Experiencing South Africa

Written By Latrell, Latitudes ’19 South Africa

For the past month and a half Josh and I have been immersed into the South African culture. Our Journey began in Johannesburg by exploring many of the museums and learning about the rich history of this storied country. We visited Constitution Hill, where Nelson Mandela and many of the main people who tore down the apartheid system were arrested. If I had to sum up this experience in one word it would be inspiring. Learning about the people involved and witnessing or hearing recounts of their contributions to such a turning point in this country’s life, was moving.

It was a perfect place to start because the next place we visited was the actual prison where Nelson Mandela and Ghandi were held. Of course not at the same time, but their reasons for being imprisoned were quite similar. As we walked through the prison, we saw the cells in which they were held, their shower area, the solitary confinement cells and as haunting as all these visuals were, it was not until we heard what happened in them that you truly began to get emotional. The cells in which they were held were no bigger than a 10×10 room but 60 people were held there. You were given a different amount of blankets and pillows based on the color of your skin, but within the cells there was a hierarchy which caused some prisoners to end up with none. The gang leaders took from the weaker inmates and their body guards would do the same. They were allowed to shower once a week but there would be 200 people trying to take a shower at the same time and they only had 30 minutes. The inmates that were higher up in the food chain would take showers leaving the rest to sit in their own filth for weeks at a time. This caused many diseases to spread ultimately leading to the closing of this prison, but not before many lives were lost.

As we moved past this area we arrived at the solitary confinement cells and I don’t think any description I give will do them justice because when I was standing in them I couldn’t begin to grasp how prisoners survived in these. My guess is many of them didn’t or left broken. The guards there would come by and turn the lights on and off randomly so you never knew what time of day it was and soon you wouldn’t have a sense of time at all. There was cell located in the middle of the block called lucky cell 13. It earned this name because when the guards opened the little hatched allowing them to see into the outside world, from this cell you could see the courtyard, while all the other cells had a view of a brick wall. This was so far outside of anything I knew that I was just in shock, but it was one of the most impactful learning experiences I have ever gone through.

The best way to wrap up this history lesson was our last museum of the day, The Apartheid Museum. This museum was very visual and was great at displaying the struggle people went through as a whole during apartheid. In this museum there were points where you just stood and looked at certain pictures or watched specific video with a face of complete horror and disgust. Photos of little children and women getting beaten, or pictures of the passbooks blacks had to carry to prove they were allowed to be there so they were not arrested. The largest group of people in the country getting reduced to the only thing people in power didn’t like about them. The color of their skin. However, there were also points where you stood and applauded or your eyes began to fill with tears of joy. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison and all the prisoners were clapping, white and black. That’s when you know he had no business being there. These three days were packed with a lifetime of experiences, but it was only the beginning of our journey.

On January 30th we arrived at our home stay in Melkoutfontein and were welcomed with open arms. We have been here for about a month and a half now and I have loved every minute of it. Our home stay family has been incredible and truly made our experience enjoyable. Our home stay mamma is one of those people who lights up a room whenever she’s around. She has such a contagious laugh and whenever I see her I can’t help but smile. And this woman’s cooking is something I genuinely look forward to everyday. She takes such joy in her cooking and you can taste the love in her food. I’ve been so grateful because every now and then she’ll let us cook for her so josh and I are able to show a small token of our appreciation at least. In our South African family we also have a brother named Ronny and he’s like the older brother I never had. He is such a positive person and his positivity radiates throughout the house. On Sundays we have a big soccer game in the park and that man can play. I just look like a bunch of flailing limbs when I play. Like, I consider myself a pretty athletic individual, but my foot eye coordination is abysmal. It’s all good though because I never fail to have fun. We also have a sister named Cammy and she’s kind of got her own thing going on. She’s still in high school so we don’t see her as often as mamma and Ronny, but she’s very sweet and always helps find stuff around the house when she sees that confused look on my face.

Our main reason for being in South Africa is because of our volunteer placement with Dream Catchers. Here we have been working to raise money for local schools so they buy new supplies and uniforms if required. The staff is like family and we work hard, but we have a lot of fun together too. The founder of Dream Catchers is a woman named Anthea and she is the most driven individual I have ever met. For the first couple of weeks working with her I was convinced she didn’t sleep. She is so dedicated to improving the lives of everyone she touches and never asks for anything in return. She is an inspiration and I’m very glad to be working with her. The other senior member is Katrina and she’s just a little ball of joy. She’s always smiling and Im very grateful to have met her. The main person we work with is Jason and he’s like another brother as well. He has been awesome in taking us around the community and treating us like we belong. The way of life here is so different and personally, I like it more. The kids are always running around the streets playing rugby or soccer or some fun game they came up with. On the weekends someone is always hosting a braii or barbecue and that has been a fun way to meet new people. I could probably go on for days about what life is like here but I should leave some stuff for josh to talk about, so Doug back to you at the station!

Much love, Latrell Margraff