My Final Hours in South Africa

We spent our last hours in Pilanesberg National Park, participating in two different game drives: one in the evening, and one in the early hours of the morning. I’ll admit, while this part of the trip generated excitement in pretty much everyone else on the trip, I was pretty hesitant in the beginning. I’ve never had any aspirations to go on any type of safari to see wild, dangerous animals in their natural habitat – especially while sitting in such an open and exposed vehicle. However, once our guide drove us into the park and onto the park’s roads, I began to actually see the animals that lived in the park and calmed down a little. The biggest issue for me was not knowing what to expect, because we were told that animals could be extremely close to the vehicle. This was especially true on the second game drive in the morning when we saw the giraffes and the elephants – we could have reached out and touched them they were so close. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of these animals though. I was more fearful of the cats – lions, leopards, etc. So I was very pleased when we saw the lions relaxing in the sun a very far distance from our truck. It would have been nice to get some closer photos of them, but I definitely felt more safe with the way everything played out.

Despite my fears of this activity, I wouldn’t take it back. In fact, I might even do it again if I’m ever presented with the opportunity. It ended up being pretty cool, and now I can say I’ve been on not just one, but two safaris. Not many people can say that.

To go backwards a bit, our last day in Johannesburg was pretty interesting. The early part of our day consisted of a tour of Alexandra Township led by a white man who clearly had some issues, and seemed weirdly adamant on proving that he was racist no longer despite Apartheid. Because our guide was so off-putting, I simply decided to tune him out for the majority of the tour and focus on what I was seeing around me in the township. As an African American person, I wasn’t too shocked or deeply saddened by the awful things I saw people living through in Alex because I’m used to seeing and hearing about people with black skin suffering, whether they’re African or American. However, what did surprise me was that the people living in poor conditions in Alex are living rent free, which in turn seems to be preventing the government from doing much to help get the people out of there to start rebuilding (at least this is what our guide told us, it didn’t seem to sound incorrect). I was also intrigued by the increased lack of effort by the government to provide a garbage disposal system. I noticed that in both Capetown and Joburg there didn’t seem to be very many trash cans. I always found myself having to hold my trash for a long time or simply hoarding it in the van until we got back to our accommodation to prevent littering. But in Alex, there simply was no real system at all. everyone would just throw all of their trash straight into the streets, which piled up and caused very foul odors to permeate the neighborhood. It was also very interesting to see goats roaming the premises eating the garbage right in plain sight. Since things like that don’t usually happen in the United States (in reference to wild animals roaming the streets), it’s always a sight to see wild animals walking around at their leisure amongst the people.

Another part of this tour that was interesting was visiting the hostels. It’s amazing what people are strong enough to live through. The hallways had no lights or windows, making it almost impossible to see where you were going without a flashlight. There was nothing but trash piling up around the walls of each building, and I was intrigued by the little stores that had set up inside some of the rooms that we passed by. Although I was intrigued, it also came to a point where I felt intrusive. Our group was just trekking through the living spaces of random people we didn’t know, which just seemed kind of rude to me. I know if I were living somewhere in conditions like that, I wouldn’t want random people who weren’t from the area trampling through my space without some kind of prior knowledge. I know the people living in the township might not have felt that way, and other people tour there, but our guide seemed to be making our presence a little bit too known for my liking. Despite all of that, I still thought it was a good idea to walk around Alexandra Township, because like our visit to Soweto, that was one of the few times during the trip where I felt we had an authentic view of what it can be really like to live in certain places in South Africa – especially the places that consist of people who were physically affected by the laws of Apartheid.

In terms of the trip ending, I was surprised at how fast the weeks went by. However, I was also excited to get home so that I could have time to process everything that I had done and seen while in the country. I’m realizing now that taking that trip to South Africa and seeing two very different places (Capetown and Joburg) was a very unique experience that most will never experience. I got to see things that I never thought I would, and I got to meet people who actually lived through Apartheid, which is really cool to me. For many other things in history that I’ve learned about Black or African people, I never had the opportunity to hear the stories straight out of people’s’ mouths because they were already long gone. But to say that I actually got the true stories of Apartheid from actual human museums is pretty awesome and inspiring.

I’m definitely grateful for all of the experiences I had while in South Africa, and I’d love to do it again.

