Day 14 | Final Reflection

As a practicing psychotherapist, Rogers explains how he facilitates what he terms mutual communication between opposing people by having them first restate the other’s views to that person’s satisfaction before then continuing with their own concerns (1952). This works to deescalate arguments, especially when facilitated with a neutral third-person party. Each side feels that they have had their concerns thoroughly heard and understood, and an understanding between the two can be reached. While he notes that he has only studied this tactic in small-scale scenarios, Rogers suggests that it could have significant results if adapted for larger, even international level situations.

When I set out on this trip, my research was concerned with looking at how democracy had been implemented and tailored to suit the needs of a non-western country, especially looking at whether there were significant differences to implementations by western countries. The western countries—using specifically the three revolutionary countries of the United States, France, and Haiti—have a strong focus on freedom and liberty. South Africa, by contrast, places the emphasis on equality. First during the apartheid struggle, it was a need for racial equality. Now in the post-apartheid society, the need for economic equality is the dominant struggle, risen out of the institutional legacy of apartheid.

Democracy satisfied the first need. The African National Congress (ANC) was explicitly focused on the de-racialization of South Africa. This was accomplished, at least formally, with the writing of the constitution and formation of the new government. While racial privilege certainly still has substantial effect in the country, there are no longer explicit laws requiring segregation and causing dehumanization. It is now the second need that challenges the new government.

While reading the Rogers article, I could not help but remember the miners and the Merikana massacre. They went through all the appointed avenues to lodge complaint over their unacceptably low wages, and yet were met with appalling violence. Could Rogers’ model of communication, had it been employed, accomplished anything different in this situation of inequality and injustice? Honestly, probably not. I’m sure that the employers knew exactly what the miners wanted: actual wages. They simply did not care about the miners and only cared about their own purses. But I do think that using the model of achieving mutual communication could help on a larger scale, especially involving the violence used by the disadvantaged side. One thing the Fees Must Fall students pointed out is the history of violence used against the disadvantaged sides before they themselves respond with violence. How much of that reaction could actually be termed self-defense is probably a valid and worthwhile discussion.

In these situations I believe Rogers’ model could be of use to aid the fight against inequality, and democracy could be a workable facilitator. Indeed, in the judicial system this very structure seems to be playing out. A repeated theme throughout our trip was that despite the buying out of various politicians and political parties, the courts remained fairly independent. This independent branch of government serves as the third-party suggested by Rogers—hearing both sides of an argument. The courts also then decide between the two, and the danger is that one side may still feel as though they were not given a fair hearing; this is where the comparison breaks down. Whether aspects of the court proceedings were modified to facilitate a focus on understanding (instead of ruling) between two parties, or another organization was set up under a different branch of government, the flexibility of a democratic government provides various opportunities for such a model to develop, if pursued persistently. This could provide a much-needed space for the disadvantaged to have their stories heard, whether they are the students fighting for education access, or the poverty-stricken lower working class demanding livable wages.

Works Cited:

Rogers, Carl. “Communication: Its Blocking and Facilitation.” A Review of General Semantics, vol. 9, no. 2, 1952. pp 83-88, Accessed 20 Jan. 2018.


Day 13 | Solms-Delta & Fees Must Fall

It was a fantastic end to our course. Solms-Delta is a beautiful farm turned winery, with a complex history beginning in slavery and ending in healing and life.

Walking through Solms-Delta winery

Slaves built the farm, which is situated between green mountains in a rural area of the Cape. The architecture has a unique French influence, with an almost gothic feel without any of the darkness of the stone European churches. The farm has a history of white owners, who routinely exploited and tortured the enslaved people working there. It sounded much the same as the other painful and unjust stories of Apartheid and colonialism, but where the story changed was in the present day. Mark Solms came to the winery, and instead of exploiting the tenants for profit, he realized that these families who had lived on the farm for generations had as much claim to its resources and profit as he did. They now hold 45% of the shares in the farm, based on a program of economic growth that is growing across the rest of the country, according to the Solms-Delta website. This is a perfect example of the hopes for equality, dreamt of in the Freedom Charter and the designed in the Constitution, actually being implemented in society in a meaningful way. I hope to use this as a post-Apartheid case study in my paper.

Later in the evening we heard from three students involved in the Fees Must Fall campaign. The dynamics involved in this social movement, especially in through the lens of democracy, were fascinating. Accessible education was, from the time of the Freedom Charter, one of the goals that the new country strove for. Now, every year tuition fees increase at universities around the country, making steep prices even more difficult for the majority of the population. And because of the structure of Apartheid, many of those struggling are the black and colored communities who lack the capital inheritance of the white community. This group of students, for a multitude of personal reasons, are essentially demanding that the promises made are kept, and that ideals are democracy are realized across the board. Sadly, much of what the students have endured as backlash to their demands again makes you remember the struggles of Apartheid. Just recently, however, President Zuma did announce that a new economic model would be soon implemented at universities, one that would make education free for students of a certain income level.

