Visiting Johannesburg and Capetown South Africa was one of the most invigorating moments of my life. The history I learned, the sightings of four of the Big 5, and the interactions with the locals made my visit a truly rich experience. This trip did not only expose me to a new culture, but it has also compelled me to initiate change in my personal life. Because of my eye-opening trip, I now have a greater desire to make an impact in my community and the world.
On July 16, 2014 at 12:50pm my journey to Johannesburg, South African began. This was not my first time out of the United States, but it was my first and definitely not my last time visiting what I call the “Motherland.” After a 17-hour flight with feelings of both anxiety and excitement all 27 of us landed in Johannesburg at 5:10pm. I knew that this was the beginning of a life-changing journey. My first stop in Johannesburg was at the beautiful hotel, The Davinci Hotel and Suites.
Upon my arrival I was greeted by traditional South African dancers that immediately represented a culture that was robust in self-expression. I knew from that point on this would be trip to remember. After a night of much-needed rest and relaxation I was ecstatic to begin my day in “Joburg.” Our first stop was to the Lesedi Cultural Village. Lesedi was the perfect beginning of our grand tour of South Africa. I entered into the Lesedi gates to an atmosphere full of bright and bold colors, the sound of the African drums, and locals dressed in the traditional African tribal wear and a plethora of handmade beaded jewelry and other traditional South African artifacts. The scenic location of the Lesedi Cultural Village gave me an inside look of the four main villages/tribes of South Africa which include the Sutu (the mountain people who made up the Mountain Kingdom), the Xhosa, the Pedi, and lastly the Zulu’s (the most popular group who were known to be the strongest fighters.) The enclave that housed the Sutu tribe was a portion of large huts. The traditional dress of a mountain man in this village was a large wooly blanket with a top hat, and boots. There were special customs that fit into the unique lives of the people in the “mountain kingdom”. Included in the small community were special huts that served as a meeting place for males only. Young boys from all the villages would also be sent to the Mountain kingdom for a traditional initiation that included being taught to hunt, protect, and lastly, the boys would undergo a circumcision ceremony that would officially cross them over from childhood to manhood. Only then, the young man would be allowed to marry.
The next tribal village visited was the Xhosa. People of the Xhosa tribe are known for talking with what they call “clicks” which were very fun to try, but difficult for me to get the hang of. The Xhosa tribe was the tribe from which Nelson Mandela was accustomed to. The Pedi village was the next attraction. The people of the Pedi village (men in particular) were known for wearing kilts. The wearing of kilts in the tribe dates back to 1874 during their war against the British and the Scottish who wanted to seize the land of the indigenous people. At this time, the British people knew that in the culture of the four closely related tribes violence against women was strictly prohibited. To trick the Pedi people they teamed up with Scottish men (who traditionally wore kilts) and entered into the Pedi territory as false impersonations of women. This lead the Chief of the Pedi village to believe that it was an army of women and ordered his men not to fire. As the Scottish and British grew closer they opened fire and obliterated a shockingly large mass of the Pedi population. A traditional dish or “comfort food” of the Pedi people was the Mopani worms, which are large caterpillars that were used as an important source of protein amongst the people in the village. During my tour they offered me a Mopani worm to taste and I was one of the few of my group to show bravery and taste one. I was determined to step out from my comfort zone and enjoy the flavor of new things, even if that included a Mopani worm! It was crunchy and had a very unique taste that I did not particularly enjoy, however I’m glad I engaged in that experience.
The last tribe visited on the Lesedi Cultural Village tour was the Zulu tribe who were well known as great fighters. As I approached the village the sight of a Zulu man standing on a high post guarding the entire village stunned me. Quickly I was placed into the Zulu tribe with the most incredible perspective of their true strength and protective power. These traits were subliminally proven again when my tour group was instructed to ask permission into their well-guarded village by chanting a request to enter in the Zulu language. After being granted permission to enter we were able to experience the daily routines of the Zulu warriors.
