Cape Peninsula

The cape peninsula is historically known for being the site where the first European settlers arrived in South Africa. Portuguese explorer, Bartolomeu Dias and his crew were the first Europeans to sail around the southern point of the continent of Africa in 1496. The Cape of Good Hope earned its name because these sailers were hopeful it would simplify trade with with the east referring to India.

The cape peninsula tour was truly a scenic excursion filled with sightseeing that is bucket-list worthy! Initially, we started out by exploring the Good Cape of Hope Nature Reserve in Simons town where we saw native South African penguins. Yes I said Penguins! As a group, we got a lot of pictures and footage of penguins and in a variety phases of there day some swimming, sleeping, walking, and playing. Many were adults but a few fluffy feathered babies laid amongst the colony. On our way to lunch we passed small South African pop-up shops filled with beautiful souvenirs. Fish and chips is a specialty you wouldn’t want to miss if stopping by Simons town. After lunch, the group was rather stuffed. However, we continued on to view more of a greener scene at Table Mountain National Park ;this park is a natural habitat to South Africa’s baboons. Be careful to not to feed them there known for being aggressive when choosing to do so. In the midst of the greenery was a lighthouse as well. For our last adventure of the day, we headed off to Cape of Good Hope typically where the Women and Gender Studies Program takes their traditional Cape of Good Hope picture. This area is scenic with the backdrop of mountainous
views, short green grass, and plenty of rocks to create divine scene for picture taking off the water.

However, in terms in connecting this space with what we have learning through our study abroad. The cape peninsula went under a lot a chaotic historical events that led to what it has become today. The space now is where mostly white South Africans reside. However, this was not the case until the apartheid government forcibly removed people of color, which is inclusive of indigenous Africans from their land. Forcibly removing people into other townships within Cape Town predominantly on how they identified racially. This racial categorization made it easier for the Apartheid government to operate by maintaining segregation amongst the people of South Africa. Although, Cape Town peninsula is a very scenic and beautiful place to see there is a lot of historical strife that has taken place on these grounds that must not be forgotten. The cape peninsula tour connects directly with why museums such as District 6 have come about to commemorate another part of the city of Cape Town that was declared a “white only” area and was home to various people of color who forcibly removed under the Apartheid regime. Additionally the Iziko Slave Lodge, that gave people of slave decent a narrative in history because under Apartheid slavery was not included as the history of South Africa.

I went to this excursion so excited for what I would see however was intentional about being mindful of the space in which I resided. Although, Cape peninsula is beautiful and it’s easy to allow your heart to be captivated by its timeless views and charm being observant of how it came to existence is very much important piece of reflection. I found myself in a space in which I was contemplating what does all this mean? Being an American in another country it is quite difficult to immerse yourself into a setting that you are not familiar. However, having a historical context to go off helps in understanding why things are the way they are currently and in being conscious of the interactions with people of South Africa. I look forward to reflecting more and working through what it means to be in South Africa. After all, “wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow” (Anita Desai).




Iziko Slave Lodge

Recently the study abroad group and I went on an academic excursion to the Iziko Slave Lodge in Cape Town. This building happens to be the oldest surviving slave museum in South Africa, built in 1674, where Dutch East India Company slaves were confined. Slavery was a form of domination of one person over another and these people served as property to others. Families were split apart and, most importantly, they were stripped of their personal freedom.

Even 5,000 years ago, powerful global economies throughout history have made profits and accumulated wealth through the slave trade. The slave trade in South Africa extended overtime down the Nile River, across the Sahara Desert, Indian Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean. Due to the growth of slavery from 1711 to 1795, slaves outnumbered the many colonists.

South Africa provides an unusual example in the international reinvigoration of the slave trade. Under Apartheid, school history textbooks, museums, tourist sites, and heritage memorials focused only on settler history and completely neglected the important slave past. However, slavery has recently become a more significant element of heritage, especially in the Western Cape region where most of the slaves lived and worked between the mid seventeenth and mid nineteenth centuries.

In following years, the Western Cape Provincial Museums Department sent out a memorandum to its local museums requesting that they start actively searching for local material on slavery so that they could incorporate them into their new displays. However, everyone replied that they had no such material to give to them and no one knew where to begin to start looking for these artifacts.