While democracy is not a “quick fix” to issues–violence was still used against the students, and in our own country many protests have been met with militarized force–hopefully it provides an easier structure to change. A structure where the people’s demands can actually permeate and accomplish changes. I am reminded of the Merikana miners, however, and how their protest was met with massacre. Their situation has not changed substantially for the better. Perhaps that suggests a different sort of privilege in play, in the situation where the students can (with champion struggle) actually be heard while the miners cannot. Of interesting note, one of the students pointed out that even during the Fees Must Fall protests, miners and workers filled the streets of Johannesburg, and yet hardly any media coverage was given to them. An economic privilege now seems to be raising its head, one that is separate from racial privilege. This too I plan to explore in my paper, as commentary on the manner in which equality through democracy is still implemented on an unequal basis.


Day 12 | Bo Kaap & Cape Malay Cooking

How does food influence culture? In what ways is personal family history embodied through food? How does food provide comfort during times of unrest or upheaval? In what ways does (did) this predominately female sphere operate as a space of resistance and/or education?

Yesterday we visited the old neighborhood of Bo Kaap, known for its colorfully painted houses and fantastic views overlooking Cape Town and the sea. It used to be an area where slaves were housed, whose owners lived in the Cape–many times dozens of slaves would be crowded into one room. These people were taken from all over the eastern lands, from Malasia, Indonesia, and wherever slaves could be sourced. It is from them that the term “Malay” originates: as slaves passed each other in the streets, they would ask if others could speak the common language around the Indian Ocean by asking, “Malu?” (spelling not certain?). White people then generalized this expression, saying that these people were “Malays.”

During Apartheid, the Group Areas Act decreed that Bo Kaap would be an area for the Cape Muslims. Still today, much of the population is muslim, and the first mosque built in South Africa, Auwal Mosque, resides there. As residents finally began to claim ownership of their homes (previously owned by the government), they marked the occasion by painting their white houses in vibrant colors. The tradition stuck, and now on the eve of important days like Eid, Christmas, or weddings, the men of the house repaint their walls.

We followed up the tour of Bo Kaap with a cooking lesson teaching Malay techniques. Ms. Jasmina showed us how to knead the dough for naan bread, blend spices (of our own choosing, yikes!) for the chili bites, and mix together a salsa with tomatoes and onions. Meanwhile she shared her own story with us: how it was her father who taught her to cook during his lay offs over the winter months while her mother worked at the factory, how her husband still stuck to the old Muslim traditional food like mutton chops instead of chicken, how her children now cooked with traditional methods but with modern ingredients.

While now food may certainly influence culture, in Bo Kaap the mix of cultures has certainly influenced the food. The Indian influence is apparent in the types of spices used–curry was a main ingredient in our dish. Masala types varied by household–each household could be from a different country of origin. Now I think food also works to preserve culture, instead of being influenced by it. As more houses are remolded and sold and the prime location of Bo Kaap is realized, richer families have begun to move in who do not understand the community’s rich culture. Several graffitis spelled out slurs against gentrification. The food, however, is a physical and engaging reminder of the vibrant mix of people that have come together and created a community where folks lean over their porch railings and hail passersby. To actively share this food and teach others about its history and creation is indeed an act of resistance–an active movement against a loss of culture. Education brings more people to a place of understanding, if those people are residents in Bo Kaap, they become more closely knit with their community and active in its preservation. If like us, those people are international, we now carry with us an appreciation and understanding of another way in which diverse people can come together and live in a thriving harmony.

Day 11 | Authenticity

What has felt authentic to you? Why have those experiences felt more or less authentic than other experiences? Where does our concept of authenticity come from? Has this concept changed during the program? Can a trip ever be authentic?

To be authentic: to be made or done in a way that faithfully resembles an original (New Oxford American Dictionary).

At the start of this trip, a lot of us were especially looking forward to the tours and experiences we would be having in the “less touristy” areas–the places where regular South Africans lived and worked. We wanted somewhere where we could see daily life in South Africa. I think that we have managed to experience this, as much as someone not from South Africa and only staying for a short time could. We shopped at Pick-&-Pays, we got hit on by locals during a night out, we visited townships and met their entrepenuaers and their shopkeepers and their homeless. We also lived through the experiences of others, hearing about the struggles of surviving at Robben Island and the life of a white South African mother managing a career and family.  While I wouldn’t want to have missed hiking around Table Mountain or watching lions rolling in the grass on a game drive, those experiences didn’t teach so much about South Africans themselves. (Although, as I noted in an earlier blog post, they do round out the experience and provide validity in another manner.)

