Franschhoek, Western Cape and Back to Cape Town, Western Cape (FINAL WEEK)

(This post was originally written and aimed to be published on May 29, 2014. I revisited my blog during the Winter of 2015 when I realized that it was never published.)

I started writing this final post as I wait in the Cape Town, Johannesburg and London airports during my long journey home. It’s been about a week since I’ve returned from ZA, and I have been able to contemplate about my journey. This is going to be my final blog post and with it, I will summarize some of my last moments here in Cape Town, as well as provide some acknowledgements.


After the completion of our ISP, we went to a small town near Stellenbosch called Franschhoek to spend our last moments in Cape Town.

Franschhoek was eerily similar to Claremont. A small, upper-middle class, quiet town, mostly populated with people that resemble our grannies and grandpas. A lot of us were grumbling why we were spending our final days in Cape Town in such a place, but Stewart told us it was to because it was to re-acclimate us to a community that was similar to ours back in the States. Man was this fitting, at least for me!

Despite the relative quietness in Franschhoek, we had some great times as well! We did a wine tasting tram ride across the famous Stellenbosch area vineyards and met a friend named Jerry along the way.

The Holden Manz Wine Estate, one of the vineyards on the wine tram.

The Holden Manz Wine Estate, one of the vineyards on the wine tram.










This is Jerry! He was a bit shy.

This is Jerry! He was a bit shy.










In doing our ISP evaluations, one thing that Stewart brought up was the danger of the single narrative. To many back in the States, it’s easy to qualify South Africa as singularly “Africa”. But South Africa is so unique, with a unique history and set of challenges that lie ahead for the Rainbow Nation. Furthermore, in a cultural aspect, Africa is not a uniform place, it is not a singular country. I truly hope that when I return to the U.S. and share my stories of my time in South Africa, I can do justice and tell compelling stories about SOUTH Africa.

Here is a TED talk that Stewart shared about the danger of a single story:

After returning to Cape Town and frantically sprinting to get gifts for family and friends, the program had a final dinner together at Stardust, a theatrical dinner experience in Woodstock (a Cape Town neighborhood), partied together one last time on Long Street and before I knew it, I was already at Cape Town airport.

Thanks and Acknowledgements

Thank you everyone that was part of my South African experience. I am fighting back some waterworks as I write this, but I can’t articulate enough how grateful I am for each and everyone of you in defining my South African experience. Though I can’t say when I will be back in the land of Madiba and Biko, nor when we will see each other all again, this isn’t good-bye. Rather, I am excited to hear about and see how everyone continues to be doing after my experience in ZA. Furthermore, it’s safe to say that I will be coming back to South Africa sometime again in my life.

South Africa, Cape Town, has made a lasting impact on my life, and that could not have been done without the help and contributions of so many wonderful individuals.

The staff at SIT and affiliated folks:

Stewart, thank you so much for being the best AD during my time in SA and Cape Town. You were the intellectual and structural backbone to my experience in Cape Town and South Africa in general. Not only were you a wonderful teacher, you were also a wonderful friend and I won’t forget you. Much love and good fortunes to you, Veronica, Jayden and Talita.

Sisi “Tabs” Tabisa, I loved each and every time we spent with each other, especially our discussions about South African society and politics. But nothing was more wonderful than walking into your office every time I was in the SIT office, seeing a warm smile and hearing a “Hello bhuti”, just to chat about a topic that came to mind. Sisi, you were an anchor for me during the program and my stay and I am so glad to call you my sisi and umhlobo.

Bastienne, Thank you for offering to and being my ISP advisor, when my inquiries went unaddressed!

Martin and Andile, Thank you for your rides all across SA! Martin, your stories were a staple part of my experience! Andile, I will always regret not being able to go to one of your boxing matches while I was in SA.

My home-stay families:

My Langa mama, few other things have made me happier than hearing you call me your son. Ndiyakuthanda kakhulu.

My older bhuti, whose red beret symbolized SA’s youth for me more than you know.

My two little bhutis, I wish that I could have played with you as long as you wanted me to. I pray that you have the brightest futures ahead of you.

All the neighbors and kids on Sandile Extension, thank you for draining the life out of me when I returned home from the day’s classes.

My entire Tshabo family, mama, little bhuti and little sisi, for making room for me in your village, which no word can fully describe how lovely it is.

The vivacious yet tough-as-nails Afrikaner woman in Stellenbosch, who was not my “mama” in any sense of the word, I am forever indebted to you.

My very large Bo-Kaap family, you made me feel so at home, so part of a family. I can’t thank you enough.

Special Notable Cape Townians:
Mama Dike, for your infinite wisdom and insight. You helped me understand the narrative of ZA through your life story. It will always be one of my greatest regrets to have been unable to see one of your plays and productions while I was in ZA.

The bar staff at De Akker, who were extremely helpful for my ISP.

All the students with me on this SIT program:
Steph Henry AKA Beyoncé in real life

Jordan my boy, tearing up SA together, one Hunters’ Dry at a time


Mari, the best human and Bo-Kaap roommate ever

KTav, the revolutionary

Adeens, the radical


Elizabeth, the artsy hippie who humored my eccentricities

The Gettysburg Girls Trio: Kathryn “iKati”, Georgia “G-Fergs” and Amy, our resident model

Niki, I will treasure the heartfelt discussions of identity we had together

Shanna AKA “Big Sean” with the big heart

Casey, the future Paul Farmer

Lydia AKA “Lyds”, Good Lord, I love you

Arielle, so filled with talent and wisdom, your smile when we played frisbee on the beach at Cintsa was infectious

Lucy STOXROX, I simply adore you

Hannah, who I will always remember showing off her mad soccer skills to the neighborhood Langa kids

Amiri, AKA “Ams” AKA “The Queen” AKA “A-Money” AKA “Queen A”, no more words can be said

Lilli, the greatest braai hostess

Stace, your selfies with Tina on my iPhone I can never forget

Typhani, who, when she is not producing the baddest documentaries, is just off doing her thing

I’ll stop the waterworks now.

Yours always in friendship, good will and ubuntu,

— Rich A.







Observatory, Western Cape (ISP Week 1-4)

Hello readers! I will try to be brief, as I am currently head over water for my ISP (Independent Study Project). Right now, my project is somewhere between being a snail trying to climb up Table Mountain and a rudderless boat without any emergency oars. So forgive me if I make this post brief in order to prioritize my project.

As my homestays have reached their end, I moved into my own living accommodations with my buddy Jordan from the program in Observatory, a Cape Town suburb near the SIT classroom. We were ready to start our own exploration of Cape Town before our departure in May.

What is an ISP?

Central to the SIT study abroad program is the Independent Study Project or ISP. SIT students each select a topic of their choice regarding a social issue that is relevant in South Africa/Cape Town. All of us had very diverse topics of choice, from education, to pride culture, street soccer, etc. For the most part, these projects were conducted through social analysis interviews, which were incorporated into essays, but SIT informed us that we could do a creative one, such as a documentary, or a practicum, in which you would incorporate an internship experience to your project.

I chose my topic on public perceptions of the government and the post-apartheid South African presidency. I decided to approach it through a  I had originally wanted to do a practicum project, but once I got a better sense of the program itinerary, I eventually decided against it. Although many of the SIT students ended up securing internships, I ultimately decided not to. In the scheme of things, having only a month’s internship, I believed, was not something that would be as valuable as returning to the communities and interacting directly with them. During my next and final blog post, I will cover some the results of my study (hopefully when its completed), with some of it sprayed in between in this post. (I’m assuming no one will want to read a 60 page paper about the South African elections. I figure it’s a miracle enough that people are even reading this blog.)

Return to Langa: Lessons

I returned to Langa for my first field site in order to conduct interviews with the people there. Over the past week and a half, I walked under the hot sun, shared street braai (absolutely the BEST kind) with my oldest bhuti and his friends as I interviewed them and heard the playful cries of play from my 7 and 9 year old bhutis that I missed so much.

There was an incident when I was eating the street braai with my oldest bhuti and his friend, near Langa’s barracks, in which a woman, a mama-type, came up to me. She told me she desperately needed a job and asked for my telephone number. After a few failed attempts to try and turn her down gently, I relented and wrote down my South African phone number on a Post-It note and handed it to her. She took it and said thank you, while saying something else that I couldn’t hear. I asked my bhuti what she said and he said “She called you master.”

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so horrible in that one instant. With all of the history of South Africa in mind, it demonstrated to me just how desperate some people’s situations were in the townships, even in Langa, supposedly one of the “better” townships. How an apartheid mentality, even after 20 years, stubbornly refuses to go away for those who still were economically destitute. It reminded me of Martin Luther King’s famous quote: “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?” It also gave me a perspective into how powerful I was, simply as someone who isn’t a black person in the township. Someone who was lucky to be born into a livable situation. Someone with socio-economic capital and able to wield it. It was a terrible experience and my heart sank to my stomach. The woman hasn’t called since I gave my number.

This brings me to another topic of discussion, the commodification of township life and culture (one of my friends on the program is actually doing her topic on this). All throughout town, especially in backpacker hostels and resorts, you can advertisements, especially geared for foreigners, about day trips and tours of “the townships”. “The townships”. As if they were just one big aggregate “that area”, not vibrant communities of their own. As if they were fascinating tourist spots to gawk at. Furthermore, it’s hard to believe how many South African people have never visited a township before. I remember during one of the days I visited Langa, there was a tour group of South Africans touring Langa. I spoke to them with Jordan about how life it was, and how Langa was one of my favorite places in Cape Town and how, despite its reputation of crime and danger, I have never had any problems here. That doesn’t mean that townships like Langa, Gugulethu or Khayelitsha doesn’t suffer from massive poverty and violent crime (My friend Steph was at the Langa taxi rank when she heard cracking noises about 20-30 feet away from her. Someone was shot in broad day light. Thank God she and the ones she was with weren’t hurt) but those parts do not define the community and stereotypes surrounding them only make things worse. If there is anything traveling has taught me, it is that you must truly experience yourself. Place yourself into their shoes. Speak with and not for.

An episode regarding Table Mountain also brought into my lens commodification of culture. I climbed Cape Town’s famous Table Mountain with Jordan (I was so out of shape; South Africa has fed me well) and I was surprised to see just how much of a tourist attraction it has become. Expensive cafes both on top and on bottom. Thousands of souvenirs. Although I should have expected some level of tourism, given Table Mountain’s reputation, I was taken aback by the extent of it. It was as if climbing the mountain lost some its aesthetic value. This reminded me of what Stewart once said. About how the natives didn’t call Table Mountain “Table Mountain”. It got that name when the European settlers got here. The mountain or the views of the mountain didn’t mean anything to them. Perhaps they were right.