Once the curators were finally able to open the museum in 2006, the slave monument did not receive approvals from everyone. In fact, objections to the design of the monument, consciously modeled on the somber symbolism of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, may be the reason why descendents of slaves and others desire a more triumphant memorialization of slavery. Also, it is indicative of increasing opposition to ‘official’ state control over slave heritage within a city of such deep racial and political division. Regardless, Cape slavery heritage is now an important component of popular assertions of identity and an increasing powerful political weapon in local campaigns against academic and official control over the past.

I went into the excursion with no expectations, thinking that it would be best to keep an open mind, especially on topics as heavy as slavery. The layout of the lodge included different halls with some pictures and plaques. Parts of the exhibit even contained what looked like props and there were several different pictures hanging about the walls. The most intriguing part for me was the large map, in what seemed to be a main atrium, that would light up showing the main slave lodge trade route. As one walks up to the top floor, there were show cases of watches, jewelery, and some clothing that ere on display. This part made me feel a bit uncomfortable because I knew the people who were kept captive as slaves were not allowed to keep any personal belongings, much less anything as valuable as items such as these.

Some argue that they feel as if this museum was thrown together too quickly and it seemed a bit empty, but it is important to remember that the people who worked so hard to create this site had next to nothing to start with. The only issues was the absence of mentioning of how the women suffered back when slavery occurred. Despite this, I thought it was a great experience, getting to visit an actual slave lodge in South Africa.




Check Your Privilege

Halfway through our journey in South Africa, I am starting to recognize major differences in my social status and political identity that is more apparent in South Africa compared to the United States. For example, I am a white, female, American, who comes from a low-income, middle class family. I recognize that I have white privilege racially compared to others, but economically, I am not as privileged as other families in the United States. However, in South Africa, my economic status is at an ultimate high, and I have a new privilege that I’ve never experienced before.

Coming to South Africa, we have visited a total of three townships thus far, Soweto, Langa, and Manenberg, where the communities are predominately Black. Walking around these townships, I realized that there are virtually no white people living in these poverty-driven areas. Even within Manenberg Primary School, I have not noticed any white students, staff, or community members. With these observations, I have made the assumption that white South Africans are afforded an economic privilege that many Black South Africans are not. Outside of the townships, such as the Waterfront and more populated areas, you will find predominantly white communities. I have also noticed that richer parts of Cape Town are more attracted rather that being home to the South African community. Racial divides within the society tend to lead to economic divides as well.

In the township of Langa, resources are limited and occasionally scarce. Small living spaces are often shared by multiple families and water and electricity can often be unavailable. Dryers are not a necessity, so clothes are dried outside on laundry lines. In the Manenberg community, food for after school programs, and toilet paper are donated to the primary school so children can use the restrooms (or “toilets” in the words of South Africans) at ease, and have at least one meal a day provided from their school. Not only are resources limited, but the community can often be dangerous for the school children. Children have been robbed of their food while walking home from school, and often have violent encounters with other members of the community. Comparing this to the United States, I’ve never been deprived of toilet paper from my school, I was always well fed, and I never had to feel unsafe while walking through my neighborhood on my way home from school.

The struggles I’ve experienced in my hometown are nowhere near the struggles I’ve witnessed here in South Africa. However, struggles should not be considered a competition of “who has it worse” because we all struggle differently and handle things differently. What I encourage people to do, though, is to recognize their privilege and be aware of the social statuses that are automatically given at birth, that can not be obtained through hard work. Know your privilege, understand it, and learn how you can help others who are less fortunate and struggle from having no privilege at all.



District Six

It’s 1950. You and your family are all living together in a neighborhood that is full of diversity. Your neighbors watch your back and you watch your neighbors’ back. Music is crated and food is shared. On February 11th, 1966, this reality was changed when 60,000 people were kicked out of their homes due to the Group Areas Act. This act was passed in 1950, which designated people into different racial categories (White, Black, Honorary White, Chinese Asian, Other Asian, Cape Malay, Cape Colored, Colored, Other Colored, and Bantu). On February 11th, 1966, District Six was declared a White only area. Families were split up and displaced, just because the government decided that different races should not live together.

The District Six Museum, which is just down the street from where the district actually was, is a museum full of pictures and individual stories. On the floor of the museum, there is a map that was drawn by previous residents of the district, they each signed thes space they lived in. I found the personal nature of the museum to be a great way of remembering the people that lived there and their lives. There are suitcases around the museum displaying the small amount of belongings that people were allowed to take with them when they were removed from their homes. People took things that meant something to them, such as pictures, jewelry, and tea cups. The people living in District Six were only able to take one small suitcase with their belongings, and had to leave behind everything else.

