Of all the decisions I have ever made in my life, choosing to go to South Africa with eleven other Bennett Belles and the Bennett College administration was one of the best. This trip, however, came at the expense of a LSAT Prep program in New York, which I previously applied to. I was torn between both opportunities, but decided to take a leap of faith and go to South Africa.
I learned a great deal during my stay in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The revelations and inner feelings I felt about some of the things I witnessed were uncanny and surprisingly shocking. Altogether, the trip was a history lesson and gave me encouragement to create an action plan for the future. Understanding South African minority suffrage and the fight for freedom was evident through all the Apartheid museums and personal testimony we saw and heard on the trip.
The flight to Johannesburg was long and tiring. I had never been on a flight for so long (19 hours). When we arrived in Johannesburg, the city landscape instantly reminded me of Los Angeles. I felt like I was back in the United States. I was told prior to my trip that Johannesburg was considered to be the “New York City of Africa”. I now understand why. The city was alive with commotion and traffic. Construction was being conducted on both sides of the streets. One thing I noticed and would question later, is why there were some people walking, unlike those who were driving. The Da Vinci Hotel, where we stayed during our time in South Africa, was stunning. The hotel was state-of-the-art and very upscale. I thoroughly enjoyed the welcome introduction our group received with the tribal dancers. Although I was tired from traveling, the energy from the welcoming dancers immediately lifted my spirits, and I was even more excited for the trip. My first South African dinner was a real feast! I ate way too much food! The reception was lively and I enjoyed meeting our tour guides and members of the Global Linkages team.
One of my most profound memories of my trip to South Africa was being able to spend International Mandela Day in Johannesburg. I have always wanted to go to South Africa and to begin my journey during this time was very rewarding. It was a very special moment for me because I would not have another opportunity like that again anytime soon. Throughout the day I observed as South Africans proudly celebrated the man that helped change the course of history and boldly challenge a system of oppression; a man known to the world as Madiba, Nelson Mandela.
I appreciated going to the Lesedi Cultural Village as our first activity. I really got a glimpse of some of the tribes that were presented to us. We learned of five different tribes of South Africa. In one setting, we were offered grilled or stewed worms with pop. After much hesitation, I decided to try the grilled worm in efforts to try something new! In my opinion, it was not appealing in taste or flavor. I also loved the cultural presentation that was given right before lunch. The dances were extremely vibrant and very fun to watch. One our way to Oprah’s Leadership Academy for Girls, the school was unfortunately closed. The school looked like a prison, with its high security walls.
Visiting the Apartheid museum was both emotional and educational for me. I learned about Apartheid only twice throughout my schooling. I remember hearing of the term, but never really understood its effect of the South African population.
The museum in itself was very detailed and gave a thorough synopsis and chronological history of the events before, during, and after Apartheid. As I uncovered more and more of what the museum had to offer, I could not help but think about the Civil Rights Museum located in my hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina. My first time at that museum frightened me because of how graphic and detailed the pictures that displayed African-American battles were. I harbored some of the same feelings as I walked throughout the Apartheid Museum. Emotional, I felt angry and confused at times while touring. I could even feel the passion of some of the anti-Apartheid freedom fighters in the atmosphere.
These feelings once again resurfaced after visiting the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto. Soweto was very colorful and animated when we arrived. There were people outside selling goods, children playing jump rope, and others just walking around enjoying the day and each other’s company. I enjoyed the tour of the Mandalas’ home and the fellowship our group had while eating lunch at the Mandela Family Restaurant. However, all feelings of laughter and relaxation were quickly severed as we entered the Hector Pieterson Museum. With the little knowledge that I had about apartheid and it effects, I was warped into a time zone of events that I had no knowledge about.
The most significant date of these events was the June 16, 1976 Soweto Uprising.
June 16 just so happens to be my birthday. While reading about the events that surrounded the uprising and what eventually led the children into action, I felt a moment of grief. When finally reading what exactly happened on the day of the rising and reading testimonies from both sides, my heart felt like it was being tugged. I wanted to cry. Staring at the portrait of Hector Pieterson being carried in the arms of a friend with his sister crying next to him was just as haunting. I felt overwhelmed with this new knowledge of how disastrous Apartheid was and I had to cut my time in the museum short. I had so many questions that I needed answers to.