View of Table Mountain from the foot of the mountain. Those are clouds flowing off the top.

View of Table Mountain from the foot of the mountain. Those are clouds flowing off the top.











Before my host-mama left for the Eastern Cape for a funeral, I let her know that she doesn’t need to worry because I’ll see her again once she returns, before I return to America. She responded “Okay, my son.” BAM! Like that. It’s going to be hard to return.

Return to Stellenbosch: Lessons

After an hour and 15 minute train ride, I returned to the sleepy town of Stellenbosch. My host-mother, still the same tough-as-nails Afrikaner woman that I left her, was invaluable during my return to Stellenbosch. She was kind enough to let me stay a few nights in her home again, free of charge, and provided me with the principal leads for interviews across Stellenbosch. I swear, she has been one of the most helpful and lovely people that I have ever met here in SA. I didn’t have the time to get her a gift of gratitude and I regret it heavily. Time has never been on my side.

Going back to Stellenbosch was a treat, because, though I feel terrible about it, it was a retreat back into a quiet, comfortable life, a weekend away almost. It’s hard to be in Stellenbosch and not recognize the privilege that’s all around it. Yet at the same time, as I said before in my last blog post about Stellenbosch, it’s too easy to demonize, or look negatively at (at the very least) the Afrikaner life in Stellenbosch, or those associated with it. However, this shouldn’t render their experiences or opinions illegitimate.

There was an incident that occurred in Stellenbosch before I returned that sparked an episode of the debate around “checking your privilege”. I’m probably not the best person to explain this, but to my best understanding, it is a counter to a sense of entitlement, to acknowledge that you hold certain advantages and privileges that is not available to everyone. Although I generally support being more cognizant of one’s privilege, I have some problems with how the conversation is being brought about.

I was talking to a “colored” woman that worked and resided near Stellenbosch who I had interviewed for my project. After the interview, when we were just small talking, I asked what was her favorite part of her job as a seamstress. She replied that it was the fact that she was able to give her two workers jobs, despite her humble business. I thought this was really something. Because in ZA, race is so much more tied to social and economic capital and status, I believed that what this woman did was something altruistic, especially in Stellenbosch.

However, when I shared this with some friends on the program, I was frustrated by the reception. They argued on how such a sentiment was a sign of privilege and condescension. They failed to see how this woman was able to help people in need. Quite frankly, I think that is something good for and who cares whether they feel good about helping or not? Yes, privilege is something to be cognizant of and acted upon, but if you’re going to constantly vilify the “privileged”, expect and demand purity in casting aside their privilege, I think the outcome will not be favorable. In order to rectify the inequalities established by privilege, we are going to need the help of the privileged to bring that justice about. Demanding and taking things from them to rectify things not only produces the risk of chaos, it’s only going to set back those who don’t have a good understanding of their privilege and cause them to retrench in themselves. Furthermore, it’s questionable that those who demand “privilege-checking” are even in a proper position of authority to become spokesmen for the disadvantaged a la Steve Biko white liberalism. I support checking one’s privilege, but I think in its current form, it is doing more harm than good. The episode with the colored woman in Stellenbosch was a frustrating experience that highlighted that. I’ve had the fortune to speak to many Afrikaners. Although this is not to be sympathetic to them, too many of those who I spoke to feel alienated in the new South Africa. They feel affirmative action measures are not about leveling the playing field, as they are meant to be, and are anti-white measures. Although it can be argued that they deserve it over the legacy of apartheid, I don’t think it’s constructive, but can rather even become hypocritical.

This is an article that reflects some of my thoughts on the phenomenon of “privilege checking”.

An art sculpture in Stellenbosch. Stand with, not for!

An art sculpture in Stellenbosch. Stand with, not for!













Return to Bo-Kaap: Lessons

I returned to the colorful houses of Bo-Kaap for my final set of interviews. I was glad to see my wonderful Bo-Kaap host family, especially my mama. They have become family to me as well (I have finally gotten better at remembering all of their names) and it will be hard to leave them.

Bo-Kaap was the hardest area in which I conducted my interviews. For some odd reason, I had a very difficult time having women that lived in the Bo-Kaap who were willing to be interviewed by me. Whether or not this was because of cultural reasons, discomfort over the subject or whatever, this was a big thorn in my side. Luckily, I managed to get it done.

I remember sitting in my Bo-Kaap auntie’s house, stressed that my interviews weren’t going well when a bunch of tourists filled in the small living room of the house. My host-Mom and host-auntie were doing a cooking demo for them, demonstrating how to make some traditional Islamic-influenced foods, such as samoosas. I then realized how truly numbered my days are in these beautiful areas in Cape Town. It marks a time of contemplation and a time to enjoy what I can the most I can while I still can.


My Bo-Kaap host-Mama doing her cooking demo for tourists.

My Bo-Kaap host-Mama doing her cooking demo for tourists.










I'm going to miss these little angels!

I’m going to miss these little angels!










That’s all for now folks! Stay tuned for my final post very soon!


Richard A.

!Khwa ttu and the Bo-Kaap, Western Cape (Week 1-2)

!Khwa Ttu: Learning About the (Khoi)San

Before stopping by at our last homestay of the program, I camped under the stars for a weekend in !Khwa ttu (pronounced “Kwa two”), a cultural center that was dedicated to educating people about the San. The “Khoisan”, “Hottentots” or “Bushmen” are all terms that have been used to describe the indigenous people that first resided in southern Africa when the Portuguese settlers first arrived. All of those terms used above are actually derogatory to use to varying degrees, largely because the people did not call themselves anything. Names such as “Khoisan people”, “Hottentot people” and “Bushmen” were those given to the people by the European settlers (For simplicity’s sake, I will use the term “Khoisan” whenever I am referring to either the historical San or Khoisan people). According to anthropology, the “San” people were nomadic hunter-gatherers that eventually intermarried with the “Khoi”, who were a farming and grazing people. When the European settlers started taking most of the arable land, most of the Khoisan started being forced to relocate to the Kalahari desert region in sub-Saharan Africa, where they adapted to the harsh environment, largely thanks to the San background of hunter-gathering.

A replica of a San village.

A replica of a San village. Because the San were nomadic, they lived in huts that were not permanent housing structures. The fire (not shown) was centrally located in the village and was a communal affair and resource.












A modern San artist's rendition of San rock art. Rock art has a special place in San culture and history. Anthropologists and archeologists have relied on rock art for clues about San life

A modern San artist’s rendition of San rock art. Rock art has a special place in Khoisan culture and history. Anthropologists and archeologists have relied on rock art for clues about Khoisan life















To almost everyone’s great annoyance, including my own, Khoisan culture has been heavily commodified. Stewart told us of an episode in which a wealthy man wanted to recruit Khoisan people for his game preserve, only for the Khoisan people to reject wearing the loincloths and participating in the “Bushmen activities” the game preserve owner had asked them to do.

Our class was shown the 1980 film The Gods Must Be Crazy, probably one of the best examples of how commodified Khoisan culture has become. YouTube has the entire film, which I have provided below. The first 10 minutes of the film says it all how people have fantasized the Khoisan to be.

This commodification of Khoisan culture just shows how culture is not something we expect from people, despite the grains of truth that may lie in them. Although Khoisan have been depicted as living idyll and quaint lives, many of them have acclimated parts of modern life into their lives, such as using cellphones and dressing in western influenced clothing. Culture is something people define for themselves, it is dynamic.

The Bo-Kaap: Life in the Cape Malay Quarter

After !Khwa ttu, we stopped by the final homestay destination: the Bo-Kaap, (pronounced “Buo-Kaap”) otherwise known as the Cape Malay Quarter. Bo-Kaap, much like District 6, has historically been a multicultural, mixed area, but with a distinctive Cape Malay tint. When District 6 was demolished under the Group Areas Act during apartheid, making the area a white-only settlement and forcing the residents, originating from all walks of life, most of the residents actually moved to Bo-Kaap, my host-mother being one of them. Parts of Bo-Kaap were also declared as “slum areas”, which gave the apartheid state the authority to forcibly eject people from certain spaces.

Bo-Kaap and its colored residents (see below for elaboration) was the product of many different human developments in the Cape Town area before and during apartheid. Slavery, when it was being practiced by the British Empire, brought to the Cape enslaved people from all over Africa, India, Southeast Asia and Malaysia, thus giving Bo-Kaap its “Cape Malay” distinction. However, through our lectures, I learned that this is a disputed term because more Africans arrived as slaves to the Cape than those from Malaysia and Southeast Asia and had their own contributions to the Bo-Kaap culture.

Islam also made its way into Bo-Kaap culture, thanks largely to Muslim soldiers and political exiles that ended up in the Cape at this time. Islamic faith has actually become one of the defining traits of the Cape Malay and Bo-Kaap communities.

Bo-Kaap, as a very dynamic and historic community, faces a looming problem of gentrification. Because of its colorful houses, prime location in the middle of the city of Cape Town and historic background, Bo-Kaap has been a popular real estate location. However, this has caused problems as the new movers have been slow or unwilling to mingle with the community and its culture, implying an eroding community-based heritage. Furthermore, the price hikes of the properties in Bo-Kaap have been extremely problematic. It is a custom for those who live in the Bo-Kaap to pass their homes to their children and families, but due to the real estate interest in Bo-Kaap, homes have become increasingly unaffordable for Bo-Kaap families.

Bo-Kaap outside of the house I stayed at. The colorful houses make Bo-Kaap a heavy tourist favorite.

Bo-Kaap outside of the house I stayed at. The colorful houses make Bo-Kaap a heavy tourist favorite.














The Bo-Kaap

The Bo-Kaap










The Bo-Kaap. You're seeing some of Bo-Kaap's famous cobble-stone streets in this picture.

The Bo-Kaap. You’re seeing some of Bo-Kaap’s famous cobble-stone streets in this picture.













The oldest house in Bo-Kaap. Two of my friends from SIT actually stayed here during our Bo-Kaap stay. It's an example of appreciating property value in Bo-Kaap.

The oldest house in Bo-Kaap. Two of my friends from SIT actually stayed here during our Bo-Kaap stay. It’s an example of appreciating property value in Bo-Kaap.














An exhibit from the Slave Lodge in Cape Town, which was historically used to house and sell slaves. Slavery played a role in creating the diverse colored community in South Africa and Cape Town, but it must not be forgotten that it was an atrocious crime against humanity.

An exhibit from the Slave Lodge in Cape Town, which was historically used to house and sell slaves. Slavery played a role in creating the diverse colored community in South Africa and Cape Town, but it must not be forgotten that it was an atrocious crime against humanity.
















