Tuesday, October 12, 2010

South Africa - Stepping back in time

The cables are the first things that appears over the wooden fences as I ride in a taxi to the wine lands. Then it’s the metal sheet roofs and then the people’s faces. Telephone polls are scattered between the few openings of the shacks. They are everywhere and each shack has their own cable coming from a poll. It looks like the May Day pole, but these are not bright colorful ribbons and the people are not celebrating. It is their daily struggle to get the essentials that come standard in our lives: running water, electricity, flooring, a toilet and shoes to walk to school.

Before arriving to South Africa Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave us a lesson on his home country telling us about the apartheid and the impact is had and still has on the country.

The apartheid ended in 1994, but from being there only six days it was clear there still was a sense of separation among the South Africans. The ship docked at a newly built port, which included a mall, five star hotel, and elegant restaurants along the pier. Student who did not adventure out of the port area would not of suspected anything.

The city itself looks like it could be a city in the US. It has the high-rise buildings, easy transportation, nightlife, and businessmen and women walking with their cell phones glued to their ears. But, the real disparity is seen within the “towns” that are on the outskirts of the city. These places are the townships. The government has created some, but most are informal settlements taken over by squatters. The one township I visited, Monwabisi Park in Khaylitsha Township, is actually part of a nature preserve, but 20,000 squatters had made it their home.

Along the coast are mansions and driving by it feels like Malibu. Some times I forgot I was in Africa. Even in the kinds of shoes they wore there was this disparity. In the townships children wore flip-flops like in Ghana and in the center of Cape Town women and men wore nice sneakers and sandals like in the US.

One of the life long learners on Semester at Sea said “it is like I have stepped back in time to the US in the 70s. We all might be equal now legally, but their isn’t respect for the other race.”
The city is still dressed up for the World Cup with soccer ball sculptures in the fountains, World Cup advertisements, and banners saying, “Cape Town welcomes the world.” The city is still hyped up on the influx of tourism and spike in their economy. What will happen when that money runs out?

Right now, in the city, no one respects each other no matter if they are white, colored or black the only color they respect is green. Money it is what they want and it is what they need. You can see it in the overprice cab fares and the cost of clothes in the mall. You can see it in the townships with children lining up to get food, 50 percent of the population out of work, and diseases such as HIV and AIDS the highest in the world.

“The system of apartheid is so ingrained that it is going to take ages to turn it around,” Tutu said.

Nothing happens over night, but there are people who are trying to make it happen. On my visit to Khaylitsha Township a group of SAS students and I learned about the Indlovu Project. This ecovillage consists of hand built structures made by the locals with sandbags and Ecobeams. Their mission is “to create an innovative, simple and sustainable way to improve the physical, emotional and economic health of the community.” The founder, Di Womersley, has created this place that includes a health clinic, community center, volunteer housing, a day-care center, and movie house for the whole community to enjoy. She said she can see the depressed state of community and wants to bring purpose to their lives, get children off the streets, and help mothers stop drinking. Ultimately, she wants each family to have their own sustainable home.

There is a saying painted on the wall in the main guest house which reads “sisonke singenza umahluko” meaning “together we can make a difference” and I know this is possible from seeing the success this one women has so far had with her project in bringing the community one step closer together.

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