On #RhodesMustFall

Student and faculty leaders at the University of Cape Town have been engaged in months-long protests concerning the statue of Cecil Rhodes that once stood at the center of campus overlooking the city. Although the name of the movement, Rhodes Must Fall, alludes to the removal of the statue from its prominent place on campus, the ideological foundation of the movement aims to address “the reality of institutional racism at the University of Cape Town” and “create avenues for REAL transformation” on campus. Although the Rhodes statue no longer stands where it once did, remnants of institutional racism remain on the UCT campus and in its vicinity.

A short walk up the mountain from UCT is the Rhodes Memorial where another statue of Cecil Rhodes remains under which is this inscription:

"THE IMMENSE AND BROODING SPIRIT STILL SHALL QUICKEN AND CONTROL LIVING HE WAS THE LAND AND DEAD HIS SOUL SHALL BE HER SOUL"
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Rhodes definitely has not fallen yet. Despite having been splashed with red paint and set on fire in the past, the statue sits as a reminder of the impact that European colonization has had on South Africa. Around UCT’s campus, other images similarly evoke the tragic past and adversely affect students of color on campus.


This piece of wall art in one of the academic buildings on campus is under student review due to its racists imagery, namely the depiction of a naked black man in the belly of a beast.

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In the UCT library, there is a metal sculpture of Saartjie Baartman, a Khoikhoi woman who was exploited by Europeans because of her physical features. Students at UCT engaged in an artistic protest to the existence of the statue, another example of racist imagery on campus.

Although the Rhodes statue at UCT is gone, the Rhodes Must Fall movement continues to address systemic issues on campus that affect students and faculty of color.



On HIV/AIDS Messages in South Africa


IMG_6700.JPGThe AIDS pandemic has hit South Africa particularly hard. Currently, 19.1% of the adult population and an estimated 6,300,000 people in total are living with HIV/AIDS. Due to the prevalence of the illness throughout the country, all institutions of higher education are required to maintain an HIV/AIDS Unit on campus to serve students, faculty, and staff. Additionally, there are unique efforts to target specific populations to increase behaviors that prevent HIV transmission. For instance, male circumcision can reduce the likelihood of HIV transmission, so the HIV/AIDS Unit at CPUT offers education and free services for those interested in being circumcised. For women, HIV prevention efforts also include the dual message of preventing pregnancy, and condoms are readily available to women who desire to use them. There are even condom dispensers in the bathrooms on campus.

Free HIV testing is available on campus.

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Posters such as this one attempt to appeal to a younger, hipper audience.
















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New grape scented condoms are advertised at CPUT. Apparently the regular condoms have a reputation for being of poor quality and smelling funny. The grape condoms are an effort to use marketing to increase condom use.

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Condoms (a.k.a. bus safety equipment) at a hostile in Stellenbosch.

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An HIV testing brochure among other literature about life in Stellenbosch.

A great poster at UCT designed to empower women to protect themselves against HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy. Efforts like this are particularly important in South Africa and other parts of the world where women are vulnerable to HIV due to power imbalances that often mark relationships making condom negotiation difficult.

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HIV awareness in the townships.


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Messages about HIV/AIDS are visible throughout Cape Town and necessarily so given the prevalence of the illness in South Africa. Hopefully prevention efforts and increased access to healthcare will reduce the burden on the illness on the country.



On LGBTQ Issues in Africa


Despite Cape Town being known as the “gay capital of South Africa,” the nation and the continent continue to wrestle with and resist the open acceptance of individuals who identify as LGBTQ. As part of my extended stay in South Africa, I participated in an “Intellectual Hour,” an informal discussion among staff at the Human Sciences Research Center in Cape Town. My friend who hosted me for a few days invited me to the discussion, which focused on the film “Call Me Kuchu” and anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda.













The discussion was interesting and touched on a number of points that frame the LGBTQ conversation in South Africa. There was much discussion about the notion held by many South Africans that homosexuality is “un-African.” Despite some gay-friendly places throughout the country, many in the LGBTQ community still have to hide their relationships, especially in the townships or other predominantly black areas. In these areas, homosexuality is viewed as contrary to traditional African beliefs and values both religious and secular. One person participating in the discussion was a black female who identifies as lesbian. She explained that acceptance or rejection from one’s family often determines what one’s experience will be like as LGBTQ. She gave an example from her own experience where, with the support of her mother, she opposed the requirement that she wear the school uniform designated for girls because it included a skirt. The law in South Africa states that students have the freedom of choice when it comes to school uniforms; however, individual schools often pressure students to conform to gender expectations. This young woman refused to wear the skirt, and felt empowered to do so because her mother and other close family members have accepted for who she is.