Together with my friend Mari from the program, I stayed with a host-mom that had very deep ties to the Bo-Kaap community and had a very large family, who I saw often on a daily basis. In fact, I had to ask one of my host-brothers to help me draw a family tree because I was getting tired of forgetting names and who people were. My host-mom had many grandchildren, so the house was always active and rambunctious.

Life in Bo-Kaap was a great experience. Because Bo-Kaap was so close to the city, I had the opportunity to explore the city of Cape Town more than I ever had before. Furthermore, I experienced the most community in Bo-Kaap since Langa.

Islam and the Muslim religion obviously played a big role during my stay in the Bo-Kaap. Although I never had the chance to attend an Islamic service, it was everywhere and it was very pleasant. The early morning adhan (calls to prayer) on Friday mornings were quite an epic way to start a morning. Islam is more than just a faith, it’s a culture and way of life.

I was very fortunate to have experienced an Islamic wedding ceremony right outside my doorstep. In an Islamic wedding, similar to an African funeral, everyone in the community is invited. There is first separate ceremonies between the men and women. Then, the marriage papers are signed together at the mosque, after which, photos are taken. Brunch are had at first the bride’s home where the groom joins the bride’s family, then another brunch is held in the groom’s family, where the bride joins the groom’s family. Then, it is culminated in a big reception together. I was invited to join the bride’s brunch by the bride’s father, because our house was right next door. He then proceeded to invite every passerby for some food. If that isn’t true community and celebration, I don’t know what is. Congratulations to the family!

The brunch spread at the brunch at the bride's home. An Islamic wedding is truly a community celebration!

The brunch spread at the brunch at the bride’s home. An Islamic wedding is truly a community celebration!











We had an interesting experience in class with two Muslim women guests living in Bo-Kaap, both of different generations, as they debated the role of their Islamic faith and customs in their lives. They discussed and debated the more pointed and heated things concerning women and the Islamic faith, including marriage, hijjabs, make-up, and more. It was fascinating and I think I learned a lot more about Islamic faith and culture and the differing viewpoints surrounding them.

During my stay in Bo-Kaap, I was very fortunate to attend a rugby game in Greenpoint Field played by the local Bo-Kaap club team: SKW. Although SKW lost (my host brother, who played for SKW before a leg injury), it became clear to me that rugby was more than just a game or sport to the people in Bo-Kaap. Nearly everyone in the entire family attended to see SKW’s opening game of the season and everyone at the game knew each other, demonstrating Bo-Kaap’s extremely tight-knit community. To residents of the Bo-Kaap, rugby was a unifying thing, something that bounded the community together.

Making crazy faces with some of the host-siblings!

Making crazy faces with some of the host-siblings!
























Colored Identity

The common theme amongst discussing Khoisan and South African Muslim and Cape Malay cultures is the idea of “colored identity”. Although the term “colored” is derogatory in the U.S., here in South Africa, it is a more commonly accepted term (emphasis on the “more”; continue reading for elaboration), both historically and in the present day. Harking back to the days of apartheid, a “colored” person was in between a white person and a black person in the social hierarchy. A colored person was generally understood to be a person born of a mixed heritage of both black and white.

Colored identity however, is much more complex than that. Remember, in communities such as Bo-Kaap and District 6, communities and races mingled and blended with each other in a mixed and multicultural atmosphere. Therefore, if we were to work in this paradigm, a “colored” South African is anyone who is simply not black or white, therefore including South Africans of South East Asian, Khoisan, Malay and other people of mixed heritage.

Furthermore, if you can recall, apartheid came with it generations of social, political and economic implications. As a result, while coloreds were oppressed under apartheid, they also held a relative amount of privilege under it as well. So heavy were these implications during apartheid that many black South Africans attempted to lighten the colors of their skins or do other things to be classified as colored by the arbitrary race boards.

Colored people all have different origins and cultural heritages and customs, but they all have the unfortunate uniting factor of all being oppressed under apartheid. It is largely due to this question of colored identity, that many coloreds feel alienated from both the black and white population. “Not white enough during apartheid, and now, not black enough” is a common refrain coming from the colored community. This sense of isolation is also reflected in the fact that the majority of colored South Africans live in the Western Cape near Cape Town, further accentuating the notion that they are all a single racial group of people, despite their cultural distinctions.

This newspaper headline demonstrates the elusiveness of colored identity. While the headline makes it seem that President Zuma, for the upcoming elections, is courting the "colored vote" as a bloc of voters, it is not that simple, with colored identity being defined in multiple ways.

This newspaper headline demonstrates the elusiveness of colored identity. While the headline makes it seem that President Zuma, for the upcoming elections, is courting the “colored vote” as a bloc of voters, it is not that simple, with colored identity being defined in multiple ways.
















Some colored people trace their ancestry to the Khoisan heritage and have made strides to emphasize their Khoisan pride, sparking a renewed surge in Khoisan cultural awareness, inquiry and education. Some coloreds have decided to emphasize their Muslim faiths, rejecting the “Cape Malay” label and considering being considered “Cape Muslims”. Furthermore, even the Afrikaans language has been central to this question of colored identity. “Afrikaaps”, a vernacular Afrikaans is being more and more embraced as a legitimate language amongst its colored users, especially in light of Afrikaans being a creole language in nature.

The concept of “colored” people in South African society truly demonstrates how race is a social construct. At the same time, it demonstrates that race has real world social and political implications and cannot simply be ignored.

Hope for the Future? Or is it Too Late?

According to the academic Abebe Zegeye, the colored identity can be viewed as the “conscious of South Africa. Amidst the continuing deep alienation between the races brought about by apartheid, the colored people of South Africa are a visible reminder of what South Africa could have been without apartheid…places such as District Six in Cape Town…once significantly populated by people in different racial categories, are a continuing demonstration of the folly of apartheid. Such places are meaningful because people of different ‘racial groups’ lived and worked together there in…peace and over long periods of time” (Zegye, 2006).

After learning so much about the lingering divisions, separation, segregation, tensions and bitterness that exist in South Africa’s social fabric due to the racist legacy of apartheid, it was always an open question whether or not the multiculturalism of the “Rainbow Nation” was just a cruel joke. If it was, what hope was there for my country, the U.S. back home? Socio-economic inequality is fraying the social fabric of both countries. Both countries are desperate for leadership. South Africa mourns Nelson Mandela’s passing while Steve Biko’s grave gathers neglect at every turn. Back home, as the U.S. celebrates the 50th anniversaries of the March on Washington and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we are also devoid of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Both countries are plural, multicultural nations that are perhaps more divided and insulated from each other like never before. Most of the youth, despite their potential, are either denied ladders of opportunity to lead or so turned off with the state of affairs that they just become apathetic or stay ignorant.

Staying in Bo-Kaap gave me some hope, hope that perhaps only a colored South African experience could have inspired. A community of diverse cultural heritages and yet still bound together culturally and communally. I can’t articulate the feeling just yet, but perhaps there is still hope for multiculturalism after all.

Now we head into ISP! More for everyone later!

Always in friendship and good will,

— Rich A.

Cintsa, Eastern Cape and Stellenbosch, Western Cape (Week 1-2)

Being in Cintsa and Stellenbosch right after Tshabo was an experience in crazy fun, lots of work and cognitive dissonance.

Cinsta: A Well-Deserved Break?

After our homestay in Tshabo, we spent a weekend in Cintsa, (pronounced “Chin-sa”) a resort town. It was a very nice break after Tshabo to just relax for a bit. Situated right beside the Indian Ocean, with beach soccer, frisbee and lots of merriment, it was spectacular time. It was during this time that we did something that was on everyone’s South African bucket list: we visited a game preserve, seeing wild lions, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and more, even getting close to cheetahs. It goes without saying that our stay in Cintsa was a definite highlight in my stay in South Africa.

However, it wasn’t without its moments of contemplation. It was kind of dislocating, after staying as we did in Tshabo, to all of a sudden to experience comforts that come from staying at a resort. That, along with some tussles amongst the group, created some tensions. I felt a little rebuffed, like my efforts to try to understand and grapple with the things that we’ve been learning, discussing and experiencing were not going through.

The experience at the game drive was also interesting. It helped me to recall a moment in Langa when someone I was chatting with asked me if Africa was what most people thought it was: lions and rhinos and elephants, kind of like the game drive. The game drive was clearly oriented towards tourists. Not just the game drive, but because tourism is such a big industry in South Africa, especially the Cape Town area, everyone is willing to try and portray the Africa people outside of Africa thinks it is: safaris, wild animals, etc. Though all of those things are part of Africa, the inclination to commodify it is a bit jarring.

Hello Indian Ocean! You're quite beautiful indeed!

Hello Indian Ocean! You’re quite beautiful indeed!










Mr. Lion

Mr. Lion










Sleepy Lioness, Kid Lion and Mr. Lion

Sleepy Lioness, Kid Lion and Mr. Lion










Mr. Rhino

Mr. Rhino










Mr. Elephant

Mr. Elephant













Feeding Mr. Elephant

Feeding Mr. Elephant














Sleepy Cheetah

Sleepy Cheetah










Stellenbosch: Like Teleporting Back to the States

If going to Cintsa after our stay in Tshabo was a dislocating experience, heading over to Stellenbosch was even more intense in that department. Our reception in Stellenbosch near Stellenbosch University, where we waited to meet our host-familes, could not demonstrate the disparity of life between Langa and Tshabo with that of Stellenbosch. A full hors de vors spread, with fresh juices and wine. A grandiose reception room and restaurant. Misters to cool people from the heat. Are we even in the same country, let alone province, anymore?

I am sorry to say that while I entered Langa and Tshabo with no preconceived notions of what that may be like, I entered Stellenbosch with some. After learning extensively about the history and social issues of South Africa, before, during and after apartheid, it is so easy to demonize the white Afrikaner, the creator of apartheid, the colonialists that pushed out the Khoisan, the white liberals who had the gall to define the scope of freedom for the oppressed. Though I did not enter Stellenbosch in bad faith, I did anticipate perhaps more instances of racial and social insensitivity. I was both right and wrong.

Jordan and I were paired up with a woman for our host-mom that was arguably the coolest individual I’ve met in this country (Aside from the program staff, my fellow SIT students and my other host families of course!) We were on first name terms  and she demanded that we prioritize experiencing Stellenbosch life over anything else. Once, when we were home, she literally threw dinner on our plates and kicked us out of her house, ordering us to hit the bars, see the town, and don’t even think about returning home before she and her husband fell asleep. She was independent, hated the concept of mothering people, spoke her mind and generally was the coolest lady, who enjoyed her cigarettes, glass of wine in the evening and her job. She had three grown sons, who were all over the world and had hosted students from all across the world. Spending time with her was one of the top highlights of my stay in Stellenbosch.

