on my hometown and the traits that remain constant, even when one is across the world.



Protesting What’s Right

College students are involved in so many ways at higher education institutions from joining Greek organizations, receiving jobs on campus, and even being student activists. Before attending this South Africa study abroad program with the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department, I thought and assumed that student activism did not begin until students enter into the college setting or some type of higher education institution. I believed that my point and views were valid because students that are being educated at a higher education institution are learning at a more intimate and deeper level, which will cause them to create or peak an interest in a certain “cause” or social justice issue. This academic or social encounter will lead them to become a student activist on and off the college or university campus.

Based on the information I found in the Apartheid Museum, student activism in South Africa starts earlier for students while they are in high school. While in the museum, we viewed information showing high school students in South Africa being exposed to the Black Conciousness Movement. Black Conciousness is being able to understand and engage Black struggles with racism and discrimination. The theory of Black Conciousness was uplifted and held by the Black Panthers in the United States in the 1970’s. The South African high school students from Soweto were influenced by Black Conciousness and many other leaders and theories that helped them organize a peaceful march and protest against their education system, the Bantu Education System. There were multiple things that led to the peaceful march and protest, but the students were pushed over the edge when a new law required Afrikaans (a white language) to be used to teach maths, social sciences, and biology.

On June 16, 1976, 20,000 Soweto students and other students in the area proceeded to march to a near-by stadium to gather together and listen to their student activists and leaders give speeches. During this peaceful protests, the students were invaded and interrupted by the local police, who ended up shooing about 300 children and others in the community. In the article that was assigned to us, information about more reasons why these students protested and what lead to this tragic event were featured. The article talked about how, “for several weeks already, school children at a number of schools had been staying from classes to protest the imposition of Afrikaans as the language and instructions in school.”

Another museum called the Hector Peterson Museum and Memorial gave exclusive details of the Soweto high school protest on June 16, 1976. This museum gave information about some of the problems in Bantu Education in 1953, such as white students being worth 964 rand while Black students were only valued at 42 rand. The school facilities were very poor, the educational standards dropped, and there were insulted and unqualified teachers who had harsh and cruel methods of punishment and discipline to gain control of the classroom.

In my personal opinion, this event ended very horribly and tragically, but the Soweto student activists tried to organize and prepare very well by being led by and influenced by Steve Biko, who taught the theory of Black Conciousness, the ANC Youth League, and the first President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. While visiting the Hector Peterson Museum and Memorial, we also visited the home of Nelson Mandela and his ex-wife Winnie Mandela. The home of Mandela really displayed the multiple areas in his life.

There were various awards and acknowledgements for Nelson and Winnie Mandela and their children. With the awards were also pictures of Mandela with his family, which connected to the book by Winnie Mandela called Part of My Soul Went With Him. In this book, she reflected on Mandela as a husband and great father, but also reflected on him being in jail and after he was released from prison. Winnie experience the house being set on fire and having bullet holes in the walls from police trying to murder the Mandela family. Seeing the house made those moments feal very real for me. I could feel Winnie’s emotions and could connect them back to her book. Attending these two museums was very eye opening, amazing, and realistic.


