Second Blog Post

By Ryan Schindler

      If people ask me what was the most beautiful thing I saw in South Africa, my answer will surprise them. I have seen Table Mountain, zip lined across ancient jungle, and looked out across the Cape of Good Hope; my answer is none of these things. It is, instead, a legal document. More specifically, the Bill of Rights for the People of South Africa. Covering everything from freedom of religion to the inalienable liberties  of children to the support for gay rights, this piece of paper is a graceful defiance of the atrocities and emulates how far the world has come since the American Constitution. It is indeed awesome, reading demands personal reflection.
This experience has allowed me to reflect on an organization I love: North Carolina Student Legislature (NCSL), a student political debate society. The intention is to instill civic engagement through research and civil debate, while allowing interested students to experience political power. While alumni often do great things after their time, the club sometimes brings out the worst in people; the pursuit and protection of power has led to suppression of opinion, incompetence, bullying and verbal attacks, and even corruption and abuse of the law. Even I became arrogant and a bit manipulative when in the possession of power. It can be truly awful.
   And I see much of the same behavior in South Africa. During Apartheid, the Nationalist government suppressed, ignored the rule of law, and murdered in the attempts to keep control of the country. Today, the ANC, the organization that made the constitution a reality, abuses its constituents with complacency and gross embezzlement, all in the face of one of the world’s most unequal societies. How can men like Zuma sleep at night when they spend the people’s money on luxury goods when millions of their people struggle for food, water, and an education? I find it disgusting and a complete betrayal to everything Mandela worked for. The people of South Africa, in a similar light to the students in NCSL, deserve better.This isn’t to suggest that I will solve the political problems of South Africa, but what I’ve learned will help me give back to NCSL.
   For starters, I will be on alert to the inner workings of the organization, both the good and the bad. After all, I can fix a problem if you don’t know it’s there. An I depth look into South Africa allowed me to truly grasp how in trenched apartheid, and racism in America, still remains in society. What I might discover within NCSL might be uncomfortable, but the awareness and struggle of accepting such knowledge is a necessary precursor to positive change. Yet it is not enough.
   As difficult as this may be to overcome, I would need to become more impartial in order to help the organization. Much of my involvement within NCSL is representing Elon University; while it’s fun using political leverage to increase my group’s power, it’s sometimes against the needs of the organization as a whole. Besides, newer members who see this selfish manipulate behavior might leave NCSL or be inspired to imitate such immorality. Mandela faced a similar situation, albeit on a much bigger scale. He could have easily excluded whites from government, or even created a system that predominantly catered to the Xhosa, but Madiba worked to create a society for all of South Africa’s people. I hope to emulate his philosophy within my club.

Educational Opportunities in Kruger

By Jenna Hall

Throughout this entire experience we have learned about the affects of apartheid, the wealth disparities among different races, the mistreatment of miners, and the corruption of the South African government. The lessons I’ve learned and the things I’ve seen have been powerful and will stay with me for the rest of my life. With that said, one of the most enjoyable times was on the safari adventure. The safari was a nice and lighthearted pause between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Education comes in many forms, and one of the most interesting experiences we’ve had so far came in the form of Kruger National Park. My Basotho group has been focusing on looking at South Africa focused on education. But this was really an experience in which we were the ones who were educated. On the first day of safari, we loaded up into our trucks and ventured off into the roped off, but wild, lands of Kruger National Park. We saw giraffes, elephants, hyenas, water buffalo, baboons, white rhinos, and more. It’s cool to see elephants regardless, but what made the experience truly remarkable was our guide, Israel’s, remarks and lessons about all of the animals we saw. For example, as we passed what seemed like hundreds of antelope, our guide told us all about their dietary habits and how they avoid being tracked by predators. Springbok actually defecate behind the defecations of other larger animals to mask their smell so they can’t be traced. We also learned about the maturation habits of the animals. For example, elephants only really birth one calf at a time and that calf lives with its family till it reaches sexual maturity at 2-3 years old.