I believe my cultural revelation occurred when we visited the Elias Motsoaledi Informal Settlement. Unconsciously knowing, I left that settlement a changed woman. My first reaction when we entered the settlement was how could anyone live in these tin homes? I stopped abruptly. I have been fortunate to live in a big family home for most of my life, even now.
For some, many places in Springfield, Massachusettes (my birthplace) are referred to as “the ghetto”, especially my area. However, all of the petty crime and sometimes gang violence did not seem to touch what I had witnessed in Motsoaledi. The poverty of these people, which stretched on for what seemed like miles, was enough for me to want to give them whatever money I had, despite being a broke college student. We were embraced, however, by some of the children as we had a little tour of the settlement. One look at those children, and I was immediately reminded of my own brother and sister (who are ten and eleven years old). We visited a day care where we presented the day care director with items that we us Bennett Belles put together for the children’s parents. After visiting the day care center, we were able to visit and enter into one of the homes. I went in and met an elderly woman names Hilda. Ms. Hilda smiled and warmly hugged me as I thanked her for letting us come into her home. Her home was half the size of my bedroom.
The children that we met in the Motsoaledi settlement were very inquisitive and enthusiastic. I befriended a 13-year-old boy who was curious about where I was from, and what we were doing there. I noticed that he asked a lot of questions regarding my siblings. He wanted to know how many I had, their names, and what they liked to do. His curiosity about my brother and sister would later prompt me to ask questions on why that was important from Sibo and Rampai. As we departed from the settlement, I felt a twinge of sadness. I did not want to leave those kids. Waving at them from on the bus, I felt tears fall from my eyes. The whole day had been really emotional for me, as well as educational. Seeing those children was like looking at my siblings Gloria and Charles and I instantly felt a connection.
I was really looking forward to the Game Safari Reserve trip in Pilanesburg. I have never seen a giraffe, elephant or a lion in a setting like this before. I was ecstatic to see wildebeests for the first time. It was like I had stepped into the Lion King! However, I did not get to see Mufasa. Sun City reminded me of Las Vegas. I felt like a little kid when I saw all those arcade games. The entire vicinity was fascinating; it definitely had an Indiana Jones decor. The Young Woman’s Guide – Dream Board Program hosted by Ms. Yetunde was an excellent idea to have put on for the students. I learned more about myself and about my fellow Belles. I hope to use this project in future programs this school semester.
The Fun Day at the Orange Farm Day Care Center was also a highlight of my trip. The Belles demonstrated great leadership and community service throughout the day at the center that I was proud of. I loved working with the children and meeting Mama Thandika. Even through all her charisma and spunk, Mama Thandika showed how much she cared for the children. I was happy to be of service to them. I also enjoyed meeting freedom fighter, politician and revolutionary Winnie Mandela. Just being in her presence was so empowering that it left me with chills. She said to us that we were not foreigners in this (South Africa) land. She also stated to us to never forget where are from. This woman was history in itself. She put her life on the line and risked everything so that her children, grandchildren and fellow South Africans could live a life of freedom. Winnie single-handedly raised her children after her husband was arrested. She continued to advocate against the government and was even sentenced to solitary confinement where she was tortured. Throughout her activist career, she was arrested, jailed, and had to relocate. However, she persevered and continued to fight.
The tour at Liliesleaf was very engaging despite the frigid weather. I learned a lot about Nelson Mandela and his stay there while in hiding. The group dinner was especially rewarding because I met some fascinating Belles. We met Princess Cee, granddaughter to Nelson Mandela, who graduated from Bennett in 2002 and Nezile who graduated in 2011. Meeting these beautiful South African Belles further proved to me that Bennett was doing something right. We had reached so far across the world to obtain young women and to teach them the importance of global awareness, leadership, communication and entrepreneurship. I was honored to meet them.