A Walk Through Langa

With a small band playing what they called African pianos and a man who called himself “Ace of Fun” leading the group, Grand Valley students danced arm-in-arm inside of a home-styled restaurant in Langa, South Africa.
Langa is a unique township that illustrates both ends of wealth and privilege- right down the street from each other. Our tour guide and native, Mike, walked us through various parts of the area, allowing the group to feel the pulse of Langa as opposed to merely spectating through a bus window. Able to interact with locals, we got to experience Langa in a raw, honest way. One of the most impactful spaces we explored was Gaga S’Thebe Art Center. A beautiful building with lofted rooms for ballet, sculpting, and endless other crafts stood in front of the recently remodeled outdoor amphitheater for theatrical and musical performances. Young students are heavily encouraged to participate in art or sports to keep them out of trouble. More importantly, areas like the art center stimulate creativity and forms of expression. GV students “ooo”ed and “ahh”ed at beautiful hand painted ceramics and loved supporting local artists such as the one who made this lovely double espresso cup pictured below.
Mike also took our group to the park used for rugby, soccer, and other activities. It is up kept with gray, or recycled water and has a gorgeous green, even during South Africa’s current level three drought. Mike talked of the environmental efforts being made in recent years to preserve water, which I loved hearing.
Continuing our stroll in Langa, Mike mentioned some serious problems the community faces such as crime, HIV/AIDS in teens, unemployment, poverty, and substance abuse or addiction. It was evident while walking through that a lot of Langa is very poor. The South African constitution is considered highly progressive on an international scale. The preamble begins, “We, the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past,” which highlights the country’s efforts to rebuild and regain post-Apartheid. It is a beautiful document, but the proper implementation is not fully present.
As visible in Langa, the distribution of wealth lies in the minority of South African hands. Mike explained that South Africa’s gender equity requires 40% female employees and the country is currently surpassing that. However, most CEO and other powerful positions are held by white men. Many of the living conditions we saw and lack of access to resources, opportunity, and education that we learned about in Langa do not reflect the optimistic goals of the law of the land. The document also reads, “…improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.” A lot of work needs to be done to implement a value such as this into a place such as Langa.
With that said, the sense of community is tangible. It was more welcoming and inviting than any place we’ve visited yet. Mike made a point to show us a very humble home with a fancy car parked in the driveway. He said, “the man who lives here went off and was very successful, yet will not give up his house. People come back to this place.”
We all left with smiles and yearning to one day return. The town has a variety of social, socio-economic, and person problems that need to be addressed- but so do all places. Its open arms make Langa a city one can never forget.



Walking Through History: Between the Segregation of South Africa

Before we visited the Apartheid Museum, there was some knowledge I had about the Apartheid of South Africa from readings assigned in class. I knew basic information like the start of Apartheid was in 1948 when the National Party won the “Whites Only Election” which intensely enforced segregation amongst race. What I did not know was that this came about due to a segregation system that failed before. Those systems previously did not succeed because South African cities grew fast, and many blacks left labor working on the white-owned farms to get better work in the cities. White people were poor in some places and you can guess their attitudes towards their previous black laborers.
It was very interesting to see at one point, there was a whole wall with the enforced laws created year after year to hold the people down. This ranged from the 1949 Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act to the 1971 Act of Bantu Affairs Administration. In between these years, the act that caused some of the most violence and community backlash was the 1950 Population Registration Act, which required racial classes to show their “pass” in order to identify their race. Some of the protestors of pass usage were located in Sharpeville. During the year 1960, a group of people stood outside of the police station in Sharpeville asking to be arrested because they did not want to carry around a pass just to show their racial identity. After time, the police protest ended in the massacring of 69 people that day in Sharpeville. These were hard times for those in the black community in South Africa. A vital uprise that brought a sense of hope to black people was when Steve Biko established the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) in 1976. The BCM gave black people a sense of black pride and encouraged them to embrace their dark skin. It also helped one another unite and not use the negative terms that the whites were saying and turning against one another. This was also when they started to see more importance in the origins of them as a people. Many wanted to regain traits that they once had lost due to slavery and the racial form of human assimilation they received.
There were some heavy events for us all that happened in between the start and official finish of Apartheid in 1994. The ultimate shocker for us was reading in the museum that more people died during 1990 and 1994 that all of the thirty before put together. Apartheid was not agreed within other countries. The United States did not acknowledge the South African President in a positive light until it was informed that Mandela was released and organizations were unbanned such as the ANC, PAC, SACp, by their President De Klerk.
Throughout the adventure here, the mod was really set by darkened rooms that played clips of information, wired walls in some places, along with a showcase of guns (some melted down) that the police had during the time of Apartheid brutality. The end of the museum led outside along a bright path through the last room that had the South African flag, rocks from the early worker miners, and also sayings and liberating words they live by today. This is to remember the past hurt and pain in knowing their future is not structured the same.


