Campus News

Cape Town Diary: July 27. By Rachel Meiklejohn, Colby College ’02

Story posted July 27, 2001

Our second week of classes in Cape Town has come to a close and we are settling into life and routine here. The first month of this program has been packed with images and ideas of what it means to be South African. Currently our "Arts of Resistance" class is serving as a catalyst for thinking about how images play into identity in South Africa and the role art played in the struggle against apartheid.

This week, we went on a tour, which took us to sites of resistance. The tour incorporated much of what we have been learning and gave us a better feel for this area of Cape Town. Our tour guides took great care to point out symbols and images that they found to be particularly powerful.

The tour began in Pinelands. There was not much to be said as we drove through this upper class, predominately white neighborhood. We sat back and looked at the magnificent homes and thought about the coloured and black people who were forced out of this area in the 1960s and into Ndabini and later Langa. [Note: Under apartheid, all South Africans were racially classified into one of three categories: white, black (African), or coloured (of mixed decent). The coloured category included major subgroups of Indians and Asians.]

In Athlone, we stopped outside the police station and saw the red and black ribbon that had been tied around a tree. This ribbon is part of the community’s effort to remember individuals who were killed in the struggle. One day, hopefully, this ribbon will be replaced with a plaque commemorating the person who was killed on that spot. The ribbons symbolize the importance of remembering those who died as individuals, not as numbers. We remained outside of the station and did not venture within its gates as Yazir, one of our tour guides, explained that the police station is too powerful a symbol and too full of memories of the terror of the struggle. During the years of the white minority government, this was the only infrastructure built in this coloured area. Now, a few more businesses have popped and companies are investing in the area.

This was not the case in Langa, the black community we visited next. In this area there is not even a bank to be seen. In Langa, we stopped at the remnants of the building where passbooks were issued. These books had to be carried by all blacks at all times in order to ascertain that they had the right to be in the area. This building has a lot of significance for the community in remembering what the struggle managed to overcome. There is some debate as to whether the building should be turned into a museum to commemorate the struggle or if the land should be used to build businesses. For now, it stands (barely) as a symbol of an era gone by, but whose affects are still felt every day.

From this building, we continued to an herbalist’s shop in Lang, in recognition that these people have traditions of their own and their own knowledge of how to treat diseases that has been passed down from generation to generation. From Langa we traveled to Guguletu, to the site of the Trojan Horse massacre. [In the Trojan Horse Massacre, on October 15, 1985, three youths were killed when police, hidden in crates on the back of a lorry, opened fire on a group of stone-throwers in Athlone and Guguletu.] At the site, the names of the children who were killed are spray painted on the wall. This is very important to the community because it means that each individual who was killed will be remembered. Nearby, there is also the official monument set up by the government. It does not incorporate the names of the victims, and was set up without consulting the community, so the people have rejected it and continue to maintain the spray painted names as their monument to those who died.

From Guguletu we traveled to Crossroads. Here the image of greatest symbolism is the dirt. It was this dirt that the people held onto. The residents of Crossroads had been through forced removal after forced removal, and when the government once again tried to move them, they refused. Their shacks were torn down during the day and at night they put them back up and there they stayed, refusing to be moved.

At the end of the tour we talked about how the apartheid government succeeded in dividing communities. It is possible for a white, a coloured, and a black community to exist right next to each other without any interaction. Railways, roads, or open spaces divide them. During the apartheid era, there was no movement between the communities. Today, there is very little. I found the most beneficial part of this trip to the sense we were given for how close together these communities are in terms of space, but how far apart they are in terms of lifestyle, understanding of each other, and interaction.

- Rachel Meiklejohn
Colby College ’02

Additional information on the Cape Town program is at CBB Cape Town
Other Cape Town Diaries:
Cape Town Diary: July 3. By Julie McGee
Cape Town Diary: July 14. By Julie McGee
Cape Town Diary: July 27. By Kristen M. Heim

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