I was most excited to see the giraffes. We learned that the giraffes actually have the same amount of vertebrae in their spines as humans do; their necks are just extra long. We also learned that they walk with both of their left feet or right feet at the same time. You can tell the difference between male and female giraffes because of the horns on their heads. They also sleep kneeling or standing up because if they laid down flat all the blood would rush away from their heads and hearts and they wouldn’t be able to stand up. Giraffes have been my favorite animal since I was little, so I completely treasure the experience of being able to learn about them while watching them roam freely.

The other educational experience we had at Kruger was through our peers. On our last day in Kruger each tribe gave a presentation that well all had been preparing for since before our arrival in South Africa. My group presented on the differences between education between the blacks and the whites within South Africa. Our group worked well together and I can’t put into words all that I have gained through our research. Listening to the other groups’ presentations was even more valuable. The Venda Tribe had one of the most interesting presentations about economic policies and trends within South Africa pre and post apartheid. They conducted a game that showed us how people are treated differently based on their race and explained why the majority of the country distrusts the banks. It was nice to learn more about South Africa through my peers.

While our two days in Kruger were more lighthearted and fun, they still awarded educational value. I found this worth writing about because its important to understand that educational opportunities can be found anywhere you go. As I said, my group looked into the educational disparities in South Africa, which is of course crippling for those who are not granted adequate learning opportunities. With that said, I think it is important to take responsibility for educating oneself. I was able to gain valuable and interesting knowledge while on the safari that I will take with me when I leave South Africa. It is interesting to think of the different types of intelligence. Is formal education more valuable than everyday opportunities to learn? Are they equal? Does someone need a formal education to recognize and soak in other knowledge?

Long-Lasting Effects of Apartheid on Education

By Lauren McCallister

Since my tribe has a focus on policies, we have spent a significant amount of time researching education in South Africa and how it was affected due to apartheid. Since arriving in the country, I have picked up on many current events relating to education the education system here. On the 21st, our class visited the Ekukhanyisweni Primary School in Alexandra for service work. While there, I witnessed the school’s lunch and recess and was able to play with the students during this time, sort the shoes we brought to hand out, sized students for their new shoes, and walked around the school and library. We also had a conversation with Grace, the principal, about possible projects for Elon SASA that would benefit EPS.

Upon our arrival, our class had a conversation about how the students lack positive examples and opportunities. Another student and I created a poster about this idea while we were still in Cape Town and were asked to make posters sending a message regarding something we had experienced while in South Africa. We wanted to show that even though a black or colored student living in a township may have the same abilities as a white student in South Africa, they will usually end up with less opportunities for the future presented to them since they face many more hardships, such as discrimination and social status, along the way. One of the potential projects we discussed for the school is to have a speaker series with people who live in their township or are alumni of the school and are now successful. In the meantime, Dr. Layne reminded us to be good role models while we were there and to share a different perspective of the world with them.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have experienced a couple different kreshes and met several school-aged kids in other townships around Cape Town. This was a whole new experience for me since school is now officially in session after the holiday break and EPS is a more formal setting than the other schools I have seen. The building is two floors and forms a square shape around a quad in which the students congregate during their lunch and recess time. All students wore some type of uniform representing the schools colors of red, black, and white. We learned while we were there about how there used to be a tuition for children to attend public schools. The government has more recently done away with this, but it still does not provide uniforms along with education and supplies, which means most of the uniforms owned by students came from the Adopt-A-Student program that Elon SASA participated in. The government also allocates a certain amount of money each year for classroom supplies and basic stationary, but the amount is exact, so there is no room for error. During lunch, I saw kids walking around with their pencil boxes and rulers under their arms. Kids could also pay for a school lunch in the courtyard during this time, and I could see many of them took advantage of this. I found the way this school very interesting because it was clearly so much more organized than the kresh we visited, since there were many classrooms, uniforms, school supplies, and school lunches. Even so, the school still has a lot it needs to work on.

