Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First "Soccer City," Now Soccer Nation (Will)

At "Soccer City" in Soweto

Even in South Africa, I have developed what amounts to a normal routine.

I wake up in the morning around 7:30 a.m., eat breakfast, arrive for work at 9 a.m. In the afternoons I leave work around 4 p.m. and I’m back home by 4:30 or so.

But today something was different.

After returning home from a typical day working at Black Sash, I stepped into my room and flipped on the TV. To my surprise, there wasn’t a soccer match being shown.

The World Cup has been a constant companion during our group’s time here. While we’ve enjoyed following the action, meeting the fans from around the world, and celebrating the success of the national team Bafana Bafana, I think it’s safe to say we’ve had at least some doubts about whether this global spectacle has been a positive influence.

Now we’ve reached the quarterfinals of the competition. Eight teams remain alive and there are only seven games left to be played. This is a rare chance to stop and reflect on the meaning of this commotion without the distant buzzing of vuvuzelas in the background.

For South Africa as a nation there are plenty of issues at stake. FIFA’s decision to allow the world’s largest sporting event to be held in an African nation was monumental. The build-up to the Cup raised plenty of questions, and as my fellow intern Sarah Krueger outlined, many questions still remain.

The impact the World Cup will have on South Africa is one that we have all deliberated over during our time here. It is a question that will be debated endlessly by politicians, economists, and foreign observers for years to come. In addition, the influence this sporting event has had on our DukeEngage is an issue that our group has also discussed.

It had the potential to be a tremendous distraction - think March Madness on a global scale – but I believe we have turned it into a positive force for our program.

The event itself has been a key talking point for several of our guest speakers, many of whom were extremely critical of its effects on the poor, on infrastructure, and on the justice system. The topic is almost unavoidable in conversations about current events and has thus helped bring to light a range of different issues that we have discussed with our guests.

Secondly, our group has found experiences that integrate soccer with society in a meaningful way. We attended the opening of two exhibits that explored social impact of soccer in South Africa, especially in relation to race and poverty. The soccer “kultcha” photography exhibit at the University of Cape Town explored the meaning of the sport in the townships and the Cape Flats. A new exhibit called “Offside” at the District Six museum delved into the relationship between soccer and racism, framing the sport as a force for unity and integration around the world.

To me these two exhibits show how members of our group have worked on projects that, rather than ignore the presence of this massive global event, instead attempt to use the World Cup as a touchstone for constructive dialogue.

I’m proud of the work our group has done relating to the World Cup. We’ve avoided the distracting elements and made the event a part of educational framework. And I know when I look back on my time in South Africa, soccer will be one part of the many incredible learning experiences I’ve had.

That being said, I can’t wait to watch Germany vs. Argentina face off in Cape Town this weekend.


The Beauty of Unintentional Learning (Sarah)

At Mhudi Vineyard

This past weekend, the group took a trip out to Stellenbosch, an area renowned as the home to South Africa’s many vineyards. We visited a black-owned vineyard called Mhudi. The owners gave us a presentation in which they discussed, among other things, some problems plaguing their company. A current obstacle against which they are battling is the perception that their wine is of a lower quality simply because the vineyard is owned by black South Africans. But after our wine sampling, none of us doubted the quality of their wine.

Later, we were served a traditional South African lunch, complete with Kudu sausage, lamb chops, and many local vegetables that are not found in the U.S. While we dined on a beautiful veranda overlooking the mountains, a band entertained us with many songs on marimbas.

Yesterday, the group climbed Lion’s Head, a mountain in Cape Town. From the summit, we watched the sun set over the city of Cape Town. The view was amazing; one could see the city of Cape Town, Table Mountain, and the ocean. Climbing down in the dark was slightly treacherous, but fortunately there were no major falls or injuries.

