Today we visited Kalksteenfontein, a township that has not seen help from Americans in 20 years. One word to describe it: Overwhelming. It was an overwhelming experience in many ways, but the most apparent aspect that caught me off guard was the aggression we witnessed in the parental community. As we handed out lunch to countless children sitting in lines on the ground, mothers yelled and pointed at each other about various things we could not understand. Some seemed to be arguing about their children not getting enough food, or others looked angrily at the mothers who’s children got the first few pairs of shoes. One mother looked desperately at me holding a toddler with bare feet, as i held the last small pair of shoes in my hands. Her gratitude when i gave her little boy my last pair of shoes is something I will never forget.
“A Nation should not be judge by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones”
While journeying to South Africa, we (the zulu tribe) focused on the health status of the country and how it has been shaped by the apartheid. The apartheid government in South Africa treated its lowest citizens like animals. People were deprived of their basic needs for healthy lives and forced together to live on top of each other in poverty. It separated families simply as an interruption in order to demote non-white races. Through different townships, jails, mines and schools, it is evident that the apartheid had lasting effects on South Africa which includes an extreme conflict of health.
So a little history for those who aren’t familiar… Black children during the Apartheid were consistently discouraged from school due to the governments control over education. When the government took over black education, it created fees for materials and for attending school so many families could not afford to attend school. Furthermore, it only allocated for a limited amount of schools, so overcrowding of classes created problems for teachers and violence between students and teachers who tried to control their behavior. After the economic downturn of 1975, funds for schools were absent. The government took away the final year of primary school. This put education at a stand still for many children who had been invested in school for all of primary school. Then the Department of Bantu Education declared Afrikaans as the medium for teaching; a language that the majority of children did not understand. Students started failing class and boycotting. “To Hell with Afrikaans.”
In Alex we visited a school that we have had a relationship with for many years. We heard about all of the work that Elon has done for the school so far, and then had the chance to play with the student during their free break. As children swarmed us Americans and hugged us from left and right, I couldn’t help but notice open wounds on some faces or sores on arms that I have never seen before. I thought about my own experience of school growing up, when we would stay home from school if we had the slightest cough as to avoid spreading anything. Then I explored the school and visited each classroom to re-fill the first aid boxes. Most classes didn’t have a box, or their box was empty. Classes were filled with students so that many were sitting on the floors or standing in the back while the teachers were at the front. Some classes that I entered were filled with countless students but had no teacher present to lead them.
When devising a plan for what to do next for this school, my thoughts revolved around the health of these children. They study on top of each other with no structure for class. From the health aspect, this is exactly how disease spreads. A man i encountered in Cape Town explained that most children start using drugs around age 11, when they drop out of schools and join gangs for their own protection. From the health aspect, this is a death sentence for the underdeveloped brains of so many children. In the United States, we have had lessons out entire life about health safety and drugs starting from around the age of ten and continuing until college age. South Africa needs a way to teach children the severeness of health issues. When they come from townships in which they live in very close contact to so many people with limited water and very low sanitation practices, it is important that they learn about health.
This is not the only area that health problems stood out to me, but it is the most prominent because it is the children who are being neglected. In Robben Island and Number 4 in Constitution Hill, we learned of the absurd conditions that men and women were kept in – many of who were wrongly convicted. The architecture of buildings was purposely faulty so that rooms flooded or froze so that prisoners had to sleep on the ground on it. Men were forced to eat their meals alongside the toilets, exposing them to human waste that causes numerous disease. In the mines we learned about all of the diseases like silicosis disease and other lung issues that men developed while working there, the only place they could really find work. They put their lives at risk daily and tortured their bodies by working down in mines to support their families in the best way they could. They were stripped of any opportunity for higher occupational success.