Because Stellenbosch is a college town, home to Stellenbosch University, it was almost as if I was teleported back to Claremont and the Claremont Village to some degree. I started seeing familiar names (does McDonalds and Burger King ring a bell?) and things became much more comfortable on a daily basis, almost the same as if I was back in the States again. With assignments now pouring in, it was almost like being back in school again, just in a different environment. The most striking, to be blunt, is that this was the home-stay environment with clearly the most white people I have seen in this country, reflecting Stellenbosch’s history of being an Afrikaner community.

Although I enjoyed my time in Stellenbosch immensely, the disparity between it and my previous experiences in South Africa was a bit difficult to internalize and reconcile, especially as I became preoccupied with assignments.

Town Square of Stellenbosch. There lies some sculpture art dedicated to Madiba (Mandela)

Town Square of Stellenbosch. There lies some sculpture art dedicated to Madiba (Mandela)

A square in Stellenbosch University

A square in Stellenbosch University











Afrikaner Identity and Afrikaans

Our studies during our stay in Stellenbosch was largely surrounding Afrikaner identity in a post-apartheid era. Stellenbosch University was an fitting place to explore this because it was Stellenbosch University where Verwoerd, the “architect of apartheid” became he became prime minister, and other sociologists at the school designed and test-ran apartheid. Stellenbosch University has that legacy to deal with.

In a post-apartheid era, the Afrikaner is struggling to cope with its identity and its dark past. It has been doing this very slowly, not without its own tensions.

In a religious context, we had a lecture on the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), the church founded by Afrikaners and the church that controversially played a role in not only theologically justifying apartheid, but also pervading it. Like other churches today, the DRC suffers from a declining and aging membership, struggles with cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage, etc. But most importantly, the DRC still suffers from a loss of identity and a proper theological framework, especially in light of its role abetting apartheid. Whether or not the DRC can redefine themselves in a post-apartheid era moving forward depends largely on the youth and facing up to its past by pursuing social justice, said the lecturer. Perhaps the leaders of the DRC can look to their counterparts to their north for tips.

In my previous post about Langa, I wrote how Afrikaans might emanate some bitter emotions, particularly in light of the Soweto protests. However, during my time in Stellenbosch, it became more clear that things are more complicated than that. By definition, Afrikaans is a dynamic language, a lingua franca, a creole language,  derivative of Dutch that changed as the first Afrikaners came and started to live in South Africa. In its origin, it’s a creole language, a mixture created by Dutch, English, French and Khoisan interaction. It only became standardized in the 20th century by the apartheid Union of South Africa, which began its association with the white Afrikaner.

In reality, there’s a clear distinction between the Afrikaner and Afrikaans-speaking people. Afrikaans has become the language of many South Africans over time, especially the colored community (more on this later), who have even developed their own dialects and variations of Afrikaans (more on “Afrikaaps” later). The claim to Afrikaans are not only for the realm of the Afrikaner, despite the arguments of a “true Afrikaans”. That claim now lies across the board among many South Africans. Their Afrikaans has become a part of their own identities.

There is also a controversy over Afrikaans in the context of language policy in higher education, with Stellenbosch University being one of the hotspots. Until very recently (around mid-2013 I believe), in which Stellenbosch University has implemented a bilingual system, the university used to teach only in Afrikaans, claiming that it was to preserve their the culture of Stellenbosch University as a historically Afrikaans school. The current bilingual policy also has its issues: the social capital implications of both English an Afrikaans becomes accentuated and furthermore, just because Afrikaans is being used as one of the languages of instruction, doesn’t mean that it’s being used frequently. One of our lecturers told us a personal account in which she saw that her colored students weren’t able to understand much of the standardized Afrikaans she used. These “lost in translation” moments is fairly common amongst Afrikaans users. So, what is the future of Afrikaans going forward?

The Afrikaanse Taalmonumet, a monument in Paarl (near Stellenbosch) dedicated to the Afrikaans language. The long-spiraling tower represents how Afrikaans is destined to grow to the highest of heights. Even more loaded symbolism was present in the fact that the spheres next to it (not shown in this view), supposedly representing the Bantu African languages (like Xhosa and Zulu) are very small in comparison.

The Afrikaanse Taalmonumet, a monument in Paarl (near Stellenbosch) dedicated to the Afrikaans language. The long-spiraling tower represents how Afrikaans is destined to grow to the highest of heights. Even more loaded symbolism was present in the fact that the spheres next to it (not shown in this view), supposedly representing the Bantu African languages (like Xhosa and Zulu) are very small in comparison.

















In the rein of “Afrikaner Afrikaans”, there has been a growing presence of Afrikaner nationalism in a post-apartheid era. The 2006 song “Del La Rey” reflects this resurgence:

One of the main points of the program is that culture is not static, but dynamic. How Afrikaner culture can stay dynamic, in face of its past haunted by apartheid, and still bestowed with apartheid’s privileges in a post-apartheid era is a lingering question. A potential answer came from an amalgamation of conversations I had with my host-mom and our Afrikaner neighbor, who was around my age.

My host-mom told me how during the days of apartheid, she was kept ignorant of the world around her and was in a bubble, only knowing her neighborhood and visiting only her grandparents a neighborhood or two away. Once apartheid ended, she was exposed to the rest of her own country and the world. From then on, she hosted students from all over the world and became exposed to all people and all sorts of cultures (she even had a tea cup from a Korean student. It was kind of refreshing not having to explain what a Korean person was to every other South African you meet) She told me how that same multiculturalism was also present in her workplace, where it didn’t matter where they were from or who they were, all the co-workers treated each other with respect and dignity. Although my host-mom wasn’t completely free of racial insensitivity (some little quips of it came out), she showed me that perhaps holding a worldview may lie the key to which multiculturalism can work.

Our neighbor, who was on track to graduate from Stellenbosch University, wanted to travel the world, but said he was determined to become a teacher first in South Africa. He was remarkably cognizant of and open about the privileges that he had as a male, white Afrikaner. When I asked him how he can come into terms, both as a disproportionately privileged person and Afrikaner in South Africa, he said he thought it was through social responsibility. Perhaps the key lies in the youth, the next generation, to wipe away the sins of their fathers.

Human Rights Day: “All of Stellenbosch is as quiet as a mouse”

The Friday in which we spent our home-stay in Stellenbosch was a public holiday called Human Rights Day. As with any holiday, many people leave town to go on holiday and students go home. Before going out for the day, Annette cautioned me to watch the business hours of any store I might frequent, for most of them will have shorter hours or will be closed. “All of Stellenbosch is as quiet as a mouse today.” said my host-mom. Sure enough, Stellenbosch was quieter as usual, but many people still frequented its many nice restaurants and bars, spending time with their friends and family.

Human Rights Day is to commemorate the Sharpesville Massacre in 1960, in which over 5000 peaceful protestors gathered in the now-province of Gauteng to protest pass laws (if you forgot what pass laws, refer back to my Langa post), only to meet open fire by the South African police force. Many people consider Sharpesville to be the turning point in the anti-apartheid struggle because the international community finally began to pay attention to what was happening in South Africa.

I must have overheard tons of conversations that day while sitting and working in that coffee shops. There seemed to be no acknowledgement at all over what the holiday actually signified. None at all that day from Stellenbosch. Though coming from a country that would probably win a gold medal in celebrating the most commercialized holiday in human existence (or as laymen would call it “Christmas”) or know less and less about our own independence day, I probably don’t have the right to chide South Africans for not knowing about the significance of Human Rights Day. But, judging that this was Stellenbosch, with all of the history and connotations that that implied, I was very disappointed.

Yes, all of Stellenbosch was as quiet as a mouse that day. It probably was as well 54 years ago.

All credits and rights go to the administrators of the Nelson Mandela Facebook page.

All credits and rights go to the administrators of the Nelson Mandela Facebook page.











The (In)Famous Stellenbosch Vineyards

Stellenbosch is very famous for its fine wine and lush vineyards. Much of the high quality wine across South Africa originates from Stellenbosch. Naturally, everyone in the program was excited when we visited Solms Delta Winery (and a bit disappointed that there was not much wine tasting involved)

However, like much of Afrikaner history in South Africa, the Stellenbosch vineyard has some blood on its hands. During the time of apartheid, the white vineyard owners would employ black and colored (more on this term in the next blog post) people under heinous work conditions. Even worse, the vineyard owners implemented something called the “dom system”, in which the workers were paid not in wages, but in wine. Not only was such a system completely ridiculous in concept, this created of legacy of alcoholism among the workers, which still has reverberations today, despite the end of the dom system. Many of the children of the vineyard workers have suffered from poverty, lack of schooling, violence and other conditions of abject destitution as a direct result of the dom system. Makes me think about what a sip of that South African wine really means.

Solms Delta Winery

Solms Delta Winery










Coming up: !Khwa tuu, Bo-Kaap and the colored experience! Stay tuned.

— Richard A.

Tshabo, Eastern Cape (Week 1)

Note: First off, I sincerely apologize for the significant backlog in my blogs. After Tshabo (pronounced “Cha-Bo”), all of a sudden I felt very overwhelmed, with a different host-family and environment each week, a very love-hate relationship with Internet access, and many major assignments amid a lot of travel, which I am not very used to. Needless to say, things fell through the cracks. Now that all of that is over and that I am finally at the stage of the coveted ISP week (See following blogs to see what I mean), I am glad that I am able to catch up!

After a 16-hour bus ride to the Eastern Cape (yes, you read that right. It is also during the bus ride when I realized the portable modem that I purchased was not as reliable as I thought, though that is perhaps a story for another day), we finally reached King Williams Town, before heading out to the rural village of Tshabo. I was quite frankly looking forward to a week being unplugged, without electricity and Internet, and have a life experience that would be radically different from what I had experienced before.

Rural Village Life: Refreshing and Challenging

I have to say, it is quite something to not have to wake up to an alarm clock, but to the crowing of chickens. It is even more quite something to have fried eggs for breakfast that came from those same chickens.

Jordan and I were fortunate to have stayed with a host-mother, a 10 year old host-brother and an 8 year old host-sister, who were our host-mom’s grandchildren. I soon realized after visiting my friends in the program that were staying all around Tshabo-2 (the sub-unit of the village we were staying in. Tshabo is actually quite a big place, as large as a small suburb town at least) that we were staying in one of the nicest houses in the entire village. We had a huge space to ourselves for a room among me, Jordan and our host-brother, each with our own bed. There was a running sink in the house (though there was no indoor plumbing for the sink so we used it very limitedly). Our host-mother had a vegetable garden, which we helped tend to. Contrary to what I was told, we had electricity (though I tried my best to limit this as much as possible) Even in a case where you don’t have a lot, I realized how fortunate you are to have the things you DO have.