Freedom Park

Today was a pretty chill day. Despite the heat, the museums we visited were pretty cool.

I thought Freedom Park was a beautiful place. The Wall of Names was a great way to pay homage and commemorate certain people and events. The display of those names was very well done, and I liked how there were tons of empty spaces left to leave room for more individuals. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the visit to Freedom Park was the tour guide’s view on the wall incorporating people who have been considered villains or bad people onto the wall’s carvings. Our guide said something to the tune of in order to fully understand parts of history, both the victim and the oppressor or villain need to be recognized and studied. I completely agree with this mentality because often times in American History, certain parts of historical narratives get erased or overlooked because people try their best to forget the terrible things certain people have done in the past. For example, there are people in America who will walk around saying that racism no longer exists, which is ignorant but also feels like a way for people to pretend like nothing ever happened in America’s past that promoted racism and inequality. So, in order to combat that kind of ignorance and attempt to erase a very real and still continuing practice, we must acknowledge both sides of any history so that neither side is forgotten.

Cemeteries & Graffiti Tours

Today was very interesting. We got the opportunity to learn a whole lot about Apartheid and how it affected people through a very nice and excitable man (I’m blanking on his name at the moment). He was extremely jovial and eager to share his story with us, which we’ve all noticed seems to be a standard feeling amongst many South Africans that we meet. We began in his coffee shop Roving Bantu Kitchen, where he spoke to us about his personal experiences with Apartheid. Something that I found absolutely amazing was the fact that he lived throughout the entire experience of Apartheid, beginning with the notice that was given to Colored/Indian/Black South Africans that they had to collect all of their belongings and move out of their homes to make way for the people coming through to clear their homes in a couple of days. I never thought I would meet anyone who went through the whole of Apartheid, but I was pleasantly surprised when we visited the District Six museum in Capetown – our tour guide Noor got the same notice as our guide from today, and it was great to know two different perspectives. Noor was classified/identified as Indian while the man we spoke to today was categorized as Black. Even though they were classified differently, it was nice to hear something about Apartheid from the very beginning in two different voices.

Our guide from today was extremely informative. He taught us SO much about the way things were here in South Africa when Apartheid became legal. I personally enjoyed hearing another personal testimony, because going to museums is great and they show you so much information, but one thing museums tend to neglect is person stories that are told from the actual people’s mouths and perspectives. Today I felt like I was being told a story, and because of how animated/eager he was, listening to him came so naturally. I really admire him because not everyone who goes through horrific and terrorizing experiences have the ability to share their stories coherently or even at all. I felt extremely lucky to be able to hear what his opinions were about Apartheid, as many of the Apartheid survivors who are willing to share their stories so openly are getting older and unfortunately won’t be around too much longer. There’s nothing better than hearing directly from the source.

One part of his tour today that really struck me was his talk about a man named Jimmy that he met who changed his whole perspective on the way he looked at South African history. I really enjoyed the part about going to the graveyards and digging up the deceased to find out who really started everything or who was really to blame, since that’s a big debate here in South Africa. Going to the graveyard was very intriguing for me, as I never thought of them as sources of learning or knowledge. But his teachings in the graveyard really enforced for me that graveyards really are for the living. We have the ability to go back into them and study their headstones, do research, and put pieces together that perhaps might have even been hard to put together while those people were alive, His friend Jimmy really made a major shift in his life, and because of that, we were able to benefit from the newfound knowledge about Apartheid and the people who were affected and how they were affected. Overall, I feel like his tour today really gave me the most insight into what really happened during Apartheid than most of the other activities/visits we’ve made so far.

In terms of the graffiti tour we took today, I really think it was a great idea to walk around Joburg and see the different pieces of art that are on display. I liked the government art that we were introduced to, but I really appreciated the graffiti because in the U.S, graffiti it so highly frowned upon. It was nice to see that some places in the world are viewing graffiti as an actual artistic expression and art form that has the ability to tell stories in ways that many people wouldn’t be able to explain them. I also thought it was really cool how our tour guide – Joe – was so knowledgeable about the graffiti artists that she showed us. I’ve always been curious about graffiti artists, but I’ve always found their artwork to be a little difficult to read/understand. That could be because I’m more of a written artist than a visual one, but overall I’m extremely glad that I was able to hear input from someone who’s actually studied graffiti art and who also knows a lot about Joburg – our guide was able to bring both the city and the artwork together to paint a nice picture for us to better understand the importance of artistic expression. In essence, even though today was long and consisted of quite a bit of back & forth/walking, we learned a lot, and the deliverance of the information was very easy to absorb, which I highly appreciated.


