Each week I am amazed by the incredible amount of talent and passion Capetonians possess; I often find myself at the V&A Waterfront throughout the week watching youth singing competitions, street musicians, or trying a new food vendor just in awe and thankful to have the opportunity to witness South Africans genuine love for their country.
This week at work was shorter because South Africa celebrated the public holiday, Youth Day. Youth Day, or Soweto Uprising, commemorates the hundreds of youth killed by apartheid government officials when they protested in opposition of Afrikaans as the way of instruction in schools. The protests began in 1975 in African Schools when the Bantu Education Department declared that Afrikaans had to be used as much as English as a language of instruction. Most black South Africans detested the declaration because Afrikaans was seen as “the language of the oppressor” and by changing the language of education, it forced students to focus on learning the language and not the critical analysis of the subject matter. As a result of the outrage, between 15,000 and 20,000 black students protested against having to learn Afrikaans in school. However, police blocked the protestors path way, set police dogs on the protestors, and began shooting directly at the children. Over 200 children were killed and 1,000 were injured.
On Youth Day, children are celebrated, there are documentaries played, and activities throughout the city to honor the youth who zealously fought and died for their freedom of choice and for their country. Consequently, although apartheid ended almost 22 years ago, the impact can be witnessed each day with in high crime rates, distrust of the government, and the disparity of wealth throughout the country. Although many South Africans will say that apartheid is old news, the healing of injustice takes time, and to many black South Africans, remnants of apartheid is still apparent.
At work it seems as though each week we see at least ten clients from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who are seeking asylum because their parents and close family were killed by current President Kabila’s soldiers. From what I have gathered from client’s statements is Kabila’s reelection results were rigged declaring him the winner, when his opponents had more votes. Most clients who are seeking asylum were often members of opposition groups and were threatened or tortured by Kabila’s militia because they spoke out against his political beliefs and practices. One client witnessed her parents being massacred and then the soldiers locked her in her home with the bodies. Listening to these stories can be extremely disheartening, and even though we always advocate on their behalf it is paining to know that we are only helping those who have escaped and there are hundreds more who remain in DRC experiencing similar violence. Moreover, many DRC citizens are rejected when they apply for an asylum extension because Home Affairs will copy a portion of the DRC constitution, which grants citizens security and protection, but realistically is not true. Even if their Constitution does grant them protection, the administration that should be implementing these guaranteed rights are the same people killing and slaughtering citizens. Furthermore, the DRC Constitution only allows presidents to serve for two terms, however the current presidential election has been suspended and current DRC President Kabila is vying for an unconstitutional third term which would continue the political unrest within the country. It would be extremely unfortunate for citizens who oppose Kabila if he is reelected because that will only solidify the corruption within the country and deny them the ability to return to their home country.
Later in the week, the other interns and I attended a discussion at the Scalabrini Centre in City Centere about refugee and migrant issues and ways the community can assist in the transition of migrants into Cape Town. The Scalabrini Centre is committed to alleviating poverty and promotes the expansion of Cape Town while creating an integrating atmosphere for migrants, refugees, and South Africans. The meeting was attended by various NGOs, news reporters, law professors, and local activists to create a think tank of passionate citizens who have positive ideas to ensure a safe and welcoming South Africa for all. The meeting seemed very productive, but it is always difficult to ensure that progress comes from these types of meetings because there are several great ideas, but the follow through seems problematic.
The following day, PASSOP honored World Refugee Day which is celebrated to stand in solidarity with those who had to flee their country because of civil unrest, living in a war torn area, or gender/sexuality discrimination. For NGOs like PASSOP, it can be difficult to progress if the government is not working together or using their influence to protect refugee rights. In South Africa, there is a strong sense of xenophobia which creates harsh living conditions for refugees and asylum seekers, and Home Affairs and parliament have not enacted nor enforced laws to create a better living situation for refugees to ensure a cohesive living environment for all.
And lastly, this week’s adventure was attending a Springboks rugby game! I’ve never attended a rugby game, and I was ecstatic to attend a game while in Cape Town. Rugby is an interesting sport, aside from the fact the players do not wear any protective gear, it seems to be the combination for several sports in one. Since it is most similar to football, I presume, I was able to easily follow the game and found myself cheering and screaming as if I have been a Springboks fan since I was a young girl. Although South Africa lost, I’m sure they will win again when they play in Johannesburg in a couple weeks.
As you can see this has been week of learning, understanding, and fun, but I love discovering the history of South Africa and being a change agent of the lives of many refugee and asylum seekers.