Education in Cape Town Townships

By Lauren McCallister

We visited various townships on January 10th, 11th, and 12th, and by the 12th, I was adjusted enough that I could start picking up on things I didn’t get to notice the days prior. I was able to connect these visits very easily to the topics regarding children and education that we talked about in class before departing from the US. School isn’t in session until the 13th since it is still the holiday season here. As we walked around each township, I noticed the children roaming the streets aimlessly. They are of all ages – I even saw kids who could have been about seven years old, carrying around their baby siblings. One sight that will stick with me is a group of 10 year olds sitting on the stoop of the local Beer Hall. When they see us they run up and follow us down the street, not worrying where they will end up and without a parent in sight. It is clear that there is so much else going on for these families in the townships that kids are the least of parents’ worries. The moment that this became most evident for me is when we were serving lunches and passing out shoes to the children in the community at the township we visited yesterday, and parents were coming up to myself and the rest of the females on the trip offering to sell us their babies for no more than 20R which is just over one US dollar. After our visit, our class was able to discuss how their desperation to free themselves of the burden of their children, and to free their children of problems within their township and have them leave for the US was overwhelming.

As I mentioned before, we handed out new sneakers to many of the kids in the township. I noticed right away how few of them had shoes on their feet and we’re still running around the glass-covered streets on 90 degree summer days. Of course their lack of shoes is nothing that their families have the power to change, but it is clear that they also are not educated on health and safety. Health education is something I have definitely taken for granted, living in the US. I was also fortunate enough to grow up with many adults around me who cared about my safety. Not only are the children here unsupervised for much of the day when not in school, there is not a curriculum set up to teach them why they should not walk around the streets alone or when barefoot. So many things that I would consider dangerous in my experiences such as loose dogs or strangers in the neighborhood do not even cause these children to flinch.

Another aspect of health classes that I received while in grade school is how to practice safe sex and healthy relationships. One of our most recent readings discusses the prevalence of rape in townships and how that can lead to teen pregnancies, spread of diseases, and unhealthy relationships. In class we discussed how many children are neglected on the streets, but it could largely be due to larger problems within households such as abuse between parents.

Throughout this past week, there have been several articles in the Cape Town papers regarding recent standardized testing scores, as well as the successes of students in the Western Cape. Part of the research my group and I have conducted here and in the US is about wealth disparities affecting the quality of the education South African students receive, as well as the opportunities that come along with it. Wealth disparity has also been a large theme during our class time, as it greatly affects lifestyle. The article titled “SACS pupil beats odds to be SA’s top matric,” in the issue of the Cape Argus from January 6 confirms that this still holds true. Scores from this test range greatly between areas of poverty, and areas of wealth such as the Western Cape. Being able to physically go to the townships and see the way the kids live gave me a much greater insight to the quality of education they are receiving and how this may be holding them back from getting better test scores or opportunities in the future. After visiting the township yesterday, we discussed in class how the kids we saw might never realize their “potential.” I take this to mean that the boy I talked to who said he wants to be a doctor, may never have the chance to see if he has what it takes to become one since his schooling won’t prepare him for that. The class sizes in the townships are large, the classrooms are small, and resources are lacking. All students look toward their future and hope for opportunities to achieve their goals, but black students in townships are held back in all these ways that students in wealthier areas are not.

Now that the matric scores have been released for this year and the range of scores was wide enough to pull the average down from previous years, will the government do anything to change and improve the test for next year? Will they send more help to those areas that had the lowest scores?



A Day in Langa

By Amanda B

Today, Sunday January 10th, we traveled to the township of Langa outside the city of Cape Town. While we were there for the afternoon, we had many enjoyable experiences, including having a delicious lunch with a live music performance by a local band, a tour of the Langa visitor center as well as a tour of the township. The tour of the visitor center included seeing the area where they have local artists come into the center to make their own ceramics, such as coffee mugs and small bowls There was a kiln to use, and we were able to watch a woman paint a coffee mug. Following this, we were taught how another man of the area uses sand and acrylic paint for canvas paintings to sell locally and at the visitor center. We were then shown how another man uses tools to make glass mosaics to sell as well. As a group, we were then taught an African song in which we played drums and sang along with leaders.

Following this time in the visitor center, we toured the township with a guide who had grown up in Langa. During this time, he informed us of many pieces of the culture of living in a township. The tour started with him discussing the “Lovers Boulevard” in which he discussed the fact that only men were allowed by law to come to the cities to work. This meant that they had to leave their families behind in the rural areas and had very restricted number of times in which they were allowed to be visited by their wives. At the few times at which the wives would be able to come visit, the meeting place for the men and women were along the Lovers Boulevard. However, during their time alone in the cities, the men would start to create a new family for themselves in the townships apart from the families in the rural areas. This was then discussed in class and depicted in the readings of men empowerment, such that there was a vast double standard between the rights of men and women in relationships. In the “Violence, Rape, and Sexual Coercion: Everyday Love in a South African Township” by Katherine Wood and Rachel Jewkes, it discusses that there are cases in which women are beaten when they even just talk to another man, yet it is common for men to have relationships with many different women.