I have come to really appreciate the additional excursions that our group takes on the weekends, and during the week. They are an invaluable asset to our program, and the trips augment our academic experience greatly. Prior to arriving in South Africa for DukeEngage, I assumed that the trip would be almost solely service-based. And while that is a huge component of our program, I have been surprised and appreciative of the plethora of academic experiences we have gained. From meeting with community leaders to reading South African newspaper articles, I have learned so much. But I have also found that, even when an activity may be ostensibly unrelated to academics, the experience somehow still manages to help me grow intellectually. And to me, that unintentional type of learning is the best kind.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Shift in Perspective (Chaele)

Chaele atop Table Mountain in Cape Town

Venturing to South Africa for a couple months has certainly provided me with a new lens through which to view the world. Coming in, I don’t think I knew exactly what to expect. This probably helped me roll with the punches as we flitted from monument to museum in Jo’burg, and then got settled into our work and World Cup routines in Cape Town. I was ready for adventure, and I was not too worried about the unexpected.

Halfway through, I’m still not too worried about the unexpected, or what experiences and adventures I’ll have over the next four weeks. So far, Duke Engage has been amazing; I’m excited to see what comes next. That said, however, I’ve also realized how much my time here has affected my perspective. As we’ve encountered people and events that have heightened juxtapositions between poverty and wealth, race and identity, and corruption and success, I’ve found myself devoting a lot of time to reflection, in order to try and wrap my mind around all the complexities of the situation.

Through our group endeavors and my work, I’ve researched and thought often about apartheid and its continuing influence on the people here. As we drove back to the B&B yesterday, after spending the day experiencing the success story of a black, family owned vineyard in Stellenbosch, I saw countless rows of crammed ramshackle huts that served as people’s homes in the informal settlements. As we drove for miles and miles through this, the idea was reiterated that in some ways South Africa has come so far since its recent history of struggle, but that in others, it has such an inconceivably difficult and long road ahead. This is a harsh reality that has become much more real to me the more time we spend here.

Some of the conditions we have seen here have been shocking in their severity, and I fight my disbelief to try and see and understand the circumstances accurately and clearly. I’ve also realized how often those difficult problems go unseen or unmentioned in everyday society simply due to the demands of reality. For people who live here, much of their time is spent worrying about daily concerns like making dinner, going to work, cleaning the kitchen, and walking the dog – as is the case for nearly any society. On the other hand, I come through Duke Engage, with a somewhat unique position. I have two months to observe, absorb, and see Cape Town, but I come knowing that sooner rather than later, I will leave.

This circumstance has helped me understand more objectively the difference between how I think and see here, versus how I think and see in the States. I realize that I am more impervious to societal problems when I am at Duke, or at home. I have other responsibilities, and concerns, and distractions. Before I came, I didn’t see my world through the same intensely focused lens that I have used to view South Africa. It may not be possible for me to constantly use the reflective, academic, change-oriented lens that I have used here back home, but I do think it is possible to use it more consistently than I have before. Why not study and confront problems in the States in the same interested and undaunted manner as I have studied and confronted them here? One of the striking things about being here has been the immense number of similarities and connections that we have become aware of between the histories of South Africa and the United States. I will certainly have plenty of material to consider when I return home if I choose to utilize this new way of interpreting my surroundings.

I think this new perspective adds another dimension to how I can view my world, no matter where exactly I am geographically. I look forward to utilizing this new lens for the next four weeks, as well as continuing to take advantage of it thereafter.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Black Sash: An Inspiring Internship Experience (Sarah)

Black Sash women participating in their signature silent protest

When I applied to DukeEngage, and was then accepted, I had no idea where I would be working. I had seen placement options listed on the group profile on the website, but I was unsure as to which would suit my interests best. A few weeks after I was accepted, Karlyn e-mailed me and said that Black Sash had requested to work with me. So, I complied—excited, but still uncertain if that would be better for me than the other sites.

Now, after working at Black Sash for almost a month, there is no doubt that I am in the right place. The work that I do for them aligns exactly with my skills and interests, and is precisely what I hoped to do in Cape Town. I have gotten to write a press release, grammatically and linguistically edit reports that will be used for health care reform, help organize events, and, best of all, to conduct interviews of original Sash members. This interview project that Will and I are working on is intended to honor the contributions made by the original Sash members to the organization, and to record their stories. We have been interviewing women individually, recording the entire interview. We then type up a transcription of the interview and write biographies of each woman that will be uploaded to the Black Sash website. The transcriptions and audio will be archived at the University of Cape Town. Listening to the stories these women have is fascinating; they are some of the most inspiring and courageous people one could ever meet. Typically, Will and I go to their houses to conduct the interviews. So far, they have all lived in beautiful areas of town, so it’s been nice to see more of Cape Town and the surrounding suburbs. Today, the woman we interviewed had bakes us homemade muffins that were delicious. So, it’s been a great way to really get into the community and explore.

