Week One: The Adventure Begins

Interested in international law and hoping to make a difference in another part of the world, I knew immediately that I wanted to work for the Khulumani Support Group in South Africa this summer.  I was warned that the job would be challenging in many different aspects, especially given that I would not only be the first white person sent to the program, but the first woman. Always up for a new adventure, I still bought a plane ticket to Johannesburg and have been here for the past week.

I arrived Monday morning and began work immediately. After a quick tour of the office, Dr. Jobson and I went to the High Court, where we sat in on a hearing regarding the recent controversial case banning the screening of Project Spear.  This was a documentary which highlighted the corruption leading up to the 1994 national elections. It was fascinating not only to hear more about the case, but also to witness a typical South African courtroom proceeding (the lawyers wear robes!). 

On Tuesday, Dr. Jobson asked that I attend a small seminar focused on South African and Chilean experiences overcoming violent histories and moving toward democracy. Unfortunately, Dr. Jobson was not able to be at the beginning of the event, so I was there alone, feeling quite out of place as this was only my second day in the country.  Still, not wanting to be too intimidated, I found a young woman and attempted to converse. However, when I asked her if she was a student like myself, she gave me a puzzled look and said, "No, I’m the speaker." Oops! I quickly took a seat only to learn I was in fact sitting next to the Chilean Ambassador. Needless to say I felt quite underqualified. Nonetheless, it was an extremely insightful event and I am lucky to have had the opportunity to attend.

On Tuesday night, Zsofia, the woman renting her cottage to me for the summer, invited me go to a jazz club.  Exhausted and fighting jetlag, there was still no way I could refuse. The performance featured a young woman named Hagar whose music consisted of a fusion of classical Egyptian motives and a modern electric sound; the music nerd in me loved it!  It also turns out that the Egyptian Ambassador attended the event and was sitting only two tables in front of me. Two ambassadors in one day? Definitely a sign that this is going to be an interesting summer.

The rest of the week has consisted of my swift immersion into South African culture. Did you know that the taxis here require a hand signal to identify where you are going? Or that stoplights here are referred to as "robots"? Further, I have learned so much in such a short time about post-apartheid issues that remain in South Africa.

As of now, it looks like my main focus for the summer will helping the numerous apartheid victims not given reparations from the government. As Eduardo (another intern from William and Mary) discovered last summer, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the South African Government made little to no effort to announce or advertise a deadline for reparation applications. There are estimates that almost 100,000 victims may have been excluded from the process as a result. (To learn more about Eduardo's discoveries from last summer click here).

I have quickly learned of another flaw in the TRC proceedings. The TRC held amnesty hearings for those who had admitted to committing human rights violations, and decided whether those perpetrators should be granted amnesty. Their second task was to provide reparations to those victims that suffered under these perpetrators. However, the "victims" identified in the amnesty hearings were not considered "victims" for the purposes of the reparation proceedings and ultimately were never granted reparations. I will be identifying these victims and compiling evidence in order to bring forth a case on behalf of the individuals denied reparations under these circumstances.

It has been an eye-opening week and I am excited to see what the rest of the summer has in store.