Category Archives: South Africa

Interesting News Features

This is a very quick post, but I just wanted to share with you some of the things I’ve been reading lately.

First, this is an interesting article from a few days ago: “Climate summit opens amid big emitters’ stalling tactics.”

Next, I was reading about a potential new Icelandic eruption.  I especially like the ending:

But the biggest threat to Iceland’s icecaps is seen as climate change, not the volcanoes that sometimes melt the icecaps. They have begun to thin and retreat dramatically over the last few decades, contributing to the rise in sea levels that no eruption of Katla, however big, is likely to match.

And I just ran across this but haven’t read it yet, but it looks interesting: Has the Kyoto protocol failed Africa?

And finally, some blogs that I think are really important to read. First, my friend Hierald’s blog offers some really good analysis of COP17. He’s accredited so he’s been going to some of the official events, something I don’t have access to.

Next, the Canadian Youth Delegation blog is pretty awesome, and they update a lot. I just saw their posting about the police in Durban clearing the city of street people, and it’s just appalling. But also makes a lot of sense, since I haven’t seen any street kids around the city:

“Madam, madam! Are you with the press?” I hear a man shout behind me. Before waiting for my answer, he says, “the television won’t show what’s happening in the streets of Durban, madam”. He (I later learn his name is Joshua) goes on to tell me that he has been living on the streets for 25 years. Joshua explains that Durban’s street people are being cleared from the streets in a sweep to make the city more ‘attractive’ in the eyes of the thousands of visitors here for COP-17.

“They’re taking children, madam. Children! The police come, the metro police, and they are taking entire families”. Joshua is visibly outraged. He urges me to tell others about what is happening, and I promise to do so. We part ways at an intersection, waving.

While the Durban police are cleansing the streets from its traces of poverty, COP-17 delegates have it pretty good inside the ICC, with its air conditioning, free wifi, and immaculate washrooms. A maid can be found at all times in the ladies’ washrooms, wiping up drops of water from the sink after a delegate washes their hands, and mopping the floor whether it needs it or not. I enjoy a running joke with the woman who seems to be in charge of cleaning the washroom nearest the CYD booth; we both chuckle at how often I come to pee (it’s like 30 degrees outside – got to stay hydrated!).


Exposure Visits

Yesterday was the day we all went on exposure visits to areas surrounding Durban. I went to Inanda, where local women started support groups for the community, and later youth support groups also formed. This project was initiated by the Diakonia Council of Churches; there are approximately 5 support groups of 100 people each.

It’s the Youth for Eco-Justice Group!

Our bus was quite late, so we had some fun at the Glenmore Pastoral Centre before leaving.

Funny Poses!

This took forever to assemble, but I think it’s pretty cool:

Spelling out COP 17

We headed off to Inanda, traveling into rural Kwazulu Natal, where we would meet those involved with the support groups.

Driving through Mzinyathi, a rural area near Durban

On our way, we stopped by a large dam that had been build by the Afrikaan population 20 years previously. In order to build the dam, 500 families (representing approximately 5000 people) were forcibly displaced. This includes the family of one of the participants in the Youth for Eco-Justice program. The land they lived on is now under water. 20 years on, they are still waiting for compensation.

Njideka (Nigeria), Ra’ed (Palestine) and Kaitlin

We all got out to see the dam and started taking pictures with each other and the scenery around us. I didn’t think about this at the time, but now that I see the photos, I realize how odd (and even awful) it was to essentially turn a human rights situation into a tourist stop. It’s not what any of us consciously did, but we were there to see the dam, and photos like the one above, while very nice, were perhaps inappropriate at the time.

Zanele, leader of a youth support group, at the dam

On this visit, it was also evident that racial tensions are still part of the narrative of South Africa. As one unemployed youth said, “I’ve never seen a white person give me a salary.”

We arrived at a public building where the support groups meet. It was in Emaphephetheni and also housed a clinic, which was built in 2003. Previously, there was no clinic for the residents in this area.

The women we met with talked about the community garden they plant seasonally, taking many of the vegetables to those who are sick with HIV/AIDS. We were unable to visit the garden due to flooding on the roads from the intense rain two days previously. It made me wonder how often this happens, and what that means for the food supply.

HIV/AIDS is a big problem in South Africa. This was not helped by the South African government’s denial, until 2009, about the disease. Until then, the Health Minister publicly said that drinking lots of water and eating beet root could treat HIV/AIDS, while the former President said to take a shower.

