One of the most rewarding aspects of this course was the opportunity to assist with various programs or organizations in place to improve communities throughout South Africa. We have visited various schools and nurseries, known as crèches. All of these institutions were very different from what I am used to growing up with the privilege of an American education at top public schools. The class sizes were at least twice what I had grown up with and where my schools had shelves full of brand new books and computers, these classrooms had very few educational resources. Another major difference was the security measures taken by the schools and crèches. At the top of every fence, not only around the school but around many homes and other buildings, were barbed wire, electrical fencing, and intensely sharp spikes seemingly protecting the institutions from the surrounding area. The surrounding area of one crèche in particular was the township of Zwelithe. Just like many of the other townships we had visited, Zwelithe was filled with small homes made of scrap metal and the streets were lined with vendors trying to sell anything that they were able to get their hands on. Many of the homes in Zwelithe did not have electricity or running water, and the majority of the homes that did have electricity were stealing it from wires attached to stoplights or streetlights. But despite the evident hardships that the children of the crèche faced every day, their spirits were extremely high and their will to learn was incredible. We spent time with the children reading, drawing, playing, and preparing lunch for them and they rewarded us with beautiful songs and illuminating smiles.
Later that afternoon we traveled just minutes down the road to the world renowned whale-watching capital of the world, Hermanus. Hermanus was right on the water and offered wonderful restaurants and shops to go along with the beautiful scenery. We had lunch at one of the many upscale restaurants and were given some free time to walk around and see what Hermanus had to offer. In contrast to the shacks and cargo-vessels-turned-barber-shops of Zwelithe, Hermanus had fountains surrounded by statues of whales and informational signs. Instead of dirt roads and produce stands, Hermanus had brick sidewalks and parking lots outside of the column lined shops and restaurants. And instead of barbed wire lining the fences surrounding all of the buildings, Hermanus had large homes surrounded by tall walls and equipped with ADT security systems. Needless to say, the disparity in wealth between the residents of Zwelithe and their neighbors living in Hermanus was vast.
I can’t help but think that this enormous disparity of wealth is a lasting effect of apartheid. The fact that such an enormous economic difference exists in such close proximity and the racial correlation to the socioeconomic segregation shows very clearly that while apartheid is no longer written into the laws or constitution of South Africa, it certainly persists in the difference of opportunity between economic classes. This economic disparity contributes to a cycle of inequality, where the children from the poorer families do not get a good enough education and therefore have limited career choices and opportunity to break free from the grasp of poverty. Because of the cyclical nature of the inequality in the townships of South Africa, and the initial disparity of rights and opportunity set in place by the systems of apartheid, the black and colored citizens in South Africa are still today being discriminated against as a result of apartheid. Although apartheid in South Africa and segregation in the United States no longer exist in practice, when will the effects of segregation and racial discrimination no long plague society?