Eshowe Prison and Restorative Justice

The first day of my stay in rural Amatikulu, I had the opportunity to visit Eshowe Prison and speak with 15-20 female inmates with my SIT cohort. We participated in structured ice breaker activities to get to know each other as part of the prison’s restorative justice program. Our conversations allowed us to touch on a variety of topics such as relationships, family, life in prison, and hopes/dreams. I remember my conversation with two women who were raised by their grandmothers (“Gogos”). One was in prison for fighting and the other was in prison for stealing. The women both stated that seeing their Gogos work and provide for their families made them feel empowered to do the same despite traditional gender roles in Zulu culture. I had similar memories of my grandmother growing up. When I was living with my father while my grandmother was still alive, she acted as the head of household. My grandmother cooked all of the meals and took care of me and my sisters while my father worked. She was my role model, and I hoped to have a similar work ethic as her when I got older. 

When I reflect on my visit to Eshowe Prison now, I wonder how the women are doing given the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus. They already have limited contact with the outside world, but the lockdown measures in South Africa have isolated them further. I have also been feeling very empathetic to the conditions prisoners are subjected to in the United States that become exacerbated in a global pandemic such as this. Prisons are starting to become the epicenters of the Coronavirus outbreak in the United States with Cook County Jail immediately coming to mind and lack the proper resources to contain the spread. While the focus of my visit at Eshowe Prison was restorative justice, I would like to see burgeoning conversations include the importance of communal healing and rehabilitation over imprisonment. For me, restorative justice does not involve leaving a vulnerable group like prisoners susceptible to viruses and diseases without the proper resources to safeguard their health. The way we should measure our success of combatting the Coronavirus is by taking a look at its impact on marginalized communities and reducing the casualties where people are hit the hardest.

Rural Homestay in Amatikulu

One of the most memorable moments of my study abroad experience in South Africa was my rural homestay. My urban homestay in Cato Manor was coming to an end as the second week of March approached, and I was feeling anxious about our program’s transition into the rural part of KwaZulu-Natal. I grew up in a city with a population of over 8 million people and felt comfortable in Durban where there were more than half a million people. Now I would be spending a week in a city that was 1000x smaller than Durban. 

Our program’s assistant briefed us on what to expect for our rural homestay a few days before our departure. She told us to pack light, dress conservatively, bring our own drinking water, pack bug spray, and to let our families know that they might not hear from us during our stay because of how unreliable the cell towers could be. I found out that students would be staying with families together in pairs, and I would be living with a Gogo and her grandson and granddaughter. I was excited to learn that I would have younger host siblings because I brought chocolates and a bunch of toys with me to South Africa as gifts for my host families. 

Living in rural Amatikulu completely opened my eyes to the challenges South African families face when they lack immediate access to resources. I lived at the very top of a hill surrounded by a field of grass. The walk to the road was about ten minutes and the nearest store was about a fifteen minute drive. I learned that there were members of the community who volunteered to shop for the elderly so that they would not be burdened by the long trek. My Gogo was the head of household and took care of daily tasks such as food preparation, cleaning and child care while her daughter was away working. 

While I was staying in rural Amatikulu, I had to make some lifestyle adjustments. I took bucket baths frequently and grew accustomed to using the outhouse. Through these activities, I learned the importance of water conservation and how to limit my waste. My host family led a simple life but were still deeply connected with what was going on in the rest of the country through television and media. I loved sitting around the tv with them and getting to watch some of their favorite soap operas. Even though my rural homestay required me to step outside of my comfort zone, I am grateful to have experienced multiple perspectives of South Africa and meet people from different walks of life.

Albert Luthuli Museum and Ela Gandhi

During the first week of March, I had the opportunity to visit the Albert Luthuli Museum in KwaDukuza and Gandhi Museum in Inanda with my SIT Cohort. Albert Luthuli was the first South African recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960 and served as the President of the African National Congress (“ANC”) between 1952 and 1967. Luthuli was a staunch anti-apartheid activist who earned recognition for his reconciliation framework and nonviolent approach to end state sanctioned violence by the National Party.

The Luthuli Museum chronicled the life of Albert Luthuli and his involvement within the ANC. Prior to becoming president of the ANC, Albert Luthuli served as a church pastor. He became a chief of a Christian branch of the Zulu tribe and held that position until he was removed by the apartheid government in 1953. His activist work captured the attention of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy who was Secretary of State at the time. The meeting between Luthuli and Kennedy was well documented by the museum in an effort to show the global impact of Luthuli’s activism and to challenge racist stereotypes about political leadership from Black South Africans.

Similarly to Albert Luthuli, Mahatmas Gandhi contributed significantly to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Gandhi came to work in South Africa as an attorney and experienced racial discrimination under apartheid. He dedicated two decades of service to support South Africans who were fighting for their legal rights. My SIT cohort had the opportunity to speak with Ela Gandhi, the granddaughter of Mahatmas Gandhi, and learn more about her family’s activism in South Africa.