In Emaphephetheni, the clinic there can give out ARVs, but couldn’t in the past. We were told that many people in this area don’t come to the clinic if they are HIV+ (or suspect that they are) because of a lack of education around the issue, denial of their status, and stigmatization. In some cases, people refuse to go to their local clinic but will go elsewhere so that no one in their community knows that they are HIV+. However, while it is good that they are getting treatment, traveling so far poses its own problems.

Goods for sale, made by youth in the support groups

We were told that the biggest problem here is unemployment. And since the population is relatively poor, youth don’t have the option of going to university – “We just sit at home doing nothing.”

Also, people in the area don’t really know about COP 17. In its abstract form, COP 17 doesn’t appear to affect these people and their lives. We were told that the support groups try to break it down for the local people, by explaining the links between the changes in local weather conditions and the larger problem of global warming and climate change.

Great sign!

I asked about violence against women and whether the support groups deal with that. There have been studies showing that rape is correlated with HIV/AIDS contraction; rape is generally more violent than consensual sex, which makes HIV/AIDS more likely to be transmitted through blood and tearing. While not commenting specifically on this correlation, the women we met with did say that they have had Stress and Trauma sessions, which were very intense but helpful for the women involved.

George and Thandi (support group leader from the Diakonia Council of Churches and also a local resident) outside the clinic

There are also community health workers, and condoms are distributed freely by the government and are not opposed by churches. This was surprising to me, since I’ve dealt with the Catholic Church’s position on condoms in the past (in the Canadian context), and personally feel that I would never work for an organization that refuses to use condoms in its HIV/AIDS prevention program. But, it makes sense in an area (Kwazulu Natal) where the HIV/AIDS rate is 65%. However, the government condoms are not exactly good, as a I was told, because they are stapled to the information paper, rendering them pretty much ineffective. And, the empowerment of women and girls is a huge issue that is being addressed so that they can insist on using a condom.

It was a lot to take in, but was a great day. We spent the rest of the day at the beach, having some R&R and checking out the grassroots environmental projects along the water.

In other news, check out an interview with Bill Phipps, former UCC Moderator, about his fast for Durban.

We Need Some Eco-Sanity: First Impressions of Durban

I arrived in Durban on Saturday, after an early morning flight from Cape Town. The Durban airport was all decked out for COP 17, welcoming everyone to the conference. Some of the advertisements seemed slightly less sincere, however.

Really?!? There’s ethical mining now?

We were dropped off at our accommodation, which is experiencing some serious Internet issues at the moment so I apologize for the lower quality photos in the next few posts.

Sunday was the Interfaith Rally, which I wrote about in my last post. On Monday, the Youth for Eco-Justice program officially began. Joy Kennedy, Program Coordinator for the Poverty, Wealth & Ecology program at The United Church of Canada (and who happens to be my supervisor) came by in the morning to present “The Triple Crisis”: Global Perspectives on Finance, Development and Environment.

Joy Kennedy speaking to the youth

Joy talked about how the Earth Community is in crisis, and how we need to globalize resistance. She inspired us and challenged us to live faithfully in the midst of Empire. “What’s on your placard?” she asked us, after telling us about an awesome placard that said “Fossil Fuels are SO Last Century!” I haven’t thought of anything yet, but I liked Joy’s phrase that “we need some eco-sanity.”

Joy was a big hit – everyone loved her and told me I was lucky to work with her. Of course, I heartily agreed! 😉

Joy and I after her presentation

We also spent some more time getting to know each other – there are over 30 participants in this program, from all over the world, so we bring many different contexts to the table. I heard about subsistence farmers in South Africa, eco-feminism and eco-theology in the South Korean context, and sustainability issues for youth in Brazil, among others.

I truly feel privileged to be part of this program, learning from so many different people from so many different countries. I feel like I’m making some really good friends, and I’ve already been invited to Palestine, Nigeria and Brazil – the travel budget’s going to be tight next year!! 🙂

There’s a monkey in our garden!!

Interfaith Rally in Durban

Caroline and I arrived in Durban on Saturday, for the Youth for Eco-Justice Program. This is a transformational training program for young Christians aged 18-30 years. Addressing the links between environmental and socio-economic justice, it is jointly organized by the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation in the context of UN climate negotiations in the latter part of 2011.  It starts with a two-week training and immersion in the context of the international climate change negotiations (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa. In the months following the seminar, the participants will initiate and implement projects in their home context on a volunteer basis.

