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Ntando Mbatha looks at the bunk bed where he spent his nights during his incarceration on Robben Island. He had the top bunk, but once slept on the floor when a hunger strike left him too weak to climb the ladder. (Photo by Sarah Kinney.)
By Sarah Kinney
CAPE TOWN--Noor Ebrahim watched as the government bulldozed his home in District Six where four generations of his family lived.
Shireen Habib and her husband left the Bo-Kaap to live in the Seychelles because of the Immorality Act, which prohibited multi-racial marriage. The couple eventually divorced because of it.
Ntando Mbatha spent seven years in prison, mostly on Robben Island, for protesting apartheid education policies as a student and then joining the banned African National Congress (ANC).
South Africans have a lot about which they can be bitter.
Surprisingly, many do not dwell the past and have high hopes for the future.
"We bear no grudges," Mbatha says.
After the end of Apartheid in the early 1990s, the newly elected South African Parliament set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to hear grievances from victims and receive requests for amnesty from perpetrators. The commission received 21,000 statements for those who believed they were victims of human rights violations. They also received 7,124 amnesty requests.
Over 1,000 of those requests were granted.
"We don't blame white South Africans," Ebrahim says. "It was the government."
South Africa is often a model for peaceful transition of power. Their system of forgiveness and moving forward is often cited as part of that.
In 1993, Frederik Willem de Klerk and Nelson Mandela--one a sitting president, the other his successor--shared the Noble Peace Prize. Despite decades of division, they were able to compromise to give equal rights to non-whites while allowing whites to retain jobs and property they gained as a privileged class.
"We were expected to destroy one another and ourselves collectively in the worst racial conflagration. Instead, we as a people chose the path of negotiation, compromise, and peaceful settlement," Mandela said at the opening of Nobel Square in Cape Town. "Instead of hatred and revenge we chose reconciliation and nation-building."
Mbatha says it was Mandela's example that motivated him to reconcile with the past.
He is not alone. Today, many South Africans have moved on from their Apartheid history.
Ebrahim founded the District Six Museum and acts as a guide. He likely will never be able to return to District Six to live, but he is content with his new home. On his tour, he beams as he describes writing his autobiography, "Noor's Story: My Life in District Six."
Habib is active in her Bo Kaap community: giving tours, volunteering, and once serving as an ANC representative.
Mbatha was released from Robben Island in 1991, but you can still find him there giving tours of the cell in the F Block cell he once shared with 39 men.
Claire Collins, classified as "colored" under Apartheid and now a medical student at the University of Witwatersrand, says that Truth and Reconciliation was a helpful process, but thousands more still have stories to share.
"We are not done with [apartheid]," Collins says. "South Africans are walking around...with mass trauma."
Forgiveness leads to peace and hope, but it is also a process that takes time and strength. It is a fundamental part of South Africa's exceptionalism.
The barely passable road that runs through an "informal settlement" within the Gugulethu township. Photo by Dan Connell.
By Ayana Aubourg
Water trickled down from the shower head after washing for about two minutes. Barely any came out of the faucet as I tried to brush my teeth.
The sun had just risen over the mountains in the far background. It's early morning in Gugulethu, a predominately black township in Cape Town. Residents carrying empty buckets and plastic bottles head to the nearest water tap in the "informal settlements" of improvised shacks that fill many of Gugulethu's undeveloped spaces.
The lack of access to water, in Gugulethu is partly because the township lacks adequate infrastructure to provide it. It remains a challenge to install and maintain water pipes on land that was formally a dumping ground for non-white people under the Apartheid regime.
People don't look surprised about the situation; rather they look prepared to follow the routine.
Whenever the water is shut off by the city, they fetch water from the shack areas.
While we are sitting at the dining table, Andrew, the manager of the guesthouse, repeatedly apologizes. He says this always happens whenever there are guests staying in the house. What contributes to his frustration is that the township received no notification that this would be happening.
"They forget about us," he says with frustration in his eyes.
"People in the suburbs would've received a notification of the water being shutoff," Andrew says, continuing to vent as he runs around the house preparing for breakfast.
The owner of the guesthouse, Donald Qubeka, watches the residents walk to the nearest water pipe. He holds his face in his hands as he paces back and forth. The last time this happened was last month, he says. This is the third time.
It's an inconvenience for school children, for those who work in the morning and for businesses, Qubeka adds.
I ask him to show me where the water tap is located. As we walk together he complains that the city doesn't tell them when they're facing problems with the water.
"It kills me" he says.
The city takes hours to fix the water because there's no pressure on them to get the job done, he says, adding that if you go to the suburbs and something happens, the city notifies them.
"If they said we are going to take an hour, they feel pressured to get the job done within an hour," Qubeka, says comparing his situation to those living in wealthier areas.
"But this side everyone relaxes because who cares," he says, throwing his hands up in the air.
Although South Africans have a constitutional right to water and sanitation, the provision of these services to townships in Cape Town has long been a contentious issue.
Gugulethu is one of many areas that lack consistent water and sanitation, which reflects the race-based spatial geography that was enforced under the apartheid regime. According to the South African Human Right's Commission report on Water and Sanitation, townships and informal settlements are the areas in which communities and schools, who are black and poor, do not enjoy these rights.
"That's the problem of this country," he exclaims. "Two thirds of the people live here in the townships, in shacks, but they are the ones that nobody cares about."
Within a few hours the water will be back on, but the social problems will not disappear.
By Taylor Rapalyea
Our group was packed into a van, cruising down a highway in Johannesburg when we heard a brief siren. At first we were confused - we couldn't crane our necks far enough to spot a police officer. In fact, we had hardly seen any men in uniform since landing in South Africa.
After a few moments of confusion, our driver, Andoni, pulled over and stepped out of the van. An officer in a motorcycle helmet was in front of him in an instant, shouting in isiZulu and sticking a gloved finger directly in his face.
Later we discovered that the officer had claimed that Andoni hadn't used his indicator, or blinker, when changing lanes. The policeman was yelling the accusation over and over, and occasionally demanding to see Andoni's license.
"The policing here [in South Africa] is extremely poor," Chad Wesen, a career foreign service officer, had said earlier in our meeting at the U.S. Embassy.
Wesen noted that in recent years a mass background check had been conducted for police in the country. Tens of thousands of officers were found to be English illiterate, had no background investigating crime, little knowledge of the law, and, in many cases, criminal backgrounds of their own, according to the diplomat, who drafts the State Department's annual human rights report on South Africa.
Those with criminal histories were never fired, he added.
The police narrative of "they are the bad guys," demoralizes them, said Commissioner Danny Titus at the South African Human Rights Commission. That demoralization sometimes leads officers to believe their jobs don't matter.
Police officers here die frequently in the line of duty: Gang members, who rule certain areas of South Africa, have incentive to take a cop off the street with the added bonus of gaining an extra firearm. This, coupled with low pay, low life value, and a complicated crime system, causes many officers to turn to corruption or brutality.
The South African Police Service Shadow Report from the nonprofit Ndifuna Ukwazi found 4,131 cases, or 61 percent of cases, investigated by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), a citizen alleged that a police officer assaulted a member of the public.
The report stipulates that assault includes spitting or shouting at a person, as well as hitting them, but 1,236 of these cases consisted of assault "with intent to do grievous bodily harm."
While police forces in the U.S. have their fair share of problems, most kids are brought up to believe that they can trust officers, and that if there's a problem, they're the ones to call.
A women's collective in Cape Town told me that if there's a murder in a high-poverty area, the police usually take at least four hours to show up.
The police commissioner was not immediately available for comment.
Our roadside confrontation illustrated the problem. While the police officer continued screaming, Andoni calmly stood by, nodding serenely. In a moment, the officer had sped away.
"I just said to him, 'I'm sorry,'" said Andoni. "You can't win that argument."
TAC activist Mandla Majola says jobs and education are key to South Africa's future. Photo by Dan Connell
By Laura Chandler
Cape Town--Driving through the crowded streets, we see seas of people in tents at the side of the road. Stands with fruits, vegetables, and plasticware fill the sidewalks, owned by eagle-eyed businessmen and women hoping to sell their goods to tourists.
They hustle to lay their items out before the morning traffic disappears, smiling at passersby and yelling greetings to their neighbors.
It is a cloudy morning in Khayelitsha, one of Cape Town's oldest black townships, created in 1983 under the Group Areas Act, which assigned people to urban spaces segregated by race.
