Cape Town…. What an unexpected gem of a town you turned out to be. You gave me my much craved for taste of Western life with your hipster cafes, funky clothes stores, organic health food and wellness centres and boutique beer halls.
You also took me deeper into the layers of this beautiful and complex philosophy of Ubuntu, which I’ve been so interested in and inspired by since I first learnt about it. I can’t believe we only scheduled 6 nights in this beautiful city. I promise I’ll be back for more.
Kenya brought me back to my own personal connection to Ubuntu and why this project exists. South Africa helped provide an even greater context for this project and what place it has to continue spreading a message of humanity within a world that is struggling for peace.
The struggle for peace and equality
The people we met in Cape Town seemed so open to and aware of the social challenges that exist in their country. The memory of apartheid still lingering, the ripple effects of such an oppressive regime still very much present. As Tom and I reflected, it’s very well to lift a regime and allow political and social freedom to your people, but that freedom in action, may not actually properly take shape for many more generations to come. This was very apparent in Cape Town.
We were often amazed at the huge contrast that still exists in this beautiful and complex city. In the mornings, I would go running through the hills, near the base of Table Mountain through neighbor hoods with towering mansions, beautifully sculpted gardens and wide tree-lined streets. Another 10 minutes walk from our backpackers was a small little township; an area not much bigger than a large block of land, housing a few thousand individuals; living on top of each other in homes made out of scrap material- quite a contrast to the lives of people living just around the corner.
The city centre has a really vibrant, creative, open vibe, but the shops are all still caged inside high-tech security doors. I got a much needed haircut while were there and it was interesting to notice that all the hairdressers were white, and all the assistants where black or Malay.
As I was sitting in the chair of the hairdressers, I overheard a conversation between two young girls next to me. One was helping the other with her English essay on this very topic. I heard them deliberating over well-crafted sentences, such as “the brutal mindset of people during Aparthied” and “a struggle for freedom and equality”. Part of me was glad to hear young people discussing these issues. The cynical part of me wondered whether, their discussion of the topic was a bit of, “all talk, no action”.
One of the inspiring people we met and befriended in this week in Cape Town, Lavonne, told us a story, which helped give a little hope for this struggle for peace and equality. As a photographer who’s recent work has been largely inspired by the Xhosa people in the Transkei and the Ubuntu philosophy, she has a lot of photos of black people.
Her brother has some of these photos hanging in his home. She explained that her brother had a young boy visit his home; a friend of a friend, who comes from quite a racist family. The little boy queried as to why he would want photos of black people in his house. Lavonne’s brother answered, simply, “because I want to and because I like them”. She stated that this answer seemed to surprise the boy, and he looked at Lavonne’s brother with a perplexed, but interested expression. It was a different perspective for him; one he had not been exposed to before.
It reminded me of the small ripple effect we can have on each other; both through our actions and through what we say. I hope Lavonne’s brother’s words stayed with this little boy and perhaps made him consider a different way of viewing people who look different to him, perhaps inspired a bit more openness.
Seeing through the eyes of another
On our last day in Cape Town, we met Laura; a woman who is trying to create more awareness about the conditions of people living in the townships of South Africa by running tours for travellers. She bases the tours on her own personal story. Her story of being separated from her father and brothers during Aparthied, in her words, “as a way to destroy our spirit”; where she witnessed her mother being thrown from a moving train because she was in the wrong carriage; where she was one of very few who were determined to get an education.
She told us how the people who attend her tours are often shocked at what they see and hear. Laura told us how in one area of the township there is an average of one murder per day. As a child, she thought this was normal. What she wants people to realize is that this isn’t normal, and shouldn’t be normal, and should not be ok for people to accept this lot in life. Through her tours, she allows outsiders to experience some of this reality with their own eyes- what could this lead to?
She has had people come back and spend a whole week volunteering in the pre-school she has set up for 250 children living in the townships, she has received donations from travellers to help support the school, and she has given people in the townships an opportunity to be seen and heard and not ignored. The ripple effect does exist.
For Laura, though, it was hard to begin running these tours and I could see why. After telling me some of the stories of what she and her family had experienced from white people during the Aparthied era, I was curious to know what it was like for her to be interacting with and working with white people every day. She admitted, that,
“In the beginning it was hard, because I thought I was just doing it as a job… I didn’t know that I would share so much of myself and maybe get so much connection, so it was really difficult to shed off my skin, which was what was lying underneath and to be able to look at white people just as people and not as white people and that was very difficult. Because I mean, we come from a background where you didn’t just see… I didn’t just see you as a woman, but I saw you as a white female, so to unlearn that was a bit hard”.
It made me realize and appreciate the importance of actually just putting ourselves in the situation where we can just BE with people who might be different to us. Without just BEING in the presence of and communicating with people who are different from us, we may only see them based on what is on the outside, or a superficial judgment. It is once we can BE with, speak with, share with, experience with, that allows the human-ness to come through and all the differences to become insignificant. I appreciated hearing this from Laura’s perspective and respected how hard it must have been for her to do that.
So our time in Cape Town came to a close. I learnt more about the struggle for peace, equality and understanding between people of different races and backgrounds, but experienced a greater sense of hope that change can still happen, and is happening, but just quite slowly. I was reminded that the little things, like making a simple comment to a young child, or taking the time to see beyond the exterior of a person, or not turning a blind eye to what exists really do count. By taking responsibility for our own human-ness, we can connect with the human-ness of others.