My initial reaction to Cape Town – “This place is perfect.” I expressed my obsession repeatedly as we drove past beautiful wine vineyards, hiked table mountain, stayed in a beautiful hotel, and went on a bus tour of all the most scenic views of the city. I was judging South Africa by how it treats it highest citizens. Then we visited townships, starting with Langa where many South Africans claimed was their favorite place to live. My reaction to their living conditions was not perfect. I was caught off guard by how they lived, and it made me sad to think that they were initially forced into these conditions by the government. Then we visited a pre-school where children from the streets swarmed to get small lunch bags for themselves and their families. I couldn’t believe how many children were rushing to us for a small amount of food, and again I felt sad because they were put in these conditions. We went to jails where numerous convictions were unjustified, and I saw the torture that people went through if they responded to the wrongdoing of the government. I started to judge the nation by how it treats its lowest citizens, and I realized that there is something very wrong in the systems controlling South Africa. As we discussed our emotions in class, my perspective took a turn. Rather than feeling sad and focusing on the fault that the leaders of South Africa are at, I felt inspired. Although the township look and feel shanty, the people there have a strong community that they enjoy and get by with. The people we met are living, they are surviving just like the rest of us. It makes me realize how much we unnecessarily think we need. This change of perspective helped me further when we entered other townships so that I could empathize with the people there not by feeling sad, but by seeing the opportunity to take it all in and learn from the people there as well as provide some taste of hope with new shoes and food and a helping hand. I was inspired to keep doing good and helping people, and to simplify my own life in many ways. The next plan of action: health classes in South Africa.
Who can you learn from today?
I’m sure you have more options than you think.
January 21, 2016
Today, we visited Constitution Hill and went on a guided tour through what used to be the Old Fort prison complex, Number Four, and areas that were later added, such as the isolation cells in Emakhulukuthu, and the Women’s Prison. The prisoners ranged from men and women who had simply broken pass laws to common criminals and political prisoners. Although this prison is notorious for the treacherous living conditions and harsh treatment that the prisoners endured while there, what affected me the most was considering both the physical and mental aftereffects caused by the living conditions and mistreatment that the prisoners must have had to live with, if and when released from the prison.
When first walking into the area that is Number Four, the first plaque I noticed read: “The prison was a health hazard. Over the years, there were outbreaks of diseases… Hospital facilities were inadequate”. This plaque set the stage for me, yet could not prepare me for the gruesome mistreatment that I was about to learn about. One of the most powerful moments in the museum prison was when I learned of how doctors at times aided in the abuse. Particularly, there was one account of how a woman fell and broke her hip, the doctor refused to see her in her cell, so she was forced to stand in line with a broken hip. A similar story of a woman miscarrying also hit me hard, as I cannot imagine losing a child in such terrible conditions and then having no doctor to assist me. Also, at times doctors were asked to be present at lashings and beatings to ensure that the prisoner would not die due to the abuse. Seeing how doctors played such a crucial role in aiding and allowing the abuse was very bizarre to me and made me realize that I had to change my perspective on my preconceived notions and stereotypes.
As a part of the Zulu group, our research focused on health disparities and the difference in health benefits between the different racial categories. As noted during the tour, there was a clear difference in treatment between whites and non-whites. As we saw in Cell Six, white women lived rather comfortably in their cells, even to the point where some women compared it to a hotel stay. Not only were their living facilities different, but even the food was more favorable for whites. Whites’ food was essentially restaurant food, while non-whites ate raw, rotten food with little nutritional value. This unequal treatment between whites and non-whites served to perpetuate the oppression of non-whites even in a place where most people are subjected to mistreatment.