Garbage lies around the stands, piled high against the fences of barbed wire and corrugated metal.
Nearing our destination, the number of informal businesses increases. So does the number of people standing aimlessly in the road, staring out at the day. Many are under 18.
Unemployment in Khayelitsha is between 35 and 40 percent, and young people have been hit the hardest, say our hosts at the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a social movement that focuses on social and economic issues. In this community of 700,000 people, there are up to 280,000 without employment and lacking faith in government assistance, say TAC activists.
Many have taken their fate into their own hands and started their own small businesses, selling whatever they kind find to support themselves and their families. Others have lost hope and descended into drinking, drugs, and violence.
Serving a community this size is no easy task; some might say an impossible one. Not according to Mandle Majola, the TAC district coordinator in Khayelitsha's Site C.
TAC was formed in 1998 to cope with the spread of HIV and force the government to provide access to prevention and treatment services. Today, after winning a victory in the Constitutional Court that compelled the government to provide anti-retroviral drugs to those who need them, the organization focuses largely on the socioeconomic rights.
"It is sad, it is depressing, but we are not hopeless," says Majola with resolve in his voice. A tall, serious man, he captures the attention of the room immediately.
Majola sees the unemployment epidemic in South Africa to be a root cause of many other issues that arise in communities like Khayelitsha, particularly domestic violence.
On a daily basis the township faces unemployment, sanitation, police corruption, gender based violence, housing, water access, and more.
The large number of unemployed youth leads to fears about power dynamics in the households. Majola and his TAC colleagues describe men feeling useless and weak, as they are unable to be the primary breadwinners. In a time where women are providing more household income than ever, the men in the community fear losing their place.
Majola does not see the epidemic ending until the mindset of the people has changed.
"The culture needs to be adjusted to the conditions of the modern day," Majola says quietly, staring out the window.
As a father of a 7-year-old girl, Majola says he worries about the future of South Africa and the safety of everyone within that state. He says he works "to create a country that is warm, safe, and secured for women and young girls."
Advocating for jobs, educating the community, and reaching the youth is how TAC proceeds to help that cause, according to Majola.
It is a vision of a future that needs to be taken up by a larger audience to truly change South Africa, but for now, he says that TAC will continue to fight for this in their small corner of the country.
By Christine Gronberg
Thirteen tense faces sit in two lines down a long wooden table, not a smile to be seen. The class had come back from an intense meeting with the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Committee (WC/AEC) and a family whose home they were trying to protect.
The Constitution of South Africa gives all citizens the right to housing. Mandela's post-apartheid government gave everyone who had been renting from the previous government the deed to their house in 1994 as compensation for the years black South Africans were legally prevented from owning property. But it didn't take long to find new ways to take the houses away from them.
We open the Noma China family's front door and walk into a dimly lit area that serves as a living and dining room. A small table with four chairs lies to the left of the sitting room. which consists of two run-down couches and a single stuffed chair. An old TV rested by the paint-chipped, mud-colored wall. A coffee table takes up the center space.
A few people are already seated, including a girl in grade 11. A baby girl sits beside her gurgling happily as she observes the new people who tries to squeeze into her tiny home.
The Noma China family welcomes us and tells their story. With the help of the AEC, they are fighting tooth and nail for the right to remain in their home. They have been living there for years, but, caught up in the cycle of poverty, they could not afford to continue the payments on a bank loan. Once they fell behind on their payments, the bank had sold their home to a businesswoman.one of them says.
Emma Lucas, an activist, says the buyer hired a gang to come terrorize the family in order to force them out. A young man who had lived in the home for 27 years was asleep in the back the night this happened.
He describes how the police were called but the officers prevented the community from assisting the family, which was forced to watch their house torn apart. A door-shaped hole in the wall illustrates their story.
After telling this to 14 complete strangers, the AEC activist asks: What you are planning to do now that you know what is happening. What are you going to do?
We do not know how how to answer.
This question haunteds us as we sit down to eat an hour later. What we saw and heard has left us shocked, guilty, and incensed, and now we are at a beautiful township restaurant for lunch and live music.
The polarity of the situation is difficult to process, so when Professor Connell opens the floor for conversation, no one is eager to begin. Silence falls heavily on the table and eye contact is avoided. Most are hunched over, as if to protect our broken hearts from anything else that may be thrown at us. Eventually, we try to verbalize our raw emotions.
Several girls say they feel useless. There is no point to the class we are taking. There is no meaning in learning about the plight of these people when we are just going to do a homework assignment and move on with our lives. Our trip to South Africa feels empty--even heartless.
The fact that we have comfortable homes, access to higher education, and the opportunity to go on this trip abroad separates us from the family we met an hour ago. The inequality is devastating, but, as Mary Ying points out, feeling guilty that we have lunch will not change anything. Connell agrees, saying that guilt is a crippling emotion and not one to dwell upon.
Taylor Rapalyea bluntly tells the table that we cannot change the situation. It is too big for just one blog to make any difference. But we can get others to make changes. We can be that spark that starts a forest fire.
That will have to be enough.
Table Mountain: The southern view. Photo by Dan Connell
By Ahalia Persaud
Cape Town--I can taste blood from dehydration and feel sweat seeping through my clothing and dripping down my forehead from the 3 p.m. beating sun as I stride across the rigid, rust-colored steps shedding tears of frustration from not knowing if I can make it up Table Mountain, advertised as offering an epic view of the region.
When I finally get to the top of the 3,559-foot mountain, I can see the beautiful beaches and gardens that media outlets rave about on the south and western sides of the Cape. But my satisfaction only lasts a short while, as I look in other directions and see the endless rows of tiny houses and tin shacks of tens of thousands of South Africans who have never had the opportunity to see what I see now.
Most people who come up here do so in a rotating cable car that CNN recently declared one of Africa's top aerial tourist attractions. Our group, which just arrived in Cape Town, will take the cable car down. An adult roundtrip ticket costs R215 [$21]; a ticket for a child age 4-17 costs R105.
After a two-hour flight from Johannesburg, we were picked up from the airport to go to our hotel, the Lady Hamilton, to drop off our bags before driving to the base of the mountain. During that drive, we could already see the great contrast between the beach resorts to the southwest and the informal shack settlements to the northeast.
Before we left Johannesburg, we were warned by a South African medical student, Claire Collins, who lived in Cape Town for seven years, that we would see the continuing effects of apartheid here in the city's stark racial geography. "You don't feel like you're on the African continent when you're in Cape Town," said Collins.
The closer you got to the mountain, the whiter it was and the more trees there were, she said. So if you were in an area with trees near the mountain, you were in a white neighborhood. She was correct indeed.
In Gugulethu, a historically black township of one- and two-bedroom brick houses and wood and tin shacks north of the city center, only three white people live there today. In the sections called "informal settlements," the shacks are so crowded that garbage trucks can't get into them and there is barely enough room to walk between them. There are no trees or grass in this part of town. Walking through it we try to avoid the muddy ditch ctreated by run-off from the community water tap and chemical toilet.
Donald Qubeka, the owner and builder of Liziwe's Bed and Breakfast and a native of Gugulethu, said he never went to Table Mountain until he met Ernst Jonker, a Dutch visitor. He recalled the time when Jonker asked him if he's ever been there. He shook his head and simply responded, "No."
Qubeka described South Africa as "a beautiful country" but said neither he nor most of his neighbors get to see and tour it. They're too busy trying to provide for their families. People like Qubeka are working 12 hours a day and don't have proper transportation to get to school 20 minutes away, much less go to Table Mountain on the other side of the city.
Table Mountain is officially one of the new Seven Wonders of Nature; however, many people who live in the Western Cape will never be able to get to the top even though the mountain looms as a backdrop to their daily lives, reminding them that South Africa still has a long way to go.
Mandla Majola recounts his experiences at the TAC office in Khayelitsha. Photo by Dan Connell.
By Haley Costen
It's no secret that the United States reacted poorly to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, but South Africans fared worse, both for cultural and political reasons.
Mandla Majola, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) district coordinator in Khayelitsha, experienced this firsthand when his aunt died in 1998. She was thin, weak, and often confused despite being only 50 years old. All the signs pointed to AIDS, but Majola's family disagreed, citing witchcraft as the cause of her death.
HIV/AIDS was looked at as an American or European disease, or something that only people who were gay or promiscuous could contract, according to Majola.
