Introduction to South Africa

My first week in South Africa has been filled with new learning experiences inside of the classroom and out. Through my SIT Study Abroad program, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Johannesburg and visited the Apartheid Museum and the Mandela house in the Soweto Township. At the Apartheid Museum, visitors are given randomized entry tickets that require them to enter the museum either through the Blanke (White) Only or Non-Blanke (Non-White) Only entrance. This experiment is meant to replicate what it was like to access goods and services during apartheid based on one’s race.

I felt a heaviness burrowing in the pit of my stomach when I saw that I would have to walk through the Non-Blanke entrance based on my ticket. Upon entering the museum, I was bombarded with a collage of passport books belonging to Black South Africans. I learned that Black South Africans were required to carry these passport books and present them upon request by the state police. Failure to comply with the police’s request could lead to severe punishment and brutality under the apartheid state. The Apartheid Museum documented life under apartheid in great detail, touching on themes of race, gender, and class. The life of Nelson Mandela also comprised a large part of the museum given his leadership in the African National Congress. I got to understand the resistance struggle against apartheid through key points in Mandela’s political career such as the Sharpeville Massacre and Rivonia trial. After visiting the Museum, we traveled to Mandela’s house in Soweto where his wife and children lived during his 27 year imprisonment. The Mandela family represented hope, resilience and black pride during the anti-apartheid movement and standing inside of their home was a heart warming experience.

These excusions to the Apartheid Museum and Mandela’s house helped emotionally prepare me for my lectures on the history of apartheid and contemporary South African politics. The academic director emphasized to our cohort that one cannot understand the state of the nation until one has learned how apartheid radically altered the way of life for Black South Africans and Non-Whites and affected the country’s concentration of wealth and resources. As I move forward with my SIT program, I hope to have more opportunities to learn experientially and understand contemporary South African politics from the perspective of community stakeholders.

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