SOUTH AFRICA 1997 – BULLETS WITH BUTTERFLY WINGS
Study abroad in South Africa
The waves and wildlife of South Africa captured my imagination and sense of adventure. I was a surfer, and so it was easy to choose South Africa for my next Study Abroad experience.
When I contacted universities in Cape Town and Durban to talk about studying in South Africa for a semester, I discovered that completing the enrollment process was nearly impossible for people who did not have South African citizenship. The universities at that time just were not set up to welcome independent overseas students looking to study abroad. It looked like I would have to blaze a new trail through this bureaucratic jungle.
School for International Training – 1997
Fortunately, at this point I heard about the School for International Training (SIT) at Cape Town, South Africa. They offered a pathway to a six-month student visa through enrollment in their program in Arts and Social Change.
SIT is a globally-respected institution, based in Vermont, USA, with a philosophy based around intercultural exchange and experiential learning. They're the result of a 1932 project called “The Experiment in International Living”, from which one participant, Sargent Shriver, would ultimately develop the Peace Corps.
"Just to travel is rather boring, but to travel with a purpose is educational and exciting." – Sargent Shriver
The SIT Cape Town program included homestay accommodation, and classes at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The day my SIT acceptance letter arrived, I packed my clothes and surfboards for the trip of a lifetime to South Africa.
I was pleased to find that UCT offered spectacular views from the top of the gently sloping city, at the foot of the city’s iconic landmark, Table Mountain.
South Africa: Multiculturalism and Human Rights
In 1997, I attended a study abroad program called South Africa: Arts and Social Change. The program is still running, currently under the name South Africa: Multiculturalism and Human Rights. The program continues to offer students opportunities to explore issues of multiculturalism from historical and contemporary perspectives, and to visit important cultural and environmental sites around the country, such as SOWETO (South West Townships) located southwest of Johannesburg.
The history of Soweto illustrates the segregationist thinking which lead to the 1948 establishment of Apartheid.
South Africa: Multiculturalism and Human Rights – SIT
During Nelson Mandela's 18-year imprisonment on Robben Island, he drafted Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela.
Visiting the prison, now a living museum, I met an ex-inmate who knew Mandela personally and told me about Mandela's commitment to education and learning, especially reading books, as exemplified by his famous remark, "We'll turn this prison into a library."
My homestay family lived in a Cape township named Surrey Estate.
The father of the family was originally from Durban, of Indian ancestry, while his wife was from Cape Town and of Malaysian ancestry, and they had two daughters in their early twenties.
The family were Muslim, and so this was a great opportunity for me to learn about Islam. I studied the history and events of Islam specific to Cape Town, focused on Cape Malay traditions and culture.
Twenty years on, I am still in contact with the family, and I still have fond memories of Mrs. Ramjan's home cooking.
Mr. and Mrs. Ramjan – Cape Malay culture
Zara and Shahana – Cultural homestay family
Studying Cape Malay culture
My first impression of Cape Town was of an Atlantic coast, multicultural city, with sandstone mountains towing over picturesque white sand beaches, reminding me of Rio de Janeiro.
Over the course of time, I discovered much more about the city, taking public transportation to school, visiting townships, and eventually living within walking distance of Glen Beach. Surfing the waves at Glen Beach connected me with Cape Town's surfing culture and from then on I felt like a local, with a tight-knit group of friends and opportunities to travel to other surfing spots.
I surfed some of the best waves in the world with the Cape Town crew, including Elands Bay, on the Atlantic Ocean coast, north of the city, and Jeffreys Bay, on the Indian Ocean coast, east of the city.
Table Mountain Cable Car
Picture-perfect Camps Bay
Surfer catching a wave at Glen Beach
Palm-fringed Camps Bay Beach
Around the Western Cape
Bartholomew Dias captained the first European vessel around the Cape of Good Hope in the name of Portugal in 1488, returning home after a skirmish with local tribes. Ten years later, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape, and was the first to reach India by that route.
Nearly a century later, Sir Francis Drake, the legendary English explorer, described the Cape of Good Hope in his ship’s log as, “the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.”
Among members of the international surfing community, the powerful waves around the Western Cape province are legendary, and I was keen to see them for myself.
Waves at Glen Beach
Penguins at Boulders Beach, Simon’s Town
Eastern Cape – Addo Elephant Park
At UCT, I had heard that Addo Elephant National Park, located in the Eastern Cape Province, was one the best places to see and photograph wild elephants in South Africa. But this wasn’t always the case. The Addo elephant was hunted to near extinction by Cape farmers, and in 1931, only eleven were still alive.
The Addo elephant is a unique sub-species of elephant, which is slightly smaller than most African varieties. Visiting the park for myself, I learned that they had been protected through the work of British Naturalist Sydney Skaife, who founded the Wildlife Protection and Conservation Society (currently the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa).
Today, the number of elephants in the park and surrounding areas is estimated to be 500.
Soweto – The South West Township
Soweto represents a group of South African townships, appropriately named for its location southwest of Johannesburg, where residents took to the streets in 1976 to protest of the government’s implementation of Afrikaans language into the school system. The residents were, and still are, mainly speakers of Nguni languages, such as isiZulu and isiXhosa, and they fought to retain their own languages as media of instruction in local schools.
I was fortunate to tour Soweto with Max Maximum Tour Company, run by a Soweto local named Max, a Xhosa man about my age with first-hand experience with the sufferings of Apartheid.
In 1976, as a young boy, Max witnessed the force of the apartheid system against unarmed children of Soweto: “They opened fire on us with live rounds and ran us down with mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles called Casspirs, ominous war toys named after the South African Police (SAP) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).”
The Casspir I saw looked like a truck straight out of a Mad Max movie, with tall military tires, armored plates, bulletproof windows, and the only entrance through a hatch on top.
Max took me to see the monument and small museum honoring Hector Pieterson, the first student killed in the riots which began on June 16, 1976. He showed me a group of white storage containers, with black and white photos on the walls illustrating the chaos and violence that had claimed somewhere between 200 and 700 lives.
I walked around, practicing what little isiXhosa I had learned at UCT, meeting people, and exploring squatter shacks as well as some newer parts of the city with electricity and improved roads. People were friendly with me, especially when I said, "Molo!" (Hello!) and "Unjani wena?" (How are you?) in isiXhosa.
My camera was a great tool to break the ice when I asked residents if I could take pictures of houses and families.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park – The first nature reserve in South Africa
One of the highlights of living, traveling, and studying in South Africa was going on safari at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal Province. Seeing Africa's legendary wildlife with my own eyes was a life-changing experience, deepening my understanding of natural history and the role that human beings play in conservation.
I have posted a few photos below, and links to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the official website for park management conservation and biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal Province. Click on a photo to enlarge or visit Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife pages for the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park camp areas.
KwaZulu-Natal – Zulu culture and Durban's beach tourism
Zulu culture – KwaZulu-Natal
Lungani, my KwaZulu-Natal guide
Nguni cattle – KwaZulu-Natal
Hotels in Durban – KwaZulu-Natal
Zulu Rickshaw – Durban
Thank you for visiting my South Africa Photo Journal Page.
–Steven A. Martin
- Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela [original prison manuscript]
- School for International Training – South Africa: Multiculturalism and Human Rights
- South African History Online – SAHO
- South African Map Presentation – PDF Slideshow
- South African National Parks – SanParks
- University of Cape Town – UCT
- Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa – WESSA