The South African Way of Life

Remy Bessolo University of Cape Town, South Africa


March 9, 2015

Excursions and Cultural Immersions

"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots." - Marcus Garvey

There is a movement happening in Cape Town to revive the language of the Khoisan people that were believed to be the first inhabitants of southern Africa. The language is essentially endangered, and many people who are direct descendants of the Khoisan do not know anything about where they came from. The Khoisan are not recognized or appreciated as much as they should be. The quote above came from a documentary we watched in our Intro to South Africa course taught by our program director. South Africa is in an identity crisis as a whole due to the apartheid, but people are very proud of their familial ancestry and culture if they have the knowledge of it.

Arcadia has given us a multitude of opportunities to immerse ourselves in the culture and Capetonian way of life. Some of our excursions include: The District Six Museum, Robben Island, and most recently an overnight stay in the Gugulethu township.

The District Six Museum was an emotional trip for me, especially listening to a man who lived in District Six and seeing how deeply it affected him. The pain was visible in his eyes and speech, but it was a necessary and unforgettable experience for all of us in my opinion. Many people see Cape Town as a bustling and growing city with exciting potential, but the past still haunts the entire population. I could feel the people’s wish to move forward but at the same time recognize and honor those who were put through unimaginable struggle.

Robben Island was surreal to say the least, and I do not think I can describe how it felt to walk through the cell blocks and see Nelson Mandela’s cell with my own eyes. Our guide was an ex-political prisoner, another opportunity to meet someone who lived through the stories.

Today I returned from my homestay in Gugulethu, one of the oldest and most well known townships in Cape Town. Our house mother was full of life and it was incredible to see how much love she had to share with those around her. We had the privilege of visiting a children’s home that cares for orphans as well as children whose parents are unable to care for them. We brought toys and coloring books, and got to play and hang out with the kids for a little while. The home was on a hill top in an area with informal housing (the shanty or shack housing commonly seen in images). Walking through the area gave us a brief glimpse into the lives of the people that lived there. This was vital to our understanding of how dynamic Cape Town is. While it is fun to wander around the V&A Waterfront, there are people that cannot feed themselves only 30 minutes away. We have to realize that the "South African way of life" will mean something completely different for each person. Arcadia has given us the chance to see past the tourist destinations, jump into the culture wholeheartedly, and understand what "culture" means to South Africans from all over.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check back next week! Salani kakuhle!


South Africa