Overcrowding is a huge problem in many schools like this in South Africa. EPS is one of the nicer and newer public schools for townships, so the government keeps pushing students to go there. One problem that has stemmed from overcrowding is a lack of teachers. Dr. Layne explained this when we arrived and said she was surprised more teachers have not quit yet. Grace also made it clear that there is a lack of teacher appreciation which makes their jobs even more exhausting. I read an article in The Star newspaper on the 22nd called “Why our teachers are leaving,” that explained some more of the reasons South African schools are lacking educators. It says “badly behaved pupils and a lack of support from education officials and parents were driving teachers to early retirement and resignation,” which I could clearly see at the school we visited.

Another problem coming from the overcrowding of classrooms is a lack of supplies for the students. The next day we went to the Apartheid museum, and there was an exhibit with an extremely powerful photo of a black student kneeling on the ground of his classroom, writing on a slate. During this time, slates were all that students were given to take notes on, which means they would have to erase everything they just wrote once they filled it up. This made learning very difficult since they could only learn through repetition. I could not help but to make this parallel as I walked around looking into the classrooms at EPS that were filled with fifty students each, and half of them on the ground since there are not enough desks.

Although improvements have been made in black and colored schools in South Africa, many of the problems such as quality of education and overcrowding still exist today. Can other schools use the nicer schools like EPS as a model in order to evenly spread out students among schools? Will the government ever put a plan in place to support educators and teacher certification? I am also interested and excited to see what Elon SASA will decide to focus on for a long-term project to help.

The Lies of the Mines

By Valerie Reich

Wealth is based in gold. Jewelry is made of gold. Fashion is designed in honor of gold. But gold has a dark side.

Last night we went to the play Egoli which follows the lives of a few miners in working and living together in a mining community in Johannesburg. “Egoli”, which is a colloquial name for Johannesburg reflects the deeply upsetting conditions miners lived through during the years of apartheid and the effects these conditions had on their families. The play consists of a seven-person cast, with some actors playing multiple roles. The story highlights the degrading nature of the mines and includes a personal look into the cycle of broken hopes and families resulting from people’s dreams for a better life.

Our group, Basoto, has throughout our preparatory class and throughout this program in South Africa has focused on the lens of education, specifically the disparities between black and white educations. This play is a perfect example of the lack of opportunities for black youth during the time of apartheid. The lack of educational opportunities leads to up taking of horrible jobs with conditions that violate the basic sense of human rights.

For example Lebohang Motaung, who plays a miner, was the lead narrator throughout the play. This character left his family in rural South Africa to come to the Johannesburg mines to look for work. He discusses his internal struggle between having to choose between being apart of his family and supporting them financially, the typical male role during this period. He soon falls into a cycle of deep depression, extra marital affairs, and alcohol dependency. When he begins to spend more money on his vices than he is sending home to support his family, his son, played by Alfred Motlhapi, decides to follow in his father’s footsteps to the mines where he ends up dying in a collapsed mine shaft.

Motaung’s character witnessed and lived through the atrocious conditions of the mines, so why did he continue to work there? Why did he not warn his son or his family about the danger within the mines and the reality of his lifestyle? He kept the nature of his work secret because he had no other choice. We’ve learned throughout museums here and within our readings about the nature of the Bantu Educational Act. This act seriously limited the amount, types, and the nature of education provided to black and coloured South African students. There was no opportunity for Motaung’s character to learn another variety of skills to change his outcome in life or to push him into a different field. By limiting education for the blacks and coloureds, the apartheid government was also able to limit the scope of jobs that these people could eventually partake in. This went on to affect his son because his son was afforded the same education as his farther. Parents naturally want their children to succeed beyond them. Every generation should at least do a little better than the one before. Yet both father and son were denied basic education and their opportunity for careers were squashed into a mere few jobs they could obtain. Motaung’s character couldn’t succeed and leave the mines for another career because his educational background was so low he didn’t have the skills to accomplish another higher paying or less dangerous job and he didn’t have the skills to teach to his son this information because he spent his life in the mines trying to provide for the same son he eventually leads to death.

