In many ways, I am realizing that although I am living in a country with deep struggles and divides through race, violence, and poverty; I am continuously sheltered from these experiences because of my privilege Last weekend, our program organized a trip to Gugulethu- a township created during apartheid that is known for its high crime and violence rate. This township that is predominantly black, has had recent spikes in abuse and violence, specifically toward women and children. We were able to spend the night in Gugulethu to understand the realities and daily experiences of life in a township. Upon arriving at Gugulethu, we were introduced to the host mothers for the overnight stay, and given a brief introduction of the community. As we walked down the streets of Gugulethu we were greeted by warm smiles of young children playing ball in the streets, and gaping as they saw people that looked so different than them. Many people of Gugulethu rarely leave the township due to crime and transportation expenses, creating significant limitations with whom the children see and interact with on a day to day basis.
We walked until we reached our host mother’s house- a bright, welcoming, yellow house, which we would call home for the night. Our host mother was a single mother, who lived in a small two-bedroom house with her son and granddaughter. She told us about the high crime in Gugulethu, and explained that rape in women and children was becoming a common occurrence in the community. Hearing the lived reality of life in the township was difficult. As a young woman it angers me that women are being taught to not leave their homes after dark, rather than men being taught not to violate and rape women. It angers me even after nearly twenty-three years of apartheid ending, the domino effect continues to oppress and divide people of South Africa. It angers me that the number of rapes in the townships has nearly doubled in the past two years, and yet the government has not yet intervened to help these impoverishd communities. Our host mother went on to explain that few people ever leave the townships, as it is nearly impossible to escape the drugs and violence in the community. Most people enter the drug community as a distraction of their reality or rather as a means of providing for their families. Regardless of reason, many people become entrenched in the community, limiting their liklihood of ever escaping the suffocatting community of drugs and violence.
Gugulethu made me understand how sheltered and altered my perceptions of poverty are. We are constantly fed messages of the American dream- a false reality by which hard work and dedication is all you need to succeed and ‘make’ it in life. However this is a far stretch from the reality of developing countries. The truth in these perceptions lies in the lived realties within the townships, a place that has undergone irreversible divide and oppression. South Africa has opened my eyes to the harsh realities of poverty and violence. It has awoken a part of me that I didn’t know existed, and this has propelled me to understand the deep complexities of the communities in South Africa. I have a deeper understanding of myself and my privilege, in relation to an environment which lacks this, and although this is insignifact in comparison to the road ahead, it is a start. The divide created by apartheid had created a ripple effect that may last many years to come, but I think the opportunity to be informed and aware of these lived realities and experiences is a step in th right direction.