After leaving the Zulu tribe it was then time for my tour group to attend a bonfire where we gathered in a hut around a warm fire and watched the people of each tribe perform their traditional dances to the bold African beats created from two large drums. When the bonfire ended we were treated to a traditional South African lunch that had exotic foods such as crocodile and ostrich on the menu. To my surprise, the aroma of the food was amazing and I greatly enjoyed the delicious meal.
"Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls was the final topping to my fun and full day."
Although I was unable to tour inside for security reasons, it was still a great opportunity to be on the grounds where young South African girls have the chance to be in an environment that encourages their personal and leadership development. This easily reminded me of the opportunities Bennett College provides so its attendees evolve into 21st Century global leaders and thinkers.
After leaving such a powerful institution our next stop was the Hector Pieterson museum. On the way to the museum I went through a province known has Soweto, which is short for Southwestern Township. Soweto served as a designated place for black Africans to live during apartheid. Soweto is home to approximately 4 million people. Soweto is currently the home to Winnie Mandela who I had the chance to meet later on in the trip. I also passed through the Alexandria Township, which is one of the oldest townships. Alexandria was the place where Nelson Mandela lived while in Johannesburg as a lawyer with his first wife Eveleyn. I was given the wonderful opportunity to tour Nelson Mandela’s former home.
I passed by Orlando West High School where 13-year old Hector Pieterson was shot and killed in June 1976 as a result of Aprtheid. The Hector Pieterson museum gave the story behind of Hector Pietersons fatal death. In the front of the museum was a large picture of that sad day when Pieterson was shot. It was a picture of lifeless Hector in the arms of his older brother as his sister ran to get help.
The language that was implemented in Bantu Education in 1953 allowed black African children to have the opportunity to attend school because that was their native tongue, but that soon changed when the government changed the language of education to Afrikans, which the black African children could not speak or understand. Students including Hector Pieterson went on strike because of this. This story and tragedy is central to me because as a future educator my goal is to ensure that all my students get the best quality education that I can give them. Knowing that children were not given a right to a proper education because of the color of their skin or language capabilities is truly unfortunate. For children to have the courage to stand up against a government full of hatred and to lose a life shows how the people of South Africa young or old fought through the harsh times to gain equal rights.
One of the hardest parts of this expedition for me was the visit to Elias Motsoaledi Informal Settlement. This settlement was home to highly impoverished people and the quality of living there was very poor. Residents had no electricity and no running water. Only one tap existed that everyone was required to use. Residents of the tiny shack also had to cook and gain warmth using coal. And then there were the children, a slew of children that had no choice other than to live in these poor conditions. My compassion for the situation made it extremely difficult for me to be there. All I wished I could do in that moment was help the children by personally nursing them to health and giving them clean clothes and shoes. I was happy that we (Bennett College attendees) were able to donate items for the children and clothing for adults to the settlement, but that is the least we could have done. I hope that I have the chance to go back to South Africa and give them all I can whether it’s my service or tangible items to try and give those children a better life.
"Welcome to Moyo - the destination for a unique African dining experience"
The ending to our day was a dinner at Moyo’s restaurant at Zoo Lake. The restaurant was especially beautiful with a pleasant atmosphere and incredible food! During dinner, we had a group discussion lead by the president of Bennett College, Dr. Rosalind Fuse-Hall on comparing the fight to freedom in South Africa and the United States for people of color. It’s sad, but compelling to note how two countries several thousands of miles apart had the same underlying struggles at slightly around the same time. Both “wars” were based on segregation and white supremacy.
“Moyo is a celebration of, and commitment to, the beauty of Africa, and the industry of her people.”
One of the most exciting experiences on this journey was visiting the Safari. Africa is known to have the five biggest animals also known as the “Big Five” that includes the lion, rhinosaurus, bull, leopard, and elephant. All tourists in my group were anxious to get the up-close glimpse of these infamously big and dangerous animals. Our journey began with the tallest animal, the Giraffe. With our luck, we continued on and were able to see four of the Big Five including the lion, elephant, rhino, and bull. Our safari guide was surprised because most people only see one or two of the big five. I enjoyed being out in nature and seeing all the different animals in their natural environment.