Following this, we continued down the streets of Langa, and our guide discussed many other aspects of the culture, including the education that is common within the townships. His discussion began with the fact that once it was legally allowed for woman to live in townships, many mothers moved into the townships with their families in order to allow for their children to get a better education. In their culture, there is a high focus of education for many reasons, but he explicitly explained that many parents strive to give their children a great education because of their own past with school, such that it had been an education through the tribe, but without much global knowledge. Throughout the time in the townships and apartheid, there was an education system that continued to hinder the growth of the blacks, as it was only a Bantu education. With this Bantu education, the blacks of South Africa were taught not how to fix problems of the world around them, but rather how to maintain the equipment necessary for the jobs that they have been told to do by the whites. After the end of apartheid, the laws changed allowing for a difference in the education of black children, and that was meant to minimize the disparities between the education of the various races of South Africa. In our group’s previous discussions of the education system of South Africa, there is evidence of the disparities between the educational opportunities of the different races of South Africa, specifically of blacks in comparison to the whites of the country. Though legally there have been improvements to the education system for black South Africans, there remains a large educational gap.

As we walked through the Langa with our guide, it became evident that there is still a discrepancy in the education, as our primary research from the fall indicated. He discussed that there were much fewer schools in the townships but a higher student to teacher ratio. This combination leads to the overall hindrance of the black South African students who are trying to get an education that would allow for a better job for their future, to provide for themselves and their families. I found this information to be very interesting in the fact that there was a hope for a better future, but in reality the blacks of South Africa are still deficient in their education systems in comparison to the possibilities that are offered to white South Africans.


Religious Diversity: A South African Treasure

By Valerie Reich

We have been in South Africa for a week now, and I continuously find one of the most fascinating attributes of this country to be its diverse and eclectic populations. One of the most interesting sub-cultures within South Africa is the Cape Malay population. We spent the day with touring Bo-Kaap, a local Muslim community with a unique background. As people who would be deemed “coloured” under apartheid classification, the Cape Malay people have a controversial history yet maintain their cultural identity fiercely with pride and are fueled by a deep religious devotion to Islam. On January 10th, 2016 our program met up with a local Imam (an Islamic religious leader) and he toured us around his community of Bo-Kaap.

To describe this area is almost indescribable and solicits much less emotion without being able to see its beauty. This is not a rich area of Cape Town, but it is not poor either. The houses that line the streets are painted in a variety of rich colors from pink to green to red and throughout the rest of the rainbow. At first glance, one might find this to be a suggestion of gentrification and the hiding of structural poverty. Yet as our guide pointed out, the colors of the buildings are actually descriptive of the business or person who once lived there. As apartheid designated “coloured” area for the Cape Malay people, many of the local residents couldn’t read or write. The color of the buildings was a tool to identify the inhabitants that was universally accepted. Beyond the pleasing ascetics, San Francisco like hilly roads, and the beautiful views of some of Cape Town’s beaches, what was even more unique and heart-filling was the warmth of the people who compose the local inhabitants. As we walked around the area, countless people smiled to us and waved. Stores had their doors open and the sounds of light chatter could be heard from indoors. As a breeze swept through the streets and the sounds of laughing children could be heard in the distance, it felt as if anyone could find a bit of home, or at least culture, in this area of Bo-Kaap.

Yet it is the people, who in their own right are individually interesting, are the lifeblood of Bo-Kaap. But what is makes Cape Malay individual Cape Malay? Cape Malay is a sub-culture within Africa whom claim their heritage from slaves taken from Malaysia by the VOC, or otherwise known as the Dutch East India Trading Company. This history is fraught with controversy though, as historians and museum experts relayed to us throughout our tours of apartheid museums that the Cape Malays are actually descendants of African slaves. By their accounts, the VOC would have never brought slaves from Malaysia to Cape Town, South Africa. Regardless of the actual origination of the Cape Malays, it is undeniable that they have a continued and strict set of cultural rules and procedures heavily influenced by Islam. On our tour with the Imam, we visited an Islamic burial ground, a Mosque, and a Halal restaurant owned by a local family. This area is so culturally religious, that the restraint pretty much closed during the time for Islamic afternoon prayer. Yet as religious as this area is, the Islam of the Cape Malay’s is a vastly different Islam in practice than of the images we see on modern television.