Today we visited Liliesleaf, which was a house/property that was used by members of the liberation movement here in South Africa from 1961 to 1963. Before this visit I had never even heard of Liliesleaf, so it was great to learn quite a bit about it at this house turned museum.

First, I’d just like to mention how much I appreciate South Africa’s tendency to use the actual historical place they want to focus on to hold the museum instead of building an entirely new place. Liliesleaf is the actual house that was used by many members of the liberation movement – they (including Nelson Mandela) were physically there were we were today, sitting in those rooms and talking politics. I think it’s really cool to be in the same place as others who were extremely important to the progression of their country.

Another thing that was nice about this museum was the video/film footage that was presented throughout. It can be difficult or tiring having to read all of the information presented in museums, so it was nice to simply watch films that helped explain what was going on inside the home’s walls as opposed to reading endless material. Plus, getting the actual stories from people who were involved in the liberation movement was great, because the story was coming directly from them instead of being paraphrased.

I was also very impressed at the advancement of this particular museum, as it had so many interesting technologies that were interactive. At the Apartheid Museum, the TV screens that were displayed throughout were playing on a loop, so it was difficult to catch many of the videos at the beginning. People have to stand in front of them and wait for them to start over to watch the video. But at Liliesleaf, their videos were able to be controlled by buttons that corresponded with whatever part of the video you wanted to watch – so you could start at the beginning, middle, or end of a video and restart it before it finished if you wanted to. I was also intruguiged by the touchscreen table that was there that allowed visitors to stand (four at a time) and swipe through the information themselves and read it/listen to it without having to move around the room.

This museum was overall very well made and put together, making it easy to find your way through it and go through the exhibits in an orderly manner. I really enjoyed going there because the exhibits gave me information about a part of the Apartheid movement that I had no idea about. Also, I like how there was a focus on political leaders who were involved in trying to liberate South Africa besides Nelson Mandela, as the information I gathered about those individuals (along with any other outside research I conduct) will help me quite a bit with answering my research question.

The Apartheid Museum & Constitution Court

When we visited the Apartheid Museum, I was very impressed with how detailed it was. It really reminded me of the kinds of history museums that can be found in the United States, which contrasts with how I felt about the museums we visited in Cape Town. The Apartheid Museum had many different exhibits, and I was happy to see that the majority of them were not about Mandela – this museum had a large section for Mandela, but it also focused on other people who were important during Apartheid. This museum was very spread out, and in the spaces outside were very open and had lots of space. I appreciated that because sometimes museums try to pack in as much information and exhibits as they can, which results in less walking space and everything looking/feeling really close together.

I felt that the information given in this museum was very well written and easy to absorb and comprehend. The films that were shown were also put together nicely, and they helped reinforce the written information in some respects. I also really enjoyed the lack of other visitors while we were there touring, as it allowed for easier concentration and mobility. Another thing I’ll mention about this museum visit is the tour guide we had. He was very knowledgeable and did a pretty good job pacing us through the museum and its exhibits. This is something that I’ve noticed about the tour guides here in South Africa at the different museums – they all know what they’re supposed to know, but they also have the answers to many questions that lay outside of the information they share with us at each exhibit. In America, most of the museums (at least all of the ones I’ve been to) usually do not have tour guides. Most tours of museums in the U.S. are self-guided, which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on what a person prefers. But, I think more knowledge can be spread to visitors if there’s a knowledgeable person there to help guide everyone through the history – that would also really help with avoiding gaps in the history as well, as many times people skip through different sections  and don’t go in any type of order.