I learned that Gandhi’s wife was also an organizer and earned respect among many social circles in the anti-apartheid movement. The crucial role of women during the anti-apartheid struggle is often neglected by many scholars. Our conversation with Ela Gandhi about the women in her family illuminated the sacrifices they had to make as wives, mothers and daughters in order to ensure that the next generation would grow up in a free republic. Ela Gandhi was a member of the ANC and lived in exile when the apartheid goverment banned the organization in 1953. She ended up serving in parliament after the new government was formed under Nelson Mandela and received recognition from her party for her contributions. Her story is similar to so many other South African women who mobilized for a free republic yet do not get the recognition they deserve.

Interview Tips While Studying Abroad

Before I left for my study abroad program in South Africa, I applied to several summer internship/fellowship opportunities. The process of applying was very straightforward. I submitted my applications before the deadline, tailored my resume and cover letters to the opportunity I was applying for, and gave my recommenders ample notice. The interview process became kind of tricky. Here are a few tips that I would like to share after doing a few interviews while studying abroad:

  1. Be mindful of time zone difference.

I’m currently studying abroad in South Africa which is 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 10 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. I have found that interviewing in the early evening works best for me because of the time difference. I finish my day with my SIT program at 5pm and schedule interviews between 6:30pm and 8:30pm so that I also have time to eat dinner with my host family and change into professional dress if need be. Make sure to communicate with your main point of contact from the organization to let them know you are abroad and the time zone you are in if their available interview times do not work for you.

  1. Find a quiet place for video interviews.

There is a local Starbucks near my program’s office center that I visit regularly to study and do interviews. Starbucks is a great place to do interviews because there is outdoor and indoor seating, and it stays open until 10pm during the week. Not many people go to Starbucks in the evening time which allows me to have more privacy while I complete my interviews. Starbucks also has WiFi which makes video interviews easier because cellular data signals can be unreliable when you travel outside of the U.S. 

  1. Only do phone calls if there are no other alternatives.

My phone company charges $0.20 per minute which can make international phone calls very expensive. If possible, I try to avoid doing phone calls and opt for audio calls through a third party platform such as Zoom. When I communicate this to the organization I am interviewing for they are generally understanding and make an effort to accomodate me. If I am unable to avoid using my cellular data, I try to minimize the time I talk on the phone by answering questions as succinctly as possible.  

  1. Plan for power outages, network connection interruptions, etc.

In South Africa, power outages are quite common. The government reduces energy consumption across the country through load shedding. Load shedding can happen in different stages and sometimes without warning. Load shedding has a total duration of two hours, but depending on the severity of its stage, it can occur up to four times per day. I downloaded an app that citizens use to track load shedding announcements and unplanned power outages to make an informed decision when I schedule interviews. If there are unplanned power outages, I would communicate that to my main point of contact and try to reschedule the interview. 

  1. Have a travel buddy if you are choosing a location away from your program centre or residence.

One of the main pieces of advice my program director gave my cohort was to always travel in groups. At night, some areas can be unsafe to wander alone, and it helps to have someone you trust with you. I have found that other people in my cohort go to Starbucks to study and do work, and I try to tag along when I can, especially when I have an interview. Since we all live near each other, we use group transportation to get home which makes traveling much safer.

I hope these tips are helpful to people doing interviews while they are studying abroad. I did not think of the potential challenges I would face with conducting interviews while studying abroad. Since the internet is not readily accessible in most places in South Africa, a lot of planning goes into my interviews before I have them. I recommend people plan ahead and communicate with their contacts so that there is a mutual understanding between all parties involved.

FRELIMO x ANC

This past week I had the opportunity to travel to Mozambique with my SIT program to learn more about the relationship between Mozambique and the ANC during apartheid. During apartheid the African National Congress (“ANC”) was banned and some of their members became exiles in Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania and other countries within the continent. The SIT program’s visit to Mozambique centered around the history of FRELIMO, a liberation party led by Eduardo Mondlane, and the MK operative wing of the ANC. 

Mozambique is a former colony of Portugal and gained independence in 1975. The country developed an allyship with the USSR during the Cold War and offered varying degrees of protection for ANC members during apartheid. Albie Sachs is one example of the many high profile ANC exiles who lived in Mozambique. Prior to our visit to Mozambique, my SIT cohort spoke with Albie Sachs over a Skype call and learned about the attack by the apartheid government that nearly took his life.  At my visit to the Matola Raid Museum, I learned that on January 31st, 1980 there were 13 MK operatives killed in an attack scholars believe was also orchestrated by the apartheid government. At the time of the attack, the fallen MK operatives were staying in a safe house provided by the Mozambican government and planning counterattacks against the apartheid government. The purpose of the Matola Raid Museum is to commemorate the soldiers killed in this attack and present a timeline of FRELIMO’s relationship with the ANC. Under the leadership of Samora Machel, Mozambique supported the independence movements in South Africa and Zimbabwe. However, factions of Mozambican political parties were supported by the apartheid government, and they conspired to end FRELIMO’s control of Mozambique. This led to the Mozambican government forming an agreement with South Africa to stop supporting the ANC if they agreed to stop funding their opposition. 