In regards to physical health hazards, the entire prison embodied what a human should never have to endure. The facilities were small and overcrowded, which aided in the spread of diseases such as Enteric Fever and Typhoid. The blankets were covered in lice, the toilets were directly in their sleeping area, toilets were also near the eating area and were exposed, causing not only a sanitation issue, but also further humiliation. In regards to food, their plates were cleaned every three months, causing a build up of grime and rotted food, although the food they received was already raw and rotten. Those who stayed in isolation cells were forced to survive on only rice water and dirty water as sustenance. The prisoners did not even get to enjoy the simplicity of a shower. There were only eight showers for 2,027 prisoners, and they were limited to 30 minutes of showering time for all of the prisoners. Not only did these conditions aid to the deterioration of the prisoner’s health, but it also caused prisoners to feel a level of shame and to essentially lose their humanity. Prisoners were not treated as humans, yet were mistreated to a level that is difficult for me to conceptualize and understand how humans felt the need to subjugate fellow humans so drastically.
Physical health was not the only aspect of health that was effected. Mental health was also largely damaged through imprisonment at the Old Fort prison. A quote that stood out to me that I read as we were leaving Number Four was “Number Four was designed to punish, not rehabilitate. For the prison to function, it relied on violence. Warders used violence to maintain control. Prisoners used violence to gain power.” This struggle for power was essentially the driving force for the mistreatment and subjugation that caused prisoners to deteriorate mentally. A great example of this are the isolation cells that held political prisoners, which only contained two buckets (one for water and one as a toilet) and was subject to flooding. These cells were pitch black and the prisoners were only given one hour outside of the cell a day. I had the experience of standing in one of these cells, and the eerie feeling is something I cannot fully explain. All prisoners were also grouped together, there was no formal separation between gang members, political prisoners, or common prisoners. As we discussed in class, this could be psychologically damaging to these prisoners, especially with the dynamics that could arise in regards to power. Prisoners also often joined gangs to avoid being isolated or victimized, which further contributed to the psychological effects that could lead to a deterioration in mental health. Due to this, prisoners often experienced violence, rape, and other forms of abuse and neglect from workers and one another.
Through our visit to the Old Fort prison complex and Number Four, I was able to directly see how the apartheid and its effects on treatment of different races directly affected the health of prisoners. Due to overcrowding, physical and mental abuse, unsanitary conditions, and malnutrition, prisoners suffered physical and mental instability that could last long after their release, or even a lifetime. In thinking of prisons in the present day in the United States, how does the mistreatment at this prison compare to this mistreatment within the criminal justice system throughout the world?
January 13th, 2016
Throughout my time in Cape Town, the most memorable and transformative experiences thus far have resulted from our time spent at the different townships. Respectively, we have visited Khayelitsha, Langa, Zwelihle, and an additional “colored” township. In being part of the Zulu group within class, which focuses on health and security, I have personally focused on perspectives regarding health within these communities.
The first township we encountered was Khayelitsha. We originally visited this township to see the Philani Nutrition Project, yet it was closed due to the holidays. We later briefly returned to Philani on January 12th—Philani is a store that supports the local township’s economy by selling items that are created by local women and also acts as a women empowerment initiative. Before arriving to this township, I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When we drove through the township, I was immediately surprised to see the living conditions, especially considering how nice the areas of Cape Town we had been experiencing were. The homes within the township were mostly made of corrugated tin and other pieces of scrap metal. Children could be seen walking around the streets barefooted and wearing ill-fitted clothing. Overall, this first glimpse at a township planted a sense in pity in me that did not quite sit well.