Building On The Bricks That Imprisoned Us: Constitution Hill

The preamble of the South African Constitution states, “We the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past.” When visiting South Africa’s Constitution Court, it is very apparent that this nation honors the struggles of its past. The Women and Gender Studies Study Abroad group visited South Africa’s Constitution Hill on May 11th, 2017. To prepare for our excursion, the students were asked to read the constitution. The constitution emphasizes four common values: human dignity, non-racism and non-sexism, constitution supremacy, and adult sufferage. These common values can be seen throughout the constitution due to South African government officials wanting to rectify the past by instilling that the law of the land firmly places those who were oppressed on equal footing as the non-oppressed. They made sure that discrimination due to race and gender was illegal. Further, they created national policies such as free education and healthcare to better serve their nation. There is a self awareness the South African government has that allows them to effectively move forward from their dark Apartheid past. It can be seen when visiting Constitutional Court. It is the highest court within South Africa and it stands where the old fort and prison once were. The old fort was the original fort used to protect against British invaders, but was later converted into a prison, originally for white men. Down the line, a prison for natives and women was added. The old fort and prison sits on top of a hill overlooking Johannesburg as an intimidation tactic for the Africans.

First, our tour led us through the women’s jail, where black women entered the jail and were forced to disrobe in the courtyard. They were stripped of their underwear and forced to put on a uniform and cover their hair at all times. We learned that some women had to enter jail with their babies. In painted depections on the walls of the courtyard, one can see the jailed women holding hands with their children. Once inside the prison, you can hear voices coming from behind a metal door. Behind the door were the isolation cells. Within the cells were videos of black women who were held in these cells during Apartheid. Entering into these rooms and hearing these women’s experiences of being locked away for 23 hours a day was deeply saddening. Our group stood in humble silence as we heard about women being ripped away from their babies, stripped of their dignity by having to prove they were bleeding, and placed in jail for wearing the wrong clothes. Our lively group was so humbled by the strength that it took to survive such conditions, additionally knowing that on the other side of the wall, white women prisoners had people serving them and they could freely talk in certain places. For the black women, Apartheid is what put them in prison, and is also what ruled their stay.

After visiting the women’s prison, we moved on to Number Four, where the black male prisoners were held. When walking down the stairs into the prison, you can feel the loneliness and desperation within the air. Although it was bright and sunny out, there was a darkness that surrounded this place. It had the feeling of a cemetery, that there was mourning in the air. To the right of the staircase is a photo of naked black men lined up performing the tausa, an act where men were stripped of their dignity and forced to eat near an open toilet. Further, there was a torture room that had a ghastly presence. There was a flogging frame where men were stripped and tortured. As an African American Studies minor, we often talk about the horror of slavery. But it seems very far removed seeing that slavery ended well over a century ago. But according to our tour guide, the flogging frame was used until 1983. When she said that, I was taken aback because it was so recent, and so horrific. I could not understand why South Africans would want to build the highest court of their new government on such a place. But upon waiting outside, and looking at Constitutional Court, one can see why. To the right is the external flame of democracy lit by Nelson Mandela. It is to signal that democracy will always reign within South Africa. The Consitutional Court is beautiful all throughout. On the outside are the wooden pillars of the 27 basic rights of South Africa. The sign for the court is written in all eleven official languages of South Africa. From the court room, you can see outside and inside because the justices must remember that they are serving the citizens of South Africa. Inside the building there is vibrant artwork and colors everywhere. Lastly, the bricks from the former prison line the courtroom. This court perfectly represents the first line of the preamble of the Consitution, “We the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past.” The usage of the bricks and the placement of court on the hill of the old fort and prison really demonstrates that South Africa is working to honor the past and move forward in a social justice mindset. Although the court and the South African Constitution are quite young, the progress that has been made is tremendous. And the court inspires that. I was so inspired by all of the symbolism and artwork proving democracy is here to stay. The building is so bright, drowning out the darkness of the past. But, showing that every bright light has a little shade. This excursion really made me examine my own consitution and the laws that are in place. Although the United States is far more economically prosperous, it has legislative issues and past discretions that need to be addressed. This trip gave me ideas for the possibility of our government working to rectify the past. To build a brighter future such as South Africa. In closing, our tour guide referenced the old bricks from the old fort and prison within the courtroom as, “building on the bricks that once imprisoned us.” And after this visit, I truly believe they are building something great.