‘The Social Realities in South Africa’ in St. Olaf Magazine

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 10.47.01 AM“Twenty-four St. Olaf students went to South Africa with interests in social welfare, race relations, human rights, and the empowerment of women and children,” begins our story as recounted in the spring 2013 issue of St. Olaf Magazine. “They returned to the Hill with a deeper knowledge about, and commitment to, all these issues — both in South Africa and in the United States.”

Read the full story


Bringing Awareness to Soweto

By Dominick Fields ’13, Andrew McIntyre ’15, and Paal Proitz ’13

A support group organization called Khulumani is introducing unique ways to spread awareness to communities throughout South Africa. One community where they are active is Soweto, earlier known as the South Western Townships. The area is filled with history and is the home of some of the nations’ most significant figures, including Hector Pieterson and Nelson Mandela.

The Hector Pieterson Museum tells the story of the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

The Hector Pieterson Museum tells the story of the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

One of the first places we visited in Soweto was the Hector Pieterson museum. Pieterson, a young boy, was among the first killed in the Soweto Uprising of 1976 and was memorialized in a photograph shown around the world.

The uprising was a protest among school children over the decision by the apartheid government to make Afrikaans a language of instruction. It represented a turning point in the history of the struggle against apartheid.
A man named Raul, whose brother was seen carrying Pieterson’s dead body, met with us. He shared the story of his brother, who was famously photographed carrying Pieterson away from where he had been shot during the uprising. After this heroic act he was never heard from or seen again and his family is still seeking answers.
Visiting Nelson Mandela's home was an interesting contrast to having seen the South African leader's prison cell on Robben Island nearly a month earlier.

Visiting Nelson Mandela’s home was an interesting contrast to having seen the South African leader’s prison cell on Robben Island nearly a month earlier.

One of South Africa’s most influential leaders, Nelson Mandela, represents the struggle of the people just as Pieterson did. While in Soweto our group had the opportunity to visit the house where Mandela lived for many years. It was remarkable to be in there. One picture taken in 2009 was particularly striking as it showed his granddaughter who was killed around the time of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as a result of a car accident.

The house, which was burnt by the South African security forces, still has the bullet holes in the outside bricks, a testament to the intimidation tactics used by the apartheid government.

Touring Regina Mundi, a Soweto church that played a central role in the anti-apartheid movement.

Touring Regina Mundi, a Soweto church that played a central role in the anti-apartheid movement.

Later in the day we visited Regina Mundi Catholic Church, a central meeting place for the Soweto community to gather in protest of the wrongs of apartheid. The apartheid government assaulted the church numerous times and bullet holes can still be seen.

Before leaving Soweto our group met with members of the Khulumani Forum Theater, which put on three plays under a large tree amid the townships. Our group was joined by members of the local community to learn about issues that are rarely talked about. Each play had a different theme: HIV/ AIDS, xenophobia by South Africans toward Zimbabweans and other “outsiders,” and self identity.
Local township residents and St. Olaf students gather to watch a series of bi-lingual  plays geared toward fostering discussion about difficult topics.

Local township residents and St. Olaf students gather to watch a series of bi-lingual plays geared toward fostering discussion about difficult topics. Christian Folken ’14 (center) was recruited to star in this production, which focused on xenophobia. (And that’s Madeline Hoffmeister ’13 standing at right in the featured image at the top of this post.)

The acting style was unique as it involved the audience as well as the fact that it was in two different languages. This style of play is called Theater of the Oppressed. the actors invited questions and responses from the audience after certain parts of the play to figure out what should happen. Two of our group members took the opportunity to participate in the plays.

Our students enjoyed the plays and were struck with a feeling of hope, not only for Soweto but for all of South Africa. Through creativity and imagination by groups like Khulumani, communities in Soweto have bright possibilities.

Recollection and Reconstruction: The Story of the Cata Community

Claire Yancey ’14, Kristell Caballero-Saucedo ’13, Claire DeWind ’15

“If the site of dreams, desire, image, consciousness is memory, where is the location of memory itself? A people without memory are in danger of losing their soul.”
– Nguyi wa Thiong’o


The village of Cata is nestled in the Amathole Mountains.

Monday night, after multiple stops and several hours on the move, our group was feeling worn out. As we bounced and jostled along dirt roads, driving around herds of cattle and breaking an axle, we hoped that each cluster of lights we passed would be our final destination of Cata. At ten o’clock, we all breathed a sigh of relief when the community center came into view. We were so happy to be greeted by warm smiles and delicious food, then trundled off in groups of two and three to our homestays.

