Modern Day Apartheid: Zwelithe versus Hermanus

            After reading about Mark Mathabane’s education in Kaffir Boy it is evident that the educational system for blacks was very unjust during the apartheid era.  Although it is currently fifteen years after the apartheid ended there are still improvements to be made.  As a black boy in the sixties it was typically unheard to get an education; however, Mark’s mother insisted that he attend school.  His father was constantly drunk and wasting money at the bar, his mother was always in search of a job and at age five Mark was occupied with taking care of her children.   Even though Mark’s mother could not afford food for their family nor a uniform or books for Mark, she understood the importance of investing in his education.  Although Mark initially hated school because most blacks looked down upon it; he eventually found of love for learning and remained at the top of his class.  The black South African has grown in terms of now looking at school in a positive light and as a privilege.  There are however, still similarities between the economic issues that Mark faced in affording an education and the black students of today. 

Throughout our time in South Africa we gained a small insight into the education system.  We have visited various daycares known as crèches, as well as schools.  When entering these crèches it is amazing that learning can occur in such tight quarters and with a lack of resources.  Musakheni was the first crèche we saw.  Gloria the principal, administrator and teacher brought us into her kitchen sized school building. It came as a complete shock when she told us that with little help she teaches up to seventy children everyday.  Although there were no books, there were some tattered toys.  Although Gloria’s crèche is only R 50 or five dollars a month, most families are still unable to afford it.  Gloria’s price is at least half the cost of other crèches but she believes in providing a safe haven for children regardless if they can afford it or not. 

            The crèche we visited in Zwelithe was very similar to Gloria’s.  When we drove down the streets into Zwelithe it was similar to Khayelitsha with tattered shacks, skinny stray dogs, and children wandering in the streets.  In Zwelihile many people make a living by setting up tables and selling fruits and vegetables.  Many of them also set up a shack and turn it into a barbershop or sewing shop.  The community members create any type of small business in order to make money.  The crèche we visited was much larger than Musakheni and teaches double the amount of children.  The cost is over R 100 a month and most families are unable to afford it but are accepted anyways.  The purpose of this crèche and others as well is to provide a safe environment for children by getting them off of the violent and drug barren streets.  It is also to provide them with an education and with food.

            Our purpose for visiting Zwelithe was to interact and help children that are much less privileged than the members of our class are.  We were greeted by about sixty little voices singing songs to in Xhosa.  We responded by sharing some of our own songs – the Itsy Bitsy Spider and Row Row Row Your Boat.  Although the children did not understand what we were singing they seemed intrigued when listening to our lovely voices.  It was a way for us to share some of the outside world with the children; which is something that they rarely are exposed to.  While some were preparing the meal, others of us colored with the children and played hand games.  We served all of the children hotdogs and soda and they devoured it all up.  All of the teachers and children were extremely grateful for our visit and our donation.  They could not thank us enough for our hospitality. 

            After spending time with the children we drove just a few minutes away to the famous whale-watching town of Hermanus.  During the drive the scenery quickly and drastically changed.  As we left the shantytown we drove past tons of gorgeous landscaped houses.  It caught me by surprise how two communities located so close together are so opposite.  It was very black and white as we left Zwelithe and entered Hermanus, almost as if we had entered another world.  The town of Hermanus was filled with many shops and an upscale mall.  Many of the stores sold luxury items such as jewelry and artwork; items that are not necessities.  There was also a Woolworths grocery store with a full variety of foods – very different than the vegetable stands in Zwelithe.  There were a variety of restaurants on the coast with beautiful views of the ocean.  We ate at Cabañas where people were relaxing for the afternoon indulgently eating and drinking.  Hermanus can be defined as an upscale community where people live comfortably. 

            As we ate lunch I felt very hypocritical.  On one hand we are visiting South Africa and are able to afford to eat at nice restaurants and spend money when we want.  However, on the other hand, we had just left a struggling community where families are unable to afford an education for their children nonetheless eat enough food everyday.  It is a hard battle traveling in and out of townships where every rand is used and nothing is wasted and then going into commercialized towns where leftover food is thrown away. 

            Although apartheid does not legally still exist in South Africa it does to an extent; specifically in the economic sense.  We went into Zwelithe to provide school children with food and it is unlikely that we would have done the same with a school in Hermanus.  There are still privileged and underprivileged people living side by side and there is still an inequality persists.  Many Xhosas in Zwelithe do not have an opportunity to work in modern environments because they may be uneducated or sick or have a lack of transportation.  Parents are trying to send their children to school to get an education but it is either difficult for them to afford it or they need their children home to take care of them or their siblings.  The lifestyle in Zwelithe is a vicious cycle of poverty and unless a large amount of money is poured into the community it will never be as luxurious as Hermanus.   

            Even though it seems like there are only underprivileged children in Africa there are ones right down the street from Elon at Eastlawn Elementary.  Elon Elementary can be used as a metaphor for the Hermanus of South Africa and Eastlawn Elementary as the Zwelithe of South Africa.  In both places there is a large issue of class separation.  Eastlawn Elementary can also be seen as a safe haven for children because it is safer than the surrounding violence in the community.  There is a language barrier between schools and families because many of the parents only speak Spanish.  Parents of Eastlawn students also have issues accessing the job market because many of them did not have a proper education or can afford transportation.  At least ninety-five percent of the students at Eastlawn Elementary are on free and reduced lunch because they are unable to afford food.  The differences between Eastlawn and the crèche are that the government is stepping in at Eastlawn to provide underprivileged students with food and opportunities; whereas in Zwelithe they are not. 

Poverty causes difficult debates and it is up to the privileged societies to help out those that are underprivileged.  If we are aware of the struggles students and their families face at Eastlawn Elementary and in the crèche in Zwelithe, are we continuing “apartheid” ideals?



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