There are about 30 of us from all around the world, representing 6 continents (poor Antarctica…). I’m loving meeting everyone and (hopefully) making some lifelong friends! Yesterday was our first COP17 event – the big Interfaith Climate Justice Rally at ABSA Kingspark Rugby stadium in Durban.

Painting one of our banners

At the Glenmore Pastoral Centre, which will be our home for the next 2 weeks, we started painting two large banners to take with us to the rally.

Mike Langa Lulanga, from Malawi, painting the world

One read “Youth 4 Eco-Justice” and the other said “Desmond’s Durban Deal-Makers.”

Our two banners

And look – we were on local TV this morning! (near the end – with the Desmond’s Durban Deal-Makers banner)

The turn-out for the rally was frankly pretty disappointing. They were expecting (or maybe “hoping for” is a better word) 40,000 people, but it looked like there were only about 5000 people there. The stadium was pretty empty, but it was still a deeply moving, amazing event.

Faith leaders enter the stadium

It was so inspiring to see faith leaders from around the world, from so many different faiths, coming together to act for climate justice. I especially loved what a Buddhist leader from South African said: “Let’s start changing ourselves and stop changing the climate.”

Faith leaders at the rally

I was particularly excited to see Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Especially after everything we saw and learned in Cape Town about Apartheid, I couldn’t wait to hear from one of the men and women who brought down that horrible, awful, racist system. He’s treated a bit like a rock star, which was funny to see, for a faith leader. But his speech was amazing! Some of my favourite quotes from his speech are:

“God wants us to live in a garden, not a desert.”

“We’re meant to live together as harmoniously as one family.”

“Whether you are rich or poor, this is your only home.” He expanded on this by saying that maybe the poor will be wiped out first, but then they’ll be on the other side, beckoning the rich over as well.

200,000 petitions were inside Noah’s Second Ark

After Tutu’s speech, the Climate Justice Africa Youth Caravan presented 200,000 petitions inside a second Noah’s Ark. During their journey, the travelers collected “signed Multi Faith Rally and Concert petitions from the people of Africa calling on negotiators to treat the Earth with respect and embrace a legally binding climate treaty.”

Cyclists who road for 17 days with the Ark

The final number of signed petitions was presented to Tutu, who then presented it to the President of the COP, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is also South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu presenting the petition to COP President Maite Nkoana-Mashabane

Caroline and I ran into The United Church of Canada’s Moderator Mardi Tindal on the green.

Me and Caroline with The United Church of Canada’s Moderator Mardi Tindal

She had this to say about what she was experiencing at the Rally:

I then followed the Moderator around the green, documenting some of her meetings with other faith leaders.

Moderator Mardi Tindal meeting faith leaders – I love this photo!!

Moderator Mardi Tindal meeting faith leaders

Moderator Mardi Tindal meeting faith leaders

AND, the Moderator and I met Mary Robinson! This was seriously one of the most exciting moments for me. Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland AND was also the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002. She’s one of my human rights heroines!

Moderator Mardi Tindal meeting Mary Robinson

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu came back onstage to greet some of the other speakers, including Mary Robinson, who is a member of The Elders along with Tutu himself. I knew that Tutu had a great sense of humour, and a great laugh, but seeing him and hearing him in person was just an amazing experience. I think all faith leaders, all activists, all people, can learn a lot from him.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

And some last words from this Great Man: “You are members of one family – the human race. The only race on Earth.”

A Different Kind of Occupy

On Friday, Caroline and I visited The United Church of Canada’s partner, Surplus People Project (SPP). Their office is located close to the B&B where we stayed, so first Herschelle Milford, the Executive Director, picked us up and brought us to the office. Katherine Zavala from International Development Exchange (IDEX) based in San Francisco also joined us, as IDEX recently made a grant to SPP and were there to do a site visit.

Herschelle Milford, Director of SPP

The office was very nice, with an amazing view of Table Mountain. We met a few of those who work for SPP, and then Ricado Jacobs (also with SPP) arrived to take us on our exposure visit up the Cape, to meet some of the farmers that SPP work with. Ricado told us that 42% of South Africans are food insecure, and the majority of these are women. SPP does both advocacy and practical assistance for farmers in this situation. They don’t necessarily have a relationship with individual farms, but they more engage with them and advocate on their behalf over a specific issue, such as water.