Boniswa, curator of the Cata Museum, talks with students about village life.

Boniswa, curator of the Cata Museum, talks with students about village life.

The next morning, we woke up in our individual homes and stepped outside to a breathtakingly beautiful view of the traditional Xhosa community nestled in the Amatole Mountains. After breakfast with our host families, we met Boniswa, Claire DeWind’s host mother and the curator of the local museum. She explained to us that during apartheid, the residents of Cata were forced to give up their homesteads. They moved across the valley, leaving the neighbors they had known for years and separating from the extended families they relied on.

We were able to witness the consequences of this forced relocation or, as it was legally known, betterment, when we hiked the Heritage Trail up to a traditional rondawel house. Our guide, Pumeza, Claire Yancey’s host mother, shared stories of her family’s move down the mountain and the change in lifestyle that they experienced. Although this new life was difficult, from our vantage point at the rondawel we were able to see the impact that these memories have made, particularly in the progress enacted by the Communal Property Association (CPA) since the end of apartheid.

Beginning in the early 2000s, the CPA, along with the Border Rural Committee (BRC) and the Amatole District Municipality (ADM), began to use restitution funds to develop Cata’s infrastructure. From the Heritage Trail, Pumeza pointed out the community center, where we had eaten the night before, as well as the three new primary school classrooms. These public spaces were conceived of and constructed under the local initiative of the CPA. We also learned that all of the land that had once been homesteads has been reclaimed by Cata and is now completely community-owned.

Cata residents

Some of the Cata residents who hosted students in their homes (plus Professor Carlsen in back).

Using their restitution funds, Cata has also placed an emphasis on growing their economy. Our visit to the community is a prime example of this growth, as many of their projects center on tourism. In fact, Pumeza and other young community members recently received their tour guide licensure. The rest of the community contributes as well, providing homestays, building chalets for visitors, and running the museum that we visited. In addition to tourism, Cata hopes to decrease their reliance on outside sources of food by producing their own crops.

Throughout our travels, a theme that has emerged is the significance of memorialization. Cata represents a unique blend of a community able to remember their lives under apartheid while simultaneously engaging that remembrance to promote a better future. Using the museum, heritage trail, classrooms, community center, and economic strategies, Cata has created a tangible location for their own memories, past and future. How will the example set by this one small community begin to shape the lives and futures of communities across South Africa?

What we were not prepared for…

Paige Beenen ’13, Emily Stets ’15, and Becca Strommen ’14

Our packing list outlined the bare essentials for South Africa with precision: shorts, shoes, hand sanitizer, water bottles, charged iPads, ready spirits, and expectations of what we would find in South Africa. Mentally, we prepared as well as we could for our first encounters, but South Africa presented certain challenges for which no one could have prepared us. We expected to see classic landmarks – the beauty of Table Mountain, the repercussions of HIV/ AIDS, the remnants of apartheid. Yet throughout the weeks, our emotions came to mirror the tumultuous waves of the frigid Atlantic Ocean.

New Brighton Township

The Red Location Museum is located in the heart of the New Brighton township outside Port Elizabeth.

On Saturday, we visited the award-winning Red Location Museum in the heart of an impoverished Port Elizabeth township. Using recycled materials from the shacks previously on site, the museum has a distinct red appearance. Inside, where even the softest whisper reverberated up the cement walls, we followed in the footsteps of the very first organized apartheid resistance. The pristine memorial seemed like an island amid a community lacking something as basic as running water. Water became an undercurrent in our journey as we attempted to reconcile our own water privileges with other luxuries (like Wi-Fi) both in South Africa and at home.

Water Management

Water management is especially crucial in rural areas. Photo by Paige Beenen ’13.

On Sunday, we continued our water education in dialogue with Jai, a PhD student and local water expert. Though South Africa’s Bill of Rights guarantees clean water for the entire population, access to clean water remains disproportionately in the hands of the wealthy. With a turn of the spigot, they enjoy their glass of water. Yet women and children in townships walk for miles with buckets of water strapped to their backs to receive the same privilege. The struggle continues to ensure that all South Africans live within the designated 200 meters from a safe water source. “Water flows downhill, but uphill to money,” Jai acknowledged with a grin.