This entire play is a doubled edge sword. We saw the conditions of the mines further when we visited a former gold mining site in Johannesburg. The tour included a sampling of the noise levels within the mines and it was ear shattering and seriously disconcerting mentally. The idea of listening to that noise all day every day for months on end sends a shiver down my spine. It was no quality place for work. The miners were worked extreme hours, with limited food or drink, in the dark, all while loud ear shattering noises plagued the men. Beyond that, the men were barley paid any kind of wage and were forced to live in small over-crowded apartments.

But all of these issues come down to one basic inconsistency. There were no whites doing the hard labor down in the mines. It was all black and coloured men. Yes, white men might have had supervisory roles, but they were never the ones breaking their backs for hours on end each day. The miners were predominantly black and colored and that was because blacks and coloureds under apartheid government didn’t have the opportunities to succeed in fields that were opened to whites.

Apartheid, History, and T

By Hannah Orth

Apartheid is painful to talk about. People were killed, beaten, jailed, and oppressed based on the color of skin, only. The difficulties behind race is a problem across the world. People with darker skin seem to be repeatedly oppressed by those of whiter complexions. The white counterparts have difficulty recognizing the effects of apartheid and their roles in the whole conflict. Race is difficult to talk about, difficult to swallow, difficult to reconcile. The divisions cannot be overcome in five years or in a decade. Just like in South Africa, the black and white people of the US are still struggling to reach equality. South Africa, with a more recent major conflict of racial oppression, is faced with perpetuating problems that create a blurry future. What information and accounts will be passed on to the next generation? I find that sometimes the most difficult parts of a nation’s history are omitted from the book or simply are given a paragraph of explanation. The Apartheid museum in Johannesburg contains such an overarching plethora of information that Apartheid will never be forgotten because of this museum, even if sections are omitted out of the textbook.

The Apartheid Museum visited today provided an extensive overview of the apartheid and the various aspects that contributed to it, fought against it, and fell victim to it. The apartheid laws restrict the black and colored people and their freedoms, leading to the divisions that still exist today. The Land Act in 1913 gave 92% of South African land to the white people and only, 8% to the black Africans. Immediately, the divisions began. Taking land away from one group and giving it to another. The Group Areas Act of 1950 divided land even further. Designating some areas for whites only and some for blacks or coloreds only. However, these areas did not always have the designated peoples living there, forcing people of Sophiatown to relocate to Soweto and the removal of black and colored people from District Six. In addition, the Population Registration Act of 1950 mandated that people register according to their race. The government was able to monitor everyone with these laws and completely disrupt the lifestyles of many black citizens across South Africa. These were only some of the legal mandates created by the government to control and separate the black population.

While I had learned about these before, the positioning and use of exhibits within the museum allowed me to really understand and process the absolute hate the government inflicted upon black people. In both the District Six readings and the museum, we learn about the relocation, but the sheer amounts of people other than District Six was shocking to me. Original pictures of Soweto were in the exhibit, exemplifying the space that was designated for these people who had been removed from their homes. Video footage of bulldozers was really powerful especially when a man described his feelings as his house was torn down. Overall, the exhibits about the specific laws allowed me to view these events in chronological order and to see the effects in other places than just District Six.

Although familiar with the Ku Klux Klan in the US, I had not heard of the radical white supremacist parties featured in the museum. Besides the Nationalist party, White Afrikaner Nationalists joined the Ossewa Brandwag party which was a supporting force of the Nazi Party during World War II. In addition, the AWB was a hate group that provided violent training to all of its members in order to combat the black protests arising from 1990-1994. Their symbol, three interlocking sevens, represents the biblical symbol meaning luck. The video footage of these people training reflected brutish people preparing for war. From bashing watermelons set to the height of an average man while riding horses to their control of guns, these people were terrifying, hateful, and evil. The footage was chilling. The footage incited chills equal to those of footage of the KKK and the Nazi Party. I seriously cannot even process people who believe the color of their skin is a point of power over another. I could not believe the aggression in their training in combination with their beliefs. I was really glad when that exhibit was over. I really did not respond well to the hate groups present on the television.

