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Learning about apartheid and lasting effects in South Africa

Filed in Blog, South Africa by on July 1, 2019
by Anna D.

Before I came to South Africa for this study abroad internship, I was semi-aware of apartheid and what it was. But being immersed in this culture every day, seeing the lasting effects and actually learning the nitty-gritty of apartheid, made me realize that I didn’t know jack. For those who were like me, I will give a brief explanation of apartheid before I continue with this blog. Apartheid happened in South Africa officially from 1948-1994 – ending just a mere 25 years ago. It was an era of white, conservative government holders making laws that segregated and de-humanized the black and “colored” citizens of South Africa. I use the word “colored” because that is what the South African population classified people as who were not white or black during era of apartheid. This classification is still used today when talking about Indian, Malaysian, Muslim, and mixed-race citizens. Lastly, I would relate apartheid to the same type of laws as the Jim Crow laws in the U.S.

I am still reflecting and thinking on all that I’ve learned in a class that I am taking through IES. It’s a heavy subject, but necessary. It was really beneficial to learn the history of South Africa and, specifically the Cape region, and then relate it to why there are still vast racial, economic and social gaps here. When learning and talking about the systems that had to be in place throughout history in order to keep the black and colored population of South Africa at a disadvantage; it was disheartening but, also, not surprising. When learning about the history of Cape Town, I was also going back to my U.S. history. I was comparing and contrasting the similarities. You can’t deny that there was a systematic oppression put into place in both places. The white population stepped upon the black population in order to thrive in their new place that they forcibly took. Reading about Simon van der Stel, a colonizing governor from Holland, and the way he “renovated” the Cape area into beautiful farmlands just shows how even the history being taught now leaves out an essential part, which is the suffering of black and colored people to the benefit of white people. These ideals prevailed for years, into the Apartheid era and onward to today.

I work at a city-run reproductive health clinic, where the population can come for mostly-free health care. These clinics are underfunded, under-resourced and understaffed, and the vast majority of who get this care are black and colored people. This contrasts to the stories I hear of my other fellow interns working at private hospitals, which are well-resourced and receive a majority of white patients. These observations play into the system of oppression that still stands today. When studying abroad, it is really important to understand the socioeconomic and racial gaps in the region you’re staying in, and to bring those observations back with you. I’ve learned that it is essential to pay attention to these gaps, the reason they exist and to constantly question, challenge and recognize these injustices.


About the blogger

Anna D. is studying abroad on the Global Mizzou Internship: Cape Town program in Cape Town, South Africa.

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