Archive 2008 - 2019

Semester in Cape Town--Part 13

by Bella Tobin

 This semester I have learned a lot about the people of South Africa, especially interactions between cultures.

I have a few friends that are Afrikaan and Christian is one of them. He speaks English, but only with us. His language is Germanic and the culture seems somewhat traditional, yet closed. The people have been very nice but reserved when meeting other people.

I am not a history buff but I know there was a clash between Afrikaans and Blacks in the apartheid era and racism still exists.  People have preconceived notions based on their culture and have been raised this way.This is a difficult topic.

The farm in Cradock where we stayed was a very Afrikaans family and the farm had been in their family for five generations. The family lived in a huge old farm house, and there were  three others houses on the property for the farm workers and their families. They were considerably smaller, probably  two to three rooms in each, located behind the barn and next to each other.

In the main house there was a kitchen, and another kitchen in the back where the maid and housekeepers did the dishes and the cooking. There was a sink and stove in the main kitchen for decoration. Some of the workers have been with the family for almost 20 years. The workers, who were black, were below the family in socio-economic status. However, they seemed to do more work and be more in-tune with the farm than the family. The house, farm and family were all lovely. I could not understand how the family thought the workers were treated well. They lived on the farm, had very little freedom, and were totally bound to the property. How could they leave? They had nothing. It was like they were forced to stay.

There appears to be a belief that the Transkei (a former internally self-governing Black African homeland in South Africa) and the Xhosa and Zulu cultures are barbaric and they do not understand what it’s like to be civilized. Their culture is so different that it’s impossible to integrate. People from a white Afrikaans background grew up with parents with these views which have been passed down through generations. Without exposure to diversity, how would they know better? I have no problem with race, and there are differences in culture, but it is not right to assume that every person is dangerous, stupid, barbaric, and criminal. That appeared to be how people here perceive it.

One day we decided to go to a club in Claremont a white area a few towns away.  It was closed when we arrived so we crossed the street to another decent looking club. We were with some South African friends who said, “There was a stabbing here last week, but don’t worry, they’re only letting white people in tonight.” With that comment, I left and returned home. There was a stabbing and it could happen anywhere and it doesn’t necessarily mean the club is dangerous. This Is Africa, not Cape Cod. It was unsettling, but I didn’t like the fact that it was so racially centered, implying that only blacks are criminals. This upset me. I do not feel particularly safe in some areas, because of the poverty, not the race. These can be easily confused.  As American tourists, it is obvious that we are better off than many people, which can make us a target.

This semester has been a great learning experience in many ways including seeing firsthand how cultures and race play a part in daily life.

There is just so much to see in the world and this is the just the beginning. I think I am actually growing up, and I can't decide if I like it or not. It's nice to be independent, productive and look forward to the future, but part of me wants to stay twenty forever.