A view of our backyard in Tshabo. Cue the chickens.

A view of our backyard in Tshabo. Cue the chickens.

During my stay in Tshabo, it rained. Immensely. Needless to say, this was extremely not fun, but it did make for some hilarious cultural learning experiences. One of these was a Sunday in which I thought that it could be a good cultural experience to attend a church service with the host-family. My host-mother was religious, and although she was unable to go, I still went with Jordan and our host-brother, who was an alter-boy. We walked all the way over to Tshabo-1, the next sub-unit over, which took us about half an hour to 45 minutes. I’ve been to a Xhosa church service when I was in Langa, but I was unprepared for what I’d encounter. In Langa, I had only stayed at the service for a small time; I didn’t stay for the whole program. I went in with no idea of what the church service would be like.

The service was similar to what you might expect, with there being present praise music, rituals, etc. I found it refreshing that although the building that the service was being held in was, quite frankly, a bit shoddy with a leaking roof, the enthusiasm of congregation was not dimmed as a result. The churchgoers were definitely, in my opinion, more engaged, active and involved in their worship than the American counterparts I have seen before. The downside to this is that the service seemed interminable (Jordan had excused himself earlier at this point to finish up some assignments). I planned to excuse myself a bit earlier as well, but by this point, the rain was coming down so hard and the cloudiness and fog so dense that the dirt road that I traversed on to get to the church was completely invisible. After the 5 hour service was over, it was still raining cats and dogs. Luckily, my host-mother had arranged it so that my host-brother and I would take the minibus back (a minibus is basically a taxi, except it’s not a private ride. Think of it as a bus in a van-form). However, perhaps because Tshabo was in a rural area, minibuses didn’t traverse around often. As a result, after waiting in the rain for about half an hour, we finally managed to grab a ride. Man, what a day.


Tshabo during a rainy/foggy/cloudy/generally unpleasant day

Tshabo during a rainy/foggy/cloudy/generally unpleasant day. It’s still so beautiful.


A church service in Tshabo. Not only was it packed, it was an engaged (and interminable) service

A church service in Tshabo. Not only was it packed, it was an engaged (and interminable) service

Before I arrived in Tshabo, we the students were informed to bring toilet paper and washcloths to be used for bathing. At home, I used an outhouse and bathed out of a large metal bucket. Although I had no issues doing either of these things (in fact, bathing outside in a bucket was quite refreshing actually), they brought some perspective regarding convenience. Using an outhouse was quite inconvenient when it was raining. Because the hot water had to be made inside through a water heater, preparing to bathe itself took at least 20 minutes. It really made me realize how lucky, comfortable and convenient it is simply to have a toilet indoors and a running shower. Here in South Africa, having running toilets itself is matter that has sparked “service delivery” protests (there is at least one across the country every single day) over poor provision of public services. Issues surrounding plumbing, waste and sewage have had huge public health ramifications across the country, in both townships and rural areas. (We often urinated in the bushes and sparingly used a bucket to use the restroom at night and the waste was simply drained outside in the grass afterwards. I often wondered about the health issues this could probably cause, but I must admit, I didn’t think too much of it at the time.)

There was a day when many of the students on the program and the kids in the village all gathered to play a game pick-up soccer. After spending some time attempting to find the coveted soccer field (there wasn’t one in the conventional understanding of that word), we ended up playing amid a hill with tall grass, with a semi-flat ball, while dodging a pile of cow dung on every other step. Regardless, it was some of the best fun I have had during our stay in Tshabo. It also was a great demonstration of the fact that the simplest things can lead to the greatest of pleasures and that sport and play really can bring people from all walks of life together.

A photo of a few of us at the "soccer field". My host-brother is the one on my back. Photography credits go to Lucy Stockdale

A photo of a few of us at the “soccer field”. My host-brother is the one on my back.
(Photography credits go to Lucy Stockdale)

My host-brother and host-sister were rambunctious kids that were a joy to spend time with, along with their friends. We did have a bit of a language barrier though. But they were some of the most responsible kids I have ever seen. My host-brother, though he couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, was responsible for so many tasks and chores around the house. They were bright, lovable kids and I will miss them greatly.

Jordan (my host-housemate on the program) and my host-brother and host-sister

Jordan (my host-housemate on the program) and my host-brother and host-sister

Jordan and I with our Tshabo host-mom!

Jordan and I with our Tshabo host-mom!

Tshabo and Xhosa Culture

I found life in Tshabo was quaint and very pleasant. It was very nice to be always surrounded by the clearest of skies and the rolling knolls. Things that we learned about Xhosa culture in class were also seen firsthand.

The Xhosa people and language are the most prevalent in the Eastern Cape, which has historically been divided into two provinces: Transkei and Ciskei. These were inventions during the apartheid era when the white regime (after taking 87% of the land for barely 10% of the total South African population) reserved limited plots of (the crappiest) land for black “self-governance”. This had gigantic repercussions for South African society, even today. Land is a very precious concept in Xhosa culture. Xhosa culture is also traditionally agrarian. Many of those in living in areas in the Western Cape, such as Langa, still describe their home as in the Eastern Cape (see previous blog post). This is among the reasons why land repatriation is one of the most heated, controversial and emotionally charged public issues in South Africa.

(If you need any indication of just how emotional land repatriation is in South Africa, you only have to look at the EFF’s campaign manifesto, which argues for: “Expropriation of land without compensation for equitable redistribution”)

Having livestock and crops seemed to be a source of pride for the people in Tshabo. In traditional Xhosa culture, livestock, particularly cows, hold social and economic capital. Cows are often used for lobolas (A “bride price”; similar to a dowry in western culture), are indicators of wealth and financial assets (it is said that if things go economically south for a family, one could always sell cows for some financial security) and are kept aside, away from the other livestock, in their own holding places called kraals. My host-mother, even though she didn’t have any cows, still had a kraal built because one day, she said, her children will get cows for her. During a visit to a friend’s host-house (To watch a movie; being too unplugged was getting a bit too much for me; I admit that I am weak), her host-father took me out and gave me a tour of his pigs, chickens, banana trees and guava trees, showing immense pride in them, especially his goats. These moments showed me the importance of the things the people of Tshabo grew and raised with their own two hands held.

My host-mom's kraal

My host-mom’s kraal

A cow just lounging around in the road of Tshabo-2. In Xhosa tradition, cows have held social and economic value and they still do today.

A cow just lounging around in the road of Tshabo-2. In Xhosa tradition, cows have held social and economic value and they still do today.

Me "helping herd" (but not really) my friend's host-dad's goats. He was so proud of them!

Me “helping herd” (but not really) my friend’s host-dad’s goats. He was so proud of them!

Steve Biko and Black Consciousness

During my stay in Tshabo, we visited the Steve Biko Centre in the East London area. This fit SIT’s programming because our first major assignment was to read and assess through an essay some of Biko’s most prominent writings, which were published as the compendium, I Write What I Like (I heavily recommend it. The movie Cry Freedom, starring Denzel Washington is a film that is about Biko) Steve Biko was an anti-apartheid activist who filled the void of leadership that existed during the anti-apartheid struggle when most of the activists aligned with the ANC or PAC were imprisoned or exiled (this included top people in the movement such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sislulu, Oliver Tambo, etc.)

Biko was the founder of Black Consciousness Movement. Black Consciousness is the idea that under systems of oppression like apartheid, black people were not only physically oppressed, but psychologically in despair. In order to obtain be free, the black man must first free himself from these psychological shackles and be proud of his blackness (“Black is beautiful!”). He must reject every value and institution of the white, oppressive system that created a culture of servitude and dependency against him and develop himself and reach equality on his own terms. (“Black man, you are on your own!”)

“The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed” — Bantu Stephen Biko

Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude” — Bantu Stephen Biko

Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time. Its essence is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.” –-Bantu Stephen Biko

Biko was very critical and excoriating towards white South Africans who were supportive and sympathetic to the anti-apartheid struggle, deriding them as “white liberals”. He argued that white liberals were more or less part-time activists, who may speak out against an oppressive system, but are unwilling to part with the privileges it bestows them, seeing hypocrisy. He further was critical of the fact that they often tried to speak for blacks instead of with them.

Biko’s Black Consciousness was largely what inspired the youth of Soweto to rise up and stand up against the mandated use of Afrikaans in schools. Biko himself unfortunately met a tragic death due to cerebral hemorrhaging during his imprisonment, where his white prison guards beat him to death.

To be frank, I was first not as warm to Biko’s ideas. I was empathetic; his ideas resonated with some of my own experiences and thoughts when I was younger and it is only justified how he and other blacks were treated. But realistically, I thought it at first it was too radical and misinterpreted it as “black supremacy”. I also thought that Biko was misguided in turning away white liberals and therefore, potential allies to the movement. But the more I read, the more I understood him. Biko’s end was a South Africa in which all races would be truly equal, in which the black man would be psychologically, socially, culturally and economically liberated, a time when a truly equal black man, armed with enough political, social and economic capital can meet a white man face-to-face and live in peace, truly equal to one another.

Stewart always reminded us that many people in South Africa felt that Nelson Mandela sold out, too accommodating and forgiving to white South Africans for their decades of abuse and oppression in exchange for political equality. Would Biko feel the same? Yes, South Africa is a true democracy and yes, blacks hold equal political power. But who are the ones living in the shacks of Khayelitsha, without running toilets, 20 years after democracy? Who are the ones running the restaurant while the others are the wait staff and the kitchen staff, 20 years after democracy? Who are the ones able to afford to go to college and university and secure futures for themselves during a time of immense unemployment, 20 years after democracy? Who are the ones who could afford to isolate themselves away from crime, violence, drug abuse, unprotected sex during an HIV/AIDS pandemic and other scourges of poverty, economic inequality and hopelessness, 20 years after democracy? Is South Africa truly a equal society? Is there any surprise why radical, perhaps even dangerous people and groups like Julius Malema and the EFF would be so popular?

Thinking of Black Consciousness makes me think a lot about things back in the States. I won’t articulate them here, because my blog would be too long (if it isn’t already). But I’m sure the reader can draw his or her own parallels.

Biko’s legacy has always been overshadowed by towering figures such as Mandela. Even his grave site has fallen into neglect by the government, despite it being a national landmark. But Biko led a humble life and used the power of his ideas to become a giant. I hope that I can leave this country remembering who Steve Biko was.