After the end of apartheid in 1994 most people were concerned with freedom and reconciliation. "It was a new South Africa," Majola said. "No one was concerned with HIV."
It was only in the late '90s that HIV became a serious issue, but even when groups began to recognize the disease, there was still opposition from the country's top leaders to providing health care and support to people suffering from it.
Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first post-apartheid president, whose iconic image can still be seen on graffiti, T-shirts, posters, and statues throughout the nation 15 years after his presidency, was infamously quiet about the issue of HIV/AIDS until he left office in 1999. Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki, on the other hand, had a strict strategy of denialism.
Harvard researchers estimate that the number of people who died because of Mbeki's stance that multivitamins and a healthy diet could cure the autoimmune disease, which he insisted was simply due to poverty and ill-nourishment, is at around 300,000.
Majola takes an unforgiving stance on the South African government.
"The ANC liberated us?" he asks quietly, shaking his head. "I beg to differ. Mandela is a saint? I beg to differ."
The Treatment Action Campaign was formed in 1998 to fight for a health care system that provides equal access to HIV prevention and treatment services for all people. They won that battle in 2002 when the Constitutional Court ruled that the government was constitutionally obligated to do so.
Since then they've worked to increase the community's awareness and knowledge of HIV, challenged government services, and provided cheaper antiretroviral (ARV) treatments for patients. However, their work does not stop there.
Majola passionately recounts a number of recent cases that the organization has helped in Khayelitsha, a huge township outside of Cape Town set up under Apartheid for black people forcibly removed from other areas.
When botched surgeries left one woman with a bag on her hip for her bladder and two young people permanently blind, TAC was there to help them seek action against the Department of Health. When a woman was raped and stoned to death by nine men for being a lesbian, TAC saw the case through all six years of trials.
"People are getting this service because they don't have money, don't know their rights, and don't know where to get help," Majola said.
There are around 700,000 people in Khayelitsha, a great portion of them living in tin shacks with no electricity or running water. Unemployment and crime are high, and women and children are often attacked when they go to fields to relieve themselves due to lack of chemical toilets.
When the workers of TAC are not handing out condoms to households or providing awareness classes for the community, they're there to provide social justice to the people of Khayelitsha, a population that seems long forgotten by their own government.
Photo by Mary Ying
By Mary Ying
A tower constructed from old, scavenged street signs rises from the map on the floor of the District Six Museum.
A lively old man with a scruffy mustache and a white fez on top his head is surrounded by a crowd of visitors. He speaks eagerly and waves around a book with the page open to a black and white portrait of a man.
"This was my grandfather. He was Indian," says Noor Ebrahim, our energetic tour guide, with evident pride.
His eyes sparkle with enthusiasm as he tells us how his family first settled in the house at 247 Caledon Street in the neighborhood known as District Six.
District Six, recognized in 1867 as the sixth municipal district of Cape Town, was a place whose inhabitants came from all walks of life. Among them were freed slaves, immigrant laborers, artisans, merchants, religious leaders, and musicians--all of various races, religions, and trades.
Ebrahim's grandfather was a businessman from Bombay who married a Scottish woman. Together they planted the first roots of their family tree in South Africa.
Born and raised in District Six, Ebrahim describes the area as a cosmopolitan neighborhood where Jews, Muslims, Christians, Chinese, Indian, Hindus, and Africans all roamed the streets, coexisting peacefully with one another.
But it was this sort of cultural diversity that led to the area's demise, he says.
On February 11, 1966, District Six was declared a white area under the Apartheid regime and marked for demolition. Ebrahim recalls watching day-by-day as beloved homes and businesses fell prey to bulldozers that slowly encroached on his own house.
Soon enough, his home fell, too, and his family, like many others, was forced to relocate to a township designated according to racial classification--black, white, colored, or Indian.
Today, Ebrahim is a founding member of the District Six Museum, which opened in 1996 and is dedicated to preserving the memories of the colorful community that once existed there.
He has a knack for bringing stories to life, encouraging us to come closer as he unfurls his next tale about life in the multi-cultural district.
"District Six was alive with song and dance," Ebrahim says.
He does a little jig as he recounts his participation in numerous community musical groups, such as the Muslim choir, which colored the neighborhood's lifestyle. He describes listening to rock and roll on a Saturday night and dancing the twist with his peers.
Ebrahim conveys the tight-knit sense of community and respect in what he considers his "most beautiful memory": Each Christmas day, members of the community--Christians, Jews and Muslims alike--would come together in the churches to celebrate, regardless of their beliefs.
"We loved each other, but most importantly, we respected each other, no matter what color or religion," he says.
Of the thousands of families that once called District Six home, only 139 have been reinstated since the democratic elections of 1994. The rest remain on the waiting list for land, with many remaining in the impoverished townships to which they were relocated.
Ex-residents write their names on the map on the museum floor, marking where their homes once stood in hopes that one-day they too will be able to return.
Ebrahim himself has not returned. The place where his house once stood is now covered by a wing of the University Cape Point Technikon.
Ebrahim notes the various strides the government has made in pursuing a democratic republic, counting it a blessing that he can even speak freely of it now. Yet with many people still living in separate townships whose residents are for the most part of the same racial or ethnic group, the nation still has a long way to go before a truly unified and integrated South Africa can be achieved.
Perhaps one need not look farther for a role model than the preserved images of District Six, a community that once epitomized coexistence, acceptance, and love for all humanity.
The cell in which Nelson Mandela spent 18 years. Photo by Dan Connell
By Rachel Goldberg
The water glistens as the sun begins to peak through the white sky. The mountains of Cape Town shrink in the distance as the boat approaches its destination: Robben Island, once a prison for political activists during the apartheid era. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years here.
Isolated from society, Robben Island stands approximately seven miles away from our departure point at the luxurious Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, a mere 45-minute boat ride. But it provides a stark contrast of light and dark, beauty and unspeakable violence.
Arriving on the island, we know we will leave in two short hours. After a winding bus tour over cobblestone roads we stop in the gift shop for a quick bite and a refreshing beverage before the walking portion of the tour. We admire the stunning view while chewing our baked goods and chips and snapping numerous pictures of crashing waves and rolling landscape.
Twenty-five years ago political prisoners brought here by boat had a very different experience--and some never got the chance to leave. One who did get out in 1991 escorted us around the jail and told us what it was like.
First, prisoners were stripped of their identity and given a number; that number was now their body and soul. Eight hours a day they spent digging limestone under the searing sun without sunglasses or protective masks. During summer days the intense heat was enough to drive a person to their breaking point, says our guide. The cells were crowded, there was inadequate bedding and food, and they were brutally tortured and harassed.
The beauty of the island is striking: the waves crashing against the rocks, birds gracefully flying overhead, and a picturesque view of Cape Town in the distance. But the beauty fades as the facts of its brutal past are told first hand.
Ntando Mbatha takes us through the gray halls of the prison where he spent seven years of his youth. Standing in his old prison cell, he shares his story of fighting for a proper education during the 1976 Soweto Youth Uprising. In the following years, after going abroad to join the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC) which today heads the government, he endured tear gas, beatings, and brutal interrogations until he eventually landed on Robben Island.
Despite his past, he says he is thankful. He feels blessed to have leaders like Nelson Mandela who taught the country the meaning of reconciliation.
"Though we suffered so much in this prison, we bear no grudges," Mbatha says.
"We want Robben Island to reflect the triumph of freedom and human dignity over oppression and humiliation," said another former prisoner, Ahmed Kathrada, a close confidant of Mandela, who is now the Chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council and is quoted on a commemorative plaque here.
By Lindsey Stokes
LANGA--The cold wind blew through the open doors of the small cinderblock home despite the sun shining brightly outside. Nobody shivered. Nobody seemed to care.
Several members of Theadora "Noma" China's family sat on the two navy blue couches in the center of the room with their close friend and neighbor, Emma, as well as activists from the Western Cape Anti Eviction Campaign (AEC). The line between family member and activist at times was not clear. The two blended together seamlessly.
The reason why became apparent as both sides began the tumultuous, at points heartbreaking, tale of the forced eviction the family endured during their fight to keep the home where so many memories had been made.
Forced removals on the basis of race were common during the Apartheid Era, when tens of thousands were relocated to single-race townships. Evictions like this family experienced began after 1994, when residents of all races were finally given the right to own their homes and add on to the cramped spaces where extended family members frequently lived.