On January 10, we visited Cape Town’s oldest black township, Langa. We first had lunch at Lelapa, a restaurant owned by a woman named Sheila, and her daughter, within their home tat serves traditional African food. Lelapa allowed us to have a taste of township life, ranging from the delicious buffet-style traditional food that can be found in the township, to the vibrant music played by a local band within the township. At the end of our meal, Sheila gave the class a talk regarding time, and how Americans tend to “live by the watch”. Her main message was that we should learn to be present and not allow our watches to dictate everything we do. This is a message that has seemed to resonate within the group, especially within our class discussions regarding our privilege in comparison to the privilege of the township residents. After lunch, we visited the township’s cultural centre and had the opportunity to see the different workmanship present in the township, such as sand art, mosaic art, and drumming. We also had a session where we were in a drum circle and were taught how to drum and sing to a traditional song. We then went on a tour with a township resident who spoke of the township’s history, and pointed out different cultural aspects. Our tour guide even showed us the hostel he grew up in, including a single room within the hostel where eight people (two families) currently reside. As we were walking around Langa, something that many of us noticed was how children were running around seemingly unsupervised. At first, some classmates seemed to be somewhat unsettled by this, but we were soon reminded that the culture within the township is very community oriented and although we may not see parents around, all of the community members watch out for one another. During this tour, it was evident that many classmates allowed the pity they first felt when seeing Khayelitsha to dig deeper, rather than allowing that pity to develop into a curiosity to understand the culture and situation and transform to empathy.
On Monday, January 11 we travelled to Zwelihle to provide bagged meals and sneakers to some of the school children at the crèche within the township. When we first arrived, the children were not yet there so we went to lunch in a nearby town called Hermanus. While driving to lunch, it was astonishing to see the juxtaposition of the informal settlement right around the corner from million-dollar luxurious homes. It was almost disgusting to see how seemingly oblivious the residents of Hermanus seemed of the immense need that was present literally right around the corner of where they live. After eating a nice lunch that instilled guilt into some of us, we then returned to Zwelihle. During out time at the crèche, the Zulu group helped to pass out sneakers and toothbrushes to the school children. When we were finished passing out the bagged meals that we had prepared and the sneakers, we headed outside to play with the children. It was at this time that other children within the township had discovered that we’d be there and came to ask for food. Although we did not have enough bags for all, some food was given out, yet it was observed that people often purposefully left bags behind to return to ask for food. Actions such as these, although first frustrating to see, demonstrates the level of disparity and need present in townships such as Zwelihle.
The last township we visited in Cape Town was somewhat different than the others, as it was a coloured township rather than a black township. The first things I noticed a difference in was the attitudes toward me once I got off the bus. Being a student who would be considered “coloured” as opposed to my white classmates, usually means that I’m somewhat overlooked when I enter a township. Here, I was greeted with young boys whispering “coloured” as I walked by, a woman kissing my cheek, and children asking to take pictures with me. After bringing this up in class, I realized that many of these children had not seen white people before, and I served as something familiar, and in a way represented what a coloured person could achieve, coming from America. While in this township, we handed out sandwiches, bagged meals, and then handed out tickets. All of this went relatively well, until it was time to hand out sneakers. We ended up having to create a human barrier for children to walk through to receive shoes. During this process, adults tied reaching over us to grab shoes, children tried crawling through our legs, and we did not have enough shoes for all of the children. This day was definitely the most emotionally taxing for me. I saw young girls who were breastfeeding, mothers offering to sell their children for less that 1 USD, and a desperation to survive.
Throughout the visits to the different townships, I at first felt somewhat uncomfortable intruding on a community, until I realized the importance of tourism within these communities. As we discussed in class, tourism within the townships boosts the economy, raises awareness, has the ability to dismantle stereotypes, and allows us to learn from a culture that is so different than our own. One of the themes that has stuck with me the most is the idea of materialism. When comparing our materialistic culture to the humbleness of their lifestyle, it is evident that happiness is not created by your physical circumstance, but rather on your attitude regarding it. In terms of health, it was easy for me to assume that the health within the townships was very poor. Ranging from the excessive litter strewn throughout the streets, the lack of sanitation, the scarcity of healthcare facilities, and lack of education in regards to health, it is easy to assume that the people must be unhealthy, yet when considering mental health, the question also arises of whether all the things we view as absolute necessities to maintain health, including mental health, are necessary.
On Tuesday, January 19th we embarked on our journey to the Cradle of Humankind, a historical site aimed at helping people discover their human heritage. We traveled along the timeline of some of the major events in our earth’s history, experienced evolution, saw an original fossil display and learned about science and sustainability.
