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Mental Relief: Day 3

Parting is such sweet sorrow- especially when you have fallen in love with a place as much as I have in Cape Town! However, I cannot continue to brush my homesickness under the rug any longer. Being abroad longer than any of the other University of Kentucky students I am living with at the moment, I have persistently pushed through my subtle bouts of longing for “My Ol’ Kentucky Home”. Though it seems that with the exponential amount of stress I have endured over the past week or so in regards to my internship at the Black Sash, finishing up class work, and finalizing plans for the next semester I have gradually let my guard down and become infected with this strange urge to be in a place which I have spent my entire life honestly trying not to be.

There are things that I won’t miss about this specific internship and trip to Cape Town however; namely the complicated transportation arrangements to and from our respective internships and the numerous little rodents which clandestinely consume all of our food and sometimes literally go airborne across my bedroom. Miraculously, I still type these reflections with a genuine and impervious smile; because, while this trip through the University wasn’t entirely perfect all the time and some students couldn’t complete his or her stay in the city or at their internships, each component of my time here in Cape Town and at the Black Sash has collectively formed many of the most memorable, worthwhile, and mind-evolving experiences of my life.

Much of these experiences have manifested through the networking and professional opportunities which, ironically, stem from the same stress which has inhibited my “enjoyment” of the city these past few weeks. Today was the conclusion of my eight week internship at the human rights organization Black Sash; a historical struggle foundation which presently seems to affirm and preserve the rights of the South African Constitution and Bill of Rights alongside tabling certain key socio-economic issues. The project, which I have explained before, was to take the Bill of Rights document and transpose it in such a way which yields a meaningful and age-related product for Macmillan publishers to include on an in-text CD-ROM for South African high schools. I have been working endlessly to make my portion of the content up to “Black Sash” standards and to make it worthy of their branding before the official submission. Today, at last, I sat down with my two supervisors Sarah (who just returned from a long safari holiday in Kruger) and Ruen (the interim supervisor for the past few weeks) and presented the fruits of my at times intensive labor and “unpacking” of dense pockets of information as I have heard it referred to! I am sufficiently proud and relieved at the same time to report that the internship appears to have been a success; the Black Sash has a good amount of content to work with once the team fully departs throughout out next week and has (after several revisions, citation searching, and a whole bandwidth’s worth of case-studies) become what can be an important resource not only for instructors in the 26,000 schools it will be delivered to but also in the NGO sphere with the Black Sash website and South African History Online.

The class through the University of Kentucky as well has been a success; at least in my opinion. While some of my other flat mates have enjoyed Cape Town a little too much and “forgot” about some of the required readings for the course, I have found each and every one enlightening, relevant, and having the potential for some pretty decent debate. Unfortunately for our instructors sake many of the students, including me from time to time, honestly either “forgot” to read or was either too tired or sick (which happened an abnormally amount of times for all of us on the trip for some reason) each morning to adequately engage with instruction. I have to admit, though, that the majority of the readings, speakers, and discussions were more than beneficial to my understanding of a culture and society which I had only learned about thousands of miles away on a different continent. It became acutely relevant to at least to be witness to the discussions and content so as to begin fully comprehending the implications and idiosyncrasies of the environment in which we were all being fully immersed in and given the full experience rather than one through the world of traditional academia back on campus in Kentucky.

As I depart tomorrow, with or without the promise of return, I feel like I will be torn between two worlds in a bold and cathartic sense. I will miss the piña coladas at Trench Town, the sunsets at Camps Bay, the sacred beauty of Cape Point, the views from atop Table Mountain, and even the steroidal racial converse which at least ensures that issues are addressed and provides an interest of progress. Most importantly, though, I think I will remember the people of this fantastic and promising city the most. Nestled in the most beautiful spot in the world and within the most dedicated nations I know of in the world, Cape Town is not only home to the most beautiful beaches in the world- but also the kindest, most welcoming, and heartfelt people you will ever meet.

 

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Posted by on July 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Mental Exhaustion: Day 2 of 3

As another day at the Black Sash National Headquarters comes to a close I can’t help but to be overwhelmed with an intense sense of relief. This is not, however, because I haven’t grown too fond of working at this particular organization, but because I cannot even begin to explain how thankful I will be to have finally produced an applicable product for this Macmillan project which I and the rest of the team have been working on for the past two months. Essentially, the textbook publisher (as I have mentioned briefly before) MacMillan through a  grant from the Infundo Project contacted the Black Sash prior to our arrival to request any sort of content to be used in high school life skills courses to circumscribe the South African Bill of rights.  To an objective party the prompt sounds fairly thorough, right? On the contrary, the plea was anything but thorough and clear. It took nearly six weeks of research, meetings, restructuring, and further planning meetings to establish what exactly the Black Sash wanted to submit for the project. The current idea as it stands (or stood, as the project is nearing its conclusion) is to research and develop an innovative digital media instructional aid for high school aged children in their studies of the South African Bill of Rights. The content would include the actual right, its history, development, pertinent case studies and judicial tests, and other age-dependent relevancies.