On Friday, Will and I went to a tea with the oldest Black Sash members. Everyone in the room was over 80! They meet on the last Friday of every month to discuss current politics and enjoy time together. They took a keen interest to us, and in our project. We were with them for 2 ½ hours and easily could’ve stayed longer. We were able to ask them a lot of questions, and the responses were great because they were all eager to share their stories.

Next week, Will and I were to interview a woman named Lettie Malindi, one of the few black women in the Sash during the early days. However, we learned today that she died over the weekend. That really added a new sense of urgency to the work Will and I are doing. One of the women we interviewed had Alzheimer’s, another had Polio, and many others are very ill and in constant pain.

I am so grateful to Black Sash for providing me with such a wonderful internship experience, I really could not have asked for more!


Random Musings (Samera)

Being in South Africa has been an interesting experience. Although, I don't think I have experienced as strong of a cultural shock as some for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I have been confronted by extreme poverty before as I have spent a considerable amount of time in another, less developed African nation. Also, this is not the first time that I have been confronted with racial issues. Personally, I have always found the politics of race and race relations fascinating and often find myself reading random related journal articles for the fun of it- but I'm a geek like that. I often wonder what the others think when (probably) newly confronted with these issues. Sometimes, I get mad that it requires an out of country experience for many to realize such global problems- and these are global problems that no nation is spared of. Often times, people will reiterate that these issues are not far from home- I think this is an important point to make.

Such reiterations constantly makes me wonder why in America are issues of socioeconomic and race related poverty so easy to escape, while my fellow Duke Engagers are so aware of it here in South Africa? Yes, in Cape Town- you see homeless people asking for money or food on the touristy Long Street- and we feel pangs of empathy. Yet, I feel such empathy is vacated once we see homeless people on our local Ninth St. in Durham. Personally, I've been mentally wrestling with how do you show dignity for those who are in extreme poverty. After all, we all deserve the respect that humans are entitled to. This stems from the fact that the socially conditioned practice of ignoring the visible poor leaves me cold. I can't fault Cape Town though, this is the socially conditioned practice everywhere- if not worse in some places. Though much thought has occurred, I haven't figured out the appropriate way to interact with extreme poverty.

Additionally, my time in South Africa so far and specifically Cape Town, has awakened in me new areas of academic interest. Trust me, my prior mentioning of reading up on race just scratches the surface as to the amount of reading I do. Interacting with South African society via work and play has introduced a whole host of questions that only academic articles can answer (my form of personal education). One speaker we had peaked my interest in "Coloured" identity in SA and another made me wonder about perceptions of HIV/AIDS in the nation. My workplace (as well as the practices of South Africa's own president, Zuma) have me wanting to read up on the legal practice of polygamy as it seems so foreign to me. Overall, I'm excited to explore more parallel issues between the states and SA as well as find more random topics of personal interest.


Friday, June 25, 2010



Working at Black Sash, an organization which for much of its existence had a membership base of all women, has inevitably pushed me to consider gender issues. Recently, Will and I have been interviewing original members of the Sash about their experiences with the group, and I have found their persistence and courage to be very inspiring. These discussions have provided me with an additional lens through which to view South Africa and the world, as I contemplate with awe the gravity of their actions during apartheid. So, it was through this process of thinking that I come to reflect on an incident from last weekend.