The most powerful room was the room honoring all those who died in police custody. The 151 people who were arrested one day and murdered the next were honored beautifully in this exhibit. The nooses hanging from the ceiling really impacted me especially because of the history of the noose in the US, too. One man’s cause of death was, “slipped on soap and died.” All of the other suicides and deaths in custody were fabricated, and we have seen similar situations arise in the US. We can look at the history and mourn, but it continues. We still have the same exact thing happening in the US. Police Brutality is real issue and that exhibit demonstrated that. I feel frustrated having seen that museum. Law brings justice, but when the law is unjust, there is no justice. Steve Biko was the first time I confronted this horror in terms of apartheid, and he was not alone in being killed for violating pass laws or because of their political opinions. All people should fear a government that prevents any opposition.

One of the more powering exhibits included the images and happenings of the world continuing to spin while atrocities occurred in South Africa. Even fellow South Africans, mainly white people, continued their lives as if nothing was morally and ethically wrong with the state of apartheid. How many times has the world kept turning serious and dangerous issues? What kind of event needs to occur in order for the whole world to take interest or have compassion for another people?

I will continue to write about how amazed I am with the ability to reconcile in South Africa. I am inspired and humbled by not only Mandela’s ability to forgive, as previously discussed, but everyone’s ability to move forward. Although, South Africa has a lot of progress to make and many people realize that, the ANC has not completely decided to take control and create a similar system of retribution for the human rights violations of the Black and Colored populations. I think forgiveness and reconciliation are two parts of human nature that are more challenging. South Africa has set an example for the world about how to reconcile differing governments and opinions over barriers that have previously divided people, The Bill of Rights and the Preamble of the Constitution of South Africa state clearly that all people should be treated equally.

Learning history is a product of any public high school education in the US, but what did we actually learn in those classes? Who wrote those textbooks? What was present, and what was omitted? I beg to ask these questions to a South African student. What parts of apartheid are simply to atrocious to remember, the Soweto protests? Considering both my personal interests and the theme of the Basotho group, I find that education plays a crucial role in remembering history and educating students on the good and the bad. Sometimes, I feel that I have been hidden from the blatant truths, the horrors, and the reality of many historical events especially concerning the Civil Rights Movement while in high school. I hope that the textbooks address and call apartheid what it really is for the sake of the foot soldiers, current students, and future children. What do those textbooks say about apartheid? I believe that the apartheid museum did a great job providing the information for students to learn even if it is excluded from class content or is simply a bolded word in a text book. I am thankful for this experience and for the honesty and transparency of the museum.

The Cradle of Human Kind

By Amanda B

As South Africa is known as The Cradle of Humankind, on Tuesday January 19th, our class visited Maropeng, which is a museum that allowed us to discover our human heritage and ancestry. The word Maropeng translates to mean “returning to the place of origin” in Setswana, an indigenous language of South Africa. I know that through this experience I personally felt truly connected to the world’s history. Our tour of Maropeng began with the information about the area, specifically about the archeological discoveries of South Africa. The main discoveries of this area are known as “Mrs. Ples”, who was discovered by Dr. Robert Broom, and “Little Foot,” who was discovered by Ronald J Clarke. Both of these fossils were discovered in the Sterkfontein Caves. Mrs. Ples, a nickname for the species name Australopithecus africanus, was the first discovery that indicated that South Africa is in fact “The Cradle of Humankind”.