Six weeks of this current eight week internship were spent researching and attaining any sort of material possible that we might have been able to include (because we honestly really didn’t know what to include). Throughout this time, Sarah Nicklin (our former supervisor) also tried to personally connect each of us to outlets of involvement that specifically catered to our interests. I became involved with the Women’s Legal Centre, the Triangle Project, the Scalabrini Centre, Community Monitoring and Advocacy Project, and with Phelisa in the Advocacy Department at the Black Sash; however, most of these endeavors were shorted when the Macmillan project finally came to a head and began to coprporealize and take prominence over many of my waking hours.

I didn’t actually make it to Scalabrini for the soup kitchen at all because the past few weeks, under the supervision of Ruen, I have become heavily invested in designing and redesigning my presentation product as per the final draft and decision of what we were supposed to do with the project. This is an of itself has been a fantastic and worthwhile engagement of my time, but I just wish that ultimately the Black Sash had known what they wanted in the project prior to bringing interns aboard because while I am at a disadvantage from being in a position of always being the one people have answered to rather than being the “subordinate” intern I also know that it isn’t the most efficient policy to leave a project undefined and up in the air for over a month while expecting a finished project to materialize from the entrepreneurship workers who know as little about the project as they do about the purposeful content (which is why research on case studies and analogies was required to fully understand what exactly we were working with and be able to translate it to the average South African high school student).

From working with non-governmental organizations in the past with my company back in the States I know that this sort of rhetoric is to be expected; especially when the collective as a whole is dealing with many other and more important initiatives. As I have mentioned before to several people, I believe that the whole NGO sphere of influence revolves around a group of like-minded and strong willed people who want to affect and see the change they seek in the world. This is a fantastic quality for such an organization as the Black Sash to have as they have faced a number of historically significant adversities as a struggle group, but it also can have consequences for those being thrown into the pot with little knowledge of the inner workings of the “soup.” It came to the team’s attention early into the internship that no one at the Black Sash had a compromised and universal vision of where our main project or any of the others should be heading towards. Each person we would speak to in planning meetings would ask us to redesign to fit their professional opinions- which was fine- but upon doing so the next person would suggest we retrofit our work back to the way it was before and visa versa. It became incredibly troublesome to get a clear picture of what was actually wanted.

Presently I am working on completing a selection of digital media library presentations transformed into applicable PowerPoint presentations with additional resources and instructional materials. Now that I know what we are doing it has been the translating my vernacular into simpler terms for students who may not have English as their first language. In this I must also be able to communicate all the case-studies and court cases which defend and or demonstrate each right as they pertain to my audience. Typing it out makes it sound so much more enjoyable and easier than it really is! But, I have restructured more than half of my presentation and instructional materials (5 out of 8 presentations so far) which will be included on the in-textbook CD-ROM; the following three and being able to roll out the final requirements for my courses here before heading home this coming weekend will be the real challenge.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Mental Exhaustion: Day 1 of 3

These past few days have been some of the most eventful of my entire stay here in South Africa; however articulating them with an immense amount of mental exhaustion is proving to be yet again a little difficult. A quick succession of near all-nighters to work on the Macmillan project through the Black Sash which I have mentioned in previous entries has been taking its toll. Thankfully, my mind and body is telling me that I should start making reasonable goals for myself in regards to the progress of my work which is why this blog entry is even being attempted at the present moment! With that being said, this coming week will be my last week in Cape Town while I finish up my class work and internship with the said human rights organization; though, I plan on accounting it in much greater detail than I have the rest of my saturated work-class weeks here so in the two more entries to come I will delve into further detail just exactly why I have lost so much sleep in angst over my current project(s).

But…I digress. Amidst all of this stress and insomnia I am beginning to see (and partially hope) that these past few days will be a precursor to just how enjoyable my last full week will actually be. To start things off, the group and I were invited over to Andre Odendaal’s (South African Author, Scholar, and friend through a correspondence with the University of Kentucky) house for a truly American Fourth of July party. Again, as I have each time I have been invited to their home, I experienced the meaning of South African hospitality. I casually laughed when I referred to how Andre rolled off the fact that he was having nearly twenty Americans (from both the University of Kentucky and Michigan State University) over for dinner and that we were just going to have snack foods and would have to fend for ourselves. Thanks to his lovely wife Zohra, who hilariously in response to this announced that there was a six course meal waiting to be served, this most certainly was not the case for a student who had been up for the past two nights was living off of crackers and ramen noodles. The week with the Odendaal’s had officially began- over chicken curry, minced meat, pies, salad, rice, wine, etc., etc., etc. mixed with a lot of laughs, engaging conversations, and an incredibly good time!