To make these additions, they borrowed from banks that demanded the Title Deed as collateral. These loans were bequeathed to younger members of the family after the original signers passed on. If the loan remained unpaid, the bank took the home with the assistance of the police, more often than not, by force.
Without warning the bank may even sell the home to another family. An eviction orchestrated by a sheriff can happen at any time, as it did in this house several weeks earlier, according to the AEC activists.
Founded in November 2000 to combat the issue of forced eviction and give a voice to the poor, the AEC works hand-in-hand with families facing an uncertain future.
"We always put our own head on the block to protect our people," said Mncedisi Twalo, the leader of the 16 activists in this branch of the organization.
"We are not safe, we are not being protected by the constitution of this country. That is why, when our people protest, they are violent."
Means used to force the move include but are not limited to water and electricity shut-offs, furniture removal by the police, and threats or threatening actions by criminal organizations hired by the new owners.
Often at the last possible moment members of the campaign are called to stop evictions by protests, sit-ins, negotiations with the sheriff and the courts or just breaking the locks on the home, and moving a family's furniture back in.
Mncedisi described one instance when the campaign was called to help two families, one that was being evicted and one standing outside the contested home with their furniture ready to move in.
If an eviction like this is successful the family may be forced onto a Temporary Relocation Area (TRA), a so-called government dumping ground. Shelters there usually consist of shacks made of wood, zinc, and asbestos. Lung problems such as tuberculosis and asthma, as well as numerous bone diseases, can result from living in them. There are no formal schools.
With the number of shacks across the country on the rise, the AEC estimates 3 million people across the Western Cape are without homes.
While the Noma China family is now back in their home, the road ahead is still unclear. Another attempted eviction could still be on the horizon.
One thing is clear: Despite the difficult, sometimes dangerous task of standing between force and family as well as having personal health problems, Mncedisi and the activists with the AEC will be there, day after day, fighting hard for what they believe.
"We have to provide the service for those who are hopeless." Mncedisi said.
"When the police come, we don't runaway, we have guts. We want to talk."
Photo by Dan Connell.
By Kaylie-Ann Flannigan
Cape Town--Noor Ebrahim is the third of four generations born in a two-story house in District Six, one of many areas targeted for destruction by the apartheid government because of its multi-racial make-up. Over 60,000 of its residents were forcibly removed and many houses demolished, including Ebrahim's, beginning in 1966.
These forced removals broke up the vibrant community as well as close-knit families. A father might have been brought to a black township and a mother and children sent to a colored township, based solely on nonscientific tests such as a pencil sticking in one's hair. If it stayed there, you were classified as black. If it fell out and you were dark skinned, you were classified as "colored" (mixed race).
Splitting families up created many hardships. In order to visit other townships you did not reside in, you needed to apply for a permit. This was not an easy process. But cutting whole segments of the community off from each other and from the cultural stew in which they lived and worked was also a major loss.
"District Six was alive, with music, with everything," says Ebrahim, reflecting on his childhood, as he guides a group of Simmons students around a community-run museum that recaptures some of this with photographs and personal testimonies, as well as recordings and special displays. He says the cultural harmonies that existed made the apartheid regime nervous in the first place.
"I was very proud to be Muslim, my Jewish friends were proud to be Jewish," he says, describing how people of different faiths attended each other's special holidays and religious services. I could see the light in his eyes when he spoke about his youth.
Today 136 families have moved back into the District Six area, yet there are many issues still to be resolved over land ownership and compensation, with some sections still undeveloped despite the prime location near the Cape Town city center and others built on by new owners during the apartheid period. A technical college stands on a hillside where Ebrahim's house used to be, with big office buildings and modern apartments looming nearby.
The government has promised to build 300 low-income houses in eight months for former residents, yet this promise was made around the time of the new elections this month. "They promise, they never deliver," says Ebrahim in disbelief. Many native people are unable to afford to build in District Six because the property values have risen incredibly high, he adds.
The District Six Museum is a powerful reminder to local people of their past and their culture and a window into their experience for visitors like us. In the center hangs a tower of old street signs, collected by the man ordered to bulldoze the houses in District Six back in the 1960s.
Instead of discarding them, he hid them until the collapse of apartheid in the 1990s and then donated them to the museum when it was established. This tower, like the museum itself, gives people hope for the future of the area while continuing to look to their roots.
Photo by Ayana Auburg
By Ayana Aubourg
Soweto--A black python snake made of used car tires lies in the center of the Art School at Funda Community College in this huge, historically black township outside Johannesburg. Vibrant, colorful murals give life to the dim yellow walls that decorate the school.
Funda was created in 1984 as a resource for students following the 1976 student uprising here that marked the resumption of mass protest against the racist apartheid government after they tried to impose the Afrikans language on all the students. The art works created by the students today are predominantly made from recycled materials and voice the problems that their community faces now.
Thumelo Mokopakgosi, a tutor and artist who graduated from Funda, avoids the term "recycled" as he describes his art as giving new life to old materials. One of his pieces, a sheep morphing into a scorpion, symbolically addresses xenophobia in South Africa.
While xenophobia is commonly interpreted as a phobia of immigrants or people coming from outside the country, Mokopakgosi notes that xenophobia is simply the fear of strangers, some of whom can even be your neighbor.
Mokopakgosi's artwork is a metaphor for the deportation process in South Africa. He says that living creatures, such as roaches and spiders, provoke fear in people despite that they often won't kill anyone.
"It's almost the same type of fear to kill roaches in your kitchen," says Mokopakgosi, adding that once you kill two roaches, many more will appear. He connects this concept to the xenophobic attacks on foreigners as well as the deportation of immigrants.
According to Mokopakgosi, once the government deports three hundred people, more than double the amount return in attempt to cross the border. Most of Mokopakgosi's themes carry messages that work to bridge art and activism together.
Mokopakgosi says that he is able to excel in his art because he is so emotionally attached to Funda. He sees Funda as a home away from home and enjoys the political dynamics that are interwoven with the community.
At Funda, the type of art produced is not meant to be placed in a frame, he says. Rather, it is raw materials transformed into conceptual art. Much of the student artwork depicts the realities of their lives in a post-apartheid society.
Dudumiselo Mabaso, a passionate writer, speaks of the importance of creating art and organizing for social change.
She reflects on the 1976 student uprisings, where high school students peacefully protested for better education in Soweto. Their march was confronted by police violence, in which 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot and killed by the police. Uprisings spread throughout the entire country in solidarity of the student struggle.
As June 16 approaches, the national day to honor all the youth who lost their lives in the struggle against Apartheid, students at Funda prepare to bring awareness and share their art with the community.
Mabaso says that Hector Pieterson symbolizes the youth of South Africa. The bullet that killed him is a metaphor for the challenges that are killing the young people today, such as unemployment, teen pregnancy and drugs.
She says the youth are growing impatient with the slow process of change post-apartheid. Many face the same challenges now but in a different form. She believes that the government is not going to solve their problems.
The change they're looking for will only come from the people, say these artists. To Masbaso, the question is not what can the government do for them but rather what can they as individuals do for each other.
Simmons College students share a moment of solidarity with Funda students and graduates. Photo by Dan Connell.
Photo by Sarah Kinney.
By Rachel Goldberg
Dozens of refugees line the towering green fence that surrounded the Department of Home Affairs. They peer through the rusty green fence at those who were lucky enough to make it through on their quest to obtain proper identity documents. Without them, they could be arrested and deported back to their home country.
"Sisters, are you from the U.N.?" a man desperately shouts at the group as we approach.
As young students from the United States, with notepads in hand, eager to ask questions and rapidly scribbling down notes, we instantly attract attention.
"What questions do you want to ask me?" says a refugee from Ethiopia. He appears determined to share his struggle and the struggle of those around him who are seeking asylum in South Africa.
Escaping persecution and oppression, these men and women say they fled to South Africa for a better future. Nevertheless, they find themselves waiting in massive lines along the Home Affairs fence day after day to receive their papers.
His candor and openness is striking. With frustration and passion in his eyes, he describes perpetual police brutality and harassment. His eyes widen with anger and his arms wave in exasperation as he recounts the endless review periods, the bribery and the staff discrimination that occur on a daily basis.
He is eager to be heard and have someone listen. We are treating him as a person, an individual with a story, a message, and a voice.
Crushed cans and loose papers scatter the dirt floor, and orange dust fills the air. Women sit on plastic lawn chairs selling citrus fruit under the blazing sun while others pace the length of the fence. For many, this becomes a temporary home.