Following our short briefing outside, we went into the museum to discover a lot of information about the theory of evolution and natural selection as explained by Charles Darwin. I found this museum to be very intriguing, especially because of my personal education. When I was younger, I used to want to be a primatologist, a person who studies primates and apes, and I have since found evolution and the relationship between primates and the human race to be very interesting. Because of this interest, my first year at Elon University, I took a biological anthropology course, “Human Evolution and Adaptation.” Most of the preliminary information that was presented to us at the beginning of the museum was information that I have previously learned, specifically in this anthropology class. However, there was still a lot to learn about the subject, so I got a lot out of the experience.

What I found to be the most powerful and meaningful about the museum is the fact that there was an emphasis on the science and history of the human race, and how much we have developed throughout our past. At the same time, the exhibits emphasized how much work the human race needs to do in order to better the world, specifically through the education of all people. As discussed in previous classes and through my groups understanding of the current education system of South Africa as depicted in the news, I have learned of the many hardships that are endured by the people of South Africa.

 

An exhibit in the museum focused on the education of citizens throughout the world and it was extremely powerful to see such information. One section of the education exhibit was a bar graph of the percent of people over the age of fifteen years old that can read and write. Some of the data that stood out to me is that Australia and Norway both have 100%, Japan and the United Kingdom at 99%, Kazakhstan at 98%, and the United States of America at 97%. In contrast to these high literacy rates, Somalia had 38%, and Sierra Leone had a 30% literacy rate. In the middle of this information, South Africa has a literacy rate of 86%. This number actually surprised me by how large it was, but I realized that though South Africa might have a higher literacy rate than expected, there is still a lot of countries that less than half of their population are literate, thus emphasizing the importance of education for all people over the world. There was a quote, “Education is unequal across the globe. As in all issues of sustainability, it is a contested area, with the richest consuming the most resources and the poorest the fewest” that really spoke to the universality of the education disparities, indicating that though South Africa has educational disparities, education is also an universal problem.

Image from Maropeng: Bar graph of the literacy of various countries

In addition to the bar graph portion of the education exhibit, there was a collage of various quotes about education. I found “How can I have a voice when there is no school” to be extremely powerful as it indicates that there are children who want to learn, but they are not given the opportunity to do so, and therefore are hindered in their future. Another quote shown in this exhibit is from Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Price laureate, who stated that “the privilege of a higher education, especially outside Africa, broadened my original horizon and encouraged me to focus on the environment, women and development in order to improve the quality of life of people in my country in particular and in the African region in general” was insightful to me as well. I was intrigued by the fact that he put such a high standard for the education that he received, and he was able to take the education back to the country of his origin. On the other hand, I found it eye-opening that he felt that his education outside of his African origins is what allowed him to prosper in his field even though there is so much to learn from the African environment. When I consider my own history with education, I know how satisfied I am with the education that I have received that is so close to my home. It was difficult for me to realize that many Africans do not have many opportunities for their education, and therefore it is common to leave their culturally-rich environment in order to obtain a higher education.

After we finished the various exhibits, we then walked outside and we were able to view the landscape of the Cradle of Humankind. I personally was very inspired by looking over the lush land of my ancestors, seeing the place that I, and everyone I know, came to be. Though I do not know a lot of my family roots, I do know now from this experience exactly where I come from. Standing and looking out over the scenery, I also realized the power of all of my actions on the world around me. It is important to keep in mind, where do you come from?

Robben Island

By Hannah Orth

Education comes in many forms and continues throughout the life of each person. Whether it be learning skills for a profession or learning how to better interact with people, learning never ceases. Even when sentenced to prison, the political prisoners of Robben Island learned from each other and essentially developed many of the ideas present in the South African democracy today. The Basotho’s focus on education has been woven into Mandela’s writing and our tour of Robben Island and the prison. The prevalence of education at the prison is shocking and enlightening and reveals how education plays a role in various phases of life.