Steve Biko's grave site

Steve Biko’s grave site

Stay tuned for more!

–Richard A.


Simonstown, Western Cape (Week 1)

Hello readers! This is going to be a relatively short post, coming right off the heels of the massive one about Langa.

As we closed our homestay in Langa, we stopped by Simonstown, a harbor and beach town that is home to the South African Navy. I regret saying that I fell a bit ill during our stay in Simonstown, so I was unable to really explore some of the museums and some of the town’s history. This was disappointing because Simonstown had so many museums and had a rich cultural history behind it. Luckily, I was able to still have some experiences that are deemed bloggable.

Boulders Beach

Simonstown is home to Boulders Beach, a beach that is largely composed of large, granite boulders across its shores (hence the name, but that must have been quite obvious). However, it’s main attraction is that it is home to a colony of AFRICAN PENGUINS. Starting from 1982, the penguins migrated to the colony and it is unknown where they have originated from. Now, the South African national parks service has designated Boulders Beach as protected area. A person can both see the penguins up close on boardwalks and even enter beach where the penguins swim!

Penguins in Boulders Beach

Penguins in Boulders Beach

The penguin colony on Boulders Beach

The penguin colony on Boulders Beach

Yours truly on the beach with the penguins

Yours truly on the beach with the penguins

Cape Point

Simonstown is also near what is advertised as the southern-western most point of South Africa (though this has been disputed).  This is otherwise know as Cape Point, near the Cape of Good Hope. A lot of flora and fauna that are indigenous to the Cape Town area are

Stewart said something interesting: it was called Cape of Good Hope by the first Portuguese coming in. It was named as such because of the hopeful prospects during that time of reaching commercial contact with the East. Later, the Dutch would settle in Cape Town near the Cape of Good Hope as initially a refueling station for the Dutch East India Company, again signalling commercial prospects and hope. However, it is unlikely that the native Khoisan people shared the hopes that the colonists from the west did. Tragically, what lied forward for them was anything but hopeful.

Being in Simonstown, it’s hard to escape the colonial legacy and influences that is still so prevalent in the Cape Town area. Food for thought.

The official website of the Cape of Good Hope says: “Cape Point: One Point, A Million Points of View”. How fitting indeed.

At Cape Point.

At Cape Point.

A rock rabbit, an animal whose habitat is around the Cape of Good Hope area.

A rock rabbit, an animal whose habitat is around the Cape of Good Hope area.

At the Cape of Good Hope

At the Cape of Good Hope


Next up is the start of our rural homestay in Tshabo all the way in the countryside of the Eastern Cape! Stay tuned for more!

— Richard A.

Langa, Western Cape (Week 1-3)

Forgive me readers; with so many things coming at once, the start of classes and home-stay life and irregular internet access to boot, it has been difficult to share blog posts on a regular basis.

As of this posting, our home-stay in Langa has already come to a close. Not only that, but classes (and tests for that matter) have started for SIT as well and I’ve been preoccupied with trying to establish a routine. However, during the past couple of weeks, I have learned so much from just talking with and observing the life in Langa and correlating that to our studies. Almost every day has been a challenge and an opportunity for introspection, learning and cultural immersion. I’ve simply been loving it here in this beautiful place.

Kids, Family, Community and Ubuntu

My host family has truly become my family. It consists of my mama, her 30 year old son and the oldest bhuti, who recently became a father, and two younger bhutis, 7 and 9 years old, who are my mama’s grandchildren. The seven and nine year old drain the energy out of me like a carrot through a juicer on a near daily basis, but they are such wonderful kids, even if they shirk their manners and their schoolwork sometimes like I suppose almost every kid their age do.

One of the interesting developments that has occurred is that I had started to play a role somewhere between a loving big brother and a disciplinarian with no authority. My mama warned me right off the bat “don’t trust these kids Rich; they’ll take advantage of you!” Oh man, these kids are so clever it stuns me sometimes! They can play-cry extremely realistically (it’s become my policy to automatically assume they are acting whenever I see “crying”). When I got sunburned returning from the beach in Camps Bay, they exploited sunburned spots as weak points in play-fighting mercilessly. As a guest in my mama’s house, but also a big brother figure, I have been treading a fine line regarding discipline and the extent to how much I should be involved in their personal well-being. How can I discipline them properly when they misbehave? Should I even? What can I do when they mention real life problems they might have been dealing with such as bullying and teasing? I don’t think I left Langa with a solid answer except knowing that they have truly become my little brothers. And I hope that I left them with more than a Chinese guy punching bag (I’m Korean, but it is almost a futile effort to try to explain this to South African kids so I gave up trying) who never enough played PlayStation with them and cooked them fried rice that one time.

Watching my host-bhutis play with their friends, interact with the adults in their community and deal with the things you deal with when you are growing up brought flashbacks to my own childhood. As Stewart said in one of our classes, I think this is so important. I’m on a program that is concerned with the tensions that come with multiculturalism and human rights and its history of hate and oppression. I come from a country that is almost paralyzed with polarization from intransigent ideologues. How can people of two different worlds, with histories of hatred and misunderstanding, make things better? Perhaps having the minds and hearts of children is where the answer lies. Stewart mentioned that children are often the first ones that realize that someone is different when they first meet, but they never let that difference metastasize into a prejudice due to their innocence. When you can relate to children, you can relate to the heart and innocence of a child. And that is the hope for humanity.

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:3-6 NIV)

Stewart told us that many families in the townships often do not have what we think are traditional nuclear families (AKA: a two parent household). I realized that not only was that true for my host-family, but that it was largely the case for a lot of the families that us students stayed with in Langa. In the past, as the men often migrated to the urban areas to find work, they left their kids with their wives, who often raised them nearly all by themselves. Nowadays, a lot of people have been known to leave their kids to stay with their kids’ grandparents while they commute distances to work. This is also a development of more women entering the workforce.

This introduces a little bit about gender roles in South African culture and history. Although South Africa is and has been largely a patriarchal society, women, and in this case grandparents and grandmothers in particular, have and continue to play an indispensable, critical and invaluable role.

As a result, I started thinking about the role parents play in a child’s life, particularly fathers, who are often missing or not as present in a child’s life from my observations of Langa. My mama has also indicated some hostility to my host-bhuti’s father (there was a family-related incident concerning him and her daughter, my host-bhuti’s mother. I was touched that she confided in me and for the sake of privacy, I won’t delve into further details) and that he is not present in my host-brothers’ lives. It’s hard for my mama to raise two young boys herself as a grandmother, so I understand her anger. Because I was lucky enough to be raised by a wonderful father, I wonder how my host-bhutis will do without a father-figure in their lives. On the same note, my older bhuti, who just became a new father, mentioned during conversation over dinner how although he didn’t plan to have a child at this stage of his life, he’s going to play a role in his son’s life, unlike other “deadbeat dads”. (It’s something to think about even in the United States; President Obama just announced an initiative to help young men of color, who are disproportionately challenged and at-risk. Fatherlessness is often seen as an important issue in regards that problem.)

My 9-year-old host-bhuti after he discovered the camera on my iPhone

My 9-year-old host-bhuti after he discovered the camera on my iPhone

My lovely host-mama and my mischievous but awesome host-bhutis! Ndiyakuthanda femeli!

My lovely host-mama and my mischievous but awesome host-bhutis! Ndiyakuthanda ifemeli kwa Langa!

One of the most striking things about life in Langa is the openness of entire community. There seems to be an “open-door” policy all around the township. Neighbors and people you know around town have walked into my house like it was their own. Guests were always common in the house, often in the house before I even woke up. During the funeral’s merriment (explained more below) people from all across the township and the country gathered together to celebrate the life of the passed person.

My mama explained to me that this was ubuntu, the African philosophy of humanity and community, the belief that as human beings, we are all bound together. Under ubuntu, it literally takes a village to raise a child. Under ubuntu, you are an extrovert in your approach to community, propagating sincere warmth towards guests, neighbors and even strangers. What a wonderful concept. If we had a little more ubuntu in our lives, the world would be a better place.

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

Funerals in South Africa, Death and Remembrance

On my first day at Langa, my mama told me that an old woman that lived next door had passed away and that I was going to learn about how funerals were conducted in her culture. It would be an understatement to say that I did.

In contrast to the relatively quick funeral services that we have back in the States, funerals here are drawn out and take the course of a few weeks. The process begins with a slow movement of furniture out from the deceased’s house, often into the next door neighbor’s house (my first “family duty” was actually helping move a bookshelf from next door into our house). This is so that there would be enough space for the family members of the deceased who were expected to travel to the funeral, as well as for the neighbors. Afterwards, prayers are held every night in mourning. My mama went to prayer almost every night. There are also special prayers as well, such as a mothers’ day of prayer, in which because the deceased was a mother, other mothers in the community specially congregate for a night of prayer. After the sequences of prayers, each subsequent day of the funeral starts becoming more of a celebration. Food and drinks are served and merriment ensues. My mama even made homemade ginger beer for the celebrations (tastes like the wine of the gods by the way). On the day before the burial, a sheep is slaughtered for the celebration expected for the following day (I’m sorry to say I missed this due to class. Though I did see the sliced wool pelts outside in the backyard) and enough food for an army is started to be cooked. (I am not exaggerating in the least here. The women who were cooking used wooden stirring spoons the size of canoe oars and metal pots so heavy, I had trouble helping Mama put one away in the garage the day after the funeral. I wish I took a picture for documentary proof)

During the day of the burial, one final funeral service is held before the coffin is moved to be buried. After the burial, a general celebration occurs in the house of the deceased person and the entire community is invited. There is even an “after tears” party, in which the most current generation of the family line (in this case, the deceased’s grandson), who has been in mourning over the loss of his matriarch, has his “tears dried” by a party thrown by his friends. It lasted well into the night and led to some unexpected developments to say the least (the least of which involved my friend Niki to be stuck at my host-home for several hours because her home was where the after-tears party was occurring, unbeknownst to her knowledge and Mama asking me to help accompany an intoxicated man back to his house across the township because “I must learn about this eventually”)

The funeral that was held for here are so long because everyone should be able to come to mourn the loss of the deceased, including those who are far away and would have to travel. One relative of the deceased that I met came from Free State (a province in northern South Africa) and drove about 10 hours to get to Langa. It is also to give all those who knew the deceased enough time for closure. They also involve the entire community, an exemplary case of ubuntu in practice.