On Saturday, the group took a trip out to Simonstown to visit Peter Story and his wife, Elizabeth. Peter was a minister who was very outspoken against apartheid while it was occurring, and believes strongly in bringing politics to the pulpit. We met in Peter’s church, where he sat at the front of the room, facing the rest of us who sat in the pews. While he answered questions from the students and told us about his life, his wife sat in the back, a spectator like the rest of us. Occasionally, though, she would chime in to correct a statement her husband had made, or to add in a couple of sentences of commentary on events Peter forgot to mention. But, quickly, she would be cut off, returning to her silence. After the talk was completed, we all went out to lunch together at a restaurant on the beach. I sat near Elizabeth, and as I talked to her, I realized that she, too, was an active figure during apartheid. She had stories of her own to share, but it seemed to me that she was not given the opportunity to do so because the focus was often placed upon her husband. While her husband was undoubtedly a paramount figure during the apartheid era, I began to feel increasingly disconcerted by the fact that Elizabeth’s story was seemingly cast aside, taking a back seat to Peter’s. I’m not sure whether that was the fault of our group, of her husband, or of societal norms. But, it left me feeling slightly uncomfortable, confused, and unsettled. I felt that she should have been merited her own conversation, rather than being reduced to interjecting randomly during her husband’s story.

Was this something that happened to her often? And to other women? I certainly don’t think that one would typically see a wife being the focal point of conversation, with her husband sitting in the background. And that troubled me, again prompting me to consider how gender roles still plague society.


At some point in my academic career, South Africa and the issues that its colorful history raised became somewhat of a cliché to me.

In middle school and high school it seemed like I read countless books about the Apartheid era. Maybe this was some kind of trend that swept North Carolina educators in the early 2000s. And while I recognized the importance of the issues raised in these works, I was tired of discussing the same themes year after year. At some point (perhaps as I watched “Colour of Friendship,” a cheesy Disney movie about Apartheid-era race issues, in 7th grade) I lost interest in South Africa. Its historical significance had taken on a level of triviality for me.

My Duke Engage experience has shattered that impression. I’ve been reintroduced to the complexities of this country through hands-on experiences, fascinating guest speakers, and two outstanding professors. It’s been an eye-opening program and it has sparked my interest in reading anything I can get my hands on about South Africa.

I’ve particularly enjoyed reading “Beyond the Miracle,” a book which tracks the nation’s development following the election of Mandela, authored by the renowned South African journalist Allister Sparks. I was also excited when The Economist magazine published a “special report” on South Africa a couple weeks ago in advance of the World Cup. Sparks, who once wrote for The Economist, was one of our guest speakers for this program. Hearing his perspectives in person, combined with reading his book and The Economist’s report, gave me a social and economic picture of what the country looks like today.

That picture isn’t quite as rosy as my middle school lessons made it seem. South Africa is at a crossroads. It has undergone a miraculous governmental transition from a racist regime to a functioning democracy without enduring a civil war or widespread violent conflict. But it is still plagued by corruption, massive unemployment, and a devastating AIDS epidemic. There are some who feel that, despite hosting this year’s World Cup, South Africa is on the verge of a collapse. It is the superpower of the African continent but many indicators show that it is not far from descending into the Third World.

This is an exciting time to be working at a South African NGO. I know that as an individual I cannot expect to singlehandedly change the course of a country, which I know relatively little about. But I am hopeful that I will be able to be part of the movement that keeps South Africa on the right track, prevents it from being engulfed by poverty, and reminds the world of the stunning historical achievements that occurred here just 16 years ago.


Throughout our time in Cape Town I have consistently had varying revelations and impressions, not only about South Africa but about myself. Over the past week in particular I had one memorable impression - not necessarily about the specific culture and our placements, but about service in general. Driving from the metropolitan city bowl of Cape Town to its surrounding townships and settlements, it is impossible not to be taken aback by the degrees of variation in levels of affluence. Simply put, though an air of slow racial and socio-economic development pervades the enitre atmosphere of Cape Town, seeing the impoverished neighborhoods of its outskirts is both startling and devastating. This past Wednesday, one of our co-workers at the District Six Museum took us on a tour of this area - and seeing such poverty is debilitating, let alone living it. I personally found it extremely discomfiting, and then I felt uncomfortable with that thought in itself. I wondered, or rather am still wondering, whether it's possible my own societal comfort levels could prevent me from fully participating in service. Though I'm still struggling with this consideration and probably will for years to come, hopefully my time here in Cape Town will further help me learn to understand and embrace such discomfort and utilize that emotion to propel myself into more wholistic service.