Constitution Court was also an interesting place. I really enjoyed seeing the different prisons, and learning about the types of people who were sent there. That was the second time we’ve visited a former prison, and I actually think it’s a very good idea to use old prisons as learning material. It’s so easy to talk about prison, but to actually experience being in the place where people were held in bondage is something that can’t just be experienced anywhere. I really enjoyed learning about the way the prisoners were split up into different prisons based on their skin color. It was appalling but not surprising that white prisoners were treated better than colored or black prisoners during Apartheid – it was helpful to see a breakdown of meals that the prisoners would receive while in prison, and how it was broken down by race/color classification. I also liked being able to see the solitary confinement cells that the prisoners were placed in. The most interesting part of this visit was the women’s prison, because I’d never been to a women’s prison before. Women aren’t generally focused on when talking about times of hardship during Apartheid as much as the men, so it was really nice to get some insight into the horrors that women had to succumb to while imprisoned. One really sad part of learning about the women’s prison surrounded the children that sometimes were imprisoned simply because they had no one to come collect them if their mothers/aunts/sisters/etc. were arrested while they were with them. Sometimes children were in prison for weeks until a family member or friend was able to get them out. Some women also gave birth in prison, which was disappointing for me to hear. Childbirth is already painful and difficult enough, and having the extra strain of being imprisoned must have made the experience even worse.

The last thing I’ll mention about visiting the prisons is that I found it very upsetting that many of the prisoners were imprisoned for trivial offenses, or even just political ones. I find it so interesting that people here in South Africa were so against political speak amongst people. There must have been a serious fear of revolt or uprisings, which reminds me of Slavery in the United States. Slaves were not allowed to learn or be educated in any way because whites (particularly the men) were so afraid of slaves rebelling – they knew that knowledge was power, and as long as the slaves had no power, they couldn’t challenge the whites and break free from their chains. The same seems to have been happening here in South Africa, since political conversations were prohibited and political prisoners were kept away from regular prisoners for fear of the political leaders causing everyone to rise up and fight for their freedom.

Being here in South Africa and visiting so many historical places that explain the effects of Apartheid helps me realize that history definitely has patterns and it seems to repeat, even when we try our best to avoid repetition.


My Home Stay Experience in Soweto

On January 5th & 6th, we travelled to a local neighborhood in Soweto. We had the privilege of participating in a home stay, where we spent the night in women’s homes and met their families. The “Mama” I stayed with was Busi, and this was her first time inviting foreigners into her home. Her sister (who also lives with her in a different house on the property) has been doing home stays for a while and encouraged Busi to open up her home. So not only was this my first experience with home stays, but Busi was new to it as well. I felt like that created a common ground because neither of us really knew what was expected out the other.

During my stay, my eyes were opened to the struggles that many South Africans face in terms of their living conditions and how they were affected by Apartheid. Busi’s home was a series of very small brick homes that had no toilet, sinks, or running water anywhere inside. Her sister actually built her brick house on her own, having someone build the foundation for her. Since their family kept expanding, there were two metal shacks that were built onto the property to accommodate other family members. In Busi’s home (where I slept), there were only two bedrooms, and in order to allow people to come stay in her home, she allowed me and my roommate Alexa to stay in one of them. That meant that only one bedroom was available, and some of the children had to sleep on the hard, uncarpeted floor in the living room, and Busi had to share a room with other members of the family.

Busi and other women of the family participate in these home stays in order to make extra money, so I realized that they had to make huge sacrifices – even ones that affected their children and their needs – in order to accommodate for complete strangers. This made me a little sad but it also showed me just how strong African people truly are. They always seem to find a way to make things work for them to some sort of benefit even if everything has been taken away from them. They didn’t choose to live they way that they do, and they can’t afford anything better. But instead of giving in, they decided to open their homes and offer them as learning opportunities for outsiders. The good thing about this is that not only do the visitors learn about their lives, but they learn about ours as well. They asked me and Alexa many, many questions about the way things work in both America and Mexico, the music we listen to, clothes, food, etc. I saw that as their chance to get real perspectives about where we come from as opposed to hearing other people talk about America/Mexico but not truly learning.

Lastly, one thing that was very prominent amongst this families and the other women on in the neighborhood was the concept of being family oriented and neighborly. The common example of this that I heard was “If I don’t have sugar, my neighbor will.” They believe in sharing with and uplifting each other, whether they’re blood related or not. I thought that was very interesting because it’s not like that in the United States. Most people are independent, and not all families are super close in that way. And since I didn’t grow up with that type of family intimacy, it was a nice experience, since I got to meet all the children and family members. I was surprised at how well I adapted to the togetherness of Busi’s home, because I grew up being extremely independent and was not at all used to being around my extended family. In essence, even though I was extremely hesitant about staying in a stranger’s home in South Africa, especially in the conditions they unfortunately have to live in, it ended up being a great learning experience that I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere else.