We buy bottled water in the restaurants, further underlining that we, as privileged visitors, propel the water “uphill.” As typical American travelers, we – and our parents – were concerned about the safety of the drinking water. Yet we need not have worried about obtaining reliable drinking water: our trepidation paled in comparison with the difficulties of living “downhill” in the townships. Only recently have we begun to ask for tap water instead of the default bottled water, saving us a few Rand and indicating our awareness of the daily challenges of many South Africans.

Water access remains one of the many layers of privilege we face throughout this program. Students grapple when comparing their lifestyle to that of those struggling in the townships. Through our workshops and reflection periods, we have attempted to process our emotions surrounding the advantages that come with our lifestyle. As we progress, the realization dawns that we can make strides in first recognizing our incredible privilege. In a painful transition, we have come to modify the change-the-world mindset: in order to ensure sustainable change, one must empower the individuals within a community to recognize that they possess the tools to make effective change.

Red Location Museum

Inside the Red Location Museum

We arrive at these conclusions after hours of discussion, pages of journaling, and time spent in reflection (mainly on the endless bumpy bus rides) still unsure of the answer. Like the Red Location Museum, we are the island amid the sea of damaged equality, washed ashore by apartheid. As we return to St. Olaf, South Africa will inevitably accompany us, making ripples in the pools of our lives. We will bear staunch witness to this country’s survival, though many remain frustrated and overwhelmed when considering where the ripples will take us.

From Democracy to Community

Annie Buenneke ’14, Hannah Sohre ’13, Morgan Twamley ’13

A vervet monkey

A vervet monkey

As we entered Eastern Cape, it was clear that we were in monkey territory. Signs that would typically say “do not feed the squirrels” in the U.S. are replaced with “do not feed the baboons” here. At our new home in Port Elizabeth we met Marje, our South African program coordinator for our final two weeks.

This week we met at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University for a lecture with Professor Jolene who completed research in the variability of global democracy. She gave many examples of different forms of democracy in various parts of the world, emphasizing that not every democracy has the same institutional core. In other words, democracy introduced by colonialism must incorporate traditional authority and culture into the governmental system. This creates a hybrid democracy that is unique to each country.

It is important to keep in mind that developing democratic systems requires a long period of time. For example, voting rights were not expanded to all citizens in the U.S. until nearly 200 years after the republic was established.

As global citizens, it is essential that we are aware of the lack of uniformity under the term democracy and accept these forms as valid. A common theme within our program, highlighted by Professor Bert Olivier, is the hope and potential for change that lies within the young generations. He emphasized that if youth have the desire to create positive change within society it is critical that they understand the interconnections within our world.

Professor Bert Olivier addresses the class.

Professor Bert Olivier addresses the class.

As a philosophy professor, crosses disciplines by concerning himself with the current state of the environment in regards to political systems in place. Consumer capitalism has fueled a trend towards environmental degradation and economic priority. In order to create consumer goods, destruction of the environment is necessary. However, not only is consumerism harmful to the physical environment, it causes a state of constant dissatisfaction in terms of material goods.

Upon reflection of our time in South Africa, the academics, activists, and community members we have met have all emphasized the responsibility of our generation worldwide to invoke systemic change necessary for a better future.

This change must start at the community level with programs such as Save Our Schools And Community in the township of North End. We met with Farouk Abrahams, founder of the organization and concerned community member, who started an initiative to improve matriculation rates in the community through early childhood development education.


VisitIng a preschool established by the Save Our Schools and Communities program.

Last year, he actively involved the community in assessing the area of greatest educational need, which resulted in a gap in early education. After receiving a grant from the government, an existing primary school added the equivalent of a preschool classroom to their educational services. This project has had a significant impact on the community involving parents in their children’s educational experiences through activities such as cooking meals and volunteering in the classroom. Another positive aspect is the ability to supply children with three meals per school day, allowing them to focus on school regardless of their meal situations at home.

At first glance, systemic change may seem like overwhelming work, however this example shows how the average community member can initiate positive change at a micro level which will ultimately lead to change on a larger scale. Pastor Alan Storey encouraged us to do something larger than ourselves. Whether at the community or global level, will our generation rise to this challenge?

