Sunday, June 8, 2014

PASSOP Internship

It's been a week since our incredible program ended, and while everyone has left Cape Town to begin a new adventure, I'm still here awaiting the start of an internship that I will be doing over the next two months. I will be interning with an organization called PASSOP (People Against Suffering, Oppression, and Poverty), which is also the word in Afrikaans for 'danger.' PASSOP is an NGO here in Cape Town that works with the refugee population in South Africa, doing everything from advocacy work to food handouts. The organization was founded as tensions between Zimbabweans fleeing the increasingly repressive regime of Robert Mugabe and South African citizens increased. While I know very little about what I'll actually be doing during my internship, I do know that I will be working with the Gender and LGBT coordinator, an area that I do have a bit of background in.

I couldn't be more thrilled to be staying in Cape Town for this experience! As mentioned in many other posts, Cape Town offers so much for those staying here. I'm now living in an area called Newlands, a southern suburb of Cape Town in a guest suite of a wonderful family's home. Everyone keeps saying how unfortunate it is that I'm here during the winter, but the weather, other than the occasional rainfall, has been fantastic! While it has been an interesting transition from a group program to by myself, I don't mind exploring parts of the city on my own. So far, I'd recommend to anyone who has the time and ability to stay on and explore this beautiful city for as long as possible.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Multilingual Rainbow

The Republic of South Africa has 11 official languages, the most in the world according to The Guinness Book of World Records:
The country with the most official languages is the Republic of South Africa with 11. These are: English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sesotho, Setswana, Sepedi, Xitsonga, siSwati, isiNdebele and Tshivenda.
However, South Africa's 1996 post-apartheid constitution doesn't stop with the official languages.  Subsection 6 of Chapter 1 also obligates the national government's Pan South African Language Board to support the Khoi, Nama, and San languages of South Africa's first inhabitants and sign language and to ensure respect for 11 additional languages.  The Constitution's Bill of Rights grants extensive legal protections for individuals' language use, including "the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable" and "the the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice."

As with many of the other sweeping socio-economic rights included in the Constitution, the lived reality of many South Africans differs from their supreme law's soaring rhetoric. Disputes over the language of instruction used in institutions at all levels from primary school to university are ongoing, as are arguments about changing European place names.  During our time in Cape Town, bilingual (Afrikaans and English) and trilingual (Afrikaans, English, and isiXhosa) signs were common everywhere and the norm at government institutions.  The other eight languages are not as common in Cape Town or the Western Cape province.

The current situation and its linguistic disputes, which touch on deeper issues of ethnic and cultural identity, must be considered in the context of the racial segregrationist policies of apartheid which were in place until the early 1990s.  As part of apartheid, the ruling National Party aggressively promoted Afrikaans, a language which has evolved from the Dutch of South Africa's first European settlers, as the country's dominant language.  The National Party's efforts to impose Afrikaans instruction on black students sparked the 1976 Soweto uprising, which was brutally suppressed but marked a key moment in the anti-apartheid struggle.

Apartheid-era government sign in English and Afrikaans, now displayed at the District Six Museum
Today's legal linguistic dispensation may seem messy, imperfect, and confusing, but it is certainly preferable to a situation of domination.  The reversal of the apartheid-era linguistic social engineering and the government's acknowledgement of South Africa's amazing linguistic diversity are victories for the agency and resilience of the South African people over an alternative, dystopian vision of government-imposed linguistic conformity and segregation.  The late Nelson Mandela understood the importance of recognizing people's languages:
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.  If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
Let me conclude with this image from South Africa's Constitutional Court building in Johannesburg, which I visited in 2008 and which is inscribed in all 11 official languages so as to speak to the hearts of all South Africans.

Monday, June 2, 2014


The townships are an ugly reminder of Apartheid - under Apartheid, racial groups were forced by law to do everything separate; from where one lived to where you were allowed to eat, to where you could even sit in public. This was how Jim Crow was for blacks in the U.S. South Africa is only 20 years removed from this reality where rule of law, legislative statutes and the entire apparatus of the state including the police, courts, schools, etc worked in unison to oppress the non-white majority. A person was limited in the access that they had to society's institutions, and forget about justice...many were physically abused and killed for trying to buck the system. Fortunately the paradigm has shifted, but the inequalities and the legacy of Apartheid remains. 

To me the townships represent a stark reminder of how far South Africa has to go. The townships are 99% black and the conditions of people who live there are bad. They are still segregated and they live in shacks with tin roofs.  Because of the locations of the townships (right outside or at the fringe of the metropolises) they are overcrowded with people who have to travel into the cities in order to work. These same people cannot afford a home or rent inside of the city. More and more folks flock to the cities from the country for jobs, and as a consequence these townships grow...they swell. Langa and Khayelitsha are two townships which we had the fortune to travel to. 