My Last Day in Capetown

It’s hard to believe that the first week of the trip has already passed by so quickly! While it’s sad to have to leave Capetown, I really enjoyed our trip to the District Six Museum. While there, our tour guide Noor did an amazing job of telling the story of Apartheid and how it affected South Africans and the country. He also did very well with telling his own personal narrative, showing lots of old family photos and pictures of his home in District Six before everything was stripped from him. I was particularly moved when he told us the story of the “Europeans Only” sign that would be on benches in public here in South Africa, and how his three year old son was begging him one day to use the bathroom because he had to use it. Noor said that he pretended not to hear his son’s complaints, and kept doing what he was doing. But his son kept begging him, and asked Noor to take him into the bathroom near them, but it was a “Europeans Only” restroom. Noor mentioned how he was so angry and heartbroken as well as puzzled, as he did not know how to inform his three year old son that he wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom because of the color of his skin. Noor (and all of the other South Africans of color) constantly had situations like this one that they were forced to face during Apartheid. It was very interesting to see how emotional Noor got when telling this story, as he really put the ridiculous and sad rules that were put in place during Apartheid. He also mentioned how if any South African of color (non-white) were to be caught doing anything they were not allowed to be doing, they would be beaten and thrown in jail. This part of his speech, as well as many other things he mentioned, reminded me of American Slavery/Jim Crow/Civil Rights.

I never realized until today just how much Apartheid and African American history of oppression were similar. Many of the same experiences were faced by both South Africans and African Americans, some of them being being torn from land and family, being judged solely on the color of skin, being forced to separate by use of designating signs, creating two of everything/spending millions of dollars/rand to accomplish the segregation, etc. After Noor’s tour, I felt even more connected to my own roots as an African American who comes from a past of oppression and racism. I also was given more of an appreciation for listening to people tell their stories – Noor is a living and breathing museum in addition to the overall District Six Museum, as he actually survived apartheid and created a way to tell the tale to others so that the history does not die. He and others chose to commemorate the stealing of their land and mistreatment of their people, which can help me to further my thinking about my research question. There seems to be an overall concept of museums here in Capetown, all of the ones we’ve visited so far being very welcoming and eager to share their stories.

The last thing I’ll mention about this activity was the fact that Noor mentioned the concept of forgiveness. He said that he forgives his previous suppressors for everything that they did to him and his people, which I thought was very big of him to do. Noor made the point about forgiveness being extremely important, as you could lose your inner peace without forgiving those who have wronged you. I think it was nice to get that perspective because I’m always curious about how people view and practice forgiveness – it’s a difficult ability to obtain and keep track of, and I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to forgive the people who took everything away and told me I was less than. In essence, listing to Noor today made me realize just how strong many of the South Africans heavily affected by Apartheid actually were.

Solms Delta Winery – A Place Where Wine Tasting and Museum Visits Combine

The most exciting and interesting part of today’s activities was visiting the Solms Delta Winery farm. I’d never been to a winery before, and I’ve always wanted to go wine tasting so this was a great experience for me. The wines that we got to try were all very good, and it was fun tasting the different types of wine with the other members of the group. I also thought it was really cool to have an actual picnic with real picnic baskets, as that’s another thing I’ve always wanted to do. The weather was great and the day was for the most part very comfortable, so it was the perfect day for walking around.

While touring the winery, the best part about the trip was getting to meet Mercia Malan, a woman who grew up on the winery farm and gave us our historical tour/lesson about how Solms Delta became a winery over the centuries. She was extremely knowledgeable and an amazing storyteller. She was very captivating and kept all of us engaged – my mind never once wandered off to think about anything else while she was talking and sharing her stories. I particularly liked how she framed her story at the beginning when she spoke about the previous owners of the farm’s land, and how the people living on the land during those times became very skeptical of yet another new ownership because of the horrible things the other owners had done to destroy the land and the community/property. Mercia got really animated while telling her stories, often acting out certain scenarios in order to give her audience a better feel for what was being explained. She was also very into the little music lesson she gave us, going over the history of many different musical instruments such as the flute and the drum. She sang and played for us at the end of the tour, and that was really exciting to see because she used the original versions of the instruments we know today to perform (as well as some other instruments that are not used or are not common in the United States). In essence, she made the winery experience super fun, and she was extremely informative. I felt like I had actually learned a whole lot after leaving there today.

