That’s a quote from a tour guide at the District 6 museum (more on him later).
Now that my days are mostly filled with classes, I’ll probably be writing a lot less—more like once a week or so. The past week was absolutely incredible. My classes are interesting. It’s a lot of theory I know but have yet to learn in an academic setting. I’ve barely started my GWS sequence, and who in the IR department talks about kyriarchy? Plus, now everything is in the context of South Africa. It’s also been nice to learn about things from new angles. The lecturer we had for a talk on South African politics, for instance, gave me an entirely different perspective on parliamentary systems. BUT that’s all very nerdy and probably very few people reading this care, so I’ll talk about the more fun things now…
Early last week, we went to the Steve Biko Memorial Lecture. Steve Biko was a leader in the Black Consciousness Movement during apartheid, and he was killed in prison. The lecture was awesome. The lecturer talked about different narratives surrounding South Africa, and Africa in general. He also discussed the problems South Africans (and Africans in general—he wasn’t South African) still face today, as well as some other things. I really enjoyed the talk, and I heard a rumor it was available online, if anyone is interested!
This was also my first time at UCT. It is gorgeous. The walls are all ivy covered and the views are unbeatable. It’s up on a hill and you can look out over Kapa. I’m glad I chose my program—not at a university, but at SIT’s program center—because I wanted to see more than just one SA city, I wanted/needed to do homestays, and I needed to make sure my classes fit my IR focus, human rights (#cmcproblems?), but I’m still really excited for my ISP time so I can hopefully hang out more around UCT.
On Thursday, we went to the District 6 museum. This museum is thought-provoking—I think my favorite one in SA thus far. I was fighting back tears the entire time (a common theme in museums and performances here, I think). District 6 was a multicultural area of CT until the forced removal of all non-whites in the earlyish 1900s. According to the stories, everyone, all races, religions, ethnicities, etc. lived in perfect—or near perfect—harmony in District 6 until the removal. Our tour guide was one of the people forced to move, so it was really emotional and touching. The tour guide was really poetic. He said that all humans bleed the same, no matter what color your skin, eyes, nose etc. look like, which I found touching.
After the museum, we drove up to the actual District 6 area. They had knocked down all the buildings, so it’s still an empty space. They are allowing people to move back—for a price—but few people can afford it and, of course, their original home is no longer there. Something really interesting is that there are a few really nice buildings there, but they were built when the Queen was coming to visit to hide the desolation and destruction. Essentially, the government knew that what they were doing was wrong and that they would have to cover it up.
One thing some of us talked about though is how apartheid is nothing new or isolated. Similar instances have occurred all over, from the Holocaust to Jim Crow. People just keep letting these horrible instances occur. We act like we learn, but we don’t. Everyone condemned the Holocaust but allowed similar ideas, if different methods, to continue on in their own societies, through segregation in the south of the US, apartheid in South Africa, and so much more.
On Friday, we learned a lot about Xhosa culture, especially the importance of family. Xhosa families are huge, not because they have a ton of kids, but because what we consider extended family they consider brothers and sisters, in some cases. For instance, a father’s brother is also a tata, and his children are sisis and bhutis, not cousins. This is not the same for a mother’s family, though.
Marriage is a family matter in Xhosa culture, too. If two people want to marry, their families negotiate the wedding and the lobola (the number of cows the man pays the bride’s family; although usually Rand—money—is paid now they still negotiate in terms of cows). This is because a marriage is not between two individuals but two families. This has an interesting effect on divorce, as well. While two people can legally divorce, the Xhosa culture won’t recognize it, because the families have not divorced. You also can’t marry within your clan (an extension of family, essentially…so I’d compare this to how you probably don’t want to marry your cousin, although a clan extends far wider than that).
When I came home on Friday, I found I had gained two new sisis for the weekend. On Saturday, one of them showed me around all of Langa. It’s such a lively place on Saturday afternoons! The weather was brutally hot, but everyone was out and talking, buying food, etc. Langa has a train station and a minibus station, which is good to know. My sisi was making fun of the town center, because of the layout. All of the hair places are on one street, all of the places to buy chicken on another, etc. I also noticed that every cash & carry store has a Coca-Cola picture on it, and is painted red. It reminded me of Atlanta.
Saturday night, some friends and I went to Biko’s Quest, a show at Artscape Theatre in Cape Town. It was incredible. I realize I keep using that term to describe everything, but that’s pretty much how I constantly feel. It was a contemporary dance show inspired by Biko’s life, and they would occasionally read his writings. Their dancing, the costumes, and the music were absolutely gorgeous.
I think a contemporary dance show is the best way to portray Biko and the Black Consciousness movement, aside from maybe his own writing. Black Consciousness was all about psychology: the psychology of being black, the psychology of oppression, and how to get past it. Their dancing was also very psychological. You could feel the pain, the tears, and the death. There was a powerful scene where they reenacted the Hector Pieterson death, which occurred during a student uprising in 1976. The uprising was supposed to be peaceful, but the police began to throw stones and then it turned into a riot. They also had a scene where various dancers told the story of certain people’s deaths in prison. The names added up, and also put names and stories to a particular part of the apartheid museum where they simply hung maybe 200 nooses. In this scene, the dancers kept dying, over and over and over, for every name.
The variety in the dances was also incredible. One of the earlier songs was almost sock hop like. It was very fun, like a party. At the end of the show, they did a tradition Xhosa dance to the women’s anthem. First of all, how great it is that there’s a women’s anthem? Also, the dance was incredible! The audience was so into it. There was whistling, shouting, and clapping. It was a phenomenal finale.
So, this week was clearly amazing, just like the last. I always tell myself I’ll have a shorter post than the last time…and then I never do. Whoops. Maybe I’ll try to post more frequently and then have shorter posts…we’ll see.