Interesting to see how some people who are able to save money actually stay in the townships. One of the homes that we visited started as a one room shack, then grew to a two room shack, and so on and so forth until after 30 or so some odd years (as told by the owner), that shack was no longer a shack, but an impressive abode which even housed a restaurant (which hands down had some of the best food that I have eaten while here). Also interesting that in Langa, there was a section of that township which was known as Beverly Hills, because the people who had good jobs and had acquired some status stayed in that part. Those houses had gates and were sprawling and well kept, yet it was still part of the township and the people where members of the community. This shows how the spirit of community predominates throughout this land. The govt is currently building houses at a frenzied pace to keep up with the demand, and a lot of these townships are being invested in. I can write on and on, but I will leave it at that. Suffice to say, millions still live in one room shacks with a dirt floor, tins walls, and tin roof with no toilet, sink or running water.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Professor David

Our experience could have been very different if not for Professor David.  Being originally from South Africa, he makes our experience worthy.  He takes us to most historic, exciting areas in and out of Cape Town. Cape Town is a vibrant city with a lot of interesting activities going on, without proper guidance, one can easily lose track on important activities.  David does not only lead us to right places, he participates in every activities we do.  He is very aware of the country history and the contemporary situations. I am truly glad that I came to South Africa study abroad and with David. Most importantly, he has a huge sense of humor :).

Professor David

Cape of Good Hope

Today, we went to the Cape of Good Hope, and it was quite an adventure. We drove about two hours and then walked up this trail, which was quite steep. This hike reminded me of Cinque Terre, a hike in Italy that involves hiking along the mountain across five cities. At the top, some of us went a little further and got a little too close to the edge to capture "the perfect facebook profile picture.".  After the hike, we decided to another hike down the hill to the beach, and it was quite scary as the wind was quite strong and many times was able to push us over. Chanel lost her sunglasses while the rest of us just lost our balance many times. However, the view was definitely worth it. We saw many baboons, who, for the most part, seemed harmless and entertaining. However, at one point, we encountered an army of eight to ten baboons charge  in the same direction as Emma and Professor David.  It was truly frightening to see Professor and Emma run away as the baboons started going in their direction. Luckily, they were able to evade the baboons by using "logic and prayer." As it was very windy, the students could not hear each other but we made our way down the hill without a direct path. As the bushes along the path were filled with thorns, it was quite tricky. But the students kept going despite the wind, the despite the slippery terrain, despite the thorny bushes, and despite the army of baboons. I felt like I was in a movie for survival. However after what seemed like forever, we made it down the path and took a picture to commence the journey. It was a great ending to an epic trip symbolizing the student's persistence and the challenges that each of us may have faced during this journey.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

District Six

My experience in Cape Town has been truly life changing. Prior to coming South Africa, I did not have much idea what to expect, but I have been pleasantly surprised. I thought that there would still be a lot of bitterness between the different racial groups because it's only been twenty years since the apartheid ended. However, after speaking to multiple individuals I have experienced that many people are not necessarily bitter towards a certain group but towards the past government. Many people whom I have spoken state that it's not the people's faults but the government's fault.

I've had very interesting days at Cape Town, but the most memorable day for me thus far has been visiting District Six museum. District Six was a district that was unlike other districts under the apartheid regime where various racial groups mixed. There were Cape Malays, Blacks, Jewish, Indian and White groups in the District who live harmoniously together for decades unlike the rest of the country where often other groups stayed within districts with their own races. Because one of cabinet minister's wife wanted a gentrification of the neighborhood and wanted only white families to live in that neighborhood, she convinced the government to pass an order to remove all of the residents from their houses. Thus, the government started the removal process and over the years, the houses were razed, and the people were effectively removed from their residences. These residences had been passed for generations. Because this action caused a huge uproar abroad, no houses were ever build in the District Six. Post-apartheid, the government has started the process to return the land to the residents slowly. However, since a university now dominates 40% of the land, and many residents have long since perished, it is difficult to re-distribute the land to all of the previous residents.

 It was truly sobering experience visiting the museum, which showcased the streets with the families names. The museum was filled with walls with pictures of individuals who had lived in District Six illustrating the lives of people. The pictures illustrated beautifully how people's lives revolved around their residences showcasing the resident's birthdays, weddings etc. If you think about it so so many life memories are formed around our residences. The museum also had a sheet with all of the resident's names. To top it all off, we had a guide whose family had lived in District Six for generations. The guide's family had migrated from Gujarat, India and his family was forcibly removed after living there for generations. Seeing the pictures of the museum really made me angry and truly resonated with me.  As my own family migrated from India, I can imagine how difficult it must be to uprooted from roots. My own grandparents also had issues with their house, which was forcibly taken from us in India by property developers. Your home truly plays an essential role in upbringing. Many people from District Six died with a broken heart because they were never able to return to their home as my grandparents who also died without ever seeing justice. Despite everything, though the guide clearly had a reason to be angry, he blamed the government for the issues that he faced without explicitly blaming any racial group. At the end of the tour, he said he was still waiting to get his house and hopefully he will see the house before his death.