When leaving with our stomachs enjoyably engorged, Andre reminded that he wanted to take us all to his summer home in Hermanus (coastal resort town a few hours away from the city) for our last full weekend and then informed us that there was a possibility that he might be able to arrange something I couldn’t have even dreamed. Following a call back to him and writing down a number, it was on Thursday when I was speaking to the scheduling director for Mr. Desmond Tutu himself. He was going to be in Cape Town doing a service for a select group of people at St. George’s Cathedral just before heading to the ceremony for the newly wedded South African Princess of Monaco. So, after another horrifically late night and a 5a metrorail hop downtown I was sitting in front of Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu- someone who; as a member of the community he continually encourages, empowers, and advocates for; had inspired me for years. Such a chatty and joking old man, Desmond was entirely approachable and down to earth as a human being regardless of his insurmountable presence and pioneering niche in human rights advocacy.

 

The group with Desmond Tutu after his service at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town

After being personally blessed (yes, personally blessed) by Desmond Tutu, I ran to catch the train back to the Black Sash office for yet another meeting which I will entail in my next few blog entries. Following the meeting and a few more hours of restructuring my entire plan for the project for the hundredth time I made my way back on the train to just make an interview that I had set up with Molo Songolo, a child’s rights organization who works to promote and advance the lives of children who have been exploited or abused. I will know more by the end of my stay and my final entry, but it looks like that I do in fact have a job in Cape Town, South Africa now to return to which would benefit my degree and provide me with an abundance of experiential education to begin writing my senior seminar thesis for Psychology and Gender Studies! More information to come following my meeting with the Director again this coming Thursday.

The rest of the weekend was quite relaxing to say the least. Andre picked me and the rest of the University of Kentucky interns up and took us for two days to his house in Hermanus where we just relaxed on the beach, explored, did some shopping, and ate yet more of his famously good meals (I even tried a Cape delicacy- Snoek; a type of seasonal fish- which is a big deal for me because I typically shy away from seafood of any sort).

Alas, I am back in the real world again complete with adult worries, stresses, and insomnia. While this week may be just another difficult week which I, as a college student, have encountered many of…it is still going to be difficult knowing that if I do indeed come back to work with Molo Songolo while studying that that will only happen in a month’s time. My last days in Cape Town are going to be spent on a computer, doing presentations, and typing final essays. This is of course understandable and completely acceptable, but as the weather begins to finally brighten and warm up (after all, it is winter) I can’t enjoy it before I head back to Kentucky!

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

My African Dream.

So, it looks like I have done it yet again! Investing most of my time in the characteristic work-class “adult” rhetoric, my days have been rather saturated and likewise I have tried to find mental respite by spending most of my nights becoming further acquainted with this insanely soulful city instead of keeping the pace on what was supposed to be a weekly blog. My projects with the Black Sash are reaching their climaxes as the rest of the UK-Duke interns and I begin compiling all of our work for the Infundo-Macmillan project while I commence the final stages of the Community Monitoring & Advocacy Project benefit presentation, prepare web content for the Bill of Rights page, and (time permitting) initiate site mobilization with Ruen at Interiority Consulting.

Through all of these taxing endeavors I have been trying to, as I mentioned in my previous entry, to figure out if I could remain a degree-seeking student through a program with the University of Cape Town at least during the next semester until Christmas. UK offered me an intriguing bilateral exchange through the Boston-based Education Abroad giant Arcadia University to study at Stellenbosch University (a renown liberal arts research institution about half an hour from Cape Town). While this was certainly appealing, I had to consider not only the tuition-housing costs associated with the program but also its distance from the city and the Afrikaans:English instruction ratio. Deciding against Stellenbosch, I began the direct application process through the University of Cape Town as an international student (in either a transfer or semester abroad program). After several meetings, phone conversations, and discussions between both their and UK’s international affairs office it was established that the Humanities Faculty which I applied to (BA-Social Dynamics with an emphasis on Psychology and Gender Studies) was both full and would not be accepting any more applications this late into the selection process. I would either have to take classes not relevant or transferrable to my degree, compromise with Stellenbosch, or take classes online through UK from a very limited and possibly non-degree advancing list of distance learning courses. With all that being said and done, I more than likely will be returning to Lexington for the Fall semester of 2011 during which time I will finalize my admission, study/work visa, and prepare my American-based living situations before coming back to Cape Town after Christmas for the 2012 calendar year.