In 2013, South Africa had the largest number of refugees seeking asylum in the world at approximately 233,100 individuals, of which only 67,500 received refugee status, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
For many, the adjacent parking lot becomes a temporary home. Nevertheless, despite the ongoing struggle, they appear to have developed a community and comradeship that remains strong and hopeful.
Although we cannot provide any support for attaining identity documents, we can listen. For many, this is in itself empowering.
So we stand, pen in hand, vigorously scribbling down every word they speak.
Photo by Ahalia Persaud.
By Haley Costen
"In South Africa 20 is very young still," Tumelo Mokopakgosi says in one of the many vibrant galleries at Funda Community College in the historically black township of Soweto, outside Johannesburg. "You're very young until you're about 35. Then you just want to die or something," he jokes.
Mokopakgosi is 34, but he says he has no intention of dying anytime soon. He came to Funda as a student in 2001 and has stayed on as a tutor, creating a variety of his own pieces at the school.
Charles Nkosi, director of the Funda Fine Arts School, calls Mokopakgosi a role model.
"What you see here is a testimony of those who are committed to learning," he says, waving his arm at the colorful paintings and sculptures surrounding him in a gallery of work by current and former students. "What you see here is food for the eye."
Students use a variety of found and reusable materials to create a message through their art: colored sand, broken glass, animal bones, car tires, and even cow dung. Much of the art created at Funda cannot be restricted to a square frame or created with simple acrylic paints.
Mokopakgosi is no stranger to this approach.
For his series of pieces tackling xenophobia, Mokopakgosi used thick wire and cloth found in the junkyard to create massive animals that are scattered throughout the galleries.
In one gallery sits a creature with the front body and head of a sheep, but the stinger of a scorpion. Meanwhile, in a classroom, large wire and cloth roaches litter the floor and a massive spider with a mask attached to its body looms in the corner.
Mokopakgosi says he was inspired by the definition of xenophobia as a fear of strangers.
"Anyone can be a stranger," he says, "even your neighbor."
Rather than using fearsome creatures like lions or sharks to capture this fear, he instead dug deeper into the human psyche, using "creepy crawlies."
"When the government deports 300 people, 1,000 come back," he says. "I think the deportation process is like turning off your kitchen light and seeing hundreds of roaches."
Mokopakgosi says that xenophobia is common in Soweto and that foreigners from other African countries like Mozambique are mistreated every day.
"As an artist you want to say something about it," he says.
Mokopakgosi's other pieces are equally striking.
His office acts as a small museum for his work. While filled with scattered papers, a framed photo of his grandfather, shelves of books and discarded bottles and jars, it is also a menagerie of scattered oddities and artwork.
Small vases, hanging ornaments, animal heads, and a human skeleton made from strings and a glue gun are arranged around the room. The pieces are entirely hollow but are expensive to display because only expensive soft strings hold well, he says.
The leftover wall space is taken up by intricate ink drawings that feature components of the alphabet, and three dimensional designs. One piece, inspired by a small drawing in his sketch book, took six months to complete.
Perhaps Mokopakgosi's most beautiful work is the product of a method he created and taught himself: solar wood burning.
His bookshelf is filled with lenses from microscopes and projectors that he uses to burn designs into wood and watercolor paper. Mokopakgosi calls himself a scientist in the way he combines discarded tools from labs to create his own magnifying glasses and contraptions, and a Buddhist monk in the way he works without burning himself while using powerful tools under the unforgiving South African sun.
For some pieces he uses CD's and burns designs featuring the alphabet, but one of his bigger projects has been creating images of women with no determinable race.
"What race is she?" he asks, gesturing to one of his creations. The woman staring back through wide pensive eyes has full lips, a thin nose, and flowing hair. "You can't tell."
As Funda celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, he says he will continue to teach and produce thought-provoking pieces on race and xenophobia, breaking barriers with new methods and creative approaches to his art.
"Funda for me is home," he says. "I don't see it as work. I'm so emotionally attached to this place--maybe that's why I produce the work I do."
A fragment of the Freedom Charter Memorial in Kliptown, Soweto. Photo by Christine Gronberg.
By Christine Gronberg
Exhausted and slightly embarrassed, three of us rush through the old courtyard and into the lobby of the guesthouse where the group was scheduled to meet five minutes earlier. Everyone else is already seated on the couches and soft chairs, so we hurriedly choose spots on the wooden floor and turn our attention to the speaker we came to hear.
Claire Collins is the focus of all eyes in the room. Even sitting, she is taller than the rest of us. She is introduced by a close friend and member of our group, Janie Ward, a Simmons professor of education and Africana studies.
Born in Durban in the 1980s, Collins remains loyal to her hometown, calling it the most African city within South Africa. She would know, too. She has done her fair share of traveling.
When she was 18, Collins visited the United States and worked as a nanny in western Massachusetts. She later found herself studying economics and political science at Gordon College in Wenham, a quaint New England town on the North Shore of Massachusetts.
After graduation Collins returned to South Africa, but this time she lived in Cape Town. Seven years later, following her dream to be a doctor, she came to Johannesburg to study at Witwatersrand University, It is here that our paths cross.
Collins is kind enough to share her experience of being a young South African girl during the last years of Apartheid. We listen raptly.
The story of how she became aware of her place in South Africa's arcane racial hierarchy starts in her home: Mr. Collins was against racial classification of any kind and had brought up his children as South Africans, not as "colored people," and tried to protect them from the stereotypes that went along with that label. But at school it was a bit different.
A class project required the students in Claire's class to list the races in South Africa. and list the characteristics of each one. Then they were to form groups around the room according to their own race and discuss the benefits or obstacles of that classification.
Claire was in 3rd grade. As an eight year old, she did not quite understand. She says she knew her skin was not light enough to be white nor dark enough to be black and she knew she was not Indian. That left only one category: "colored."
She says she continued to sit in her chair as she worked through all the categories to make sure she didn't miss anything that would help in this moment of confusion.
The teacher walked up to her and asked why she wasn't in a group and Collins answered it was because she did not know which was the right one. The teacher proceeded to tell her to join the colored group of children. That was her first experience with race and the beginning of her understanding of Apartheid and its stark, all-encompassing divisions.
Collins learned the meaning of being "colored" [mixed race] at age eight, whereas I learned the meaning of being white at age 20.
We visited the Apartheid Museum on our second day in South Africa. Before entering, we were given tickets that arbitrarily classify us as white or non-white, and we had to use the appropriate entrance. This caused some discomfort throughout the group in the midst of nervous laughter as we tried unsuccessfully to lighten the situation.
I received a ticket that labeled me "white." Entering the museum, we could see the opposite groups through the metal cages that separated the whites entrance from the non-whites. The enclosed, unfriendly and harsh space made it impossible to feel ok with the separation.
Looking at my classmates on the other side, the classmates that only 25 years ago would have had to go through the faux-scientific process of classification, I felt disgusted. Disgusted at the world for the animalistic treatment of human beings. Disgusted at myself for being privileged. Disgusted at the very idea of being "white."
As South Africa and the rest of the world come to terms with racial equality, discrimination will gradually become a thing of the past--something that we read about in history books and look back thinking of how far we have come. It cannot happen too soon.
Photo by Kaylie-Ann Flannigan.
By Ahalia Persaud
"The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth."--from Section 9 of the South African Constitution.
JOHANNESBURG--The Constitution is the highest law in South Africa, says Commissioner Mohamed Ameermia,
Hence, the creation of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) among other "Section 9" institutions mandated by the 1996 Constitution to monitor the adherence to fundamental rights by the country's institutions, public and private, and expose abuses.
SAHRC investigates complaints, reports on the observance of human rights issues and hosts community dialogues. It also checks the executive powers to make sure they are in accordance to the bill of rights.
The commission is committed to transforming society, securing rights, and restoring rights to all. They do this with the seven commissioners that are in place to represent the institution, set priorities, ensure policies and programs, and allocate resources, says our host.
There are still problems of inequality in South Africa like gender issues, education, health, water and sanitation, housing, just to name a few, says Ameeria, but the country has made great strides.
And so has the Human Rights Commission.
The commission has created a one-of-its-kind Braille library, where the entire Constitution is written in Braille, and it has embarked on a Right to Food Campaign, which addresses the basic right to adequate food in a household. Also, in its head office, 10 minutes away from Constitutional Hill and Court that is on the highest point in the city, it has a newly exhibited space for artwork as a means of human rights expression.