An NYTimes journalist notes that many times our romanticized idea of what is authentic is just that: romanticized. The Pick-&-Pays are in some ways more authentic than the chalets at Pilanesberg National Park. Almost every South African has been to a Pick-&-Pay. I’d be willing to bet that most of the South Africans in Alexandra have never been to Pilanesberg.

I think that one way in which we can be authentic is to drop the quest for authenticity. We want to the original and real South African experience–all we need is South Africans. To drop the often self-focused concern–what can I get out of this to benefit myself–and instead approach the new experiences with a humble mindset. To meet another person and recognize them as a person, to with curiosity greet them as another person and listen to them and their stories. Realizing that we are all humans, not all that different from each other, has had a great impact on how I have experienced this trip. I just want to know how these particular humans do things differently, or perhaps, the same.

And of course that implies that I don’t want to spend all my time in the tourist gift shop or the V&A Waterfront Mall. But it also means that I don’t have to do all the “South African things” and dress in African-style dress–I don’t have to try and make myself feel South African. That’s not authenticity. Authenticity necessitates that you are true to yourself as well–otherwise you have failed on your half of the bargain. How can you understand what it means to be South African if you don’t have your own grounding point?

I think that’s why I truly appreciated Jenny Eaves’ comment last night on how South Africans are all proud of their respective races, even when that race is white. In the U.S., my friends and I have discussed how we often either end up feeling slightly guilty about the fact that we’re white (due to privilege and the history of how whites have treated other races, especially blacks) or else try to not pay attention to race at all, saying we’re “colorblind.” In my years at GMU, I’ve slowly realized that firstly, being white is a specific identity and not some baseline from which other races deviate, and also that I have my own history, a history that includes some very great things in addition to the shameful ones. Being authentic is being real, being “faithful to an original.” If I am faithful to myself, and a South African is faithful to his/herself, and we then approach each other with cordiality and dignity, what more could we demand?

Day 10 | Parliament, District 6, & Slave Lodge

Today we had the opportunity to visit the Parliament buildings for the Republic of South Africa. During our time Pretoria, we visited the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court had been established only after Apartheid fell, and it was designed in purposeful ways to reflect the South African culture. Patterned tapestries on the walls suggested the dappled shade of a tree’s branches, and the dark swirls on the carpet made you feel as though you were standing beneath its leaves. Traditionally, “court” proceedings by tribes occurred under large trees, and now the highest court in the new South African government pays homage to that long tradition.

The parliament buildings in Cape Town, however, were reclaimed by the new government from white (mostly Dutch) government, which eventually implemented the apartheid. One building houses the National Council of Provinces, which consists of 10 delegates from each province, chosen by the political parties that win a majority citizen vote. The second building is the meeting place for the National Assembly, which develops and considers legislation that does not specifically pertain to the provinces. The president is also elected from the Assembly body.

I find the system of electing a political party instead of individual candidates interesting. In the US, because we have a limited number of seats in the Senate, a two-party system is fostered. The party system acts a bit like a cheat sheet for voters to skip research: if you know a candidate is democrat, you can be pretty sure his/her stance on main issues. The South African parliament is proportional, so that whatever percentage is elected is then represented accordingly. In the last election, the ANC received something like 249% of the vote, and so they have 249 seats in the Assembly. I think that directly voting for a candidate gives citizens more control over their representatives; however, because our party systems are so strong and one party member is very much like another, it could also be argued that we don’t have as much control as we’d like to think.

After touring Parliament, we visited the District 6 museum. District 6 was an area from which black people were forcibly removed during segregation and apartheid. It had been a vibrant community–personal stories recorded on the walls at the museum spoke to the variety of shops, artisans, and mix of cultures. Like the exhibits at the Slave Lodge a little later, it was clear just how complex and lively the culture was of the black Africans–a story that contradicts the western European narrative that wants to believe primitive tribes were lesser forms of humans, a narrative that attempts to justify slavery.

I remember one tour guide saying that even if only Egypt was considered, the existence of that fantastic and old society would blow the pathetic European narrative out of the water. These were real persons that were kidnapped and enslaved and made to endure grossly awful torture.

But like last night, when once again the hope and optimism of our speakers who lived through apartheid seemed impossible, the Slave Lodge museum made a point to be clear that its mission was to reclaim this space that had been the location of such pain and degradation, reclaim it and the memory of all those lives and bring to it peace and justice. Unlike the feeling I had during the Apartheid Museum, which seemed despairingly dark without a real note of hope at the end, the Slave Lodge was a hopeful and beautiful place without glossing over the horrors that slaves endured.