Proof I was there!

First, Ricado took us to Citrusdel, in Cederberg municipality, where two members of a farmworkers’ forum were meeting with municipality officials over the lack of water on their farm. Petrus, the chairperson of the forum – which has The Right to Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign – was there, along with other SPP employees, to advocate on behalf of Wilhelm, a small-scale farmer, who does not have access to enough water to keep his farm viable.

Wilhelm, a small-scale farmer

After the meeting (hopefully Wilhem will have water by Monday, today), Wilhelm took us to his farm to show us the conditions he was facing. All of these small-scale farmers are working land that is owned by white farm owners. And these white owners are not ensuring that there is adequate water for the farmers. Additionally, South Africa has one of the most advanced constitutions in the world. However, this does not mean that the rights outlined in the Constitution are upheld. The right to an acceptable standard of living is enumerated in the South African Constitution, as is the right of access to water.  After seeing Wilhelm’s farm, it was clear that the government did not uphold this right, and was obviously also not being held accountable.

Wilhelm showing us the seriously low water supply on the farm

We travelled on to a second farm, where we met Gert. Gert is part of a seasonal workers’ union. It is a women’s union, called Sikhula Sonke; this means that men can be part of the union, but they cannot take a leadership role. All of the farmers we met on Friday talked about the importance they place on not using fertilizers or other types of poisons. However, they obviously have no control if the white farm owner chooses to fertilize other parts of the farm. This happened to Gert. There are citrus trees right beside his house and his plot of farming land, and these were recently fertilized by the land owner. His 3-month old daughter was in hospital, and Gert believed it was because of complications caused after these fertilizers were sprayed.

Gert (left) with Petrus at Gert’s vegetable garden

Gert took us to his vegetable garden and proudly showed us the different crops he was growing. Right now, he grows just enough to support his family, but he hopes to expand his farm so that he can also make some profit by selling produce in the market.

A kinda grainy photo of Caroline, Katherine, and I with Gert and Petrus

Petrus then took us to his farm, where we finally met some women farmers. Petrus’s work as chairperson of the Forum is a volunteer position, making his wife, who farms the land, the breadwinner of the family. This situation, however, illustrates the sexism that is still rampant in South Africa (and elsewhere around the world). If Petrus was farming the land, the farm owner would have provided a toilet for him. But because it is a woman who is farming the land, there was no toilet. Petrus had to construct a makeshift toilet for his wife, because of this, and he said that he hopes to make it nicer in the future.

Farmers with harvested beans

Petrus also took us to the back of his farm, to see the pigpens. Many of the pigs seemed pretty interested in us. Methinks they just thought we had food.


As it was getting late in the afternoon, we then drove south back to Cape Town, traveling to a plot of land that’s been occupied by farmers for 27 years. There are approximately 300 people who live there. Land is often occupied by people who want to live on it, but rarely by those who want to farm it (some of the farmers live there, but some do not; some also just leave one person there at night to guard the farm). As the land there is not that fertile, the farms are mainly animal farms. We saw pigs, cows, geese, chickens, and goats.

At the Occupy site, we met Patrick and Rosaline of Itemba (“Hope”) Progressive Farmers. They explained why and how they were occupying the land. In South Africa, the law says that if someone constructs a structure on a piece of land that they are occupying, and it remains there for 48 hours, the government then has the responsibility, if it wants to evict the tenants, to find alternative accommodation for them. The government is currently in talks with the farmers there to move them to other, better land.

Some people will be left behind. Because the land is not their land, they have no say in who can live or farm there with them. And some pedophiles and criminals have latched on to the site. But since they are not part of the association of Itemba Progressive Farmers, they will not be part of the group that is moved to the other site. Patrick also told us that there were a couple of farmers who had jobs outside of that farm, some making more than $60,000 a year. It was unclear why they were also occupying the land.

Patrick of Itemba Progressive Farmers

We visited several farmers’ plots, and met both male and female farmers who had been farming the land for various lengths of time.

One of the “occupied” farms

After having visited Occupy Calgary and Occupy London over the past 2 weeks, it was really interesting to see this other type of Occupy movement. It truly felt like an example of the 99% confronting the 1%.

This farmer has been here for 27 years

Cows belonging to the same farmer

Caroline and I went back to our B&B for our last evening in Cape Town, getting ready for the work we’d have to do in Durban!