Flying into Cape Town 3 weeks ago now (amazing how time flies) it was difficult to not be struck by the immense beauty of the place. At the Southern tip of Africa there rise these gorgeous granite mountains, out of the lush green of the peninsula, carving said peninsula into numerous picturesque bays where the crystal blue sea meets pure white sand at the foot of these mountains.

We’re fortunate enough to live in Tamboerskloof, an upscale suburb nestled in the “city bowl” between the mountains and Table Bay and within walking distance of downtown. Walking to work everyday through the City Bowl, it’s hard not to catch yourself admiring Table Mountain in its massive flat glory dominating the landscape to your right.

It’s also hard not to notice the predominance of whites living in this area.

On Wednesday though, we were taken by one of our managers at the District Six Museum into the other former “group areas.” Mandy, our manager, drove us out of the City Bowl area into the townships. Driving through Athlone, into Langa, Bonteheuwal (sp?) and Gugulatu the difference in scenery was immense. We’d left the beauty of Table Bay and driven into the Cape Flats, the dusty flatlands that house the townships mentioned above. Just like everyone else, I was immediately struck by the stark poverty I witnessed in these areas compared to where I’d just come from and to where we live. One thing that I kept in mind during the whole drive, though, was how government policy intended to keep these people, these “others” under the thumb of the apartheid government. These were the areas were many former District Six residents of different races (District Six was located on prime property in the City Bowl) were relocated to and because they were of different races, former neighbors were placed into township group areas miles apart and separated by rail lines and highways (to keep the different “groups” from meeting and cooperating). And on top of that, the government had the sick humor to name much of this tenement housing after places and streets in District Six.

Toto, we definitely were not in the City Bowl any more. It was amazing to me that just on the other side of the mountain, not more than 30km away, the government was able to effectively dump all of these different people in order to keep the most prized areas for what they viewed as the most prized race.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The World Cup: Looking at Both Sides of the Coin (Sarah)

Watching the South Africa v. Mexico match on Long Street in Cape Town

There is no hiding the fact that the World Cup is in full swing in South Africa. Our group frequently talks about the World Cup and the effects it has on the nation, whether positive or negative. Below is a piece that I wrote for the San Antonio Express News regarding my opinions on the World Cup.
It was published last week in the Opinions and View section.

Several days ago, I went to the Italy vs. Paraguay World Cup match in Cape Town, South Africa. Unlike the other 393,000 visitors to the country, being in South Africa during the time of the world's largest sporting event is mere coincidence for me. I am participating in a two-month service-immersion trip, sponsored by Duke University, interning at a Human Rights NGO.

During the three weeks that I have been in South Africa, the country has been buzzing with excitement, both figuratively and audibly. From any office building, apartment or street, one can hear the humming of a “vuvuzela,” a plastic horn much like a bugle, popularized by the World Cup to create noise in the stadiums. Yet, the constant jubilation erupting on the streets may only superficially represent the impact that the World Cup could have on South Africa.

Certainly, there are numerous positive effects: increased tourism, revenue, and international attention, and Africa's first chance to host the World Cup. For a nation typically associated with negative stereotypes such as disease, poverty and crime, the 2010 FIFA World Cup nurtures pride for South Africans and provides an opportunity to impress the international community. A country where a native woman is more likely to be raped than learn how to read and which ranks in the 10 most dangerous places for murder, rape, and riot, South Africa has much to gain if the event proceeds safely and successfully.

But when the Cup is over and the fans have returned home, the hotels, streets, and stadiums will be empty, and South Africans may have little to look forward to. In anticipation of the event, the South African government sought to create an exaggerated image of development for visitors.

During my first week in South Africa, I went to a township (slum) just outside Johannesburg, called Soweto. There, I realized that the dwellings visible from the highway had been replaced with nice, new houses, whereas the homes on the interior were still tin shacks. Most visitors will not tour Soweto as I did — thus, as they drive by, they will see only the houses recently installed by the government, and will remain shielded from the immense poverty.