Time of Transformation

By Chris Folken ’14, Hugh Kenety ’14, and Kate Panning ’15

Cape Town had become our home away from home, but our time there had to end. On Sunday we left St. Paul’s guesthouse, where we had been staying for the past 10 days, to begin our journey to the Eastern Cape. Although many of us were sad to leave, we were excited to broaden our view of South Africa. We were ready to leave what we found at times to be a very touristy and Westernized city to experience day to day life and local culture.

Our group thanked the St. Mary's congregation for its hospitable welcome with a rendition of 'Amazing Grace.'

Our group thanked the St. Mary’s congregation for its hospitable welcome by singing a verse of ‘Amazing Grace.’

After attending a Methodist service last week, we had the opportunity to attend a Xhosa Catholic service at St. Mary’s in Nyanga. The service was full of beautiful music created by harmonious voices of the congregation, multiple marimbas, and percussion. At the end of the service we were invited to sing Amazing Grace. For many students church has been a familiar place due to similar traditions, songs, and rituals even across language, race, and culture.

By late afternoon we had arrived at The Grail Center in Kleinmond. Stepping out of the vans we noticed a drastic change in scenery, from an urban jungle to a peaceful retreat. Already we could feel the contrasts from Cape Town, but we would soon find out that the same inequalities persist.

Ntombi, a facilitator at The Grail Center in Kleinmond, began working with students the evening they arrived.

Ntombi, a facilitator at The Grail Center in Kleinmond, began working with students the evening they arrived.

The program at Grail was titled “Training for Transformation,” which correlated perfectly with the transforming of our program from Cape Town to the rest of the nation. We began the program by discussing our initial perceptions of South Africa and how they’ve changed since our arrival. Although it is true that South Africa has safaris and high crime rates, what we’ve found to be more important is the huge disparity of wealth, lasting effects of apartheid, and the welcoming spirit of South Africans.

Monday morning we visited Kleinmond. Just like Cape Town, the city is starkly segregated by race. The white section of town consists of lavish summer beach homes with green lawns and closed curtains signifying their seasonal vacancy. In contrast, the coloured community lives in smaller homes further from the ocean. Finally, the black population is stuck in shantytowns constructed from aluminum sidings and surrounded by scorched earth from countless fires and flooding. This disparity is separated by a short drive down the road.

A view of the government's new sustainable housing development in Kleinmond.

A view from inside one unit of the government’s new sustainable housing development in Kleinmond.

We were then introduced to a Kleinmond housing project implemented by the South African government that includes 410 sustainably built houses. Environmentally, this included solar power and rain barrels. Economically, community workers were trained to build the houses, providing them with an income and marketable skills. The project is largely successful but difficult to repeat due to a lack of public land.

In an afternoon workshop with Grail facilitators Sally and Ntombi we utilized discussion and acting to process what we experienced in the morning. We are starting to see problems on different social, economic, and political levels. We are beginning to understand how systematic policies are benefitting certain groups of people and exploitation becomes normalized.

To end on a more hopeful note, we learned about four responses to address the poverties we have witnessed: welfare, development, liberation, and transformation. All four areas are
necessary, but it is important that we learn how our skills and personalities place us in
the category we will most excel in.

The last two days have been transforming both geographically and personally. We
expect the next half of our program to be equally transformative of ideas, perceptions,
and future aspirations.

Experiential Learning in South Africa

In Mossel Bay our group overnighted in an old train made into a hostel.

In Mossel Bay our group overnighted in an old train made into a hostel.

By Mary Carlsen ’79, professor of social work

Professor Carlsen still had plenty of energy after the group's climb up Cape Town's Table Mountain.

Professor Carlsen still had plenty of energy after the group’s climb up Cape Town’s Table Mountain.

It is a privilege to travel and learn in this beautiful and complex country. Our students are doing St. Olaf proud — they are curious, engaged, flexible, and open-minded. Most recently they showed good humor and care during our stay in close quarters when we slept in a hostel consisting of old train car berths (see above).

Their perceptions and assumptions about South Africa have been deeply challenged. We have sat with formerly homeless women who built their own houses, young people with dreams and ideas for the future of their country, and people who care for and work with the people who are the most disadvantaged due to poverty, abandonment, and disability. Powerful vestiges of the apartheid era remain and deep trauma still affects many.

Professor Carlsen and her students listen to Nandi, a local 'change agent,' talk about local grass roots efforts to improve living conditions for blacks and coloureds.

Professor Carlsen and her students listen to Nandi, a ‘change agent,’ talk about local grass roots efforts to improve living conditions for blacks and coloureds.