When learning about what it means to be human, I realized how powerful the human race is. Our earth started 4.6 billion years ago as a burning ball of fire and gas spinning through space. Earths land masses then moved to form continents. Today we speak over 2,600 languages. The exhibit progressed into the discussion of human evolution and DNA. As a science nerd, it was fascinating to read that scientists have studied mitochondrial DNA to trace all modern humans to a single common female ancestor who lived about 200,000 years ago… She is from Africa.
Despite all the violence and inequality we have learned about that took place in South Africa, the Cradle of Humankind provided myself with hope and a sense of pride. Biologist Richard Dawkins said “we are survival machines- robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes”. Simply put, we have evolved to become a multifaceted, …. human race that has become so knowledgable and powerful that destruction has occurred. One description even noted humans as “foolish masters” who are beginning to increase rather than decrease environmental risks.
The exhibit proceeded to talk about this destruction we are capable of, and why sustainability is so important. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, food production and global patterns of poverty are closely linked. Overall, the rich Northern hemisphere is well fed and the poor Southern hemisphere is undernourished. After seeing firsthand the undernourishment experienced by those in townships, it was upsetting to read that it is “our collective voracious appetite” that is straining our planet. As food and water intake increase, waste increases and our nature elements get depleted. Writer, Graham Lester George wrote “if we dont act now, the terrible irony is that our great grandchildren will only know of ancient forests through pictures in books printed on the paper that contributed to their extinction”. Reading that gave me chills, as sustainability is not something I have willingly implemented into my life. I realized that there is no point in trying to fix the evils of our world if it is just going to die out if we do not take care of our planet.
All in all, my visit to the Cradle of Humankind gave me a greater appreciation for the earth and our race. It united the hundreds of cultures in my mind as one, and motivated me to make more sustainable efforts. Hopefully all who visit the Cradle of Humankind will leave with a greater respect for the world they live in, but if not, “Will we destroy ourselves?”
Tuesday, January 12, the class visited a new township for the South Africa Study Abroad Program. This township was different from the others. Sure, it was the similar in how people were living scarcely but their appearance differed. As we pulled up, I quickly noticed that the people living here were mainly of lighter complexion with textured patterns in their hair. The past two townships we had visited on our journey were classified as black (Zwehlile and Langa). I have been hearing since I arrived, from South African locals, that I would be classified as colored. Here I was, in a colored township. When I and another minority student got off the bus some of the residents hit each other and said “colored,” about us two. This was the first time either of us had gotten a positive reaction from the locals in a township. This interaction made it evident to me how impactful still the system of apartheid still affects the divisions of races in this country.
Our service on this day was to hand out lunches and give sneakers to the children. Our host was the founder of the Call to Serve Foundation in the township which began in 2007. He and others in the community organized the children when we arrived in many lines ranging from smaller to older children. The foundation made sandwiches which we handed out first to the children. The children were so grateful and so calm as we handed out the sandwiches. After the sandwiches, our program handed out the bagged lunches we made starting with those who didn’t get a sandwich then with intent to give sandwiches to all we could. When the bags came out, chaos broke loose. It was almost as if survival mode had kicked in. We learned this was the first time in 20 years that others from outside this community had come to help them- people living without the bare necessities. “20 years,” haunted me because it made their reality alive in me of how many people take the time to hear the struggle of these people.
Before the apartheid government existed, the Native Land Act of 1913 and 1936 was put into effect. The act included a “Schedule of Native Area” that was set aside for Africans aka “black spots” which created restrictions on living space based on race (Dodson 2013). This law allegedly was the first action of forced removals in South Africa. However, the apartheid government instilled more separateness of races in 1948 when the National Party during the reign of the apartheid government begin to move communities on the “wrong side” (Sato, 2007). This displacement of people created townships based off race. Race determined ones living conditions, their work, their finances, and their placement. The detrimental effects of the apartheid are still seen today with races still living in their once classified places lacking the bare necessities.