I’m not so sure how I feel about such long funerals and the celebration that ensues as a result. Perhaps because I am so oriented towards an American concept of a funeral and the connotations that follow. I personally found that African funerals do in some ways embody closure and celebration of one’s life better than American ones. When my dear friend Yla passed (in what would be 4 years ago this May), I was so devastated that I intentionally skipped her funeral. It took me years to find some resolution about it and put some of my emotional turmoil to rest (I visited her grave for the first time about three weeks before I left for Washington, DC last June) Would a South African funeral have helped me find closure sooner? Dealing with the death of someone you love is such a personal thing, but speaking a little from personal experience, the tears may dry sooner if a community of friends and family would dry them for you together.

I managed to quickly take a picture of the coffin being loaded to be taken to be buried. Funerals are a long, draw out affair in South African culture and involve the entire community.

I managed to quickly take a picture of the coffin being loaded to be taken to be buried. Funerals are a long, drawn out affair in South African culture and involve the entire community

Langa: The Township

Langa is one of the oldest townships in South Africa and played a key role in the anti-apartheid struggle. It also in many ways is not typical of an average South African township. Langa was the center for anti-pass marches during the anti-apartheid struggle and it was particularly chaotic during the late ’70s, where anti-apartheid sentiment was bubbling increasingly throughout the country. A pass was a form of identification that displayed one’s racial classification and were used to segregate. A black person needed a pass whenever they wanted to travel, without which led to arrest. Any white person can demand, unwarranted and arbitrarily, that a black person show them a pass, without probable cause. A person often ended up being considered an illegal immigrant in his or her own country and land.

I couldn’t help but think about things back home that are eerily similar to passes, such as voter-ID laws and Arizona’s SB1070. Often we forget or are insensitive to the fact that even symbolism resonates very, very deeply.

A pass-book from the museum in Langa. Hated signs of apartheid's oppression, they were often called "dom passes" (dumb passes)

A pass-book from the museum in Langa. Hated signs of apartheid’s oppression, they were often called “dom passes” (dumb passes)

Langa was a hotspot for anti-pass campaigns and marches during the struggle against apartheid

Langa was a hotspot for anti-pass campaigns and marches during the struggle against apartheid

Home is a concept that is very dear to South Africans, particularly for Xhosas. It is not uncommon to hear someone who has lived in Langa all their lives, but say that their home is in the Eastern Cape. This is an interesting concept; back home in the U.S., often home is where heart is, meaning that it is often somewhere that we choose to be. For instance, I may call Washington, DC my “home” in the future, if I choose to settle there. However, home in Xhosa culture often has more familial and ancestral connotations. Furthermore, this is something that is less pronounced among the younger generation, signalling a generational cultural shift.


As part of the program, we visited schools throughout the Cape Town area, with each group of students going to a different school. I visited the LEAP School of Math and Science, a magnate-type high school. LEAP recruits students from the townships in order to serve some of the more underprivileged children in South African society. Although it was a well-organized, the classrooms are not as decorated as those in America and are generally bare. I also felt that the teachers were more interactive, at least more so than some teachers I had when I was growing up.

The students, of course, were brilliant, bright kids, that could put some of their American counterparts to shame. It goes to show that if given the tools, resources and support, any child, even those from the townships, can succeed and go on to do great things.

When all of the SIT students got back together to discuss our day’s experiences and share our experiences, it became clear just how unequal education was in South Africa. Education is one of the most deeply unequal institutions in South African society. My oldest bhuti referred to it as “backwards”. As it is in the U.S., there can be an elite school with plenty of resources, feeding kids into Ivy League schools and a crumbling one riddled with crime, disciplinary problems, etc. in the same area. However, with youth unemployment around 40% in South Africa and education so unequal, the future is not just off in fairyland for some kids with so much potential, it’s a non-starter, not even an inkling in their heads. It’s a festering social problem that is tearing the social fabric of the country.

One of the most interesting dynamics of education in South Africa involves the language of instruction used in schools. Recall that South Africa has many official languages. A lot of the more elite schools use English or Afrikaans, a Dutch-like South African language that is associated with the white Afrikaner South African. During the 1970s, when the anti-apartheid struggle turned violent, black students and youth sparked massive protests against Afrikaans as the language of instruction in schools, seeing Afrikaans as the language of the oppressor. The most famous of these protests were in Soweto on June 16, 1976, in which the white apartheid government opened fire on unarmed black student protestors. However, schools that tend to struggle more use languages such as Xhosa as instruction. It’s clear that language has social capital; why speak Xhosa when the upper echelons of society use Afrikaans or a more “international” language such as English? My friend Stace recalled a moment in which some family members of her host family, though they were native Xhosa, held speaking Xhosa in disdain. It also reflects some of the social-racial gap that is still present between the minority white and majority black in South Africa. I’ve also noticed that while my host-mama and the other adults in Langa had no problem communicating with me in English, it was clear that it was not their language of preference to use. They were much more comfortable speaking in Xhosa, their “mother tongue” as my host-mama put it.

I bring up some history behind Afrikaans because I think that the protestors of Soweto would be rolling in their graves right now if they saw how the language they fought against still plays such a big role in granting success to black South African kids in education.

Another parallel/point of comparison that I drew is Japanese colonization of Korea from 1910 until the end of WWII. The Japanese occupiers wanted to phase out Korean culture in public life and assimilate it with Japanese. One of the ways they did so was to require the speaking of the Japanese language in the public sphere, including in schools. The most controversial of these efforts were the forcing of Koreans to take on Japanese names and surnames. (A side note, this is the reason my grandfather, who grew up during occupation, is fluent in Japanese. My grandmother, perhaps indicative of the bitterness this caused, has expressed contempt for Japanese language and culture numerous times when I was growing up)

How would native Koreans feel if even after 20 years of freedom, the key to reaching the upper echelons of society and experiencing upward mobility is to speak Japanese, the language of the oppressor, in schools, the bridge to success?

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart” (President Nelson Mandela)

Below is a video that we watched during one of our classes that detail the state of education in South Africa and its socio-economic ramifications:

South African Politics

Now we come to the good stuff! (I’m sorry; I’m a Government major and South Africa having no Netflix means that I can’t watch the Emmy-winning political thriller House of Cards here so I’ve been trying to follow South African politics to make up for the gaping political junkie hole in my body) I am in the country during campaign season, as national elections are to be held on May 7.

Richard Calland, a columnist for Mail & Guardian, a professor at University of Cape Town and an expert on the Zuma presidency, came to SIT to give us a background onto the South African political scene. It was easily one of the best guest lecturers we have had during the program. There are a lot of political issues in South Africa currently, so here are some of the more important dynamics present that I feel are key:

1. (This one’s a bit of a political science lecture, so you can skip this one after reading the first sentence) The Republic of South Africa is a parliamentary democracy that uses proportional representation in its national elections. This means that unlike in the U.S., but more similar to Britain or Israel, voters do not vote for a specific individual, but for a particular political party. The political party with the majority vote share in the national elections, in which seats in the parliament are proportionally distributed, then elects the country’s President from within the party and becomes the PIG (Party in Government), controlling the cabinet, etc.

2. The African National Congress (ANC), the party of Nelson Mandela, has transitioned from an anti-apartheid, equal rights liberation movement into the majority/governing party since the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, controlling almost 70% of seats in the National Assembly. (2014 marks the 20th anniversary of democracy in the country). It can be described as “left/liberal”. Like any political party, they have campaigned in poetry, but governed in prose, meaning that they haven’t lived up to all of their promises and have become increasingly “conservative” in the sense of trying to remain in power. As economic disparities and the worldwide economic downturn have taken its toll, protests and frustration has mounted against the ANC. Furthermore, as almost systemic in long-ruling majority parties, the ANC has been riddled with corruption. As a result of this, the ANC has made a notable shift in its campaign messaging and narrative, in which, rather than looking forward, it’s seeking to capitalize on its image and history of being a liberation movement (using the death of Nelson Mandela as a frame) to win reelection. “South Africa is a better place than where it was 20 years ago” is a common campaign line for the ANC. As the ANC is about to enter its most competitive election yet, it is yet to be seen whether or not this will be effective.

For example, see a common ANC political ad (in English; I’ve seen it in Zulu as well) that I’ve seen numerous times when watching TV:

3. The largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, commands about 20% of the seats in parliament and are often classified as a “center to right” party. They have seen some gains in the recent years and controls the Western Cape, the only provincial government not under the hands of the ANC. However, one of the biggest problems with the DA is that they are almost all white and male in leadership and have long been associated as being “the white party”. It doesn’t help that Helen Zille, the current leader of the DA, has had a long history of articulating extremely racially insensitive comments on record. Many South Africans that I have conversed with have expressed utter disdain for the DA and said that they would never vote for the DA.

4. A rising party that has gotten a lot of media attention has been the newly formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). They have been described as a “far-left” party. Their rise is extremely reflective of not just the rampant disenchantment with the ANC, but also the deep economic inequalities and opportunities that are festering in South Africa, especially among black South Africans, the majority of the population. What makes the EFF significant is that it has extremely high popular appeal amongst the youth in the South Africa. The upcoming election is also the first in which the freeborn generation, the younger generation of South Africans that were not born during apartheid, have a chance to vote. Many political analysts have said that the freeborn generation does not have any loyalty to the ANC’s role in bringing about the end of apartheid and political freedom as their fathers and grandfathers may have, and are more responsive to the economic situation in the country, hence the appeal of the EFF.

5. A little bit on the personality side, the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, seems to command little, if any respect at all. He’s practically a national joke, caricatured constantly and lampooned from everything to his appearance to poor public speaking skills. He has also a long paper trail of controversies, including, but not limited to, a rape allegation that garnered nationwide attention, corruption charges, his polygamy and his Marie Antoinette-esque flaunting of wealth. I’ve mentioned above the racially insensitive indiscretions of Helen Zille, the opposition leader. Similarily, Julius Malema, the leader of the EFF, is not without his own controversies, most notably his hate-speech conviction. Politics, in South Africa and elsewhere, is a battle amongst colorful personalities and egos. There’s a reason why Shakespeare wrote tons of politically-oriented plays. Politics is a human drama and that is one of the reasons why I love it so much.


A common issue that many of the students on the program have faced is being fed large portions at home by our host-families. This was because were guests at their homes. While this was a problem for some students on the program, I had no problem with any of the foods I ate with my home-stay family. My host-mama also cooked traditional South African/Xhosa meals almost all of the time during my stay in Langa, so I was very fortunate to experience some prime traditional Xhosa cuisine. Some highlights of my host-mama’s cooking include:

Cottish Pie – This is similar to a casserole with mince-meat, pasta, potatoes and cheese that are baked together. It’s out of this world.

Chicken Hearts with Steamed Bread – Speaks for itself. I could eat it for days.

Umngqusho –  A traditional South African staple. It’s steamed samp that is often eaten with beans. It is the same material used to make pap, which I described earlier.