Yes, in Bo-Kaap there are some women who cover themselves in hijabs and wear longer pants and shirts. But our Imam told us that even his daughters will never cover their hair. The Cape Malay community values art, dance, and music contrary to the beliefs of many of the Muslims we see on television today. Even our guide said that some other branches of Islam do not accept the lifestyle choices of the Cape Malays but that even without their approval, the Cape Malay community believes in the goodness of itself and that they are serving God to the best of their ability and with a full heart. The religious diversity here is highlighted as a “minority” section of the larger South African community is strategically protected from outside influence. Our guide reiterated to us a story about a man who wanted to put in a bar next to a local smaller mosque. The Bo-Kaap community, unwilling to have a bar next to their holy site, petitioned the city to stop the furthering of construction. The case got up to a high ranking judge who ruled in favor of the Bo-Kaap Cape Malays’ deeming them too important of an entity to have the antithesis of their religion plastered next to a holy site. This judge also sited that it would leave the community open to backlash and limited parking for actual mosque attendees.

Yet, as open as this community is, it is more shocking to hear about their interaction with the local Jewish community. Cape Malay’s do not comprise the only community of Muslims in South Africa. We see large pockets of Islam across the townships and cities, with one notable story coming from within the former settlement of District Six. District Six was a low income housing area during the apartheid era which was knocked down to move “coloured” people farther away from Cape Town. People lost their homes, dignity, their livelihood, and everything they’ve ever known. Some people even died. We met a man from here, Noor, who told us his story when we visited the District Six museum. Noor, a man well into his seventies, told us he could recite the name of all of his 400 cousins, and detailed the life he once lived in District Six. The area he described was rich in culture and diversity. Noor noted that they all celebrated all of the holidays, with Jews attending Mosque during Ramadan, and Muslims attending Temple during Purim. There was an intertwining of the two religions that would be considered shocking to many during this age and time.

The Jews of South Africa were instrumental in the ending of Apartheid, as we have learned throughout our stay. The feelings of isolation and separation were felt by the “coloured” and “black” communities, was reciprocated by the Jewish community as well, although the treatment was quite clearly different. There was a bond between the Jewish Community and the non-white community that led to great strides for the issues of racial equality and freedom. There were Jewish men locked up on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela and there were Jewish women lobbying the Parliament to adopt equal and fair laws for the “coloured” and “black” communities. As seen in our reading, South African Jews and Apartheid,” by Franklin Huge Adler we find a quote from Nelson Mandela saying, “I have found Jews to be more broad-minded than most whites on the issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been the victims of prejudice.” (Adler, 185) Nothing could be truer of this statement as highlighted between religious and political discussions and debates that take place between the South African religious leaders of Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam. Cape Town is a brilliantly diverse area and each small section of the city has it’s own history. Yet, even though it is drastically different from each place one might stand, a single human truth exists here. It is the truth that all people deserve dignity, a left-over sentiment from the new South Africa which ousted the apartheid government in favor of a government that favors the equality of all people.

New Country, New School

By Jenna Hall

Stepping off the plane after a near 24-hour travel day I was immediately struck with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. While descending from the airport elevator and being greeted by the South African wind, I couldn’t help but feel so incredibly fortunate. I texted my parents letting them know I had arrived and thanked them for allowing me to embark on my second abroad experience through Elon. The fact that I was feeling emotional on my very first day in Cape Town proved how unprepared I was for the emotions I would be feeling the days to follow.