Cycling to Cape Point

I know I’m seriously behind in this blogging, but in my defence, the place we’re staying in Durban has very limited Internet access. We’re getting WIFI tomorrow, so I’ll be able to update more then. In the meantime, here’s some more lovely photos.

So, I left off on Thursday. That day, Caroline and I went on a tour that took us down the Cape and all the way to Cape Point. It was a beautiful day – nice and sunny. A perfect day in South Africa. Our first stop was “seal island” (or seal rock, really, as someone else said), which we visited by boat. I was very excited to see some seals after spotting a couple of them in the harbour of Cape Town the day before. And it was pretty awesome. There were so many of them, some sunning themselves on the rocks, some swimming alongside the boat, and some timing their jumps into the ocean just as a wave crested. Brilliant.

The seals!

From there, we drove to Simon’s Town and then onto Boulder’s Beach, where a group of African penguins (known as the Jackass penguin. And no, I’m not making that up) have a colony. They were so cute!! Waddling around, all adorable. I think I could’ve watched them for a few hours, and I took WAY too many photos. But I’ll spare you – here’s just two of them. It’s the first time I’ve seen penguins in their natural habitat, and it was pretty spectacular.

Super cute penguins


Lazing around on the beach

Back in the bus, we spotted our first family of baboons! Our driver had told us it was likely we would see them, and that they are dangerous. I already knew this, having been on safari in Kenya and Tanzania. In fact, baboons border on being evil. They will grab your bag, dumping out the contents to find food. And they’re really quite bold. In Kenya, a baboon attempted to enter the bus I was on; luckily, all the girls screamed and it quickly rethought its journey.


They’re not as evil as hippos, mind you. Those things will kill you even if they’re not hungry. Kinda like humans, I guess… Anyway, I digress.

He looks like he owns the place! 

It was nearly time for lunch at this point, but before we could eat, we had to cycle 7 km, nearly reaching Cape Point. Caroline and I had not been told about this portion of the tour (the tour was just recommended by the B&B where we were staying), so we were not exactly dressed appropriately for athletics. Think sundresses and sandals. My shoes were especially not suitable for this type of thing – I’m just glad I only lost one shoe once and was able to go back and get it!

Look Ma, I made it!!

But despite our lack of proper footwear, and my having not ridden a bicycle for years, we made it all the way!! I was proud of us. 🙂

This really did not reassure me. Was there a REASON we should be praying for our driver?!?

We made it to our destination and had a very filling lunch. We were quite jealous of the group from India beside us, who had an amazingly-smelling hot Indian lunch. We asked if they wanted to train, but they smartly declined.

Caroline lying on the bottom jawbone of a whale after lunch

Next, we actually made it to Cape Point and walked up to the lighthouse on top of it. This was some of the most beautiful scenery I’d seen yet in the Cape.

Gorgeous Cape Point


Caroline and I at Cape Point, with the Cape of Good Hope behind us

From there, we travelled down to the Cape of Good Hope. Another stunning location!

Me at the Cape of Good Hope

It was a great, full, touristy day. Snoozing on the way back to our B&B, we were ready for the big day we’d have on Friday, visiting Surplus People Project.

Destination: Robben Island

Yesterday, Caroline and I went to Robben Island. Robben Island (meaning “seal island”) is the island that housed the infamous Apartheid-era prison, where former president Nelson Mandela, former president  Kgalema Motlanthe and current president Jacob Zuma all served sentences, along with many other political prisoners.

A pirate ship we spotted while waiting to go to Robben Island

Once we arrived on Robben Island, we took a bus tour to see various sites, like the leper cemetery from the 1800s, the lime quarry where Mandela worked, and various WWII buildings. After the bus tour, we toured the main prison, where we were led by a former prisoner.