We learned about the various uses of Robben Island during Apartheid while on tour including a makeshift education development type of program started by the prisoners. Separated from the rest of the prisoners, the political leaders were all grouped together in B section allowing a massive think tank to occur among those imprisoned. The dining hall became the classroom as people would huddle and discuss the movement against apartheid together. Prisoners additionally would stay up late talking in the bathrooms attempting to further define and develop their ideas about politics and the apartheid. While in the courtyard, we learned about the note passing system from one wing to another inside of tennis balls. I find the ability to bond and develop government within the walls of a prison after having been there for decades extremely inspiring. The ideas and conversations that must have been had in that prison founded the new South Africa. I was very humbled to be visiting a place with such secrets hidden in the walls and in the memories of the political dissenters. Many of the prisoners continued on within their political education to take positions in parliament or among leadership in the government, and I am sure that many would attribute their prison discussions as a factor in their professional careers.

Not only were men educated by political discussion and planning, but also prisoners who came in with little education were able to learn in the presence of peers. Ernie Daniels, entered prison with a grade eight education and while working in the quarry, was able to leave with a Bachelor of Arts and Commerce. The second highest judge in the South Africa government learned to read in prison by tracing letters in the sand. I find these stories a true testament to the unique environment of the prison. The amount of education taking place within the walls was interesting to learn about not only during the bus tour, but also in the prison tour. I believe that this general education was a supplement to the education that black or colored students should have been getting in the schools during apartheid, but were disadvantaged, because of the Bantu Education laws and many of the restrictions placed on them like the Land Act that restricted their movement. Even if they could afford a better school than that offered in a Black area, they could not go to it, because of the Pass Laws and others. I really admire the tenacity of these men to achieve and overcome their difficulties when they were oppressed in all ways of life.

I find the forgiveness of these men to be the most surprising. I wonder if I could have forgiven my oppressors the way Mandela did. I think that the blatant degradation of black prisoners really demonstrates the pervasiveness of apartheid. Prisoners were not even seen as equals as a whole within that setting. They were given shorts versus the colored person’s pants and shoes and different food rations. The way they built the prisons were intended to make the living conditions miserable in terms of temperatures and overall atmosphere within each individual cell. I really admire the capacity to forgive such a monumental display of inequity. Even in Mandela’s writing, he refuses to talk negatively about anyone, demonstrating his belief in the significance and mutual respect for all humans. Mandela’s thoughts developed as he matured and grew, and I am sure that at the beginning of his sentence, he was very unlikely to forgive the oppressors, but as he grew older, he was able to recognize the benefits of forgiveness for both parties and for the overall well-being of South Africa. Formal or informal, education is necessary for people to grow and develop and unlocks a wealth of knowledge and ideas.

Additionally, while reading through the stories of prisoners on the cell walls, one was about the fact that education in the prison was a privilege, not a right. I was surprised by the accessible education to political prisoners, especially black ones. Because it was a privilege and not a right, which I wholeheartedly disagree with, it could be taken away. One story was of prisoners protesting working in the quarry, and as a form of punishment, lost “education privileges,” but a book on table tennis remained, where this prisoner, Jacob Sikundla, was able to master table tennis and win the tournaments inside the prison. The object left in the cell was the certificate of his championship over the other prisoners. Education, regardless, was a part of Jacob’s life in the prison, and provided a distraction from the downtrodden atmosphere of the prison. I find this story very inspiring. Education can come from any source and be about anything, even table tennis, and I admire his commitment to learning a new skill in such a dire situation. Learning adds dimension to all aspects of life, and I believe Jacob demonstrated that perfectly.

Learning in the prison happened as well, as told by Sindile Mngaibisa. He said that they “started education on the island with cement bag paper.” They made books using the cement bag paper hiding everything under rocks in the quarry. If caught, everything would be burned in a drum. In Sindile’s account, he says that they eventually allowed the prisoners to buy paper and pencils, often sharing them with each other. As time progressed when Colonial Willemse came to the island, education shifted as the prisoners began educating the guards. I find this to be extremely surprising especially because of the power differences between guards and prisoners. Sindile stated that, “So the foundation of education on Robben Island was brown paper cement bags. You finished your Standard Ten and then moved into C section – that became the University of Robben Island.” Sindile’s reflections about education in the prison are important in understanding the environment in which these prisoners were able to brainstorm and create political ideas that ultimately shaped the foundation of South Africa’s democracy.