After leaving the safari grounds we went to a place called Sun City. It was truly a beautiful location. It had a plethora of things to engage in including shopping, games, a man-made beach and pool and many sculptures of animals that appeared very realistic. As we were preparing to depart and baby gorilla crossed our path and everybody’s heart dropped. I think it was one of the most frightening parts of the trip, but once it passed I had to take a picture to remember how close a gorilla was to me. When we then traveled back to our hotel, the students who were on the trip had a special workshop that allowed us to really sit and think about our dreams and aspirations and display them on an individual “vision board”*. I enjoyed this workshop because I was able to map out my dreams and physically see everything I want to accomplish with the help of a few creative pictures.
My most memorable experience from my trip to South Africa was the day of service at Orange Farm daycare. I love working with children and this service day fit me quite perfectly! Orange Farm is a community of 80,000 Zulu speaking people who have a strong will to survive. Nestled in Orange Farm is a Montessori daycare where some of the children come from teenaged parents. The daycare owner tries her best to keep the daycare up and running and prepare the children of Orange Farm for primary school. The daycare is similar to a combination of a daycare and a preschool here in the United States. Our day of service was called “Bennett College Presents: Fun Day for Orange Farm Daycare”.
Bennett College donated school supplies, toiletries, books, clothing, and educational toys to the daycare. We also created and lead fun stations for the children that included coloring activities, jump rope games, soccer, reading, painting, face painting and a reading circle. I was in charge of the reading circle with my fellow Bennett sister. When reading to younger children, I try to create many opportunities to engage students in the story to keep their attention. It was nice to have the children interact with us as we read. I could tell by their cute little faces that they enjoyed it as well. After all the students spent time at each station, they performed a traditional dance for us. I enjoyed seeing the children take pride in their performance and the daycare leaders/teachers and the Bennett College community cheering them on as well. After the children performed, my Bennett Sisters and I joined together and performed a couple of Bennett pride chants and everyone loved them! In that activity it felt like everyone was family. Unfortunately we had to leave Orange Farm. It was so difficult to leave because I enjoyed them so much and had gained an emotional bond to some of the children.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” ― Aristotle
We then traveled to the Michelangelo hotel where we were able to meet Winnie Mandela, the second wife of Nelson Mandela. Having the opportunity to be in the presence of a strong woman who endured and fought through the struggles faced in apartheid was a once in a lifetime experience. Our time with her was very short-lived, but if I ever had the chance to meet with her again I would love to hear her story and how she became such a conqueror.
To end our day we had dinner at Liliesleaf where we were given a private evening tour of the museum and then dinner with our South African Belles. One of those Belles was Princess Cee who is the granddaughter of Nelson Mandela. In the past, Liliesleaf served as a secret meeting place for Mandela and other political activist against apartheid. After our highly informational tour we proceeded to dinner. The South African Belles who joined us spoke to us about the role of women in the new South Africa. They both expressed that women are still fighting to truly have a grounded place in their society and to truly be taken seriously in the work force. Violence against women also seems to be a challenge that they face. They expressed they are frightened to even drive alone at night in the streets of Johannesburg because there is a high risk to be hijacked and/or raped. They gave us the reality of how women are viewed in their society. Each day the women of Johannesburg continue to demand respect and equality in the workplace so that the women of South Africa have a voice.
The next day of our journey we traveled to WitWatersrand University (Wits).
The university was very large and had a very diverse student population.
Learning about the degree programs they offer really got the attention of my fellow Bennett sisters and I. Though we would not give up the wonderful education we receive at Bennett College, I am interested in their post graduate degree programs that I feel would give me a rich educational experience that I could apply in my future classroom. Visiting the campus was also a great opportunity because we were able to mingle with the students and the Student Representative Council (SRC).