The bare necessities in life are air, water, food, and shelter. All townships we have had the opportunity to visit have commonality in the necessities available to them. Air is needed because without it our bodies will shut down. In these townships pollution surrounds the community, lessening the fresh air. The second necessity is water. A human must contain 8 to 10 glasses daily to maintain optimal health. I believe in the townships we have visited that water is available, but 8 to 10 glasses may not be attained especially for those living in informal homes with no running water. Thirdly, it is necessary to live with food. The food one consumes is fuel for the body. Without the proper intake of food, one’s cells shut down. Then one may experience irritability, fatigue, depression, a lack of concentration and apathy. The last necessity of life is shelter; this includes shelter for living and shelter for the body (clothes). Home structures protects from elements and reduces the likelihood of sickness like hypothermia and dehydration. Clothing regulates the body and sustains temperatures and protects on of even the pollutants on the ground like glass we have seen in the the townships. Shelter of both kinds is seen in all townships, but shacks, no shoes, no proper clothing for inclement weather cannot provide the protection needed for those living in these communities. Serving in these communities and noticing what they don’t to fulfill a physically healthy life can easily make you angry and want to pity them.
I have learned in class sessions, especially with Mr. Kurt, that we shouldn’t run along with these statistics and feel pity. The people who we have met in South Africa within these townships don’t need us to save them. As tourist, we come along and try to make things better because of the pity we feel. We see the surface of lacking bare necessities, but we fail to empathize with them. When empathize, we give others a chance to feel too and tell their stories. Twenty-three people a day in South Africa commit suicide. I don’t think living without the bare necessities is why this is happening, but the uncomfortableness of believing it’s not okay to feel which affects their emotional and mental health. As students studying, we must try to understand not just for our own empowerment, but for the empowerment of those like these twenty-three.
We must realize that the people we encounter are trying to be successful and to provide for for themselves or their families too. As I reflect back, I have seen many acts of striving for betterment within the communities that lack the bare necessities. Our tour guide in Langa, Suga Mama, spoke of how she sent her daughter off to live with her mother while she looked for stability in work. This year, she was able to have that stability and her daughter is now living with her in a formal structured home. In Khayelitsha Township, Philani Development Center was founded in 1995 as a service to help women empower themselves through creative arts and an earning by what arts were sold. I believe the difference between those who have found success and those who are still struggling in these townships is the empathy they receive.
As I continue my last days in South Africa, I will ask myself not only what I take for granted, but what who or what I don’t take time to understand around me. I think these are the steps to helping others live a healthier life. Once we learn to open our minds and feelings, we invite others to do the same.
We are only half way through our South African adventure and it is remarkable the people I have met, places I have seen and information I have learned. The most life-changing day I have experienced thus far in Cape Town was on Sunday January 10th. We spent our time in Langa, the first black Capetonian township. Langa was created about 20 years before the Apartheid, in order to preserve the health of the whites. We began our day eating and playing music at a delicious little restaurant owned by a funny, opinionated woman. While we listed to some local men playing the marimba, we feasted among a buffet of 26 different dished ranging from veggies to antelope. This was not only the tastiest meal I have had in Cape Town but also the most entertaining. It was as if I was enjoying an amazing, home cooked meal while also giving back to the community by paying for the food, drummers and crafts made by locals.
Following our lunch, we headed over to an artistic museum where we learned about the process of making the various crafts sold throughout Cape Town. A young man named Odon told us his life story, which truly pulled at my heartstrings. Odon came to Cape Town with only 40 rand (about US $2.50) and spent it within the first day on food. The next day he spent painting on pieces of wood he found and then sold them for 150 rand each. He now lives in a house with his wife and kids, selling his beautiful sand acrylic-based artwork for around 1500 rand each. Odon’s advice to us was “do what you love or you will find no meaning in life”. It was amazing to hear this story of a man who not only turned his life around through the help of a township but also is living a life that he truly adores. I was not only impressed by this local artist, but also by the all other forms of entrepreneurship taking place in the townships we visited. It is obvious that each artist/vendor takes great pride in what they do, which may explain the vibrant and friendly nature they had towards us when we visited.