One might wonder why I have gone through so much trouble just to figure out that it wouldn’t be feasible for my degree at the moment to remain in South Africa- especially those from UK that accompany me on this specific program. Everywhere I go and each person I meet warmly expresses the unique spirit of Ubuntu– they greet you, treat you with respect, and are unequivocally welcoming with the most radiant smiles. Yes, this country has its great and many issues- but from the past month or so I have been here I have come to realize that much of what this country is notorious for is sometimes boisterously overestimated or exacerbated by the media. Granted, no one can argue with the staggering criminal statistics, the lack of government accountability, and efficient levying of policy in response to Apartheid-induced socio-economic problems. But what happens if both domestically and internationally people just sit and criticize or complain about South Africa? They do just that- remain sitting, and encourage stagnancy. What people need to be talking about, instead, are the many positive aspects of this “rainbow nation”—like how in 1994 South Africa became the first country on the African continent to unlimitedly extend rights and legal protection to LGBT persons light-years ahead of their Western “predecessors”; or how the country’s resilience against human rights violations and discrimination resonates in their reconciliatory rather than retributionary inclusion of their formerly oppressive White Afrikaner brethren; or how Ubuntu isn’t some distant and unattainable utopianist idea- it is a way of life.

The thing is that South Africans do talk about their nation’s short fallings in private (even if they are considered taboo), but it is difficult for this adolescent democracy to find a medium solution to some or all of the problems that is both applicable and reasonable. Through these shrouds of worry and concern shines what has taken me by surprise and literally grabbed my heart; South Africa may have a troublesome history and currently live in a society discouragingly surrounded by the onslaught of crime, corruption, and at times violent xenophobia – but their inspirational passion, dedication, and ultimately dream for progress and universal inclusivity is beyond what words can even begin to articulate. What can, though, are the bright and cheery souls which adorn this Rainbow Nation (without quotation marks) that mine just simply can’t get enough of.

This is my African Dream.


My African Dream: Vicky Sampson
International Artist and Cape Town native.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Where Does it Start & Where Does it End?

Ecstasy and Pride. These two sentiments can only begin to describe what I am feeling at this exact moment now that I have learned that my organization’s endeavors, along with those of the obviously talented and immensely dedicated Phelisa, has proven prosperous. Today, 17 June 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland passed a South African proposed resolution which universally includes the issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity under the defining umbrella of human rights. In addition, the said document also requires those members of the United Nations to study, report on, and address discriminatory violations or violence towards their citizens as it pertains to those intersectionals indicated. This is a spirited sign of progress, and means more than I can linguistically articulate to me as a victim of some of the ills tabled in the draft which I had the esteemed pleasure and opportunity to review prior to today’s vote.

That being said, this is just one of many reasons why I have chosen to jump through a gargantuan course of policy hoops so I can stay in South Africa at least for another year past the expiration of my current internship contract. The devotion of the South African to sustainable progress, equality, and unconditional inclusivity (even when such governing policies are not adequately and efficiently attained) has inspired me beyond compare; and while others may only recognize the highly obvious disparity from what we as Americans know to be socio-economic reality and what the average South African does, I see promise, positivity, and passion in nearly every aspect of my surroundings. Again, on this past Monday when I ventured into the townships of Khylecha, Gugulethu, and Nyanga and I was confronted by some of the most heart wrenching and deplorable living conditions which I, as a somewhat isolated and marginally blind-sighted American, had ever seen. Yet, within these communities there again resided such a presence of happiness and sincerity which this American, who has lived his entire life physically, removed from and irreverent of such abject poverty couldn’t help but fall into its embrace.

My new best friend (in red) who adorably ran to hug me when I entered his classroom; a community education center in Nyanga which specifically caters to HIV positive children.

 

From a claustrophobically populated and eruptive church service to the community sewing initiative to provide HIV infected women with employment and opportunity for independent economic advancement, these particular townships just outside the perceivably western city of Cape Town are the embodiment of contemporary African culture; not in the terms of developed society, but in ways which presently evoke stories of the struggle and provide a leveling field for debate which can seek to address and perhaps theoretically apply solutions to these consequential economic travesties of humanity which the government seems to push out of consciousness. Engaging in such a conversation, I remember enveloping my own sense of the government’s refusal to acknowledge and enact efficient federal initiatives to combat the discourses which Apartheid produced in a conversation with a highly stimulating and intellectually rational local Catholic priest. In response to my admission of actually weeping behind my sunglasses when I first entered Langa just a few weeks ago, I also expressed my concern with how little this government (as liberal and progressive it really is) does to set goals or accomplish anything when it comes to raising the standard of living in these at times informal settlements. Yes, one can argue that the city has built motorways and metrorail lines which provide transportation to and from employment in CBD as well as goods and services to these communities; but other than that, the government is silent. It is almost as if the Republic of South Africa, in fear for its tarnished position on the international stage following the terroristic tactics violent edge of the anti-Apartheid struggle, sought solely to make a secure global presence for itself and a competitive position in the market. In doing so, the Republic (ANC) in near detriment to the venerability of these histories, dedicated its money and manpower to reconstructing the developed sub-Saharan nation without efficiently addressing the socio-economic problems which were partly contributed to by the entire reasoning for the popular uprising.