Another thing I’ll mention about the winery is how it connects to the concept of memory and commemorating people or places of historical value. When Mercia talked about the history of the winery, it made me think about how South African people feel the desire to tell their stories to whoever will listen. Instead of this location simply being a regular winery, it’s been expanded to include an actual museum that explains the history of the land and its people by using real panels of information and pictures just like you’d see in a regular museum anywhere else. It was great to see this duality of taking a modern place and incorporating its history into the visitors’ experiences. In other words, it was great to be able to see a different way that South Africans have chosen to represent and present their pasts.

An Authentic South African Experience

Today we took somewhat of an academic break and did some more relaxing things: shopping and visiting the Second New Year Parade here in Capetown.

Getting the opportunity to do some mall shopping was a great way to begin the day. It was really cool to see the mall because I always like to see how people in other countries enjoy their shopping experiences and compare them to malls back home in America. The mall we visited was very large, and I liked it because it had familiar stores like H&M and Guess. I also noticed how the familiar shops here in Capetown had better clothing than the ones back in America which is always nice. There were also quite a few shops that promoted South African designers and produced everything in their shop in South Africa as opposed to getting their products imported from somewhere else. I purchased from one of those shops (a store called Young Designer Emporium) in order to help support the South African designers. I thought this was important because I think it’s a great thing for a country to promote its own people instead of constantly importing from elsewhere. The United States hardly produces anything of its own anymore, and I think that takes away from the value of certain things. Essentially, I thought it was nice to see a group of people supporting each other and their art. That kind of support can be difficult to come by back home.

Spending time at the Second New Year parade was also a nice experience. I really enjoyed the open atmosphere. Parades back in the United States are usually more formal (you wouldn’t see random people walking amongst the floats/people at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade), so I thought it was a really cool and laid back environment. I also loved how proud and confident the people in the parade were. They were elated when we asked to take pictures of them, and many of them yelled to us while they were marching along to take pictures of them. Everyone was very friendly, and I was very intrigued by the colorful costumes. The children in the parade were also a highlight because so many of them seemed so excited and were really enjoying dancing to the music while they marched ahead. I think this parade is such a great way to celebrate the new year, and I’m grateful that I got to see this extremely well-known and popular parade with my own eyes instead of having to rely on someone else’s perspective or information about it on the internet. Another thing this parade reminds me of is Juneteenth, which is known in America as the African American “Independence Day.” The slaves in America were actually freed on June 19th, 1865, so instead of July 4th, many African Americans celebrate Juneteenth out of respect for their ancestors and their inability to celebrate independence on the 4th of July. Going to this parade helped me realize that there can always be connections made between cultures, even when the different cultures exist in totality different places.


The Benefits of New & Different Experiences

The most interesting activity we did today was visiting Jennifer Eaves’ home to listen to her sing her music. I thought it was intriguing to hear about her perspective on Apartheid, and I really admired her feelings about being an artist and knowing your creative process. Visiting her and hearing her music – especially her song “Story Teller” – was definitely a great moment for me because that was a song she wrote that had a lot to do with Apartheid and the President of South Africa. Hearing that song made me think about another way South Africans may choose to memorialize certain parts of their history: through artistry, whether it be painting, singing, writing, etc. Her decision to create stories through music made it clear that memories don’t always have to be mass-produced – individual people who lived through certain historical experiences have the ability to commemorate or memorialize certain people, places, or events through their own unique perspective. I think that it’s just as important to look at individual experiences/perspectives as it is to go to museums to learn more generally about historical events.

The other activity that we participated in today was seeing and swimming with the penguins, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I’ve always been very hesitant to swim with any wild animals, but I was pleasantly surprised by the way everything was set up. I was under the impression that we would have to actually swim with the penguins, but the penguins were more so coexisting with the people on the sand and in the water as opposed to really getting super close. So I felt like that was definitely a great experience that I never thought I would have the chance to do or actually end up liking.