The Human Rights Commission has the power to subpoena officials for public hearings, draft reports on human rights, talk to ministries, and present findings to Parliament, says Ameermia. They cannot follow up every situation because they are covering a lot of ground, but commission members try to address issues by interacting with local communities and stakeholders at the national and provincial levels, focusing on priorities and major areas.
The commission is led by a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mr. Kayum Ahmed, and a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Mr. Peter Makanet, and it currently has a number of other full-time and part-time commissioners, including 150 staff members in the head office in Johannesburg and all nine provinces.
The SAHRC addresses issues ranging from housing and law enforcement to disability, as well as fundamental civil and political rights, but mostly focuses on the advancement of socio-economic rights, so all people can enjoy the benefits of democracy, says Ameermia.
Commissioners adopted a document called the Human Rights Matrix that tracks the various human rights obligations of South Africa at all levels. This tool is essential in creating reports for strategic focus areas and priorities, but there is so much reporting to be done, he adds.
"Learning is growing," says Ameermia. "We don't have all the answers. We are always learning."
The U.S. Embassy in Pretoria. Photo by Elizabeth Gill Lui.
By Laura Chandler
PRETORIA--It is a hot day in the executive capital of South Africa.
The sun is pounding down on the ground, melting the pieces of plastic scattered around the busy street and taking people's energy with it. The crowded streets are covered in slow-moving traffic, horns blasting as people rush to make their appointments. In a 15-seater van high above the ground, our group looks out at Pretoria with fresh, eager eyes, taking in every new sight in this unfamiliar location.
We blend with the tourist groups, taxis, and professionals, going to meet with three officers in the U.S. Embassy to South Africa. Our time here has been filled with meetings and connecting to South Africans on a personal level: hearing their stories, hopes for the future, and current challenges. This is our opportunity to hear what our home country is doing to help.
We arrive at the embassy as weary travelers, entering a garden paradise protected by steel and machinery. It takes 20 minutes to get through the extensive security measures.
Finally, arriving inside the warren of windowless offices, we are greeted with reminders of the United States. Everyone speaks English in familiar accents, the fashion is undoubtedly Western, and the offices have the feel of cold professionalism that characterizes U.S. enterprises. The only sign of our location is an outlet with a South African design, sharply reminding the group that we may have entered U.S. territory, but we are still in foreign land.
Going into our meeting is an official-feeling process, three officers coming to formally shake our hands. It is very different from the warm greetings and casual personal remarks that have begun our meetings with local groups.
This is our time to find out how the U.S. views South Africa and the main challenges the country has to address.
In talks with people on the ground, I have heard that the educational system and the abject income disparity among the population are two critical issues.
The embassy does not see it that way.
Aid to South Africa is small in comparison with the aid being devoted to sub-Saharan Africa, according to Blake Chrystal, an officer of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Despite the problems here, South Africa is still a middle-income country.
"I think that South Africa stands alone on the continent as having the best infrastructure and development," says Heather Goethert, an economics officer for the embassy.
However, South Africa's issues of income disparity and chronic unemployment are not being addressed through the spending of the USAID budget.
According to Chrystal, $600 million of the budget is going towards HIV prevention work through the the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). While this work is vastly important, in comparison, only $30 million is being spent per year on educational programs.
Chrystal says South Africa is moving to a system of preventative care. Spending more on education in schools could combine prevention and academic efforts. Keeping the majority of money only in the HIV prevention work is ignoring the impact that education has on preventing these health crises.
He says the government's main problem "is really more on how the money is spent." South Africa has the money available to fix the educational issues, but in some cases the materials never make it to the schools.
Last year, $40 billion was misspent in South Africa in the fields of health and education, says Chrystal. The amount of money South Africa is spending on their education per student is more than any other African country, but their results are poor. Most money never makes it to the intended recipient.
The embassy focuses more on policy advocacy and persuading the government on how they can fix the country's issues, say the diplomats.
"It's about how we engage and the conversations that we have," says Chrystal. The embassy engages with a lot of partners, businesses, and what they call "pressure points" to attempt to sway the South African government.
I left recalling the words of Elvis Presley: "a little less conversation, a little more action please."
"Folly and Luxury" by Philippe Bousquet is on display in the Human Rights Commission's library.
Photo by Sarah Kinney.
By Sarah Kinney
Wire is everywhere.
Old mattress springs and chain link fencing are lashed together with barbed wire, forming winding paths between the shacks of a squatter settlement in Kliptown. Overhead, unauthorized wires tie into the power lines, to steal electricity for the homes made of scavenged materials.
This informal settlement is one of 11 in Kliptown, a township southwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. Its first informal settlements were formed in 1903. The residential area now has formal housing, a major shopping mall, and a university, but informal settlements like this are still common.
Amid the shacks of corrugated metal and plywood, a few buildings, some of grey concrete others of wood, stand out as solid and permanent. Unlike the surrounding homes, they legally access electricity. The main building has solar panels to power a computer lab.
It is here where Thulani Madondo, director of the Kliptown Youth Program, places his hope for lifting the community out of poverty. He believes the best way to improve the quality of life of the community is by making sure the children have the best education possible.
The computer lab facilitates the use of about 20 desktops and 290 XO laptops donated by the One Laptop per Child program. Students are encouraged to bring them home and take ownership of the technology. In addition to providing the technology, KYP offers computer classes and tutoring through Reading Eggs and Khan Academy.
KYP's mission is to eradicate poverty and fight disadvantages by providing educational support and after school activities the children of Kliptown.
In the settlement, Madondo says, making it past 12th grade in school is an accomplishment and happens all too rarely. Outside his office building, he proudly displays the dozen or so photos of this year's seniors in their matching maroon school uniforms.
They also have an after school program for in-person tutoring.
In the courtyard in the center of the community buildings, fidgety students sit in a ring of dark-green plastic lawn chairs around a tall man in a white coat. He quizzes them with multi-digit multiplication problems on a white board propped on a chair.
Only one third of Kliptown students expect to pass their matric exam at the end of 12th grade, according to KYP's website, but with the tutoring program, almost every KYP member has passed theirs.
The students are at a disadvantage because the matriculation essays must be written in English. Yet, for many students who live in this settlement, Zulu is their primary language, says Madondo.
During apartheid, under the Bantu Education Act, students were forced to learn in Afrikaans, including writing their senior examination essay. With the end of apartheid, students can ask for instruction in their native language, though most instruction is given in English. Children generally begin to learn English in third grade.
South Africa's bill of rights ensures the right to education, but there are many barriers.
Classrooms in public schools often have one teacher for 60 students, says Madondo. Often, students walk for 25 to 30 minutes just to get to school.
Tuition to public school is free, but Madondo says students must pay from R 50 - 700 ($5-70 USD) in order to receive their grades. Students must also purchase their own books and the mandatory uniforms. KYP estimates this can cost over R1,000 each year.
If students cannot afford these items, often they will stop showing up to school.
The government has some programs to waive the fees, but not for purchasing supplies. Some settlement dwellers are refugees or immigrants who are not citizens and therefore cannot access the program. KYP looks to fill this void by offering financial assistance to students who commit to going to school.
KYP also provides daily lunch for settlement children to bring to school.
Twenty-three percent of South Africa's federal budget goes to education, says Blake Chrystal of the U.S. embassy in Pretoria.
However, places like the Kliptown settlement see little of that.
"We all build a better society," says Madondo. It is time for the community to stop looking at the government and start looking at what they have.
Here, they do not have much, but they have hope.
By Lindsey Stokes
PRETORIA--A towering green fence rises like an ominous skyscraper, separating those who make it inside from those who don't. The courtyard inside its perimeter is littered with forgotten soda bottles and papers, beaten and scattered by the occasional strong gust of wind. The sign on the attached building, though rusted, clearly reads "Department of Home Affairs."
Every day, from 8 a.m. until closing, asylum seekers from across the continent flock here in a desperate attempt to get the necessary paperwork to legally remain in South Africa. Without such papers they risk arrest and imprisonment.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) projects 274, 400 asylum seekers will pass through the country in the year 2014, of which only 75, 600 will receive refugee status. The only hope left for the remainder is an appeals process.
But receiving status is only half the battle. Challenges such as high unemployment, limited access to services, income inequality, and xenophobic violence make adjusting seamlessly very difficult.
