Written by Lizzie Worrilow:
Quite ignorantly, coming to South Africa, I was unaware of the harsh realities that remained in place following the apartheid regime. This was especially true in the townships surrounding Cape Town- a result of forced removals from the city. What I saw in these townships was truly an eye-opening experience and caused me to gain a new perspective that was far from and unlike the one I came into South Africa with.
Towards the beginning of our journey in South Africa, our class woke up early one morning to serve breakfast to seniors of Khayelitsha, the largest township across the Cape Flats. Aside from making and serving them food in partnership with the organization Call to Serve, this was a great opportunity because we got to converse with these individuals while introducing them to the game of Bingo. When talking to these assisted living residents, I found that a lot of them had lived in Khayelitsha their entire life. The township was one that consisted of houses that were incredibly small – being made out of scrap pieces of metal, tin, wood, car parts, and more – but also typically housed more individuals than the house could comfortably hold. In perspective, this would be like sharing my freshman year dorm room at Elon with my own family, my roommates’ family, and one to two other families. However, this assisted living facility gave residents their own space comparatively to these small houses, but the building still consisted of conditions that were unsteady and unsafe compared to facilities like this in the United States.
The previous day, we handed out bagged lunches to the youth of this same township also through Call to Serve. We had packed 500 brown paper bags with lunch essentials for the children there and it still was not enough. Children of this township swarmed us in hopes of food and mothers took bags from their children for the benefit of themselves. I had never seen desperation like this before. This experience reflected in my serving that next morning when I realized these elderly people had been experiencing this desperation for opportunity and improvement their entire lives, especially during apartheid.
Not only did my experience with Call to Serve create a personal challenge of completing service work within South Africa, but it was then heightened when we visited the township of Zwelihe later that day. In Zwelihe, we played with and served lunch to children on their very first day of pre-school. This experience created yet another repetitive cycle in my head—comparing the elderly of Khayelitsha facing oppression their entire lives, to these preschoolers more than likely always having to face it, too.
These experiences lead me to conclude that the effects of apartheid still exist today. As we have learned through class sessions, museums, and readings, South Africa has a deep and dark past. Though the apartheid laws were lifted, there is still much work to do in this country to allow people within these townships a chance out of the circumstances they were born into. As J. Brooks Spector’s “What economic future, South Africa?” from the Daily Maverick says, “The country needs a healthy dose of reality testing.” Though Spector speaks of economic challenges in South Africa, he also expresses the need to address the social problems, too. The effects of apartheid that still exist today create a negative cycle for those affected by it—ultimately never being able to grow, seek opportunity, or branch out of their status quo.
(Spector, J. Brooks. “What Economic Future, South Africa?” Daily Maverick. Daily Maverick, 01 July 2014. Web. 21 Jan 2017. )
In another opinion piece by Spector posted during our time abroad in South Africa, he writes “An Open Letter to the new Mayor of Johannesberg,” requesting:
“But in every single one of your public speeches and in all of your public actions, you must convey convincingly that you are the mayor for all of us—rich or poor, black and white, South African citizen and foreign-born resident, northern suburbs and CBD dweller, young and old, those who are still hopeful and those who have already become deeply cynical.”
The social divide is evident, relevant, and timely. Changes must be made in order for this country to progress and these cycles of inequality to end.
(Spector, J. Brooks. “J Brooks Spector: An Open Letter to the New Mayor of Johannesburg.” Daily Maverick. Daily Maverick, 20 Jan. 2017. Web. 21 Jan. 2017.)
Recognizing these unfair cycles can relate to our group’s presentation on South African townships consisting of billboards being hand-crafted and focusing on social issues. Though township residents might have an opportunity to work outside their community in bigger cities that consist of advertisements based on consumer wants, at home they are aimed to focus on their own consumer needs. The advertisements based in big cities may not apply to these individuals who can barely afford food, education, HIV and AIDS treatment, or abortions. The negative cycle is apparent here, as well. Sadly, if South Africa continues to have this massive divide, the grandchildren of current township residents will continue to have this same struggle.
Ultimately, my perceptions prior to entering townships were false, but further made me understand the harsh realities that are still in place from apartheid—creating a violent cycle for those affected by it, specifically in townships through forced removal efforts.
Mark Mathabane, author of Kaffir Boy, claimed that a white man of South Africa could never understand the conditions he personally grew up in during the apartheid. Not only is this statement true, but the rest of the world is also blind to the harsh realities of it and what still exist today. This cycle needs to end.
(Mathabane, Mark. Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa. New York: Macmillan, 1986. Print.)