Not only were they kicked out of their homes, but they also lost almost all of their belongings. This forced them to start over with nothing. The government’s intention to make the district a White only area was not accomplished. Although all of these people were removed, the entire area was demolished and made into nothing. It was just bare land.

We had a lovely museum guide named Ruth. Ruth, along with many of the guides, actually used to live in the district. From the museum, Ruth took us across Canterbury Street into District Six. She showed us where the old Jewish hub was before the Group Areas Act was enacted. Once the people living in the Jewish hub learned what the government was going to do, they sold all of the property. Ruth also took us past a college building that had been recently burned and destroyed during a Fees Must Fall protest by students. The students were protesting for lower education costs because it is still a very unattainable thing for university students here in South Africa. The area is full of so much history and present day activity which shows the importance of the area.

Ruth also told us a little bit of her life and her family connection to District Six. She actually grew up in the district with her mom, dad, and 10 siblings. When the government came on February 11, 1966 to remove her family from the home, her mother refused to leave because no other place would feel like home. Her family was one of the last ones in the district before they eventually had to leave. There is much more to her story, but it s not my place to tell it. Everyone should go to the District Six Museum to learn and hear personal stories about how the Group Areas Act affected families.


Robben Island

A choppy 35 minute boat ride will get you to Robben Island, which resides in Table Bay, approximately 12km from Cape Town. For centuries, Robben Island was used as an asylum, leper colony, prison, and sanatorium. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that it was used as a prison, specifically for political prisoners for the Apartheid government. Some political prisoners imprisoned on Robben Island  include Robert Sobulkwe, Steve Biko, Moses Dlamini, and Nelson Mandela, the most famous of those imprisoned here.

As we arrived on Robben Island, we took a bus tour that included sites of the maximum security prison, solitary prison, and the church. I was taken aback to learn that many couples come to the island to get married. Personally, I found this quite odd for people to share and express their love on an island that so many people suffered on.

The bus tour also drove by the limestone quarry where the prisoners were to work 5 days a week for 8 hours a day. Long term, the work in the limestone quarry damaged the prisoners’ eyes and lungs. A cave was located near the quarry that served as both a place for the prisoners to relieve themselves and eat their lunch. The prisoners, however, agreed upon having the cave serve only as a place to eat lunch and educate one another. Upon seeing the limestone quarry, it is hard for one to not notice the small pile of rocks near the quarry. This pile was made on my birthday, February 11, 1995. Mandela and other ex-prisoners came back to revisit the island. Mandela then began creating a pile of stones. The others began following his actions. Mandela then states that this is how quickly it takes to create a monument. The pile of stones built by the prisoners is called Monumemt of Rememberance.

We then began our tour on foot, our tour guide, a former prisoner of Robben Island. Later, during the tour, he told us his story. In 1979, he was 19 years old and a member of the congress of students fighting against education where he protested peacefully. When he was 24 years old, he was arrested and in detention for 6 months. He told the group he was tortured, both physically and mentally while in detention. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison and was released in 1991. He then returned to work at Robben Island in 2005.

The tour guide led us through the different prisons and provided insight about each one. While in the maximum security prison were were able to see the beds and spaces the prisoners were provided. As he shared his experiences at Robben Island, I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic. Not just for him, but toward all of the political prisoners who had been imprisoned and tortured and hurt because of their anti-Apartheid beliefs. I find it hard to believe that this happened less than 30 years ago.

During this tour, I saw so many cameras out that made me very uncomfortable. We were in the presence of a former Robben Island prisoner who suffered within these walls and there we were as tourists, snapping an infinite amount of photos with our cell phones. To me, it just seemed disrespectful.

Many were imprisoned on the island and treated terribly: hit, punched, beat, deprived of food, deprived of relieving themselves, and humiliated, yet Robben Island is somehow able to stand for something good. Richard Marback, author of The Rhetorical Space of Robben Island writes, “on the one hand, the island could become a monument to the brutality and inhumanity of the Apartheid. On the other hand, it could become a monument to the spirt and tenacity of the anti-Apartheid struggle.” This terrible past helps create the positive symbol it represents today. Thus, the island could not be a symbol of resistance without being perceived as a symbol of repression. Robben Island’s history, though terrible, remains a symbol of resistance and hope today.


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.