Similar to Odon’s story, was something I read in our class reading in Chapter 8 of Ramphele’s A Bed Called Home, titled “Empowerment and the Politics of Space”. It discussed hostel dwellers and the type of empowerment that enables them to improve their lives. In day-to-day life for example, these dwellers do not think or talk about their lifestyle. It is not until tourists and/or visitors such as our class come in and ask questions regarding their lives that cause them to talk and think critically about their lifestyles. This prompted discussion then empowers them to find some sort of meaning, for example finding an art form that can bring happiness and also money to support themselves. Odon was a perfect example of being able to improve ones life by finding meaning.
We continued of day in Langa with a tour of its homes and community. Most homes looked like floppy shacks and were constructed of metal boards and other scrapings/objects. Floorboards were non-existent and the roofing was not very rigid, which (according to our tour guide) is a major issue in terms of flooding. Simply put, conditions were inhumane and inadequate.
Another aspect of the township life that caught my curiosity was the nonexistent health standards they live by. Just as I read in the local Cape Town newspaper on January 8th, waste management is a growing issue. In Langa, for example, there was trash everywhere. People would not only throw their garbage on the ground without shame but also showed no interest in cleaning the litter up. The newspaper also discussed the current heat wave in South Africa, and how this is a perfect breeding ground for flies, rodents and most importantly germs. It pained me to know this when we went into Langa, because most of the children did not have the resources to practice good personal hygiene. For example, people would be using the bathroom on the sides of the roads, and did not look very well kept (which is understood considering the conditions they live in).
Overall, our service learning has taught me empathy. Throughout the fall semester we discussed townships and poverty within South Africa, but I never understood it until I saw it myself and had meaningful conversations with those living within the townships. I realized that there are hundreds of issues that need to be fixed, and though we distributed snack bags and shoes there is so much more that can be done. My question now is, what more can we do (or is there anything we can do) to improve their lives and living conditions?
Just Hold On
Greetings from Cape Town, South Africa!! It has been a pleasure being able to experience this beautiful city with such rich history. We have have spent the last six days unraveling history we read about during our introductory class and begun to put it into real meaning.
On Sunday, January 10, 2016, our class had the pleasure of visiting Robben Island. For those of you who don’t know, Robben Island is not only a place that symbolizes imprisonment of non-European men who defied the unjust laws of the country. It is also a place that slavery was practiced.
The first slaves were brought to Cape Town by the Dutch East India Company in 1652 which began the African people’s struggle for freedom. Slaves were brought from various parts of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Most were from Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Congo (East and Central Africa). Here, these slaves worked from dawn to dusk until slavery was abolished in 1834.
Slavery never really ended but was in the form of the imprisonment of those we know suffered on Robben Island until the 1990s. I think it’s important to mention the first prisoner on Robben Island was actually in 1659 who was also the first and only prisoner who ever escaped. However, imprisonment on this island is focused more during the 1960s and 70s when apartheid political leaders were forced to do hard labor on this island. Political leaders including Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Jacob Zuma, Mosiua LeKota, Mac Maharaj, Joe Seremane, and Tokyo Sexwale.
While the class toured Robben Island,
I could not help but compare the living conditions of the slaves from what I read of the memorial on slavery and our Slave Lodge visit (January 8) to the accounts from an ex-prisoner of the Island. The slaves from the Cape, no matter where from all were housed in the city. The slaves were placed in one corner of the slave lodge in a building to sleep and able to congregate in one courtyard which was also their bathrooms. This lodge had no electricity, no bathrooms (but buckets), low ceilings, no foundation, and overcrowding. These slaves died from health conditions of being in overcrowded places, sicknesses from insanitation, and dying from the conditions of the weather like rain seeping through the ground of the building, freezing to death in the winters, or dehydration in the summers. Again, slavery ended in 1832, but the prisoners in 1960 through 1990 lived with similar health hazards.