Which now begs the educated question…who or which organizations are sponsoring the community centers and education initiatives I have seen in these areas if the government finds it difficult to budget any of its (unfortunately rarely paid) tax money and revenue to benefit those living in townships? Institutions, such as Learn to Earn, aim at giving a “hand up, not a hand out” in conjunction with local Universities, companies, and international corporations which seek to branch out their employment spectrum and to reach out to those people who are just as capable of learning a trade and taking their own initiative to climb the ladder out of their “situation”. This is where it gets a little iffy, and possibly somewhat offensive; especially for international companies who risk coming off as neocolonialist and not at all socially responsible when they farm out menial labor to people in townships looking for a few rand a day. But, it is obvious to me as an individual that there is a definite need for advancement opportunities, counseling, and support in these communities…but, it is almost like if an organization gets involved in aid and comes off just in the wrong way they are perceived as having a sort of cultured, heroic mentality and under the assumption that these people need help. I mean, they do…but they also have their own sense of cohesiveness and community without western academia and employment. Coming in obtrusively and saying this is what this community needs from “us” is to say that just by looking and assessing difference that one knows what the community really needs. This in no way is to suggest, however, that the current initiatives in place are not productive and industrious…because in my mind, they most definitely are! But, being offensive is sometime not intentional.

A local friend of mine and I tend to have these random bouts of cultural comparisons which initially started with a comment about Jewish people being “stingy”. I was shocked; I would have never said anything like that back in the United States (nor would I have ever uses the political terms of colored, etc.)…but, apparently it does not have the same offensive connotation here as it does there (unless you are in fact Jewish, then I am sure that would be another story entirely). I have yet to find an applicable and educated explanation for this discourse because he, my friend, is not the only South African that I have met who speaks openly of others in stereotypes. It could be a tradition of Apartheid and the ingrained cultural necessity to stratify based on difference, or it could just be that Americans tend to be a little touchier than most other people. Yet, knowing this, there is something about making light of current socio-economic issues (like those occurring in the townships) that is incredibly taboo. For instance, I used the term “rape” in the context of American cell phone companies “raping” its customers in prices, locking phones, etc. He was taken aback by how “strong” my words were in describing things I don’t like…granted, this and others like saying that I “hate” getting up so early in the morning are very strong terms by definition, but I never see it as such. But, when I have used those terms with him he is visibly affected. This may be a half-hearted explanation behind the government’s refusal to address issues in townships, or to sign treaties ensuring adequate housing and protection from violent crime as human rights…because South Africa has an embarrassing track record with such discourses, and within such the situations have gotten way out of hand!

This leads me into the content for my next class session; crime in South Africa. Crime, as the South African Government Information Website suggests, is the most common occupation in the country (SAGI). This, something that the Republic does not deny but continually tries to belittle, is a major issue for South Africa and its constituents. For one, as a global competitor for tourism one would assume that battling crime would be at the forefront of federal initiative. While, at least for tourists downtown (especially during the World Cup), this is most certainly so with an increase in public safety officers which look out for and protect the interests of the tourist…this is not the case for the country as a whole. For one, I have even debated not going to Johannesburg alone and without someone there that I know just because I know that without a car I would have to take the metropolitan- one of if not the most dangerous and infamously crime prone public transportation systems in the world. In the past four years business thefts in the country have risen by 41%; residential burglaries by 27% (violent crime by 11.1% for business and 3.7% for residential) (Guardian). With all of these statistics and knowledge about the presence of crime in this country, police still refuse to press cases and report criminal action; this is also left up to debate. Is this because of corruption and somehow tied to money, offenses, etc…or is this about limiting the official crime rate? One almost is curious to know what the real crime rate in South Africa is. From working in a human rights organization, I am privy to some little known statistics which while currently changing still provide a keen sense of what the nation as a whole is up against. Each minute in this country more than one person is murdered or critically injured due to a specific domestic violence from a romantic partner or as a victim of a random crime.

When does Apartheid end?