Our course explores social realities that span all arenas of human engagement. From the micro level — training brick layers and racial reconciliation — to the macro level of restitution and land redistribution, South Africans are diligently straining to move the country toward a stable and vibrant future.

This resolve is tested regularly, most recently with the current farm worker strikes and the exposure of the lavish personal spending by some government officials. Our last portion of the program will uncover some of these realities in the rural Eastern Cape and urban Johannesburg/Soweto/Pretoria areas.

I have always admired faculty colleagues who take students abroad; now I am in awe
of them. We’ve added the component of iPads for everyone, an experiment using
cutting-edge technology to aid learning. Students are keeping notes about their experiences with the device and I’m trying to grade using new apps and unpredictable internet availability.

The rewards and challenges of experiential learning in South Africa are immeasurable, and I thank those who helped make this program happen (you know who you are!).

Watch for more blogging from students and photos of our journey…

A Future for Mandela’s Children

By Madeline Hoffmeister ’13, Cassidy Javner ’13, and Lyn Meyerhoff ’13

We had an ominous feeling as we walked through the archway to the prison
grounds of Robben Island, where many political activists were imprisoned. It’s a
popular site, so we tried to block out the touristy boat and bus rides that showed visitors
around the island. Rather, we imagined the trip to the island from the view of the many
prisoners who were brought there before us.

The window at right is Nelson Mandela's cell from his time as a political prisoner on Robben Island near Cape Town.

The window at right is Nelson Mandela’s cell from his time as a political prisoner on Robben Island near Cape Town.

Once on the island, we were corralled into groups to tour the grounds; the tour
guides were political prisoners who were sentenced to serve their time on Robben
Island. One fascinating aspect is that most employees are ex-political prisoners or former guards of the prison, and regardless of their tumultuous past, several of them reside on the island together; there is even a post office, church, and clinic still in use.

One of the most famous prisoners, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 of his 27-year sentence for his militant involvement in the African National Congress and for his ability to influence the resistance. We were able to visit his cell, and see the reality of the living conditions and the limestone quarry where he was forced to do hard labor. Even from his cell, Mandela was able to influence the lives of people around him, forcing his transfer to another facility.

Throughout the apartheid era, Mandela was able to fight for peace for the next generation and enable them to have opportunities that no previous generations had. These people are known as Mandela’s Children.

A perfect example of his influence on the continued fight for equality and justice can be seen in the South African Homeless People’s Federation in the Victoria-Mxenge (VXM) community. These 12 members of the federation took their futures into their own hands and literally built a community from the ground up. Standing there today is a pre-primary school attached to a community center.

Ms. Patricia (center) and local youth talk with St. Olaf students about their efforts to provide housing and advance the education of young people in Cape Town townships.

Ms. Patricia (center) and local youth talk with St. Olaf students about their efforts to provide housing and advance the education of young people in Cape Town townships.

We were fortunate enough to meet Ms. Patricia, one of the founding women of VMX. She told us stories of how the women learned to physically build the houses in order to make it more affordable. Using their own cultural knowledge and
resources, the women created their own system to build their community. For example,
they used two-hand mirrors to determine the position of pipes underground and used
their feet for measurements in the traditional Xhosa way. It was inspiring to hear about their drive to create a better life for themselves and the next generation.

During our time in this community we also got to meet three young women who
were benefiting from the hard work of the previous generation. Recently, Ms. Patricia
started a program to provide a space for students to study in a distraction-free
environment, making it possible to learn together. These three women spoke about
their hopes to go to college, write books, become pharmacists and lawyers, as well as
their drive to bring knowledge to their community. Most importantly, they wanted to
give back to their mothers who had made significant sacrifices for their children.

These young women represent exactly what Nelson Mandela, other political prisoners on Robben Island, and families across South Africa have long worked for.

Journey of the Heart

By Amy Meyer ’13, Tamara Myerhoff ’15, and Caitlin Ousley ’14

Students learn about the extent of apartheid's destructiveness during a visit to what remains of Cape Town's District Six. This field used to be a vibrant coloured neighborhood until the government forcibly removed the residents.

Students learn about the extent of apartheid’s destructiveness during a visit to what remains of Cape Town’s District Six. This field used to be a vibrant coloured neighborhood until the government forcibly removed the residents.

