Last week while talking with a friend on campus, she said something that has been stuck in my head. Within the few months that I have been here, the push to change South Africa has manifested in several events and daily happenings around the country. The country is so dynamic, which is exciting coming from the states. However, this can be overwhelming. The country is facing an endless list of social issues and contemporary challenges such as a failing education system, high unemployment rates, the electricity crisis, and lack of healthcare for poor communities. There has been electrical load shedding, clear institutional racism, the #RhodesMustFall movement (and subsequent statue removal) xenophobic attacks in Durban, and a recent bus violence incident in the township of Nyanga in Cape Town.
My friend referred to this immense cocktail of social turbulence by saying that “South Africa is putting on a great show”. This got me thinking about the different reactions and responses people are having to this “show”, within the country and internationally.
I was present for the removal of the Rhodes Statue. About a month after the initial protest, the date and time for removal had come. Standing a mere 15 or 20 ft from the statue itself, the emotion was as high as possible, with students singing, dancing, and celebrating. The moment the statue began to rise, the most genuine energy rose from the crowds, and I realized how historical and important the event was to a large majority of the people in this country. I say large majority because there is a portion of the population that believes the recent efforts for change are excessive or unnecessary. To put it bluntly, it seems to be (mostly) the older, white generations. I believe it is crucial to include race in this post because race is so crucial to this country’s history. No one can say that it is better to be “colorblind” because that overlooks such a critical aspect of identity in this country. The effects of racism, and racism itself, are still extremely prevalent in South Africa. The ideals and policies of the apartheid regime created the foundation for a multitude of contemporary challenges. For more information about the campaign visit Rhodes Must Fall.
Internationally, the movement received support from Oxford University and several other groups. I never thought this would happen, but the #RhodesMustFall campaign actually inspired a movement at my home school back in the states (Chapman University). A group called The Student Review placed caution tape and signs on several busts on campus to bring awareness to and start a discussion about diversity, race, and inequality.
Another interesting statement came about this week, this time from my African Dance instructor. He was describing what it was like to grow up in the township of Nyanga, recently dubbed one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. He told us that while walking around at night, hearing gunshots was a regular occurrence. He noted that conversations would pause, and once the shots had finished, they would continue as if nothing happened. This reaction, or lack of reaction, he said was a clear sign that something was psychologically “messed up” in the minds of many South Africans. He believes that the desensitization of violence in the townships is a serious issue in terms of safety and the general success and well-being of the community. In a television interview he said that “South Africa needs therapy”, and that the mindsets of different populations are hindering their ability to progress and create change in the post-apartheid society. People around him laughed when he made the comment about therapy, but he was completely serious.
It has been such a learning experience living and studying here. It feels as if the country is still so young and working to get on its feet. It is mind-blowing to think that only 21 years ago the country became a democratic nation. Apartheid dug a lot of deep holes, and the country has had a hard time even beginning to climb out of them. We are usually only made aware of the physical challenges the country faces. However, my dance instructor, who we call “Teach,” gave us more insight into the psychological issues that are deeply connected to those challenges. He made it clear that the damaging mentalities have been passed down from generation to generation, in all racial and ethnic groups.
I have been lucky enough to witness a historical event in this country, and I could not believe the timing. What are the chances that this movement would happen this specific semester? I have had the privilege of being in South Africa during a time of energy and change, and it has been so refreshing. I have been able to meet so many different people and hear about their life experiences. I could not have picked a more exciting place to study abroad. It has officially been over 3 months since I landed in Cape Town. Where does the time go? I only have 41 days left, which makes me want to cry, honestly. The Mother City has been so phenomenal. I know that I will be back, and I continue to look for options to make that happen. I constantly wonder what it will be like when I return.
Some food for though as I end this post (via Pinterest of course), relating back to what Teach had told us about the future of the country and the potential for progress.
"The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice." - Peggy O'Mara
Thanks for reading!