All over South Africa, people were celebrating Mandela’s 95th birthday on Thursday, the 18th of July. The first event I attended was the Mandela Day human chain, which ran through Athlone to Rondebosch. Another CSVR intern and I decided to join the chain at Rondebosch Common, towards the end of the chain. Starting at 1pm, everyone held hands for 67 straight minutes in honor of the 67 years Nelson Mandela has dedicated to fighting for social justice.
The second event was a youth dialogue organized by the Trauma Centre at Cape Town, which ran for 67 minutes as well. Elementary, middle, and high school students were given a chance to voice their concerns and complaints with regard to their neighborhoods and the school system. Each table had eight youths from the surrounding schools, one facilitator, and an “influential leader” who was there to offer his/her support and to make sure these issues were addressed. I volunteered at a facilitator, making sure the leader assigned to my table heard what the students had to say. I started out by asking the students to discuss their neighborhoods and their experiences commuting to school. A lot of them live and study in high crime neighborhoods.
A reoccurring theme was the presence of gangs in and around schools, along with the feeling that government officials are not doing enough to combat the problem. One student spoke of witnessing the stabbing of a classmate on a bus and not feeling safe taking the bus to school. At the end of the 67-minute dialogue, a youth from each table was asked to come up to the podium share the stories and complaints of the students at their tables. It was a very emotional experience, with some students fighting back tears.