The Legacy of Apartheid – South Africa

The elevator doors opened and I walked into the lobby of my hotel. Oddly enough everyone stared at me.  It seemed like everything stopped when I made my way through the space. I became self-conscious and ran (walked) back to my room until my friend came. I realized I wasn’t on some kind of “ego”trip when the same thing happened to her. Could they tell we were American? I thought we blended in quite well. Later that day at the Rosebank Mall it happened again. Locals broke their necks just to get a glimpse of us. Some smiled warmly, while others stared without flinching. I was curious as to why we were attracting so much attention. Was it the way we dressed? We were dressed in shorts and a t-shirt; you can’t get simpler than that. That night we confided in our cab driver.

Why does everyone stare at us everywhere we go? we said.

Jessica and I sounded like two annoying children whining about the kids at school. Our taxi driver laughed at our ignorance.

“They’re trying to classify you” he said.

“Classify?”

“Yes, they’re trying to figure out if you’re one of them”

“Well duh, of course we’re one of them; we’re all black”

“Well yes, but in South Africa, there’s certain classifications. They’re probably trying to figure out your status. Are you wealthy or poor? Coloured or Black?”

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That night, on our long cab ride to dinner, we received the lesson of our lives on classification in South Africa. Our driver talked to us about the racial hierarchy in South Africa and how people try to distinguish themselves in many ways. This ultimately perpetuated the system of segregation and separation which was the goal of Apartheid. It was so important for me to make my way to the Apartheid museum because I wanted to learn more.

 

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Apartheid is a system of segregation enforced through legislation by the National Party who governed South Africa from 1948-1994. It was a blatant act of racism forcing blacks (non-whites), who made up the majority of the country to be separated from whites.

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At the Apartheid Museum, I learned about the history of Apartheid and its detrimental effects on South Africa. Upon walking into the museum, there are two entrances. One that says White’s Only and another that says Coloreds Only. This was standard protocol for South Africans during Apartheid. As you walk through the doors according to your classification, you enter a gloomy room filled with identification cards of inhabitants of South Africa. The Population Regristration Act of 1950 required South Africans to carry these cards with them at all times. These National ID cards, classified people according to their race which included:

  • Black
  • White
  • Coulored (Mixed Race)
  • Asian/Indian

In some instances, parents could be separated from their children, because of the differing and rigid classifications of race.

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Race Classification Apartheid Museum

Apartheid was a blatant act of racism forcing non-blacks, who made up the majority of the country to be separated from whites. They were also treated as second class citizens, forced to endure oppression, unemployment, and poor living conditions. By 1950, the government had banned marriages between whites and people of other races, and prohibited sexual relations between black and white South Africans.

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I think what bothers me the most about this system, is the plunder and paternalism of foreign European nations coming to Africa. This type of entitlement can still be sensed when visiting today. It’s very unfortunate to see African people oppressed by some of the Europeans who live there. Our cab driver told us a story about a white teenager no older than 17, who slapped him in the face and there was nothing he could do about it. To know that our cab driver felt so helpless when it came to being protected by the government and legal system was disheartening.

So what kind of progress has been made? Well South Africa is known as the Rainbow nation. People from all over the world flock to South Africa to live, study and vacation. It’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world and has a melting pot of people. In 1994, the first black president of Africa was nominated into office. His name was Nelson Mandela and he changed the face of the political landscape and his presidency promoted inclusion and change towards a bright future. Today, South Africans co-exist, despite the discrepancies in class and race, however a lot of progress and change still needs to be made.

Nelson Mandela

 

Sani Bonani Soweto!

Soweto Changed Me.

As soon as we arrived in Soweto, we were led to the dining section to eat. Bunny Chow, was on the menu, which is a chicken stew in a bread bowl. Delicious! A series of huts shielded us from the sun as we dipped our bread into the well-seasoned stew and drank water to cool off. About 5-chickens surrounded us clucking around the premises. Hello Soweto!

Soweto Bunny ChowSoweto Bike tour

Bunny Chow Soweto

One of the first things we learned in Soweto was the Zulu greeting Sani Bonani. It’s what everyone says to each other, whether you’re friends or strangers, like an acknowledgement of some sort. We decided to do a bike tour in and around Soweto, which allowed us to spend time with the locals and learn some history. The name Soweto, is an acronym which stands for South Western Townships. Soweto, is home to very famous South Africans including: Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, and Desmond Tutu.

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Soweto Backpackers bike tour

Soweto Bike Tour

Ky Tip:

  • If you’re looking for a bike tour in Soweto, I highly suggest the Soweto Backpackers. The tour was freaking amazing and taught us so many things. The tour guides became some of our good friends by the end of the trip. We loved everything about them. http://www.sowetobackpackers.com/

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The discovery of Gold during the late 1800s in Johannesburg is what added so much value to this city. However, colonizers from all over the world including the Dutch and the British exploited the country and its people of its resources and enforced a system of segregation that would have lasting effects on the culture and race relations for years to come. An increasing number of blacks were evicted from the city of Johannesburg and forced to live in the surrounding townships like Soweto. Allegedly, many blacks were evicted because of a government induced spread of the Bubonic Plague. These townships were underdeveloped and unsanitary.  The government tried to further their oppression in Soweto by separating the men from the women. This would reduce reproduction among blacks.

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We progressed through the neighborhood, despite learning all these hard truths and noticed that the locals were filled with joy. Big bright smiles covered their faces. Some even told us how proud they were to see black tourist (that was the funniest thing ever). There was such a unity in Soweto; the atmosphere gave me so much energy. The people were so friendly. They danced for us, and surrounded us. They commented on how funky my Biggie Smalls shirt was. I felt like I was home, with my brothers and sisters. I was so content.

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Yet, I could not ignore how impoverished my people were to this very day. Walking past the local grocery store, I stepped over their sewage, draining throughout the village. The people had communal bathrooms that they shared. The babies were in need of shoes. One of the little girls had on a skirt that was 3-sizes too small and exposed her. The homes were tiny. I couldn’t fathom that people lived in those conditions. I felt helpless but their smiles and their zest for life encouraged me.

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The legacy of Apartheid is alive in Soweto. You really see the effect that this system had on black people. The unemployment rate is over 53%. There are abandoned apartment buildings that are the equivalent of $50 USD a month, but remain empty because it’s not affordable for the locals.

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Abandoned apartment buildings in Soweto that remain empty because it does not allow livestock and its too expensive.

Yet there is hope for Soweto. My tour guide was 27-years old, born and raised in Soweto and he is smart enough to be the president of South Africa one day. He loves  his people and he knows the dire situation they are in. We talked politics and Malcom X during our tour. He was well versed in America’s grim political situation as well, laughing at the prospect of Trump becoming president. He took us to a spot where in 1976 the Children of Soweto began protests against the government, because of the introduction of Afrikaans. Afrikaans is the language of the oppressor and they did not want to assimilate to their culture. Many of these students lost their lives at the hands of police. One of the most notorious of these students was Hector Pieterson whose lifeless body was carried by Mbuvisa Makhubo and his sister Antoinette Sithole.

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By the end of the tour, it was time for us to learn about Zulu culture. We dressed up as Zulu Kings and Queens and drank from a canteen filled with a traditional Zulu beverage, that sort of tasted like a beer. It was a spectacular end to an overall empowering day.

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