Welcome, welcome followers to my blog about South Africa. I was hoping to complete a few entries before I left, and while I was in London, but I was having some difficulty getting my blog started (I misread the directions, imagine that, college kids, gosh). So, to bring you all up to speed, I have now been in South Africa for two whole days, and I already feel as if this experience has changed my life in a major way. I did not have many expectations about my study abroad experience, so all of what I learned has been a complete and total surprise, at least for the most part, I did have some prior knowledge about the struggle of Apartheid before arriving. But before I talk too much about the ideas, which I have a tendency to do, I will begin by describing my visit at the… ah, the name of the museum escapes me at the current moment, but it was a museum that identified with the student uprisings in Soweto in 1976.
As I entered the museum, I felt an immediate sense of disconnection. The words that I read on different panels and the like were informative and insightful, but there was an element to the struggle that I was missing. I felt as if I did not have a strong personal connection to all that had transpired, so the task of reading so much information that I could not readily identify with, at least initially, was tedious, but I was determined to learn. I knew that a connection would arise soon…
As I continued to move through the exhibits, I continually noticed that so many of the people involved in the uprisings were so young. But age did not matter in this instance. The young people of Soweto had been treated unfairly, oppressed by the Nationalist party for years that decided to change the language of instruction to Afrikaans, limiting the capacity for blacks to prosper. They did not want to be subjected to further injustice, so they did something about it. They did not sit and wait for their parents or other authority figures to get involved, they took to the streets. This action in itself is inspirational, but the fact that a number of these young people died for what they believed in almost brought me to tears. As I looked at their faces, I sensed an overwhelming sense of pride. The whites had continually stripped these young blacks of their dignity, forcing them live in poverty only to allow whites to live in the suburbs “undisturbed” by blacks. This type of policy measure is only one in a myriad of others imposed upon the blacks of Johannesburg. So, for the children to have any sense of pride after being continually denigrated was simply amazing. It would have been easy to accept the seemingly inevitable, considering the extraordinary forces they were up against, but instead they decided to use their voice to bring about change, and what a voice it was. Powerful is the only word that I can muster at this time, but it was beyond that. Just imagine thousands of young people, some no older than seven years of age taking to the street to correct an injustice. In America, such action has never occurred, and it is highly inconceivable that it would ever occur to be quiet honest. Yet for the young people of Soweto such action was necessary to bring about change. And as I started to understand the struggle of these young and courageous people, I began to develop an answer to the eerie feeling that I felt when I first stepped foot in the museum. I talked to my Academic Advisor, Stewart, about my overall experience so far, and then I articulated why I felt so out of place.
This struggle was not about the language change itself, but about the system that constantly strips the rights and freedoms of so many people who are underserving of such cruelty. This is a common struggle that oppressed people have had to contend with for centuries, but how often do such struggles around the world stand together and fight for what is right? Why is it that we do not lend more support to our brothers and sisters that our facing the harsh realities of system that is meant to enslave people mentally and physically? Why was I so disconnected from this history? All of these questions created a strong sense of righteous indignation. I felt myself wanting to cry and scream. To me, it is just not fair that so many young people had to suffer so much to gain so little. A proper education, that is all that they demanded, and yet they had to fight incessantly to receive it. And some might argue that their efforts amounted to nothing. Soweto’s educational system is only slightly better than it was during the time of the uprising. It is scenarios like this that make me wonder why the world can be such an evil place, stripping people of their basic rights, and relegating them to a inferior position in society. Is this humanity? Is this justice? No. But what I did learn is that although injustice is all too familiar in all places of the world, I cannot give up hope.
Today, the young people of Soweto inspired me, and I will make it a point to fight for what I believe in no matter the consequences.
Aside from this enlightening experience, I have had a wonderful time here in South Africa (not to say the museum experience was not wonderful itself). I am the only male in my program, which I found to be somewhat uncomfortable at first (no bromance), but it is affording my an opportunity to see and investigate a new perspective. Quickly, I have learned to be more open about my feelings, taking time to describe the details of certain situations and scenarios. This is a fantastic accomplishment for me. Typically, I only want to talk about ideas, and develop ways to implement those ideas, but gradually I am learning to describe the events of a certain situation, interpret them, and then evaluate what I have learned. This makes the process of life more immediate, rather than so future oriented, which I find to be refreshing. Instead of hoping to change on, let’s say, a weekly or even monthly bases by describing certain situations, I feel that I am growing stronger as a person with each passing moment. There is always something new to learn about myself or the people around me, but I cannot learn if I am unwilling to address my feelings and actions at any given time.
This entry does not provide you with many details, stories, or even pictures, but, trust me, there is definitely more to come. As my academic director explained, each day should be a surprise, and if I am surprised by an event, you better believe I am going to blog about it. Thanks for reading!