Tread softly. Step in right. Yazier Henry spoke these words as we gathered in his office Monday morning. Though we were prepared to meet a reserved man, Yazier was determined to be light-hearted to break the seriousness of the day. His nervous attempts at humor elicited laughs.

Yazier told us we were going to step on ground that many white South Africans have not: the Cape Flats. This area of apartheid-era townships is surrounded by the Cape Town “triangle” (the predominately white, wealthy coastline); inside live poverty and a struggling hope.

A small candle was lit and placed in the center of our circle with two rocks — reminders of conflict over the land. To help each of us find an inner strength for the experience of the day, we were invited to name a person (past or present) to walk with us in spirit. The atmosphere thickened with love, respect, and sorrow as we named our mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, and role models. With our newly named companions in tow we were ready to depart on this Journey of Remembrance.

Viewing the monument to victims of the Trojan Horse Massacre in Athlone township, where three anti-apartheid protesters were killed in a police ambush.

Viewing the monument to victims of the Trojan Horse Massacre in Athlone township, where three anti-apartheid protesters were killed in a police ambush.

At District Six, an empty lot where blacks and coloured people lived before their forced relocation, Yazier had each of us pick up a stone and hold onto it throughout the day. These stones represent the land that was taken from the people during their decades of displacement. Our journey then ventured into the Cape Flats to visit the monuments for the Trojan Horse Massacre, the Gugulethu Seven, and slain Fulbright Scholar Amy Biehl — each of which symbolizes the racial injustices of apartheid.

Students walk arm-in-arm through Gugulethu township. At right is one of our guides, a participant in the struggle who helped the students learn about the legacy of apartheid.

Students walk arm-in-arm through Gugulethu township. At right is one of our guides, a participant in the struggle who helped the students learn about the legacy of apartheid.

At the site of the Trojan Horse Massacre in Athlone, our guides discussed their personal experiences during apartheid. One of our leaders, Yendor, talked about the violent deaths of his childhood friends, Robbie and Cody, and their importance to his personal resistance against white oppressors. At one point Yendor said, “I want to be a rock in the shoe of those who oppress me so that they may not walk too comfortably.”

White people are rarely present in Gugulethu. For this reason, we walked from the Gugulethu Seven memorial to the Amy Biehl monument arm-in-arm to represent the importance of walking a path that others have not.

A view of the Victoria Mxenge community in Cape Town's townships. Photo by Caitlin Ousley.

A view of the Victoria Mxenge community in Cape Town’s townships. Photo by Caitlin Owsley ’14.

We ended the day’s journey in the community of Victoria Mxenge, where we were welcomed with open arms.

The next morning we discovered what true “South African” time meant when we had our breakfast of homemade banana and corn muffins and traditional Roiboos tea two hours later than planned. It was well worth the wait! With our bellies full, we stretched our limbs in a large circle to prepare for Yazier’s experiential learning exercise to help us process our journey through the heart of the townships.

'The Heart of Hope' human sculpture was a student creation that stemmed from a group activity facilitated by facilitated by University of Michigan professor Yazier Henry.

‘The Heart of Hope’ human sculpture was a student creation that stemmed from a group activity facilitated by facilitated by University of Michigan professor Yazier Henry.

We broke off into groups to depict our experience in the form of human statues. One such statue, called “The Heart of Hope,” portrayed the students holding up rocks in a circle as they strained to bring a resistant individual into their ideal of carrying the heavy burden of hope as one entity. A common current throughout each group’s statue was that memory must be preserved and, as global citizens, we must learn to mold these memories into drives that shake our spirits.

Being stagnant will only paralyze our opportunity to be something more, to stand for something stronger than ourselves. As we left Victoria Mxenge, the boys and girls ran alongside our bus waving goodbye, reminding us what two good hands and a strong heart can do to preserve the essence of home.

Race, Reconciliation, and ‘Coming in Right’

By Katie Kuefler ’15, Tenzin Kunsal ’13, and Holly Mitchell ’14

Students meet with the Rev. Deon Snyman in Cape Town's beautiful St. George's Cathedral.

Students meet with the Rev. Deon Snyman in Cape Town’s beautiful St. George’s Cathedral.

The first couple of days in South Africa have been a whirlwind of South Africa’s natural beauty; from seeing Cape of Good Hope to the spectacular beaches and views of Cape Town from Signal Hill. In the bustle of these “tourist activities” it is easy to forget the ongoing struggles that South Africa is facing in the wake of apartheid. South Africa’s past, however, is deeply woven into all aspects of daily life. At one of the beaches we went to, our tour coordinator, Calvin, remarked that in the past he had never been able to go to that particular beach because it was for whites only. This is just one example of how South Africa has changed in the last 20 years, and many people are still trying to make sense of the transformed society.