After our tour of Wits we journeyed to Constitutional Hill, home to South Africa’s constitutional court. Constitutional Hill is the highest court in the land and is situated on a hill overlooking Johannesburg city and its suburbs. Before it became a court it was a prison that was used to imprison white miners who went on strike. It later became a prison for both white and blacks who not only broke laws, but were also against apartheid. Some of the notable inmates included Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and Winnie Mandela. Due to limited time we were only able to tour the women’s side of the prison. White inmates on one side of the prison and blacks on the other side segregated the women’s prison. We heard many grueling stories of how harsh the black women were treated as inmates. Although they were treated very poorly, they still stood up and fought for more humane circumstances and treatment from the prison guards. This once again shows that despite the racially charged pressures pressed upon them, they did not give up on creating change.
“Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
Our time in Johannesburg concluded with a recruitment reception for the young women of South Africa. Many young girls attended and by the end of the night they were on fire to attend Bennett College!
It felt great to represent my beloved school and get the chance to hear some of the goals and dreams the young girls of South Africa had. Another one of my greatest experiences occurred when we visited Table Mountain in Capetown, South Africa. Capetown was different than Johannesburg in many ways. Table Mountain is one of the seven natural wonders of the World. The view from the top of the mountain was completely priceless. I could not believe that I was actually one thousand and six hundred feet above sea level. I was also able to visit Robben Island, the prison Nelson Mandela was sent to for the main duration of his time in prison. After experiencing such beauty, we then visited District Six guesthouse for Dinner with guest speaker Amelia Jones who gave us her views of how the women of South Africa have changed from 1994 to present day.
I also had the opportunity to visit The University of the Western Cape, which was formerly called Bush University. The majority of colored students attended the university during Apartheid and its population is still mainly colored students. It is also known as a Historically Disadvantage Institution, which is comparable to a Historical Black College or University (HBCU) here in America. I personally had an interesting encounter with a student at the university after having an informational session with its Student Representative Council. One student greeted me saying “What’s up my n*gga?” and I instantly was thrown off guard because I did not know how to respond. Gaining insight from my offended expression, he then asked, “Isn’t that how you traditionally greet one another in America?” and my response was “I personally do not greet people using that word because it is derogatory and is a variation of a word that was used to oppress African-American people during our struggle for freedom.” He then said, “I apologize. I listen to American rap music and see movies and they are always freely using the word and I thought that all of you used it, but I apologize if I offended you.” As I reflect on that incident it truly shows how African-Americans are negatively represented by the rap culture and derogatory things incorporated in the songs give others reason to create terrible stereotypes. It also shows how those same songs and movies give people around the world the idea that we all act, speak, and think like those who create this music. No matter how hard we work to maintain high academic grades and get credentials, we are still potentially viewed in a negative way in the world due to our most popular genre of music in the African-American culture.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ― Nelson Mandela
Next, we traveled to the District Six museum where we toured and learned how the community known as district six that was home to many blacks and colored’s was completely wiped out by the South African government in efforts to get rid of all of those who were non-white and to create a community where only Whites could live and stay. While there I was able to meet a woman named Vivian Sebastian who told a group of us her experiences during Apartheid. Her story told of how ruthless the white people really were just to maintain separation between themselves and those who did not look like them. I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet her and hear and firsthand account of life in Capetown during Apartheid.
During our final two days in South Africa we were able to capture more of the splendor of its amazing scenery. Seeing the teal blue water was an experience I had only seen in films, but taking in every portion of the coast of Capetown was a wonderful way to bring my journey to a close. I loved having the chance see the African penguins in their habitat and seeing the line within the ocean that separated the Atlantic and Indian oceans. That day I visited the Winelands. There I was able to tour Stellakaya Wine Estate. While there, I met one of the five women winemakers in the world who is internationally acclaimed. She shared her story of how she was able to get to this moment in her life. Her road to success wasn’t easy because she was in a market that was white male dominated, but she was able to make it. She inspired me to go for whatever I want and to not be discouraged by any other forces because in the end, my hard work and my struggle will certainly pay off. After her inspiring story, we then had dinner in the Winelands where we met Reverend Adora Lee who gave us much needed insight into her perspective of Americans working in South Africa. Speaking with her impacted my life because I was definitely interested in doing more service work in South Africa in the future. She gave a true idea of what mindset we must have to be affective in our service to the people of South Africa. She also shared with us raw stories and experiences she has had and how important it is to have mental and emotional stability. The situations we would potentially encounter while participating in service work are working and helping adults and children who could be victims of rape, HIV/AIDS, or other deadly diseases. She advised us to have plenty of resources, preparation, learn many languages, and most importantly have the right attitude to be effective.