Walking through the prison, we observed similar living conditions of the prisoners. Jail cells had electricity, but windows had no protection from the sun or the rain. The prisoners had no beds, but mats on the floor until the Red Cross issued unhealthy conditions for the prisoners due to suffering from tuberculosis. At night, the prisoners used the restroom in buckets, much like the slaves. Although not “slaves”, these prisoners not only did hard labor like slaves, but they lived much like them too.
Blacks living in unhealthy living conditions still continue today in Cape Town, South Africa. Although, in America many blacks are unemployed or homeless living in unfortunate conditions you don’t see communities this large all together. On this day, we also had the opportunity to visit Langa Township.
Langa is the first black township in Cape Town. Langa was established in 1920 because blacks were said to be “health hazards” and needed to be separated. This separation happened before the apartheid government in 1948, but continued to grow after the District 6 removals and as todays unemployment rates increase.
Most of the township is formal housing, but many of the unemployed or persons who live in informal housing (shacks) are on the waiting list to have a house to move legally into the community. Those living in shacks were made of scraps of found metal, tin, and other creative objects made into livable structures. Yet, much like the slaves and prisoners of Robben Island these livable conditions are not healthy humane ones. Those living in informal houses have no running water, no electricity, no bathrooms, and live in overcrowded homes with their families. Hostile housing, which is considered formal, but were originally made for single persons are better conditions. However, these hostiles include electricity, one bedroom, running water, but have to share communal bathrooms and most have many more individuals then the recommended amount.
I do not say this to not see the beauty of the homes which are in the townships or to look down upon the people today. However, I say this to the health concern of those who deserve better and to raise awareness of the still inhumane living conditions. The township itself is beautiful, as well are the people. Yet, I find the stillness in the health conditions of South Africa’s black population from slavery, to apartheid, to post-apartheid is appalling.
Although appalled, I find revering that despite oppression and despicable living conditions of the non-European populations from slavery to today it seems that they all had hope. On tour at Robben Island today, our tour guide pointed out a pile of stones made by Mandela which symbolizes how South Africans have turned oppression to a sense of hope and the triumph of human spirits and the change of human mindsets. Mandela, gave these peoples today that sense of hope and pride. That is why when walking through Langa today, instead of seeing faces of despair and pity, we saw faces of joy. We saw people who had begun running their own beauty shops, grocery stands, and restaurants. We explored a cultural center that taught other community members creative art techniques and gave them the ability to make money selling their work.
Mandela said in his expert Conversations with myself: Wings to the spirit, “I developed some inner strength and soon forgot about my difficulties and my poverty and suffering, my loneliness and frustrations.” This strength he gained was made through his contacts, friendships and other leaders he looked up to. The leaders these people of Langa look up to are Mandela and their ancestors (slaves) before them and the community is where they find their contacts to be employed and make friendships. Their difficulties are made into strengths because they’ve made their own pile of stones to change their mindset from their living conditions. What are your inner strengths? How are you still holding on?
The most famous Zulu is Shaka Zulu, the most feared warrior in Zulu history. This group calls themselves the Amazulu – or “People of Heaven” and historically have made their home in Kwa-Zulu Natal, an area bordered by the Drakensburg, Mozambique, and the Eastern Cape. This group is proud of its warrior history, and famous for its high kicking, foot stamping, energetic dancing. In 1879, armed only with rawhide shields and bladed stabbing spears, they defeated the British forces at Isandhlawana. This was the biggest single defeat the British army has ever suffered from a so-called primitive army.