In Mandela’s Unaccompanied Man chapter, he explores his experiences in the prison system of South Africa while he was held as a prisoner for 27 years in total and 17 on Robben Island. Mandela’s cell remains as a testament of the brave men who overcame such hatred in order to become not only a better man, but a better leader for the people of South Africa. His opinions and thoughts about prison and education come tie together when he writes a letter to the Minister of Justice in 1969 asking to be treated as political prisoners. In this letter, he states that political prisoners, “implies the freedom to obtain all reading material that is not banned and to write books for publication,” demonstrating Mandela’s influence on this process and the importance of these prison political think tanks.

The trip to Robben Island was one full of history and growth. To see the place where many political leaders spent time considering different ideas and developing new ideas was a transformative experience. It sets an example in the way that the prisoners forgive, accept, and use those memories to contribute to society, like the tour guides at the museum. I find that I am inspired by Mandela and our tour guide to forgive more easily. If those men can forgive their oppressors, I definitely can reflect on that in my own life. In addition, the education present in the prison demonstrates how much of a privilege education really is, although I believe it should be a right. They found it so important that they continued to learn even when they were doing hard labor and being ostracized as prisoners. I learned a lot from this experience and am looking forward to continue examining education and its role in the development of South Africa.

 

Children can Teach the Most

By Ryan Schindler
  My involvement with my Dad’s children’s charity has given me ample opportunities to interact with kids, so I thought I would be prepared for volunteering in a South African school. I was wrong. Very wrong. But I’m ok with this, for I have learned a lot from what my observations and reflections from working with these children.
      The destroyed any assumptions about what students in a school would do. In a period of approximately 30 seconds, I saw cartwheels, wrestling, slam downs, and other actions that would be completely unacceptable in American and western schools. It would’ve been easy to judge the students, or even scold or correct their behavior, but I instead bit my tongue and observed as objectively as possible.
    Unsurprisingly, the class’s experience in the township school was eye opening, but not for the reasons one would think. Bonding with the students seemed natural to most, but not everyone. For instance, those who weren’t blonde haired, blue eyed women didn’t receive as much attention from the kids. Likewise, on a personal level, I felt awkward around them; I didn’t know what to say or how to socialize with them. It wasn’t long ago that I felt that way around almost anyone, since my Autism Spectrum Disorder made learning to connect with people difficult and, even as a college student, not completely natural.
   After becoming more comfortable, I talked, and even bonded, with several kids in the school. The way people bonded with the students also varied wildly. Most of the boys hung out with the kids by playing soccer, while a lot of the girls simply talked to the girls cheerfully. Mine were pretty random encounters; some compared me to Ryan Finger, while others got on my back and rocked me around. It resulted in teaching the words “up”, “down”, “left” & “right”, so that’s an obvious gain.
 The true takeaway from this day was the insights that I gained, particularly about education.
     First, good-hearted people who want to improve education must account for cultural differences. Behaviors considered intolerable in American and European schools might be normal or even encouraged in other schools, so disciplining students with a western mindset might be harmful. We can also learn from these foreign school environments and apply those cultural traits to schools back home. The key is to keep an open mind.
   Another factor is with the teacher itself. He or she must be competent and comfortable around children in order to help effectively. The education degree you may have would be irrelevant if you know how to get through to your students. Likewise, volunteers and teachers need, and deserve, resources to help fine tune their skills and become better.
   Finally, the differences between individual students has to be accounted for. A truly nurturing environment, a necessity for constructive learning, can only occur if the students feel validated and respected. Although many classrooms are overcrowded and grossly underfunded, I believe teachers have the ability to make a classroom a safe space for children to be themselves. And that, I realize, makes all of the difference.