“Change is evident here, but there is still a strong presence of government corruption, violence, HIV/AIDS, and economic inequality.”
Words and Photos by Lorin Anderberg
Suddenly, I am surrounded by misty rain drizzling overhead, the smells and sounds of manual diesel engines hustling around one another, and the sight of long awaited reunions between loved ones. Yet my loved ones are across the Pacific. My 33-hour journey from San Francisco to Cape Town, South Africa, has finally come to a close.
It all feels like a long, strange dream. As I walk, I reflect on the journey – the people I met, my first traditional German beer in Frankfurt, and the palatable airplane meals – until I am brought back to reality by the sight of my name on the whiteboard of the taxi driver who is here to retrieve me. I ignore my inner thoughts and listen to the myriad languages bouncing off of the walls around me, feeling a strong sense of empowerment that this is real.
Before arriving, I did countless hours of research, planning, and bucket-listing. I slipped the fact that I had plans to study abroad in South Africa into conversation about 100 times over the last three months – but, the reality of my expedition didn’t set in until this moment. Truthfully, I don’t think it will actually set in until I’m back home in California in late December. It’s been four days now, and the fact that the next 3 months are going to be over before I know it haunts me. These first few days have been jam-packed with introductions, adventures, conversion rate calculations, and astonishment. Just like that, I’ve met over 50 people, eaten at eight restaurants, zip lined, hiked one of the new seven wonders of the world, visited a UNESCO World Heritage Site, wine-tasted, quickly toured most of the Western Cape Peninsula, and asked “Do you have Wifi?” more times than I’m proud of. It has been a whirlwind of excitement; but now I have some time to settle in and think.
My neighborhood, named “Observatory,” is a suburb filled with colorful streets hugged by uneven pavement, the ageing structures of European architecture, and the magnificent view of Table Mountain standing broad and proud in the background. I find it odd to feel extremely comfortable here. But maybe that’s because I have yet to succumb to jet lag. For now, I am enjoying the fact that I absolutely love this place.
It’s now day five and I have started at my internship with GetSmarter, an online education organization that aims to empower individuals and to change lives through accessible higher education. I will be assisting the content curation team with multimedia tasks and hope my passion for storytelling will thrive here, taking the form of an inspiration project. The adventurous atmosphere that thrives in Cape Town – along with the starkly contrasting culture and economy – have helped anchor me in trying to figure out how to make my experience here meaningful. I hope to find a way to emphasize the human connection by listening to stories of locals from different backgrounds with the intention of understanding South Africa, post-Apartheid.
Segregation has affected South Africa from as early as three years after it gained independence. Under the 1913 Land Act, native land was segregated into white-only farming zones – forcibly evacuating and banishing black Africans who had been cultivating there for generations, according to historical accounts. Segregation continued to rise and Apartheid became law in 1950 which influenced the classification of residents into 3 racial categories: “black” (African), “white,” or “colored” (Indian or Asian). The tragedy of these laws forcibly separated families, communities (3.5 million South Africans were forcibly removed from their homes) and the white-only mindset dominated the workforce and economy. In 1960, South Africa was in a state of violent disarray and protest. It wasn’t until 1990 that a commitment to end violence took place and the movement toward democracy began with the strong influence of the revolutionary, Nelson Mandela, and his encouragement to “Rise” above the past.
South Africa has vastly progressed since the end of Apartheid in 1994, a mere 21 years ago. The country’s ability to put centuries of racism behind it and advocate for change is widely known as a “social miracle”. Today, South Africa is known as the first African country to legalize same-sex marriage and continue to fight for other forms of equality.
Change is evident here, but there is still a strong presence of government corruption, violence, HIV/AIDS, and economic inequality (the townships that are just minutes away from the city and are a perfect example of the socioeconomic contrasts). Xenophobia has also been a popular international news headline and cause for concern, yet I have yet to experience discrimination. A colleague of mine even admitted that he witnessed more racism while traveling in the United States and United Kingdom than in the many years he has spent in South Africa.
In Cape Town thus far, I have been swept away by the high energy, vibrant nightlife and cultural diversity. As a foreigner, it is difficult to understand what it is like to have grown up here. Most international news only seems to tell two stories about Africa, the tragedy and the inspirational travel piece. The truth seems to be somewhere in the middle — embracing the past, accepting change, and finding a way to get by.
South Africa is a mysterious, beautiful, and cunning place by which I am left enchanted and curious. I still have much to learn and experience in order to attempt to understand this complex and magnificent country, 10,230 miles from home.
But for now, I’ll just focus on being here.
To read Lorin Anderberg’s second dispatch on her time in South Africa, click here.