We watched carefully as a stern-faced woman emerged from the dirty, military-style tent at the far edge of the yard, her thick arms filled with a large stack of papers. Surrounded by a crowd of 75 strong she made her way to the center, plopped down her bundle, and through gesture alone chose who was now at the front of the line; the crowd erupted with shouts and waving arms.
"Sisters, please are you from the U.N.?" a man from the inside yelled desperately to us.
The only answer we could muster was a weak and uncomforting, "No."
Those outside the green fence described the flaws in the system they have experienced first hand: discrimination by the staff, bribes, two months wait for paperwork review. Most were reduced to sleeping outside in the adjacent park as no temporary shelter had been provided.
Applicants under review receive a brown stamp on their forearm after which any hopes of getting back inside are squashed. The Department of Home Affairs will contact you, not the other way around.
Claims of police brutality and harassment echoed among the refugees.
"When we see the police we run... The police want to take our money, they will arrest us for nothing, for just standing here," said one.
Despite the hardships and the frustration, a tight-knit community based on hope, mutual respect, sympathy and brotherhood has developed, according to the refugees. This bond outlasts any review waiting period.
"If I get any money I send it home," said one. "That's what we are all about. Forget about me! We will help each other."
Photo by Mary Ying.
By Mary Ying
On the tenth floor above the University of Witwatersrand Art Museum, breaking news is happening.
A class of 18 students is producing the next issue of their school paper, the WITS Vuvuzela. They type away in a computer lab set to the backdrop of the Johannesburg skyline.
Don't be too jealous though, advises one student: "It gets boring fast."
These news-reporters-to-be are part of a one-year intensive journalism program at the University of Witwatersrand (known locally as "WITS"). The program is based on professional preparation in print journalism, but includes photojournalistic, online and radio aspects of communication as well.
Upon completion of the course year, students are placed into newsroom internships from which they hope to launch successful careers. Some may even return to pursue a master's degree in journalism, says Professor Anton Harber.
Harber is the Chair of the Journalism Department at WITS. He is best known, though, for his work as an investigative journalist during the Apartheid Era in the 1980s, when the government declared a media-oppressive State of Emergency, actively censoring news sources promoting anti-apartheid views.
Today, however, the new South African Bill of Rights grants every citizen "the right to freedom of expression." This includes "the freedom of the press and other media."
A class of students freely able to publish their own experiences, opinions and the truth as they see it stands testament to the advancement of such freedoms over time.
The room is filled with smiling young women, save for a single, shy male student.
"We love you, Luke!" shouts one woman teasingly to the reserved young man sitting in the back corner.
Our group from Simmons College eagerly engages with them, asking where they are from and what they have studied. Graduated senior and former editor of the Simmons Voice Taylor Rapalyea is especially enthused to learn that all the students are pursuing journalism as a serious track--a passion and privilege that is perhaps lost among contemporaries in the United States.
We share with each other how our school's respective newspapers are produced and swap comical anecdotes about newsroom life. The WITS students describe many a late night and rushed deadline that sound all too familiar to our journalism majors. One student even points to the lockers behind us where a colleague had apparently taken a necessary mid-day nap.
"So then where's the coffee machine?" Dan Connell, Simmons College Professor of Journalism, jokingly asks.
"UPSTAIRS!" the women immediately shout in unison, fingers pointed up, before we all burst into a fit of laughter together.
Photo by Taylor Rapalyea.
By Taylor Rapalyea
JOHANNESBURG - On a bright Monday afternoon, a student group in South Africa temporarily adopted two toothy boys under the age of five, and a bashful little girl.
We, a primarily white group from Simmons College, were walking through an illegal squatter settlement as part of a tour. The houses consisted of single rooms, were made from tin sheets, and had no electricity.
It was the safest I'd felt since landing in Africa.
We were in Kliptown, an informal settlement that was one year older than its better known surrounding township, Soweto, outside Johannesburg. It had formed due to a stark lack of housing and the inability of black people to own land under the apartheid government. While it has long been an unofficial residence, the extreme poverty was clear.
But the sense of community and joy overpowered the misfortune.
"We all care about material things," said Thulani, our tour guide. "We just address it differently."
Thulani works for a local community organization, the Kliptown Youth Program. The group helps kids with their homework after school and provides sandwiches for the school day that they would otherwise go without.
KYP received a grant in 2012 from the CNN Heroes program to equip a computer lab, where students can learn IT skills and communicate with remote tutors to enrich their existing education.
The standard of living in the Kliptown settlement is indicative of the great disparity in South Africa. Just a stone's throw from the settlement is the wealthy area of Soweto--right on the township border, across from the lavish 65,000-square-meter Maponya Mall.
According to Section 26 of the South African Constitution, every citizen has the right to housing. But 18 years since the inception of the constitution, a massive section of the population is forced to live in illegal squatter settlements.
The 2011 Census Report noted that 13.6 percent of dwellings are informal and .9 percent classified as "other." That means 7,040,796 South Africans live in "informal" housing, and 3,106,200 live in "other."
In the Kliptown settlement, the only toilets are outdoors and have padlocks that make it difficult for the children to manage. A single community pump supplies their water.
Despite this, young local kids bounce around our group, gesturing frantically to have their photos taken before immediately craning their necks to try and see the resulting picture.
Thulani said that even though having the one water pump can be frustrating when someone is taking time to do laundry, waiting in line is an opportunity to catch up with your neighbors.
Before we began our tour of one of the poorest communities in South Africa, we nervously gathered around Thulani to hear his introduction.
"The important thing to remember," he said, "is to make yourself at home."
Photo by Kaylie Flannigan.
By Kaylie-Ann Flannigan
Amidst the roaring township of Soweto, a sprawling, mostly black community of four million people 17 miles from Johannesburg, one might be lucky to stumble across the oldest area: Kliptown, founded in 1891.
Today, it is crammed with houses made from scraps of wood, corrugated metal and plastic. It has an unemployment rate nearing 80 percent, high teen pregnancy and high rates of HIV and AIDS infections. At first glance it does not seem like much, yet the people in the community are a treat.
When we arrived, two small children under the age of five excitedly ran up and grasped the hands of my classmates. They were very comfortable and trusting with strangers and everyone in the township community. Before we left they walked in circles, hugging everyone they could get their hands around.
Thulani Madondo greeted us upon arrival and showed us his Kliptown Youth Project (KYP), an after-school program that incorporates tutoring, food, technology, performing arts, and sports for the children of the town. The mentors focus on educating and empowering youth to alleviate poverty.
KYP consists of a few grey colored buildings that were occupied by Catholic nuns until 2006, before they left and gave it over for the good of the community. There are classrooms, a kitchen, and a small playground near a soccer turf.
In 2012, Madondo was nominated as one of the top CNN Heroes, a program that each year recognizes 10 people around the world who have made outstanding contributions to their communities. He was given a $50,000 grant to continue his work with Kliptown youth. It was used to purchase equipment for the computer lab to teach children how to use technology as a tool for solving problems. They are also supported by a family foundation in Boston, among other donors, but their operating funds will run out by the end of this year, he said.
KYP also helped to get nine students to the University of Johannesburg this year, as well as send numerous school kids to class with a lunch they would not have otherwise had.
Madondo said there were many the conflicts with running an organization like this in the township where he was raised. In a world dominated by materialism, it is hard to fight such extreme poverty with a staff paid barely enough to get by. And it was hard for us to to see such great passion and such a large heart in someone unable to make a decent living himself.
This program has encouraged more than 400 Kliptown youth to dream and embrace their potential. Madondo says he teaches young people to "do what [they] can with what [they] have." This message rings true throughout the town and continues to support those chasing their dreams.
Left to right standing: Haley Costen, Ayana Auburg, Laura Chandler, Sarah Kinney. Seated: Lindsay Stokes, Ahalia Persaud.
By Kaylie Flannigan, Rachel Goldberg,Christine Gronberg, Taylor Rapalyea, Mary Ying
Ahalia Persaud, a junior, is a Sociology major and Arts Administration minor who looks forward to a new experience in traveling to South Africa. Persaud first heard of the travel course through a class on African politics with Professor Connell last year, in which he discussed his work in Eritrea and mentioned the trip.
She immediately knew she wanted to go, but her plans were foiled by the failure of the 2013 trip to launch due to under-enrollment. When a second chance presented itself, Persaud became especially enthusiastic about exploring how art serves as a vehicle for political, social and cultural movements, shaping the identity of people living in the "rainbow nation."