After our service of morning prayer with Archbishop Tutu (see Facebook album), we had the opportunity to meet with the Rev. Deon Snyman, a member of St. George’s congregation who dedicates his life’s work to restorative justice. Deon works for the Foundation for Church-Led Restitution, an organization that aims to create a national dialogue to address the inequalities that stem from the apartheid system. Currently, Deon is working in the town of Worcester, where a bomb killed four people and injured nearly 70 in an act of racial violence in 1996.

Students meet with the Rev. Deon Snyman (second from right) in St. Goerge's Cathedral.

Snyman (second from right) explains to the students how bringing together apartheid-era victims and perpetrators to talk can lead to closure and reconciliation for both parties.

Although the perpetrator turned himself in after discovering that three out of the four among the dead were children, Deon discussed the number of challenges the victims and community have faced from this act of violence. At the end of January, Deon is taking the 70 survivors to visit the perpetrator in prison. By bringing together the victims and the perpetrator to talk and learn from each other, he hopes that closure and reconciliation can be achieved by both parties. Through this story of restorative justice, Deon hopes to inspire others to find justice in their own lives.

Deon also spoke of the struggles of reconciliation that have continued with the end of apartheid. The persistence of great inequalities between races, denial of white privilege, feelings of white superiority, and the vulnerability that comes from engaging in discussions of these matters are some of the factors that have added to the complex process of reconciliation. Deon describes himself as a “recovering racist” after growing up in a well-off Afrikaner household during the apartheid era. He believes that we have to consciously strive to treat and think of people as equals every day in order to combat lingering inequalities and racism.

Snyman works for South Africa's Foundation for Church-Led Restitution.

Snyman works for South Africa’s Foundation for Church-Led Restitution.

This sentiment reminded us of a section in Kevin Winge’s book, Never Give Up, about “coming in right” to a new experience or country — in particular South Africa. The gist of the message was to take in your experiences and interactions with an open mind, without judgement, and without using an American lens to view various situations.

This is especially important to keep in mind the next couple of days during our stay in the townships. Just like foreigners in a new country, Deon stresses that everyone must decide to come in “right” each day in order for reconciliation to continue and for the country to move toward a more equal, just, and unified society. We hope to use this perspective in the remainder of the program to better understand the deep-rooted effects of South Africa’s history and the consequences and realities of daily life in the post-apartheid era.

Meeting the archbishop

Our first morning in South Africa — after a truly marathon series of flights that took students in Social Work 280 some 14 hours to reach Cape Town — our wonderful students pulled themselves together and freshened up for the opportunity to commune and meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu at St. George’s Cathedral.

The class meeting with Archbishop Tutu was the first of many unique opportunities arranged for the month by Professor Mary Carlsen '79.

The class meeting with Archbishop Tutu was the first of many unique opportunities arranged for the month by Professor Mary Carlsen ’79.

The 24 St. Olaf students made up about half of the visitors who gathered in a chapel inside the cathedral. During the service, Tutu welcomed our group by telling them “You are coming to a wonderful country going through rough times.” He also recounted how he recently had been watching a televised cricket match and, when seeing the non-segregated crowd in the stands, was “struck between the eyes” by the changes of the last decade.

“I’m glad God is God and that this extraordinary thing can happen,” he said. (He was not, however, successful in explaining the rules of cricket and the importance of this particular match to his American guests during the service. He abandoned the attempt with a lighthearted “never mind.”)

The archbishop shared the peace with everyone in the chapel before saying the eucharistic prayer in Xhosa, Afrikaans, and English. He then distributed wafers during communion.


Hugh Kenety ’14 chats with Tutu over coffee.

After the service students had the opportunity to chat with Tutu in the cathedral before heading downstairs for coffee with the Nobel laureate.

Later, students met with Deon Snyman, a “recovering racist” Afrikaner who talked with them in the cathedral about his attempts to repair the damage of the apartheid era through reconciliation between races. “If trauma is not worked through,” he told the class, “you deposit it on the next generation.”

It was a powerful beginning to a month of new experiences and adventures.

Look for more about this morning in upcoming student reflections …

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