Wednesday, August 10, 2016

my way

Back to me

The group has been left behind, time for exploring South Africa my way.

Johannesburg is not pretty. I never quite get a feel for it, as it is stretched out and I move around by car or taxi. I stay for four days with three different people and enjoy my regained freedom. Busi picks me up and within ten minutes in the car we have a more enticing conversation than I have had with 24 people over eleven days. She tells me that about 25 years ago, me sitting next to her in the car could only have meant she was driving me around in my car. I notice straight away that everyone is being labeled immediately; white of British descent, white of Afrikaner descent, Jewish, Xhosa, Zulu, low status, high status. .. Busi wearing a headcloth (a doek) would make people approach her differently than when she does not.
At night she takes me to Freedom Station, a squat-like place where people from all backgrounds come together. I listen in to a fascinating discussion of the bookclub (did not know the book) and the excellent jazzband that performs. This is in Sofia town, a neighbourhood from which blacks have been removed during apartheid.
Most of my time in Jo'burg is spent thinking and learning about apartheid.
I take a four hours cycle tour in Soweto (South-Western Township), a neighbourhood to which the black population has been moved since 1904. I have read about apartheid and such over the years, but being in the actual place does bring up emotions. We see 'houses', which are basically a room made out of corrugated iron, but there are also bigger, more beautiful houses- often people don't want to move out, once they have made money. We were told there are about three million people living there, google claims about half of that. The saddest part is when we get to 400 newly built apartments, in which 400 families were supposed to be moved into, as part of a project to help the poorest, post-apartheid. At the last minute the council decided to rent them out, which was not affordable and therefore these flats have been empty for six years. Anyone who does try to rent a place, won't be safe and some broken windows are visible.

I visit the Apartheid museum, which displays the history of the nation. I need to leave after two hours, as I cannot take in more; I will never get my head round understanding why one group abuses another. I also visit the Voortrekkersmonument in Pretoria, which tells the history of the Boers that had settled in the Cape , but then moved to the interior of the country (1836), as they wanted to escape British rule. This is known as the Great Trek. This museum is interesting, as it tells the story of one particular group and just follows their narrative. It is not presented in an offensive way, but it is important to keep in mind that the history of the locals is ignored and these boers are the architects of apartheid.

It is strange we never learnt about this in school, as these first settlers are essentially the Dutch. They landed on the Cape in 1652 as a colony for the ships to refreshen. These people are known as Boers, which in Dutch means 'farmers'. They believed in slavery and used the bible to justify it. Descendants from these people are called Afrikaners, they still speak a form of Dutch called Afrikaans (which is very understandable for me-up until 1925 Dutch was an official language, then it became known as Afrikaans).There is no further relationship with the Netherlands or the Dutch, even though their religion for example is still Dutch reform. I have not gotten any negative press from anyone. Throughout history in South Africa, the Afrikaners fought the Zulu's and the British who had taken ownership of the great parts of the land. Eventually the Brits and Afrikaners came together to form the Union of South Africa and influenced by Nazi doctrine, apartheid became a fact. I realise this is a very poor summary, but the focus of the blog lies elsewhere.
I will however take an element of this to my classroom. In 1976 a serious student demonstration in which the black students demanded education in their own language, rather than that wretched language of the oppressor, was bloodily shot down. This was an important moment, ads more protests followed and the outside world realised something was seriously wrong when a child was killed by the police. Here you can see how language and identity play an important role. There are now eleven officially recognised languages. Nowadays some people are upset that Stellenbosch university is not 100% Afrikaans speaking, but that the government demanded that it teaches in English as well...

In the evenings I go to the theatre with Elliott. The plays are about post-apartheid South Africa, one is interesting, but somewhat boring with unconvincing characters, whike the other (mooi street) hits all the right notes-even if I dont get all the references.
Elliott is a theatre maker and a critical thinker and we speak for hours about politics and history. He states that apartheid might be over, there is still a strongly social economic apartheid. The rich are overwhelmingly white, the poor overwhelmingly black. It is harder to create new businesses or grow ideas, if you have no money to invest, while the ones that do have money can keep growing. A lot of people still hold on to the mentality that working for a white person is better.
The last person I stay with is an Afrikaner. I have noticed that a lot of Afrikners are blunt and at times unpleasant. Dwayne is the opposite of this; he is welcoming and generous. He works as a psychologist to bridge cultural differences at work. Unfortunately we dont spend enough time chatting, but he believes in a brighter future.  His friend ttells me that due to positive discrimination he cannot find a job as a white male in his field of geology,  so will have to lesve the country. Dwayne sees it in perspective "it is a negative on a personal level, but hopefully helps to reset the balance."
We hit the pubs and we bump into the Elliottt and co. Small world after all.

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