Over spring break, I joined the Friends service learning trip to South Africa. We spent a majority of our time there studying the country’s history of racial oppression in the form of the Apartheid system and the system’s lasting effects.
Our second day in the country began with an aerial view of Cape Town from Table Mountain. After our descent, our tour guide launched us into our educational journey about South African racism. He described to us how the Apartheid government divided the city of Cape Town into sections based on race, forcibly moving people into their designated neighborhoods. Within an hour, we found ourselves in the District 6 museum, a museum that displayed the rich culture of a black-designated section that ultimately added much to the anti-Apartheid movement. We spend the rest of our day in Langa, the township closest to Cape Town city proper. Townships are city subdivisions established during Apartheid and are plagued with high rates of unemployment and drug abuse. They are also overwhelmingly black, hardly a coincidence in a society still grappling with the effects of Apartheid. We toured Langa and finished our day at Mzansi a family-run restaurant. At Mzansi we were served delicious food, provided with musical entertainment, and told the story of how the host founded the township restaurant on the dream of her late mother.
The rest of our trip was similarly packed with eye-opening natural wonders, cultural adventures, and engaging conversation about South African racial history. We lived in a township for 5 days in Port Elizabeth, learning from a community group of “Mamas” who were our hosts. We studied two methods of sustainable development via the Ubuntu Education Fund and the Calabash Trust. We even celebrated Easter with a methodist church, going with them to peoples’ homes and witnessing how the church supported community members in need.
I am exceedingly grateful for this trip. It has forced me to take a deeper look into the way I perceive myself as a white American man of relatively high socioeconomic status. I now feel that it is my duty to help my own community understand how it fits into a society of institutionalized racism.