The main prison on Robben Island

We also met a former warden, who was fascinating. He’s a friend of Mandela’s and he told an amazing story about Winnie Mandela coming to Robben Island and smuggling one of their grandchildren over. Children and infants weren’t allowed on the island, so he (the warden) told her that she had to leave the child with one of the other visitors while she saw Mandela. Mandela himself asked him if he could just see the baby though the window, but he said no because he could’ve been fired for that. Later, Winnie also begged him to let Mandela see the baby, but he refused. He then saw his superior and told him what Mandela wanted; his superior said that as long as Winnie didn’t know, he could make it happen. So the warden went over to Winnie and told her that Mandela wanted to see her about one more thing (he needed to tell her about applying to visit at Christmas) so she should leave the baby with him. It was the first time he’d ever held a black child, he said. He locked the door behind Winnie, then went around to the other side and called Mandela over. Outside the visitor’s room, he handed the baby to Mandela, who got to hold him for a few minutes and kiss his cheeks. Winnie, meanwhile, was knocking on the door on the other side, having found it locked. The warden took the baby back, went over to Winnie’s side, and opened the door and gave the baby back to Winnie. She went back to the mainland and told the press that she had smuggled the baby over to the Island but that Mandela had not been allowed to see him.

Wow. I was very touched by this small act of rebellion against the Apartheid government, by a man who had a lot to lose if he was caught. He could’ve been charged with treason, as was the case with guards who were kind and seen to sympathize with the prisoners. It’s amazing that both former guards/wardens and former prisoners now live and work on the Island.

A former warden (left) and former prisoner

Inside the prison, we visited the different blocks. Block A is where the new prisoners were kept. Block B was where the political prisoners were kept, like Mandela, and block C housed the prisoners who broke prison rules. Blocks D & E housed other prisoners, like the coloured and Asian prisoners (the rest of the prisoners were Black male prisoners, many political and some criminals, who were used to try to break the political prisoners. Other prisons around the country housed the white political prisoners and women prisoners).

Nelson Mandela’s former cell. He was imprisoned here for 18 years

It’s funny, being on Robben Island was much less creepy than being in Alcatraz (I think it was the fresh coats of paint), but it made me think a lot about the terrorism & rule of law course I took at LSE. Mandela was considered a terrorist 40 or 50 years ago. My maternal grandmother’s uncle was in the IRA in 1910s and 1920s Ireland. He fought for independence for his country, and would’ve been considered a terrorist, and still would’ve been considered that, had they not won. Ireland is now an independent republic with good relations with Britain, and members of that early IRA (not the one that developed in Northern Ireland) are considered heroes and freedom fighters. The same happened with Mandela and other members of the ANC and its armed wing. But Mandela actually participated in bombing campaigns. He carried out violent dissent. So why is he now considered a national hero – a man who stood up against the evil of Apartheid – all around the world, when those fighting for their rights in Palestine are continually being labelled evil terrorists? Will there be a time, 50 years from now, when they’ll also be considered freedom fighters and heroes around the world, for fighting for equality and human rights? Does using violence to achieve peace make that peace any less real, or worthwhile, or valid? I don’t have the answers to these questions…does anyone else? 🙂

The bush in the corner is where Mandela hid his manuscript of “Long Walk to Freedom”

My Aunt Margaret (who’s one of my inspirations and has taught me a lot about human rights and social justice) took me to my first political meeting when I was a year old, in 1987. It was an anti-Apartheid meeting and I’ve thought of that as technically being the starting point of my passion for social justice. Yesterday was such an amazing day to experience the history of this country that, in a way, lit a fire in me and made me question and try to understand how people can be so cruel to other human beings.

Inside one of the group bunkers

After Robben Island, I wandered a bit more around the Waterfront. It’s so beautiful – and I saw a seal!! I love seals.

Nobel Square, depicting the late Chief Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk

Today was a great day, traveling down the Cape. I saw penguins, seals, ostrich and baboons on the way! More on that tomorrow. G’night!

An awesome local band. I got them to sign their CD for me.

Wandering Around Cape Town

My first full day in Cape Town was very relaxed and fun, but also steeped in the history of Apartheid. I’m here in Cape Town with Caroline Foster, Young Adult and Network Coordinator at KAIROS: Canadian Ecumencial Justice Initiatives. We started off wandering around the V & A Waterfront and perusing some of the craft stalls.

V & A Waterfront

Then we wandered over to Greenmarket Square, which had some amazing artwork. I bought a gorgeous painting of a local village scene in Kwazulu-Natal, but haggling at these markets always seriously stresses me out!!

Caroline at Greenmarket Square

A bill was passed in the South African parliament yesterday that is quite controversial and would basically enable corruption by making certain issues “state secrets” and “matters of national security,” preventing investigative journalism. It’s been all over the papers here. The BBC also had an article on it.

A church near Greenmarket square, stating their opinion on the bill

We then explored St George Cathedral, at the top of Government Avenue.

