Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Student Reflection on the District 6 Museum and the Townships - Lauren Kells

Today was a very busy day. We got up at 8, ate breakfast, and were off by 9 am to the District Six Museum.  The District Six Museum was created to serve as a tribute and in memory of the families displaced by the movement of non-whites out of the area.  In the late 1800s Cape Town was divided into districts and District Six was one of the most densely populated.  The district was emptied of non-whites in the early 60s I believe as part of apartheid legislation to separate the races.  Our tour guide Joe lived in the district as a child and was displaced to the townships when he was older.  He gave us great insight into the lives of those affected by apartheid era legislation meant to displace and separate certain races.  The museum had pictures, street signs, maps, personal items, and items from shops to show how the community looked before everyone was displaced.  One of the other tragedies of the District is that after the citizens were displaced their homes and businesses were destroyed. After the museum we walked two blocks to Charley’s Bakery.  This bakery is a very famous in South Africa and popular destination in Cape Town.  It is very similar in popularity to Carlos’ Bakery in the US; it even has its own TV show.  For lunch I ordered the steak and mushroom pie and the wicked chocolate cupcake. Both were excellent and were promptly devoured. 

After lunch Vernon took us on a township tour.  The actual city of Cape Town is located on one side of Table Mountain and was the site of wealth and white South Africans during apartheid.  The townships were and still are a very poor area where nonwhites were placed after being displaced from the city.  Our first stop was actually the remains of District Six.  It was very sad to see pictures of a bustling neighborhood and then to see the empty garbage filled fields that are now there.  Vernon told us that there were housing plans and people would soon return to the neighborhood.  After our stop we headed out to the Cape Flats, named so because it is flat, windy, and the soil sucks and blows everywhere.  Our first township we visited was one of the oldest, Langa.  At this township we went to a community center called Guga S’Thebe.  Here there were many opportunities for members of the community to learn skills in art and to profit from these skills.  They had a program for community members to learn how to make pottery and eventually sell it. They also had a great artist who painted with sand and gave us an awesome demonstration.  A great surprise for us was having an African drum lesson.  It was one of the best cultural experiences I’ve ever had.  After Langa we went to Guguletu.  Guguletu is one of the biggest townships and was designated as a black township during apartheid.  While there we saw the memorial for the Guguletu 7 and Amy Beihl.  Then we went to Khayelitsha and visited the clinic that hands out the most retroviral drugs in the nation, and the TAC (the Treatment Action Campaign). an AIDs advocacy group where two of our students will be working. Our next township was Mitchell’s Plain where we visited where Priya will be working at Tafelsig Clinic.  The next stop, Mannenburg, has the reputation for the being the most dangerous township because of the gang problems they had.  Getting out of the car, there was definitely more tension and a slightly different atmosphere.  We visited a community center that helped community members to get an education in order to obtain jobs in areas like beauty care and computer technology.  Finally we visited an Indian township where we got giant sandwiches called Gatsbys.  Ours had spiced chicken, egg, cheese, lettuce and even though we split between three people we still didn’t finish.
A couple of things of note about the townships; poverty was evident everywhere.  In the city there were pockets if wealth and pockets of poverty, but in the townships everyone is poor.  Each township varied in the houses and the neighborhood but in general the houses were close together and either government built or informal. Businesses were either built out of houses or converted shipping crates.  Some families lived in concrete houses but many more lived in shacks built out of scraps of wood and corrugated steel or shipping crates.  On the edges of the shacks were spigots for water and porta-potties or outhouses.  Outside of the shacks women did laundry by the road and hung it to dry on lines hung between houses.  Also next to the road men cooked meat on big grills for people to buy.  We even saw a slaughtered pig hanging on a fence.  Everywhere livestock and dogs roamed around and children played with soccer balls and old tires.  Even though we were a bunch of white kids most were friendly and we open to our questions.  Most in the townships don’t have jobs and if they do they have to travel into Cape Town to work in the service industry, as manual labor, or as nannies.  Schools and official buildings are surrounded by large fences and barbed wire to keep vandalism at bay.  There is little to no recreation in the townships, mostly people stood around in groups or hung out at businesses which creates issues with gangs and vandalism.  The townships are miles and miles of extreme poverty and terrible living conditions created by the apartheid system and exacerbated by the white and black elite.  Never in any city or during any mission trip have I seen such a large distinction between classes and races. After visiting the townships everything we have been studying for the last couple months came to life in a terrifying and humanizing way.  It has to be seen to be believed.    

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