On day 9 we traveled to an elementary school in Zwelihle to distribute lunches and interact with the children. We walked into the main room of the school with around 35-45 children of multiple ages waiting for us. It wasn’t even an official school day, but they all walked over from their homes in the township to meet us. All the children appeared eager and excited to have visitors. It was clear by their expressions that this type of service work doesn’t happen very often. The teachers had them stand up to sing us a welcome song, which we responded to by singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. There was an overwhelming sense comradely within the first 10 minutes of us being there. We then began to distribute lunches and snacks in brown paper bags to each of the students. I wish I could better explain their reactions… but the children seemed hesitant to rip into their food. Almost like they were not sure what to do with it. Should they eat it now? Should they save it for tomorrow? Or even ration it out throughout the week? Should they bring it home to share with their families? This struck me because for some reason I was expecting that they would devour every last bite in only a few minutes. I assumed they were hungry and that they would be grateful for the temporary relief, but to me they seemed a little confused. Not knowing what to do or say, I approached several children a few minutes after they received their lunches and asked if it was good. They held their unopened bags and looked up at me with wide eyes and large smiles. Interestingly, I got the sense that most of them were more excited about the company than the food. This made me think about the definition of service and the contrast between giving tangible things versus making personal connections. I know in my life, relationships with people have a far greater impact. But I guess I always assumed that was the case because I never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from. A lot of the children scurried home soon after they received their lunches. I spent some time walking around the school building, noticing there were only three classrooms. My research group looked into the South African elementary school education system prior to arriving in Cape Town. We discovered that overcrowded classrooms were pretty much inevitable among black elementary schools. One can imagine the negative effects that accompany. Overcrowded classrooms means less resources for each student and far less individualized attention, which results in higher drop out rates. While we were at the school we only met four faculty members. Assuming those are the only teachers at the school, there would be about six times as many students.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I remember feeling surprised when I walked in and saw how many young girls were in school. I guess I had ignorantly formed previous ideas about the education system in Africa and did not presume that young girls would have equal opportunities. However, the day I went to the library to research I noticed that there were no women in the library. Not one single woman. This led me to believe that while girls may begin schooling, they may be less likely to finish their education. Gender inequality is a major issue in South Africa and it has a giant link to health, economic development, social roles and education. In doing some research, I discovered through Unicef website that the proportion of girls enrolled at the sixth grade in South Africa is 50 percent of the total enrolment. Interestingly, in 2007 girls performed reasonably better than boys on reading exams. South African schools struggle with many challenges including poor quality of education, low teacher morale and poor infrastructure and sanitation. Many students consistently go to school hungry. These issues are devastating, but also widely known and understood. Problems for girls in the education system is not as openly researched or talked about. Unicef also noted that young women still report high levels of sexual abuse, harassment and murder in their schools. With South Africa being a largely patriarchal society, 65% of black women are living in poverty. Girls and women are accorded a lower social status and their roles are often limited to domestic services. Girls often drop out of school to help their mothers, and this sets the tone for the rest of their lives. Girls in South Africa are socialized to become mothers, therefor placing less value on their education. Additionally, teenage pregnancies are on the rise, which makes it difficult for young mothers to go to school despite legislation that protects their right to education.

After walking around the schoolhouse I went out the front door where I saw more children lining up outside the front gate asking for bagged lunches. We took what we had left and handed the lunches into the swarm of children. We soon discovered that children who already received lunches were hiding them and then rejoining the line to collect more. It was complete madness. When we finally ran out of lunches and boarded the bus I felt overwhelmed and depressed. I couldn’t grasp the notion that those children needed to try to collect as much food as they could in one hour because they might not know what they’d be eating next. I’ve done service work all of my life, but I have never witnessed need like this before. So much so that doing this service didn’t even make me feel good.

We waved to the children through the window as we pulled away on our air-conditioned bus. My emotions became even more conflicted while I saw the smiles on their faces. Some holding paper bags and some not, these looked like genuinely happy children. Even further proving that material possessions do not determine someone’s level of happiness. A few days later Dr. Layne said something that made my heart feel a little lighter. She reminded us that we know we cannot help everyone or completely fix the poverty and corruption in South Africa. But we have to allow ourselves to feel good about helping even in small ways.IMG_1147

Welcome to Basotho!

WE ARE BASOTHO – the diplomacy focused small group within a larger South African Study Abroad program through Elon University.

What do we do?

Our focus in Basotho is is diplomacy focusing on the relationships between internal issues in South Africa and external forces/relationships with the country. Our main questions is: What were the effects of shifting race relations in the fields of education, women’s issues, and diplomatic relations during and after apartheid in South Africa?

Why this topic? 

Why education, women’s issues, and diplomatic relations? Because those were the issues we found most interesting!

Who are we?

WE are Valerie, Jenna, Hannah, Lauren, Amanda and Ryan! We’re all Elon University students in various years. All of us, along with twenty-four other students and three professors will be traveling to South Africa in January 2016 to not only see the country, tour around, see penguins, but also work on social action projects as well.

This South African experiential learning program focuses on the struggle of the South African apartheid and the lasting effects that still endure in the country today. We’re preparing for our journey to South Africa by reading a collection of books and excerpts including Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa by Mark Mathabane, A Bed Called Home: Life in the Migrant Labour Hostels of Cape Town by Mamphela Ramphele.

We also are preparing by watching a variety of films. The first film we have viewed is The Road to Brown, detailing the experience of Brown v Board of Education and produced by California News Reel.

Other films we have avalible for viewing are You Have Struck A Rock!, a film about the female protest movement against gender discrimination in South Africa, Invictus, about the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Yesterday, a film about a mother with AIDs and many others.

Elon University is a Southern liberal arts university located in Elon, NC. Opening it’s doors originally in 1889, and after surviving a couple fires, has since established itself as a leading educator in international educational opportunities. The Institute of International Education named Elon University as the leading program in master’s-level international education.

Keep checking back for more updates on our projects, social action work, and fun info about South Africa!