African Madonna and Child statue at St George Cathedral

COP 17 Poster in St George Cathedram

The Cathedral also had an exhibit on Apartheid, which was very interesting. I was surprised to see a member of The United Church of Canada’s Partner Council in one of the photos on display. Farid Esack, the only Muslim member of our Partner Council, was in Toronto in September and delivered a thought-provoking and challenging lecture at Beit Zatoun, partially on the similarities between South African Apartheid and the current situation in Israel/Palestine. And now that I’m here in South Africa, seeing and experiencing the history of Apartheid, I totally understand why individuals and organizations use the term Israeli Apartheid.

Day 1 in Cape Town

Too tired to actually write so will update this tomorrow, but here’s some photos of Langa and Khayelitsha townships in Cape Town.

This very nearly made me vegetarian – sheep heads

Boys in Langa playing checkers

I love the girl going to town on the drums for a song and dance at the local kindergarten

A woman walking by solar-powered houses in Langa

A typical shack in Langa


Girls skipping rope outside “the world’s smallest hotel” in Khayelitsha, Ms. Vicky’s

Ok, so now I’m definitely vegetarian

Leaving Khayelitsha


Update: The township tour was really great, but it was also very weird. When I was on safari in Kenya and Tanzania, we visited a Masai village, and one of the girls said she felt like we were in a human zoo. And that’s kinda how I felt that day. I expected that that might be an issue when I booked it, but at the same time, I didn’t want to go to Cape Town and just see the touristy parts of the city, and not the residual effects of Apartheid.

I asked our tour guide, who was from Langa township, how the residents felt about these tours. And he said that, in the past, there were issues with these tours because people from outside the townships gave them. But now, local residents, like him, gave the tours, so the money goes back into the community and gives local residents jobs. And I get that, and that’s great, but at the same time, I feel like, if I was in their position, I would feel like some of my dignity was taken from me. Maybe that’s not a politically incorrect thing to say, but when Toronto started tour buses and they went through U of T campus, I felt a bit like, “Observe the students in their natural habitats” and that was just when people were on buses, not actually wandering through my community. So yeah, it felt weird, but I felt extremely lucky to see another side of Cape Town.

The tour took us to two townships – Langa, the oldest township in Cape Town, with 100,000 residents, and Khayelitsha, the biggest township with over 1 million inhabitants. We visited local residents in different types of accommodation (hostel living, shacks, and government housing), and visited a local pub where we tried some beer. It was very sweet – but still good, and was apparently based on Irish poutine (essentially moonshine), which was interesting because I’m Irish. I’ve never had poutine, but I think I had some form of moonshine in Rwanda. Anyway….

We also visited a local kindergarten, as you can see from the photos. The kids were SO cute and they danced and sang for us. I brought some pencils, erasers and postcards of Canadian animals for the kids, so I gave them to the teachers to share amongst the kids, which they seemed to like. I was happy with that, because I’m never really sure about giving things like that, from a justice perspective. And then I made the mistake of picking up and hugging a little girl who came up to me with her arms outstretched. 🙂 That then resulted in a mob of kids surrounding me, all wanting to be hugged and picked up, and my tour group had already left the kindergarten, so they had to wait for me. I felt bad not being able to give every single kid a bug hug, because I had to leave, but I managed to at least group hug most of them. And they were so cute – I hope I brought a tiny bit of excitement to their day.

I also got talking to one of the women on the tour who was from South Africa. I told her that I worked for the UCC, on poverty, ecology, and advocacy, and that I’d done a lot of work on human rights issues, particularly in Africa. She told me that she could tell – that she saw that I looked at the township through a different lens, and was less shocked by the things I saw, compared to other people. At first I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing – because I work in this field, I sometimes worry about getting desensitized to the issues I work on. For example, I rarely cry when I watch documentaries or movies based on real-life atrocities (I do sometimes, or at least I tear up), but the end scene of Homeward Bound always does me in. I know, pathetic. But I think she meant that comment a bit differently – that I don’t look at poverty issues with horror, but with a justice lens, and see the individual people and their lives rather than “people living in poverty.” At least I hope that’s what she meant.

And lastly, a BIG shout out to my good friend Sarah and her husband Jon, who had a baby boy, Jacob Michael, on November 21. Can’t wait to see him when I get back!! Love to the three of you! xxx