I also appreciated the directness with which the Lodge addressed slavery in South Africa. In the US (in my experience), acknowledgement of slavery comes only as an addendum to other issues: at Mount Vernon you’ll be taken by the slaves quarters and told how they actually built all that you see, but the real focus is George Washington and his family. Talking about something, putting it out in the open and acknowledging it does a great deal in processing hurt and moving towards healing. One quote from a former slave on the wall at the Lodge spoke directly to this idea; he said that just telling his story to his interviewers made him feel better. Perhaps much of the violence and misunderstanding surrounding racism in the United States could be addressed if we actually took steps to talk about slavery itself.

Day 8 | Robben Island

Approaching Robben Island
The limestone mines where political prisoners worked. The cave in the right mid-portion of the picture is where prisoners would read and communicate, a forbidden activity.

Visiting Robben Island proved interesting in that we saw once again how important community and relationships proved in South African identity and culture (perhaps, human identity in general). When asked last night about how he maintained his mental health and well-being while dealing with such difficult issues as apartheid and the miners’ strikes, Mr. Desai focused on how important human relationships were in supporting each other. At times, he said, his friends could only get from him that “it seemed like [he] was in a bad place,” that he needed help. But his friends were there to help him, even when he couldn’t coherently explain what was troubling him. He had those relationships to fall back on and rely on to keep him from spiraling into despair. At dinner, he and his brother were far from bitter and depressed, but they interacted almost jovially, exceptionally friendly and they went to lengths to make sure conversation flowed and everyone was comfortable.

Tonight after returning from the Island, Mr. Lionel Davis joined us to talk about his experience as a prisoner on the Island. He once again re-enforced the idea of community in maintaining one’s sanity during isolation and extreme conditions and torture. Teaching each other to read, exchanging brief words while hiding in a cave during toilet breaks, joining in hunger strikes to advocate for better treatment—it meant that each man was not alone but had comrades even in that horrific place. At the museum on the Island itself, the sports community was highly emphasized. Sports proved to be a way that men could interact together, even across compounds as the players from Section B whacked their ball hard enough that Section A players could catch it as it flew over the wall. The sports committee was also the prisoner-organized body that was recognized by the prison wardens. In a place where the humanity of each person was subject to active attempts of destruction, this action granted some sort of respect or recognition.

Of course this relates directly to the South African concept of Ubuntu—one is who he is because of the other. I think that as I consider the idea of equality in my paper, how laws and charters have attempted to implement equality in South African society, I will also bring in the type of equality in question. It is a connected equality, an equality of community. This is in contrast to the U.S., where equality relates to individualism and has a more “separate but equal” flavor to it.

Day 7 | Cape Town

The joys of travel. This morning we had a brief adventure in the airport when I thought that my baggage had been lost–later as I was filling out a claim form, I spotted one lonely little suitcase going around a carousel: it was mine. After doing a brief driving tour of the streets of Cape Town and a quick lunch at Truth Cafe, we headed to the team house where we’ll be staying for the rest of the trip.

Lunch at Truth Cafe

In the afternoon we watched Miners Shot Down, a documentary about the Marikana Massacre that occurred on December 16, 2012. During dinner, we were joined by the producer/director of the documentary, Rehad Desai. Within this course, the film was situated well: it addressed the inequality that was fought against during apartheid (structured around race) but that remained still in the post-apartheid country (structured around class).

Two things in particular struck me while watching the film and during the following discussion–firstly, how the strike and massacre echoed the police violence and racism in our own country, and secondly, the manner in which the struggle for equality has deeper roots than only the physical marker of skin color.

In the first sense, I saw again how the struggle against injustice is not isolated to one country. It’s not isolated to one people or one time period. Instead, the struggle against injustice bridges the human race: as long as one human is distinct from another, “the other” can be formed and set in opposition to the first. The ordeal the miners endured was horrific. The violence used against them by the police force was appalling and absurd. To add insult to injury, the widows of the miners who were shot were “invited” to take their deceased husbands positions–and because of economic necessity, they now work in the mines while their children leave for school each day, which is at least paid for by Lonmin mine.

The one courageous and admirable man was one who recognized the humanity of the miners, he argued with the mine managers that “they are just human beings.” This brings up the aspect of equality. Mr. Desai discussed how the class divide is now the dominant form of inequality, something that began to show up repeatedly in my own research before leaving for this trip. The ANC, he noted, was focused specifically on de-racializing the country. Inequality that is so deeply entrenched in a society cannot be simply undone by declaring those institutions unjust–the structure of that society remains. With the focus on race shifted (certainly not to say that racism is gone), what is now apparent is the mass economic inequality. A substantial amount of the country (I will do research to find a source, but Mr. Desai believed it was around 40%) lives below the international poverty line, making $2 or less a day. It was this inequality that the miners rebelled against. And it is in this sense that to have their names on the Wall of Names in Freedom Park is appropriate. They fought for higher wages, wages that granted them human dignity and security.