Such a practice is common. And while the government hopes to ultimately replace all of the shacks, I speculate that, after the World Cup tourists have vanished, there will be no rush to construct more houses.

Because of the World Cup, South Africa has legalized prostitution so that the police officers can instead focus on more violent crime. In a country in which 12 percent of the population has HIV and AIDS, such an action contradicts good health and morals.

Where people's homes and schools once stood now lie enormous stadiums that have been constructed around the country to host matches. But when the Cup is over, will there be a need for 10 stadiums, the biggest of which seats 95,000 and the smallest, 40,000? And what about the employees who have been given work to prepare for the World Cup, but will then be unemployed? While the government is focused on the need to create infrastructure to accommodate the World Cup, 25 percent of South Africans live on less than $2 a day, in a nation with a startling gap between rich and poor. The South African government apparently put the needs of tourists above those of its citizens.

While some deem South Africa to be a scarred society healed by soccer, others claim that the presence of the world's largest sporting event is merely creating new wounds to be treated. For a nation less than 20 years past the rigid structures of apartheid, skeptics around the world doubted South Africa's ability to put on such a large-scale affair.

If the country succeeds in hosting an event of this grandeur, both South Africa and the entire continent of Africa could be put on the global map in a more positive context. Hopefully, that alone will be enough to outweigh the negative consequences that may emerge.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Overview (Sarah)

The group after climbing Table Mountain in Cape Town

This summer, eight of us have been awarded the opportunity to participate in the DukeEngage Cape Town program. Less than 20 years past the rigid structures of apartheid, South Africa, as a nation, is in a pivotal moment in history. The country is still plagued with immense wealth disparity and concerns regarding governmental leadership, as to be expected of any democracy in its infancy. I feel so fortunate to be here this summer. In my opinion, South Africa is at a crossroad between moving forward and stepping back, and the work we do this summer in our placements can be an important contribution toward moving the nation in the right direction. Most importantly, we hope to grow personally from the invaluable educational opportunities to which we will be exposed.

During our 8 weeks in South Africa, I yearn to better understand South Africa’s past, and how that shapes the present and future. The first week was spent in Johannesburg, visiting numerous museums and monuments, and engaging in discussions with prominent South Africans in order to more fully grasp the events of the apartheid and their lasting impressions. Through various internships, our group seeks to become involved in the Cape Town community and assist in the continuing quest for equality and justice in South Africa.

Will and I are working at Black Sash, a Human Rights NGO founded during the apartheid. Initially, the organization’s intent was to seek the franchise for colored people. Its membership base was primarily composed of white women who protested apartheid by wearing black sashes. Now that the Black Sash’s original goal has been achieved, the organization has shifted focus and currently seeks to ensure that the constitutional rights promised to the poor are more than just words on a page, and are obtained in practice. Black Sash also opened up its membership to all people, regardless of race or gender. Today, it is one of the largest and best-funded NGOs in South Africa. To me, the best part about working at Black Sash is that they cater to the interests and skills of their interns. We are given flexibility in tasks, and thus gain a range of experiences.

Chaele and Samera are working at the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC). The WLC deals with policy and legislation related to women's issues. The issues addressed cover a wide spectrum including violence prevention, land issues, marriage rights, and health policy. One interesting dynamic of the WLC is that the office is intentionally comprised of only women. Just in a few short weeks, Chaele and Samera have observed how familial and jovial the WLC community is. Whether celebrating staff birthdays or blowing vuvuzelas inside the office space, the women at the WLC show a passion not only for the people around them, but for life itself. Right now, their work consists of a fair amount of legal research to assist the lawyers. While conducting the research, Chaele and Samera are building a strong foundation of the cases and issues the WLC are challenging right now. They had the chance to attend a victims empowerment conference recently and both walked away with a richer understanding of the social and legal context facing the nation today. They are both excited to continue their work and embrace the vibrant Cape Town surrounding.

Ibrahim, Ubong, and Dana are working at the District Six Museum, which tells the story of the displaced residents of District Six who were forcibly removed during the apartheid.

Brandon is working with Paul Weinberg, a photographer, and documents life in the townships surrounding Cape Town.