Challenge to Change

Before I came to South Africa, my ideas of the places, people, and culture were far different from reality. My growing curiosity began the moment I was accepted to participate in the “Call of South Africa” program this winter term. I desired to firsthand learn more about the lingering affects of apartheid on people of all ages in South Africa.

Our visit to the township of Khayelitsha was eye opening. Driving to Khayelitsha, we passed big houses and developed areas. However, just seconds away people were living in homes made of tin roofs. This contrast was difficult to comprehend. I had seen pictures of townships and learned about the disparities through research, but none of this prepared me for what I was about to see. This place is where I met some of the most inspiring and loving individuals. As we arrived, people welcomed us with warm smiles and gratitude. The process of preparing and serving the bag lunches to the children in this township was an unforgettable experience. The simple act of providing a basic necessity was humbling. Why was I given the advantage of never having to worry about my next meal, but these children were not given this privilege? This day led me to reflect on the variation in the meaning of privilege and the role in plays in daily life.

During our visit to Hermanes, I had the opportunity to speak with the director of a local preschool. Her positivity was contagious as she was providing a strong foundation of education for the children. She mentioned that the local children in Cape Town are not required to attend school after the eighth grade. I then began to realize the lack of value South Africa places on educating the youth. In the United States, children are given the opportunity for a minimum of education through high school. It is a privilege to receive an education and it is often something people take for granted.

  In a passage written by Martin Haberman about the connection between education and poverty, is discussed in “Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching.” Haberman states, “Education will be seriously reformed only after we move it from a matter of “importance” to a matter of “life and death,” both for society and the individuals themselves (Haberman, 1991, p. 10). The role of society serves of great importance in emphasizing this issue and to help spread awareness to make a change.

In class, we discussed the term “dance of the lemons,” which is the process of less qualified teachers leaving schools to work at other schools. It is a cycle that creates a poor education system for children specifically in South Africa. I enjoyed reading a class article called, “Preparing Socially Conscious Teachers” by Omiuota Nelly Ukpokodu because it touched on the reasons this issue continues to occur. Ukpokodu says, “the academic failure of urban students and the achievement gap will remain problematic and will continue to prepare teachers who will and cannot successfully teach in urban schools.”

During our time in Cape Town, we shared a breakfast with elderly members of the community. This was one of my favorite experiences. The smiles beamed from their faces as we served them their food and talked to them about their lives. One woman was not eating with the group, so I brought her a plate of the eggs, meat, and toast to her room. As I delivered her food, I looked around at the small space she called her home. The sidewalks around the space in which the elderly individuals lived was very dangerous. Holes, uneven pavement, and piles of rocks filled the path. However, none of this stopped this woman from smiling. She was grateful for the present moment and I was inspired by her resilience. As I left and said my goodbyes, the woman looked me in the eyes and said, “I will be praying for you.” The genuine tone in her voice confirmed the sincerity of her statement. She has been confined to the post-apartheid cycle that thousands of people in South Africa face. How is she able to spread joy and optimism in an environment that is filled with oppression?

As a psychology minor, I have found the issues of post-apartheid South Africa relatable to my studies. The lingering effects are seen in the elderly and yet similarly seen in the youth. The effects of poverty can be detrimental to a child’s development. According to research, poverty is shown to impair a child’s ability to learn, leading to lower academic achievements, less education, and low-income careers. Overall, this can indirectly affect an individual’s mental health.

My time in South Africa has taught me that the lingering affects of the Bantu Education still create separation today. Even though the laws are not institutionalized, they still remain effective a cultural way. Nelson Mandela said, “Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.” It is important for people to recognize the direct and indirect problems that rise due to poverty. Educating the youth is something that I feel is most important after visiting local primary schools with 50+ students in a class with only one teacher.

All of these places I have visited have portrayed a vicious cycle. The lack of education, confinement to specific townships, and poverty lead to limited career opportunities due to the lack of governmental support. My understanding of South Africa has grown through the people I have met and places I have seen throughout this incredible journey.

A shocking statistic at Maropeng said, “Southern Africa has the highest proportion of people living on less than $1 per day. About 40% of the region’s 190-million people live in extreme poverty” (Hamann, Patel, Pressend). What do you think South Africa should do to decrease these numbers and aid those living under these conditions due to the post-apartheid cycle?

Resources

Haberman, Martin, and From Phi Delta Kappan.”Good Teaching.” Phi Delta Kappan 73 (1991):  10

Ralph Hamann, Zarina Patel & Michelle Pressend, Environment, July/August 2002

Ukpokodu, Omiunota Nelly. “Preparing socially conscious teachers: A social justice-oriented teacher education.” Multicultural Education 15.1 (2007): 8.

– Posted by: Jordan Snetman

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