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Stirring the Pot…

It has been another fantastic and most certainly eye opening week here on the Cape! My insecurities about working at such an immensely reputable and powerful organization as the Black Sash have quickly been surmounted not only by the sheer amount of work that there is to do within the NGO but in the kindness and surprisingly raw interactions these people have with one another. From working with the same sort of clientele in the States, I was accustomed to the whole sociability of the NGO experience but I was not expecting just how relaxed and carefree proceedings are in such a collective who employ themselves in addressing and solving issues that are so vital to the victimized. For instance, it is quite common for one to come and go as they please and work from home (or recently the Mexican restaurant next door with free wifi; the Fat Cactus) with little hesitation or reprimand as long as they remain industrious and are at least present for the any number of long and laborious planning meetings which are held in correspondence to parliamentary and social affairs.

I find myself between romps of research and these incessant planning sessions “borrowing” books from their endless library of South African political history and constitutional development just to get an idea of the importance of my work here and the critical role this organization played during the Struggle which helped lineate the state towards its heralded and comprehensive reconciliatory ideologies. Reading over the succession of laws and amendments, I couldn’t help to be overwhelmed with both inspiration and utter confusion; one thing I have discovered since being out of the United States is just how socially backwards my homeland really is (not like I didn’t know half of that already). But, the Republic of South Africa has become so impassioned to prevent human rights abuses that it is not shy whatsoever to bring light the issues which need to be discussed. The United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, a pair of documents which were written in the 1700’s for Americans living in the 1700’s, have been scarcely modified since their creation and thus have been intellectually transfigured into gross obscurity. Much like how the Christian Bible leaves so much up to contemporary interpretation, the American form of democracy has been left up to the supposition of election-hungry politicians for so long that its true purpose of creating an open and free society apart from colonization has been lost from popular consciousness to scholarly work and history textbooks.

While the South African Constitution may not be afraid to address such issues as the right to change one’s gender identity or the role of the state to legally protect each citizen in all facets of society regardless of intersectionality (herein is a far cry from what the United States Constitution can boast), the Republic never seems to get it exactly right. I have been casually referring to my perception of the South African state as a confused recent college graduate with many educated and progressive ideas but without the means and experience to implement them; and partly, this is very true. The said Constitution and Bill of Rights are recognized globally for their progressive ideas and inclusion of all minorities (particularly for LGBT South Africans and their equal right to a state marriage license); yet, assuring these rights and developing communities which meet these surprisingly advantageous promises are proving to be increasingly difficult for the ANC.

One of the more valuable experiences I will take away from my time in South Africa will not only be the organization I work for or being in of the most beautiful places on the planet, but the fact that I have had the opportunity to meet and converse with such a diverse array of engaging and heartfelt people. From speaking to locals I have met on the street, in restaurants, and yes bars…I have learned so much more about the history of this country than a textbook or sitting in a classroom back home could even aspire to convey. The majority of South Africans I have actually been able to sit down and have a chat with are more than willing to share their individual and unique stories about living in such an infamous country and how living through (or after) Apartheid has affected them. From becoming acquainted with these experiential authorities I am now privy of the vast disparity between what was promised and what they actually have received. Much like the unfinished highway bridges at the waterfront that lead to nowhere and the pedestrian bridges that go over short intersections which already have efficient crosswalks, it just seems that the right hand cannot communicate with the left and the purposeful ideas of the government are lost in translation between policy and enactment. Many of the people I have spoken to also give testament to the fact that Apartheid in this country is not really over, it is just illegalized; which, I can definitely see. As a frequent patron of some of the more upscale restaurants at the V&A Waterfront and Camps Bay, the sort of rhetoric which occurs between the predominantly white diners and the stereotypically black or colored wait staff is absolutely ridiculous to me. Employees are yelled at by both diners and their managers, treated as ignorant and unskilled at what they are doing (granted, in a country whose political history until recently prevented one from visiting a dining establishment of course it may be a little confusing and foreign), and rarely tipped a decent amount as a consequential discourse. The separation of the masses is still highly evident, and socially enforced…but it revolves around economic class rather than racial difference. Just as in the United States, capitalism seems to clandestinely reinforce the ills of Darwinist hegemony by playing upon a culture formed by Apartheid to systematically exclude the “other” via the adversities of the historically impoverished and underprivileged (i.e. non-white South Africans).