After visiting the museum, our SIT cohort not only reflected on the importance of Mozambique’s allyship with the ANC during apartheid but also on the nuances of such a relationship. Mozambique was a newly liberated country in Southern Africa and their fate was linked to their neighboring countries. We tried to consider possible reasons why Mozambique would form an agreement with the apartheid government despite their close ties with the ANC. The complexity of apartheid extended beyond South Africa’s borders and forced the global community to choose sides. My main takeaway from the Mozambique trip was that political change requires coalition building and solidarity. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had to travel outside of Durban in order to further my understanding of South Africa’s Social and Political Transformations.

Tour of the Warwick Markets

This past week I visited the historic Warwick markets with my SIT cohort. The Warwick markets are one of Durban’s main attractions and have existed in the community for over a century. The markets are divided into the following nine sections: Bovine Head Market, Early Morning Market, Berea Station, Brook Street Market, Music Bridge, Herb Market, Lime and Impepho Market, Bear Market and Victoria Street Market. Informal trading is quite common in South Africa. One will find local traders who sell affordable goods along the beach fronts in Durban and near local transit stops.

Despite drawing crowds of over 460,000 people per day, the Warwick Markets have had to fight for the right to stay in the Durban Metro Area. Often informal traders have to compete with larger retailers which have more buying power. However, they are not in this fight alone. Asiye eTafuleni is a non-profit organization that assists with Warwick Market tours and has dedicated time and resources to taking up some of the Market’s battles against the city. It specializes in the following areas: Inclusive Design, Urban Advocacy, Urban Education, and Urban Intelligence. eTafuleni gave my SIT cohort a tour of the markets beginning with Berea Station. I came across traders that sold handmade jewelry, clothes, handbags, shoes, spices, food, household appliances, etc. I purchased a handmade floral headband for my niece and handmade earrings for my mom while on the tour. After my cohort’s trip to the Warwick Markets, we reflected as a group on what it means to contribute to the local economy of Durban and to support local businesses. eTafuleni informed us during our tour that a lot of the traders have disabilities and come from impoverished communities. For many, the Warwick Markets have been their only source of income to support their families. The informal traders are also vulnerable to police surveillance, and those without permits put their livelihoods at risk just to make ends meet. I am glad that I was able to support the local traders at the Warwick Markets. This trip made me reflect on how I can support local businesses back home in New York City and support organizations that I believe are doing good work in the community. I’m excited to see what other valuable insights I will glean from my time in South Africa.

Zulu Culture and Family

I spent my second week in South Africa getting acquainted with the city of Durban and preparing for my first homestay in Cato Manor. At the beginning of the week, my SIT cohort began our isiZulu language instruction so that we would be able to communicate with our host families and the locals. The Zulu are the largest ethnic group in South Africa at a population of 10 to 12 million people. They mainly reside in the KwaZulu-Natal province which is where Cato Manor is located. 

One of the reasons why I chose SIT Social and Political Transformation in South Africa was because of the homestay component. When I applied to the program, my goal was to immerse myself in the culture of one of South Africa’s ethnic groups, and I believed homestays would help me accomplish that more so than a university campus. On the first day of isiZulu, we learned about the history of the Zulu people and how to say common greetings. 

Shaka Zulu was one of the most famous emperors of the Zulu kingdom. He established the Zulu nation and expanded his empire by conquering and controlling other tribes. While Shaka is portrayed as a formidable warrior by Zulu people, he is also remembered as a ruthless leader who was responsible for the displacement and forcible unification of several ethnic groups in southern Africa. There are many pop culture references to Shaka Zulu in music and film (i.e. Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation and Shaka Zulu: The Last Great Warrior).

The most common greeting I learned in isiZulu is sawubona which means I see you. Recognition is very important in Zulu culture especially in the rural parts of Durban where families are farther apart. Sawubona is used to convey a sense of genuinity when engaging in conversation because people did not cross paths that often when they traversed. This greeting can also be used at any time of day or place. Sawubona was the first word I used to greet my host family in Cato Manor. 

I have a wonderful host mother and a fun host sister who is my age. We enjoy watching crime shows, reality tv and South African soap operas together between meals and discussing current events in the media. I was excited to find out how much we had in common based on the shows we watched, our cross cultural exchanges through meals, and isiZulu language conversations. While my host family is proficient in English, I make the effort to communicate with them in isiZulu when I can because I know how much it means to them to have their language reciprocated. My friend back in the United States once told me that people want to be seen and heard, and I have been mindful of that lesson as I explore Durban and interact with the locals.

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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