Other points raised in the discussion related to international, and particularly American and European, influence in the debates surrounding LGBTQ issues in Africa. Interestingly, Americans are influential on both sides of the debate with charismatic religious leaders and the Obama administration presenting opposing perspectives on gay rights. The film and discussion also raised points regarding the inherent limitation of democracy, where the majority may be in favor of legislation that is discriminatory and oppressive. In Uganda, the judiciary has been used as a means of challenging such legislation. Similarly, in the United States the battle over marriage equality has reached the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges. Although same-sex marriage is legal in South Africa, like in Uganda and in the United States, there continues to be an ideological struggle that impacts the livelihood of those in the LGBTQ community. It will be interesting to see how or if the culture in South Africa and other African nations shifts in the next decade. As for the United States, we will soon see how the Supreme Court rules on same-sex marriage, and what effect this ruling has on the conversation about LGBTQ issues in the country.




On Desmond Tutu

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My time in Cape Town ended in the best way possible. On the Friday morning that I was to depart South Africa, I attended a church service presided over by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Father Desmond is still active in his pastoral role at St. George's Cathedral, and on Friday mornings he leads a small congregation of people in worship. The service includes a group of about 25 regular attendees and is open to the public for others to visit. As I entered the church, I was first in disbelief that I would have the opportunity to see THE Desmond Tutu, a man whose passion for peace has inspired so many worldwide. I'm not sure what I expected to see, but I smiled as my eyes landed on the gentle face of man who could easily have been my grandfather.


He was, of course, dressed in his official robes; however, he did not seem distant as one might think a religious leader of his notoriety would be. Scriptures were read and prayers offered, all of which were followed by the sacrament of communion. There was a moment during the service when visitors were asked to stand and introduce themselves, and the distance between Father Desmond and the congregation grew even smaller. After greeting each visitor, he went on to acknowledge members of the church who had made physical improvements on the church, celebrated the birth of children or grandchildren, and recently recovered from injury or illness. I was in awe that he knew these people by name, but realized that this was his flock. He was accountable for them and to them and it was apparent in his compassion and concern for each of them.

After the service, Father Desmond took pictures with visitors and autographed books. Then those who were able, including Father Desmond, walked a block down the street to a cafe for breakfast. Every Friday that he is in Cape Town, Archbishop Desmond Tutu walks out his faith in just this way. He has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and is known and esteemed internationally, yet I experienced him as the most humble, peaceful human being I have ever encountered. What a blessing he has been to the nation of South Africa and to the world. I am grateful to have had this experience, especially on my last day in Cape Town.




On District Six Museum and Slave Lodge

Cape Town has several museums, two of which chronicle dark times in South Africa's past. The District Six Museum focuses on the forced removal of thousands from their homes during apartheid. It is located in a church downtown and poignantly details the lives of individuals and families who were affected by the Group Areas Act in Cape Town. It stands as a reminder of the devastating effect that systemic racisIMG_6862.JPGm can have, but also as a pillar of hope for the future. Efforts to provide some sort of reparations for those forced to leave their homes in District Six are in the works. However, the process is long and emotionally arduous for many. In order to attempt to repair the wrongdoings of the past, many will have to re-live the trauma of losing their homes and their livelihood. The District Six Museum powerfully illustrates this challenge as personal stories and possessions of families from the area are included in the museum's exhibits. There is also a collection of poetic offerings that provide inspiration for future generations.


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The Slave Lodge has served many purposes over the centuries, but was originally built to house slaves brought to Cape Town from Asia and the other parts of Africa. Although its focus is on the history of slavery in South Africa, it also includes exhibits about the anti-apartheid protests, music, clothing and textile industries, and prominent female leaders in South Africa. It also raises awareness of the current global issues of human trafficking and the recruitment of child soldiers.


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The most moving part of the Slave Lodge for me was a small space made to replicate the bowels of a slave ship. It was dark and unwelcoming and although it included no representations of physical bodies, there were ropes and chains strategically placed to remind all visitors of the bondage experienced by those forced to come to Cape Town to labor. As I stepped into this area of the museum, I heard the voice of a woman reciting a poem. The sensory experience of this small space was compelling and I found myself weeping. The words of the poem gave voice to the thoughts of slaves who may have wondered what would await them at the end of their journey, and what would happen to their descendants. I heard the words "We are the seed; They are the dream" and the tears just poured from my eyes. Although it is not likely that my ancestry connects to the slaves of South Africa, I can imagine the Middle Passage experience of the people of whom I am an descendent. I thought of Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise" which concludes with the powerful couplet:

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I am tearing up as I am writing this, thinking about so many who sacrificed and suffered so that I can be where I am at this very moment. I couldn't be more grateful.