This puts a new spin on the entire obligation of the government to bring the people up to speed in terms of enlightened social thinking and attitudes. How can a historically significant party like the ANC maintain control over a country when they constructed such a precocious form of government immediately following a restoration and complete political overhaul without giving citizens the necessary time for adjustment? In my opinion, it is the fear of instability which secures the playing field for further divisive socio-political platforms. While it may beneficial for the country as a whole to address these issues which are hindering their development and attainment of the “Rainbow Nation” construct, it is to also “stir” a pot that has a fairly violent history of boiling and spilling over. As an example, Walmart, the gargantuan American value brand store, recently purchased more than half the shares in their former holdings of Massmart, Inc. (a South African market store of a comparable caliber). The purchase and plan to bring the American grocer to South Africa caused an immense uproar among both the national economic community and within the domestic market. Many opponents to the acquisition claim that the American company’s current standing on labor unions and their treatment of minorities (women, LGBT employees) are deplorable and in complete violation of South African law which therefore should negate the purchase and prevent the establishment of a fully branded Walmart store in the country. While this certainly may be true (because when in the States I actually chose not to shop at Walmart for these same reasons as well), the more important issue to discuss here is the plight of other South African stores which would be in competition with the Sam Walton enterprise. It is currently an acceptable practice to fix prices for goods across the market in several stores so as to limit competition and in a sense to enact a sort of commercial control over goods and services to ensure the survival of these companies as a whole.

While this restriction and limitation of competition may be good for the cheap sustainability of local stores, it does not allow for prices to lower and/or fluctuate on the market for the benefit of the consumer. Competition also encourages stores to continually provide a better product and a better service to their customer; something I have noticed is severely lacking in the South African marketplace- a level of standard (COSATU). By giving Walmart, Inc. a chance to transform its South African based holdings into a store brand that reflects the ideas and wishes of the Constitution in regards to unions and its treatment of minority employees would be also to say that the current system of price fixing and non-competitive corruption would be altered and manipulated. This is in and of itself a main reason why this recent graduate, with so many grand and progressive ideas, cannot get it just exactly right. To stir the pot and to change current systems of influence would mean to disrupt an already haphazardly constructed Republic which is continually on the edge of reverting to the conflict seen less than two decades ago.

The question is, though, what happens if because out of fear for change and regression that no one dares to stir the pot? Will progress in this country with so much promise and possibility become stagnant?

COSATU TODAY | COSATU PRESS STATEMENTS

Walmart threatened with mass action
May 31 2011 22:18
Reuters and Sapa

Daily Maverick June 1, 2011

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

South Africa: More than Meets the Eye

What a week it has been since my last post! I blame the arrival of the rest of the University of Kentucky interns and their boisterous desire to hit up local pubs at 2a in the morning (regardless of the safety) to the retard in the frequency of my blogging. However, I feel as if so much has happened since I was here in Cape Town alone for a few days that I have a much more well-rounded and relevant experience base to share than I did when I was haphazardly bumming my way around South Africa trying to figure out how everything worked (for one, a robot is not a Steven Spielberg creation, rather than a traffic light. Take note of the South African-isms).

Wednesday of last week fellow Kentuckians Corrine Price, Kim Nicholas, and Christien Russell arrived early in the morning sufficiently exhausted from a nonstop traveling rampage through Canada and on into London for a day before the twelve hour homage down to the southern tip of the African continent. Even so, I persuaded them to come along with me on the same trek which I embarked on a few days prior to see if the bright and fairly warm day had uncovered the beaches of Camps Bay from the blanket of Van Hook’s smoke; and in fact, it had! We had an amazing lunch on the beachfront followed by some rock climbing while dodging an onslaught of massively frigid waves as they swirled and crashed against the large weathered stones which seemed to almost form a path cutting into the sea. This place has to be one of if not the most beautiful places on the planet. I can definitely see why TripAdvisor, a popular American-based, client-driven ratings database for travelers, named Cape Town the number one destination for 2011. Since the World Cup this city has taken intricate measures to not only combat the discourses of a developing democracy in order to ensure the comfort and safety of tourists, but it has also taken to heart the promises of one of the world’s most liberal and inclusive constitutions to preserve both the unalienable rights of its citizens and the natural splendor of the city which in turn entices the said tourism market.

Whether or not these measures were fruitful or not is up to interpretation, but whatever your vision of the city may be you can almost always find something to do which fits your personal style and liking. If you want to pub crawl in bohemia you can navigate through the narrow streets of Observatory and hang with the cornucopia of artsy South African and international students which frequent the area; if “bronze and scantily clad” bodies are more your forte (as I have heard it referred to here), then the Cape’s several gorgeous and happening beaches may be for you; or maybe you are looking more for a shopping day at some upscale venues or just picking up some flowers or produce at a local market- Cape Town’s Waterfront, Downtown markets, and Rodenbach Square have you covered. Just don’t be like me and not figure the shopping out until a week past your arrival and think that you have to travel all the way to the Waterfront via the train or taxi just to go to Woolworth’s to get some decent clothes for work because you packed a ridiculously limited amount just so you can carry on your luggage. Epic fail.