Sarah Kinney, also a junior, is a Journalism major who has been writing ever since she was a kid on the playground. She delved into her passion for telling stories through words after interning at a hometown newspaper and is now preparing to assume the position of editor-in-chief for the Simmons Voice.
Aside from a couple of minor excursions to Canada and Greece, Sarah does not consider herself an experienced globetrotter. By going to South Africa, she is hoping to expand her perspective of an unfamiliar world and stretch her ability to cover topics that are not so close to home. When asked what to expect, Kinney says that she really has no idea - but that's the point. She goes into it open to whatever happens, with no expectations.
Haley Costen is a rising senior and a Journalism major and works for the school newspaper - the Simmons Voice. She says she is very excited about the trip and says that it will be cool to travel to another country and learn about their culture.
Costen learned about the trip and immediately became interested while writing a piece for the Voice. She also saw photos from an earlier trip in a feature writing class she took with Professor Connell.
Costen says her high school education didn't satisfy her curiosity about Africa, especially South Africa, and she is eager to learn more about the ongoing human rights struggle, particularly the work of the Gender Commission.
She is also hoping this trip will help her find her niche in writing and looks forward to improving it there as she tries to shed some light on social justice issues in South Africa today. This is a first for her in many ways, but she says she is ready to embrace it.
Ayana Aubourg, a sophomore studying International Relations with a focus in Human Rights, can hardly wait to arrive in South Africa and immerse herself in its rich history and see, in person, all she has studied in class.
South Africa is close to Aubourg's heart, as she is passionate about freedom and human rights. She loves the example that South Africa offers to the world: Everyone working together to reach a common goal and succeeding. She says it is an inspiring story that many can learn from.
Aubourg also expects to do quite a bit of learning. She looks forward to improving her writing skills as she blogs about her experiences and the people she meets along the way. Never one to pass up a challenge, she hopes this trip pushes her to be a close observer of the human condition and pick up on the subtle signs that provide insight into a person's true nature.
Expecting more than just an informational tour, Aubourg would like nothing more than to connect with people. A chance to bond with the rest of the Simmons group as well as find friends in the people she meets in South Africa would be the highlight of her experience.
It is her hope that her stay in South Africa, however brief, will contribute to her understanding of social justice. Cultural understanding is also a principle guiding Aubourg and she takes it upon herself to absorb as much as she can about people around the world.
She has traveled to the Dominican Republic to teach English and Physical Education at a partner high school and is currently part of community and campus organizations such as a Simmons College Amnesty International group and Youth Against Mass Incarceration.
Aubourg has found her passion and wishes to pursue social justice in the years to come.
Laura Chandler, a junior, is a Business Management major and Political Science minor, who is interested in human rights and is pursuing a career in the non-profit sector. This will be her first extended travel abroad, and she is very excited to take full advantage of the opportunity to travel internationally and tour South Africa.
Laura has a love for education and is excited to apply her classroom knowledge to the real world. She says that being in South Africa will provide new depth and understanding to the country and its history and culture that a textbook and class lectures cannot offer.
Laura looks forward to immersing herself in a new culture. She wants to speak with different people and learn all they are willing to share. She hopes that walking the streets and conducting in-depth interviews will allow her to understand the paradox of South Africa: the rich thriving next to the poor, the light shining next to the dark. She says she is eager to learn about both the good and bad there.
She is especially interested in examining South Africa's education system. Laura is passionate about addressing educational disparities in the United States and hopes to work with a non-profit to help decrease the achievement gap. Traveling to South Africa will provide her a unique opportunity to examine a different education system in order to apply her knowledge to her future endeavors in community work.
Lindsey Stokes' dream is to be a correspondent for CNN, so when she stumbled upon a tiny ad on the Simmons website for the 2014 South African trip, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to test out her international reporting skills.
Even though her going on the trip depended on whether she would be able to afford it, she says she was determined to make it work somehow. "I knew I was going to do whatever it took to go," she says.
The junior Communications major has never been abroad but is excited and nervous to experience the unknown.
"Everyone keeps asking me [if I'm excited], but the fact is I really don't know what to expect yet," she says, beaming.
One of the things she's looking forward to the most is the traditional hike up Table Mountain in Cape Town. While her mother has never traveled internationally, her father has spent time in Argentina and raised Stokes to be a tried and true hiker and runner.
Left to right: Mary Ying, Rachel Goldberg, Christine Gronberg,Taylor Rapalyea, Kaylie Flannigan.
By Ayana Aubourg, Haley Costen, Sarah Kinney, Ahalia Persaud, and Lindsey Stokes
Our group of 11 students is drawn from diverse disciplines and ranges from a first-year to graduating seniors. But all of us are excited, eager to learn and ready to finally set foot in South Africa, a country about which we have been learning for months. But our first reporting job is on each other. Here's a look at six of us.
While their peers are recovering from late night graduation parties, celebratory toasting, and obligatory family get-togethers, newly minted graduates Taylor Rapalyea and Rachel Goldberg will board an 8 a.m. flight bound for Johannesburg via London to study and report on human rights in South Africa's post-apartheid society, itself just getting over the fourth round of national elections since Nelson Mandela was chosen president in 1994.
Rapalyea credits the trip with giving her the push to start job-hunting early and to hit the ground running when she returns home. Upon returning, she will work for the Salem News. The most recent editor-in-chief of The Simmons Voice, she says this style of international reporting will be the crowning achievement of her journalism career. It will give her experiences she's never had before, and allow her to "do reporting that matters."
"I'm looking forward to finding something that speaks to me," Rapalyea says.
Like Rapalyea, Goldberg says her decision to go on the trip was motivated by her career aspirations.
She cannot wait to take everything that happens in South Africa and use it. Goldberg is interested in working on international human insecurity and her primary focus is issues of refugees and statelessness. While she does not know where she will end up, she is embracing the opportunity to learn from South Africa and put her degree to use.
Goldberg, an avid observer of diverse groups and a political science and economics double major, has been hearing about human rights situations around the world throughout her Simmons career. It was not until her time studying abroad in places such as Thailand and Denmark that she truly came to understand the emotional fortitude and cultural flexibility that was required to live in these unfamiliar environments. She says she is ready to take on the challenge once more.
She was drawn to the idea of studying in South Africa primarily because of the opportunity to engage with, and observe, a new culture. Growing up in Miami, Florida Goldberg has been among diverse groups of people her whole life. Going to a new country is a whole other level of exposure and immersion in someone else's way of life.
While some students are concluding their Simmons career with the trip, Mary Ying is beginning her career with it.
The only first-year, nursing student in the group of 11 students, Ying is in for a bittersweet treat. She has travel experience, having been to Europe and Asia with her mother for the past ten years. However, Ying has never been exposed to, had background or context knowledge of South Africa other than what she has seen in the media before this course.
She says that she heard about this faculty-led travel course through a study abroad info session and found it interesting. Mary has a general interest in world issues, participated in Model UN, enjoys writing and blogging and plans to work in non-profit healthcare, hoping that South Africa is a potential environment to work in the future.
Other students also see the trip as an opportunity to increase their knowledge of social justice.
As a political science and sociology major it's no surprise that sophomore Kaylie Flannigan wanted to take a human rights travel course to South Africa.
"Human rights is a bridge between my majors," Flannigan says.
She took interest in the trip after attending a study abroad fair in her freshman year and taking an African Politics class.
Flannigan has traveled abroad before, but this is her first time studying human rights abroad. She has always wanted to travel to South Africa, and plans to use the opportunity to improve her writing.
She says that in the future she would like to work for an international organization and that she is considering adding on a journalism minor.
"I want to be able to speak knowledgeably about the issues there," Flannigan says.
Christine Gronberg is a junior at Simmons College studying international relations with a concentration of human rights and a minor in journalism. She says she is excited to immerse herself in a new culture and environment. She remains inspired by how different communities of people joined forces to fight together to end apartheid.
Gronberg looks forward to visiting the U.S. Embassy in South Africa because of her interest in politics. She is eager to learn how the South African government interacts with people on a state level. She looks forward to learning more about the relationship between the government and local people. She hopes that this trip will help her gain knowledge about peace processes.
She was curious to know how the South African government is living up to the expectations of their constitution. Gronberg finds South Africa's historical narrative to be incredible and is one of the main reasons why she can't wait to visit the country.
The group will touch down around 9 a.m. local time on May 11, and after hours spent talking about what to expect, the students will see first-hand the state of human rights in South Africa.