Our last day in Capetown approached and we were schedule to travel to Robben Island. Before traveling to the actual site by boat, we took a tour of the museum which served as a prelude to the prison island.
“We do not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering,
we would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil….”
This quote by Ahmed Kathrada, is written at the entrance of the Museum that serves as the preface of the tour of Robben Island. Unfortunately, the force of nature was not in our favor and the boat ride to Robben Island was cancelled; however, the experience was not lost. Inside this museum was information about the natural formation of the island and history on how it became a prison for great political crusades and leaders such as Nelson Mandela. What caught my attention most is the previously stated quote of Ahmed Kathrada because it speaks volumes. Kathrada and Mandela, along with many the other courageous men who were sent to Robben Island, would not want the institution to be viewed with sorrow and pity, but instead demonstrate the power peace and hope through circumstances that devalued their humanity.
“New technology is common, new thinking is rare.” – Sir Peter Blake
For our final dinner in Capetown we had the pleasure of going to Laylapa, a traditional African restaurant that is owned by a woman named Shelia. The restaurant was located in a local township. When arriving in the area I was unsure of what to expect, however when we entered we were welcomed with opened arms by which everyone called Mama Sheila. The delicious zephyrs filled the home-styled restaurant and it reminded me of going to my grandmother’s house for dinner. Mama Sheila came in and she began a story asking the question ” Does your watch speak?” Everyone a little confused replied “no”. She then went on to tell how in America our watches do speak and they tell us what greeting to use at a specific time of the day such as if it’s morning it’s traditional for Americans to say Good morning and around noon we say Good Afternoon and so forth. She proceeded to inform us beyond our knowledge by stating that our watches also tell us when to eat, morning = breakfast, noon= lunch, and so forth. Contrarily in her culture, the African culture greetings only vary with size of the group and since we were a large group she welcomed us with the traditional greeting for large groups, “Muwani”.
After her welcome she then spoke of how she became the owner of her festive restaurant. Her story was filled with challenging events that she eventually overcame. There were no times in her story that she complained or showed signs of quitting her dream. Juggling tenuous housework for Whites, working a second job, and attending night school all in one day was not enough to deter Mama Shelia from fulfilling her potential. After enduring two jobs and night school she realized she could make more money by working for herself. She began to collect newspapers and would sell them in the mornings to willing customers. With that task alone she was making more money than she was at her housekeeping jobs. From working for other people to now being the sole owner of a restaurant full of good music and food for the soul, she demonstrates everyday that she is a woman of great strength. She is a true entrepreneur. One of the tenets of Bennett is entrepreneurship, and listening to Mama Sheila’s story allows me to reflect on the things I wish to do despite the things I am enduring. Reflecting on all of the stories told by people of this country gave me a confident feeling. I knew that I too could posses the great strength and courage that they each shared with me. Dancing the night away to marimbas was the perfect ending to an amazing trip.
“Bennett College is an oasis that educates, celebrates, and transforms women into 21st century leaders and global thinkers”
The journey through the past and present South Africa truly showed in many different ways Bennett College’s four focal areas, Global Acclimation, Communication, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship.
I am forever changed by each and every aspect that my trip to South Africa gave to me and I am forever grateful for it. I have already planned my trip to return, and at the top of my list is to make an impact on the lives of the children who are need of service, resources, a light of hope, and a sweet smile that says I am here for you.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo
Kadrien Wilson ’16 – Elementary Education Major, Bennett College