Trying to fit in some final touristy excursions before my abrupt redirection towards the reality of class and work, once the rest of the gang landed late from Amsterdam we all ventured outside of the city and visited the largest winery in the region: Groot Constantia. The drive wasn’t all that bad, but the exchanging of busses while listening to a woman introducing her guests the sights and sounds of the outer rim of the Western Cape in a deep monotone while using disengaging rhetoric which was failing at being entertaining proved to be a little too much for the majority of us who were still reeling from a rather acute bout of jet lag. However, the trip was immensely worthwhile though; the lunch we had at the on-site restaurant was home to a delicious cheese stuffed half-roasted chicken which I ravenously devoured and to the best rosé wine I have ever had! Reining my consciousness in to the fact that I was still in Africa and not in the Californian-Sedona countryside, there was a mini baboon raid towards the end of our stay at Groot Constantia which reaffirmed the warnings on the menu and from the somber woman on the bus earlier about their aggressive nature and kleptomania.

The rest of my time spent on the Cape prior to the exposition of class and work was fairly uneventful; partly due to the lack of rest and the desire of everyone to stay near the lodge because of their fatigue. We did have dinner with our American contact, Jim Sleight, at Texas Roadhouse inspired restaurant at the Waterfront which apparently every Cape Tonian comes to for their birthday party (the Happy Birthday song rang out over the intercom at least ten times during our stay…I think I may be ok if I never hear that song again in my life to tell you the truth). But the food was surprisingly decent for an American imitation, and I hear that the seafood was rather splendid as well (it is Cape Town after all).

Class on Monday morning wasn’t that bad either; while the original plan was to head downtown on the metrorail and take a tour of the Company Gardens, it turned out to not be feasible with the torrential rainfall and unpredictably stormy Cape winter. The seminar was rather enlightening, though; we brought up some of the more surprising and interesting things we had noticed personally since arriving in South Africa and how they either failed to or met our expectations of what we thought the city would be like. In continuance, we discussed the expansiveness of the South African constitution and the all-encompassing Bill of Rights which has been characterized as one of the world’s most liberal national rights legislations. Within all of this, we recognized how difficult it was the micromanage these rights and deliver the guarantees through the current national structure. Our guest speaker, Charlene Houston, a communications director from a local NGO who worked with Parliamentary representation and access to governmental information, made light of the issues surrounding the youthful democracy in South Africa as it pertained to the separate niches which the different prominent political parties occupy racially, economically, and regionally within the country.

I did find it interesting, as a personal side note, that I had no idea who had won the local elections here last week because newspaper headlines (depending on the publication) boldly claimed victory for different parties with no real apparent cohesion in their stories. This is the problem with democracy in South Africa; the structure and policies are in place, but no one knows how to access their rights and benefits nor do they know how to influence the legislations in which they have a the right to do so. In this, the voice of the people goes unnoticed and virtually silent through the political processes of the country, and lawmaking is left up to the bureaucratic and almost divine-right leadership of the leaders in power; at the moment this would be the historically significant ANC (Sunday Times). This puts what is happening in places like Egypt and Libya in an entirely new perspective as it pertains to the structure and organization of the proposed model for success South Africa is heralded as on the African continent. These sort of authoritarian regimes which citizens are beginning to fight and press their political structures for the same unalienable freedoms and rights as citizens of western democracies enjoy seems to be honorable; especially from the viewpoint of the at times neoimperialist United States with their rather cancerous notion of the Monroe Doctrine which has escaped the bounds of the western hemisphere. But, if countries in this region do not address the issues they have with longwinded and almost totalitarian rulers, even under democratic contingencies, then regimes will continue to flourish to the detriment of the African (“Liberty is more than mere democracy”).

In conclusion, this was my second day of work at Black Sash, a non-governmental organization in South Africa who just turned 55 this past year which fought alongside the resistance through Apartheid and now employs themselves in rights education and directing citizens to the facets of government which they need in order to ensure the delivery of their guaranteed rights. Sarah Houseman, another University of Kentucky student, and myself will be investing a great deal of our time here aside from class work to an equality rights project which will be published by McGraw Hill/McMillan in a textbook that will be used in over 200,000 South African public schools through a grant provided by Infundo: Intent Achieves Dreams. This is an incredible and exciting opportunity which I am more than happy to be a part of, and I am looking forward to pushing through the pilot stages of the project towards a greater realization of the project’s path and intended outcome within the next few weeks.

“Use Your Voice for a new SA.” Sunday Times 20 3 2011, Print.

Vegter, I. “Liberty is more than mere democracy” Daily Maverick. (February 2011)

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Uncategorized