I had a valuable experience at both Witts University and the University of the Western Cape. I met and networked with many students who all shared the same end goal as me: to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities in life without discrimination. The students at UWC were very curious about Bennett College and asked questions I have never confronted before. Talking to the students and explaining to them about Bennett made me appreciate my school more. I learned that the Student Representative Council (SRC) at their college is similar to our Student Government Association (SGA). I really look forward to future connections between Bennett and these universities for conferences, leadership seminars, and study abroad opportunities.
On our last day in Johannesburg, we visited Constitution Hill Women’s Prison before our host event at the Jubilane Luxury Guesthouse. The stories of the women that were imprisoned at Constitution Hill were very inspiring. I noticed, however, that despite each woman’s attempt to fight against Apartheid, the effects of racism still prevailed even while incarcerated. For example, the cells of white and black women were on completely different scales. There was a huge contrast between the treatments of women from both races. When I threw my rocks into the pit for the last imprisoned black women (in remembrance of them), I could not help but notice the lack of rocks in their pit, but abundance in the other one.
Bennett faculty and students beautifully conducted an informational gathering for our group to share information about our school to recruit future students. The girls we met were so excited to meet us. I loved telling them about my experiences at Bennett, the opportunities I have had because of Bennett, and my future endeavors after I graduate in May of this year. I really made some new sisters! I also contacted with a Morehouse brother and a 2L law student that will help me with my process into law school. I had a fantastic night and met so many wonderful people. I learned a great deal while in Johannesburg that questioned my motives and goals politically.
Cape Town was absolutely gorgeous. I could immediately smell the scent of the ocean when we got off the plane. The city tour of Cape Town was awesome and I am glad that we made changes in our schedule so that we could go to Table Mountain. The view from Table Mountain was breathtaking and I am glad I was able to witness such a beautiful sight. The tour of the Cape and Western Cape was very relaxing. I took what felt like hundreds of pictures of the scenery. The District Six museum was very informative. The homes and lives of those who lived in District Six were completely uprooted because of racial motives. It was heartbreaking to read as we looked at the before and after photos of what was District Six.
Ms. Ntsiki Biyela’s story was very interesting; especially the narrative on how she came to study wine. I was intrigued to know that there are so few minorities, women, and minority women in the field of winery, especially because it is such a profitable business. Our dinner speaker, Rev. Adora Iris Lee, was the finishing touch that we needed to conclude our trip to South Africa. She provided so much insight on her experiences living in Africa and she helped instill in me the power to make change. Rev. Lee made me critically assess the circumstances of minorities around the world and how being economically disadvantaged can lead to poor education, employment, housing, and discrimination.
I believe going on this trip was necessary and essential for me because I was challenged in areas that needed to be tested. I now understand the meaning of being a global citizen and know that any career that I chose can be used to help others around the world. I am thankful and grateful to those I met while abroad who gave me the newfound knowledge that I needed. I am also thankful towards my school and its administration for achieving such a huge accomplishment. I believe Bennett chose wisely partnering with Global Linkages for our accommodations. The Bennett pillars – global awareness, leadership, communication and entrepreneurship, help set a strong foundation for its students. These capabilities were flawlessly executed during our stay in Johannesburg and Cape Town. I believe each Bennett Belle in attendance has a greater sense of global awareness than ever before. Belles demonstrated leadership on the two universities, day camps and with other hosts and guests. Belles proudly and confidently answered challenging questions by members of the UWC SRC.
Nevertheless, my career goals are still the same, but I now understand that it is the global community in which I serve. I do not want to see children living in the conditions like I saw while in Soweto, whether it is their choice or not. I believe that if we take what we have learned from our trip and apply it to our daily lives as well as share and teach it to others, we can gradually change the world.
South Africa is a beautiful country, rich in history and culture. As young as this new nation is, out from a struggling and tragic past, one thing was clear to me and it shined brightly as I left country: the millions of people in South Africa have an undying spirit that continuously fights for a better tomorrow.
Dominique Walker – ’15 Bennett College