By Amelia L. ’21
Photos by Abigail G. ’20 and Konrad L. ’19
To a tourist, the city of Cape Town feels like a city that is almost too good to be true. It boasts the majestic vistas of Table Mountain and the stunning beaches of Muizenberg. When I first arrived, I was in shock at how beautiful the scenery was; it felt like I had stepped into a storybook.
However, a few days into staying in Cape Town I began to realize the pain the city, and the country as a whole, continues to face due to the lingering effects of apartheid.
As part of this institutional segregation, blacks were forced to live in areas away from cities called townships; they were not allowed to work or even travel to certain sections of cities; and they were not only censored in their ability to express their pain, but censored from communicating with the rest of the world as well.
While whites lived in well-policed estates and went to good schools, blacks were relegated to a substandard education and life in crime-ridden areas.
Everyone seemed to be distrustful of one another. Every single building, office, restaurant and home had some kind of fencing around it, shutting it off from the rest of the world. These realities shocked me, because this level of racism and segregation had never been a part of my daily life before.
I started to realize the parallels between South Africa and the legacy of Jim Crow in the United States, and was finally able to empathize with what had been in front of me all my life.
I began to ask my fellow students at Herschel Girls School about apartheid, and soon realized how helpless the youth felt. They felt that, despite their best efforts, there was ultimately little they could do about the discrimination blacks face because it was built into the system they’d grown up in and so deeply rooted in South Africa’s history. How could they possibly undo this tightly woven shroud of racism that covered nearly every aspect of daily life?
Despite these daunting hurdles, the students did everything they could to change the status quo, from community service to political activism. They wrote to their representatives and sat in on parliament to understand the decisions that were being made that affected them. They also had many clubs dedicated to speaking of racism, discrimination and current events in South Africa, and effecting positive change in all those areas.
I’m so thankful that I was able to go to South Africa and discover this all for myself. It was truly an eye-opening and life-changing trip.