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Feeling Otherness & Other Things

Long time, no blog! I want to apologize for not keeping up with this blog during my actual time on the program. If anything, I suppose we can interpret my failure to post a blog as a testament to South Africa’s ability to keep me busy. So much has happened, and I will try to do my best to catch you all up on our journeys.

Over the past ten weeks, we have been incredibly lucky to have our program sponsor many trips all over South Africa and providing us with a wider – albeit still not complete – understanding of this country. If we had left South Africa thinking that Stellenbosch was a representative picture of South Africa, we would have sorely overlooked the diversity of the so-called “Rainbow Nation.”


Lobby outside of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Designed to commemorate the past and the struggle for democracy.

During our third week, we made a four-day stop in Johannesburg before jetting off to adventure in Kruger National Park. Compared to Stellenbosch’s sleepy charm, Joburg is like a hardened, renegade cousin. Its steel buildings and no-nonsense bustle made me feel like we were in an urban jungle. And with the recent events happening nearby, we were finally faced with a little chaos.

One morning, we woke up to the chanting of students across the street to our hotel. In the wake of xenophobic attacks in Pretoria and Joburg, these young activists were voicing their demands for peace. When we talk about xenophobia (which means “fear of the other”) here in South Africa, it primarily refers to a prejudice against African foreign nationals. These individuals, while currently residing in South Africa, come from other African countries for similar reasons most immigrants have for leaving their home country: the hope for a better life. From what I can gather, South Africans responsible for the xenophobic attacks interpret the presence of these African foreign nationals as competition for jobs and resources, as a threat for the hope and future democracy promised only twenty-one years ago. But like much of what we learned here, it is also not as simple as that when we consider tensions of culture, history, and language (i.e. the Zulu king calling for African foreign nationals to leave South Africa).


Schoolchildren who protested the recent xenophobic attacks also put up these posters on a wall near our hotel in Johannesburg. (Image by Treyvon Thomas.)

For days, all we heard and saw revolved around xenophobia, a stark reminder of just one of the many issues South Africa faces as a budding democratic nation. Radio shows, posters, newspapers, and nearly all forms of media was abuzz with talk about the lives lost and murders attempted due to this “fear of the other.” As American students, our difference was did not put us in any position of danger. (READ: Parents and loved ones, we were kept extremely safe during this time.) But in the middle of this social turbulence, I couldn’t help but think about the struggles of citizenship, immigration, and identity the United States also faces today.

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