Aside from the food at home, we were lucky to have a day in which we learned to cook some traditional Xhosa/South African food! This was easily one of the best things that occurred throughout the program (I am so saving the recipes that we received). Another highlight was that we tried some smileys, cooked sheep’s head, and some umqombothi, traditional African beer that is drunk communally. IMNANDI!

I am also somewhat proud to say that I cooked my world famous (it’s a self-given titled) salmon fried rice for my Langa family for dinner. This actually proved to be a very interesting cultural episode. I was very surprised that my mama and her friends and neighbors that tried it perceived it as a health food. You would think that fried rice, oily in nature, is nowhere near a health food. But my older host-bhuti made me realize that when he said it was “too light for an African dude”, that it may seem pretty light after all given that traditional Xhosa cuisine is heavily meat and starch-based. Food truly is a means of cultural exchange.

A raw "Smiley" ready to be cooked and sold. It actually is not that bad!

A raw “Smiley” ready to be cooked and sold. It actually is not that bad!

My boisterous host-bhutis helping me cut veggies for my world famous salmon fried rice! Food can truly be a means of cultural exchange

My boisterous host-bhutis helping me cut veggies for my world famous salmon fried rice! Food can truly be a means of cultural exchange

Next up is Simonstown and our homestay in Tschabo!

— Richard A.

Johannesburg, Gauteng (Orientation Week) (Reposted)

(This blog post was originally dated Feb. 11, 2014, but has been re-posted due to formatting and polishing issues)

Molweni readers! My journey has finally started here in Cape Town! I apologize for the late post; Wi-Fi has not been my best friend here. This past week, which was School of International Training’s (SIT) orientation week, has been chock full of events that I will try my best to recap as much as I can!

Goals: Before Departure and Now That I’m Here

Long-Term Goals:

Life Lessons and Future Application:

One of the primary reasons that I wanted to study in South Africa was because I loved the SIT program’s theme: multiculturalism and human rights. After interning for USCCR for the CMC DC Program this last fall, I became really drawn in civil and human rights issues, particularly from a legal and policy perspective. But even more that, as someone who is aiming to enter public service as a profession, I really hope to learn some life lessons on how people in multicultural societies can come together after conflict and reconcile with each other. For most of my life in which I was involved with some form of public life, it has always been about conflict, polarization, partisanship, echo chambers and, often at best, a modus viviendi (agreeing to disagree). It always seemed that the statesmanship and courage that I have read about in books growing up were relics of a begotten time. If it wasn’t for the example of my mentors, especially during my involvements with politics and government, I would have given up on pursuing this line of work as a living a long time ago. How can people understand where others are coming from, when their worlds seem light-years apart? How can people resolve their differences and come together? How can people empathize with one another, enough to make sacrifices for the greater good?

I believe that South Africa is an exemplary nation where I can learn more about how people can reconcile and come together in a (relatively) peaceful, political process bitter, hateful and racist conflict.

In South Africa, apartheid was, and still remains today, a defining part of the culture that has wide social ramifications. One of the observations that I picked up from our visit to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, our first official programming excursion, was that even after decades of struggle, the end of apartheid laws under F.W. de Klerk, the last South African president under white rule, was not the end of an era of institutional racism in the country. In fact, the white-dominated government’s repeal of apartheid laws was square one, just the beginning. Apartheid ingrained decades of institutional racism so systematic and arbitrary that not only were black South Africans oppressed and unequal, the very fabric of their identities were eviscerated. The end of apartheid laws signaled merely the two opposing parties, the oppressed and the oppressors, meeting each other eye-to-eye, finally in a position of level negotiation. It was the reconciliation process, which culminated in the 1994 universal free elections and the ratification of the South African constitution, that truly ushered in a social compact of equality. This helped me realize that simply the absence of racism is not enough and that the absence of discrimination is not equality. Furthermore, the long walk to freedom is not over; being politically equal is one thing, but being truly equal is the debate that South Africa grapples with.


The entrance of the Apartheid Museum. Apartheid was not just institutional racism. It was discrimination so severe and arbitrary that it affected the very fabric and question of South African identity. Its ramifications are still felt today in South African society.

Going to the Constitutional Court to learn more about the South African constitution was like a mouse going on a field trip to a cheese factory. I absolutely love constitutional law and issues (I have made it a personal project for me to revise my annotated notes in my copy of Akhil Reed Amar’s America’s Constitution: A Biography circa GOVT020 days. Go ahead, call me a nerd; I’m beyond help). The South African constitution has been widely praised as one of the most progressive constitutions in the world by prolific legal people such as Cass Sunstein and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The cause for this praise is a reason that many, especially American conservatives and libertarians, may disagree strongly about: the South African constitution explicitly codifies and guarantees socio-economic rights. The fact that health care, housing, social security, a clean environment, a safe abortion, LBGT rights, etc. are inalienable rights in South African law and jurisprudence was something that astounded and impressed many of us on the program, including myself. However, in the end, they are only ideals on a piece of paper. The tricky thing is how to implement and to bring the constitution about.

DISCLAIMER: I want to maintain that just because in my personal opinion, I am impressed that the South African constitution guarantees things in an explicit fashion that I wish would also be in its American counterpart, I do not believe that the South African constitution is necessarily better. As Shanna, a friend on the program, articulated so presciently, you cannot directly compare South Africa with the U.S. because they are so different. It’s an apples to oranges comparison. Each country’s narratives are different, making their constitutions and the values they live by different as well.

An example that came to mind was the notion of tenure of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court and the South African Constitutional Court. In the U.S., the American framers bestowed lifetime tenure in order to insulate the Court from over-fiery public passions and to promote judicial independence. In South Africa, the South African framers, influenced by apartheid’s abuse of the law and courts, wanted the judiciary to be as responsive to the public as possible. As a result, the judges on the Constitutional Court have term limits and much of the symbolism, from the cow hide on the benches, the height of the public pews and the glass windows surrounding the justices, reflect the Court’s mandate to respond to the will of the people.

The Constitutional Courtroom. Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, it is VERY open to the public, reflecting the responsiveness of the Court to the people. The President of South Africa can be brought to face the Court himself. The public pews are as high as the justices' benches, symbolizing the equal stature of the people to the Court. The cow hide symbolizes all the people of South Africa, black and white. The glass window symbolizes that the people are watching and taking account of the justices' actions.

The Constitutional Courtroom. Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, it is VERY open to the public, reflecting the responsiveness of the Court to the people. The President of South Africa can be brought to face the Court himself. The public pews are as high as the justices’ benches, symbolizing the equal stature of the people to the Court. The cow hide symbolizes all the people of South Africa, black and white. The glass window symbolizes that the people are watching and taking account of the justices’ actions.

Hailed as one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, the South African constitution guarantees many socio-economic rights: the right to health care, to marry who you love, housing, education, etc. HOWEVER, the tricky part is just how exactly to implement and realize the constitutionally mandated rights.

Hailed as one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, the South African constitution guarantees many socio-economic rights: the right to health care, to marry who you love, housing, etc. HOWEVER, the tricky part is just how exactly to implement and realize the constitutionally mandated rights.

Cultural Immersion

Stewart Chirova, SIT’s academic director here in Cape Town (he goes by Simba, but I don’t think I’m cool enough yet to call him that), led a discussion towards the end of our orientation week on how to properly immerse ourselves in South African culture, while minimizing the culture shock and mental isolation that is common when one is in a new place. The most important things he covered included “African time”, being a guest when starting our home-stays, and the difference between high-context and low information societies. It gave me a perspective in which I should approach learning more about the culture while I am here.

For example, time to the dot is such an important concept in the States. Here, time is considered less a numerical measurement or quantity and more of a progression of events. (I’m guessing that is why South African restaurants have been slow in presenting the bill, in order to savor the meal, but this is only an unconfirmed guess of mine). One of the things that came to my mind afterwards was the fact that things back home were preventing me from fully immersing myself in the culture. Namely, these obstacles included internship woes, figuring out how to conduct international calls back home and the like and created a lot of frustration. Hopefully, things get settled quickly.

Short-Term Goals:


IsiXhosa (according to Wikipedia, the “x” is a lateral click of the tongue. If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry too much about it; I am doing everything but excelling in learning the language) is one of the many official languages of South Africa (there are either 9, 11 or 13, I can never seem to remember. I’ll have to clarify soon). I have had, of this posting, three Xhosa lessons, after each of which I have taken note to write key words and phrases into a little notebook I intend to carry around with me. I’m doing this for a few reasons:

  • It’s been a while since I have taken a language course and I want to be able to do well, since languages have never been my strong suit.
  • Speaking and conversing in Xhosa is going to be a major part in cultural immersion, especially when homestays being in Langa and Tschabo. Because our homestay families will be Xhosa speakers and for communicative and cultural purposes, I believe that not embarrassing myself in the language would be a good start

According to Tabisa sisi (SIT’s Program Assistant here in Cape Town), Xhosa also hinges a lot on facial expressions and body language. So, in that spirit: Molweni everyone! :)

Cultural Highlights: First Impressions and Ukutya (Food)

My first impressions of South Africa might have been made easier by the fact that I entered the country without any expectations, not knowing much about the country. Because of that, I like to think that I came into South Africa with minimal, if any, preconceived notions about the country. Some initial impressions inevitably did start forming however. Poverty, although it exists everywhere, seems a lot more prevalent in South Africa than the places that I’ve been in the States, in both Jo-burg and Cape Town. The presence of townships, residential areas on the outskirts of urban cities which are a legacy of apartheid-era migration, was something that I had to wrap my head around and that I am still grasping with. Hopefully, my stay in Langa will grant me some more insight.

Last, but certainly not the least, the South African food that I have come into contact with so far has been nothing less than wonderful. I was told before coming here in SIT’s pre-departure documents that South African diet is heavily meat-based. As the son of a man who once worked in meat sales and still cooks the best steak I have ever had, this suited me more than just fine. On my second night in the country, I had braai, South African barbeque that is any meat cooked on an open flame. Some other notable food that I have to mention so far include: steamed bread (heaven), tripe (not so heaven) and pap, corn meal that is similar to mashed potatoes, but thicker (delicious). While I am in South Africa, I have decided to adopt a “try everything” approach, so stay tuned for more food updates!

A South African meal in Soweto. Tons of meats, pap, steamed bread, tripe, rice and more! IMNANDI!

A South African meal in Soweto. Tons of meats, pap, steamed bread, tripe, rice and more! IMNANDI!

That’s all for this week! Because this post is so late, expect another one soon about my first week in Langa!

Yours in friendship and best regards,

Richard A.