A Visitor’s Perspective of Race in South Africa
Before I visited Cape Town in February, I harbored several common misconceptions about race in South Africa. I knew a couple people who had grown up there and later moved to the United States, and they were all White English-speakers who were relatively well educated. I figured that the majority of South Africans were White as well, as I knew it had a history of being controlled by European countries. In fact, I told one of my friends that it would be just like visiting England. However, upon arriving in Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, I noticed that the majority of people around me were Black, so, of course, I took out my phone and googled the ratio of races in South Africa. I was very surprised to see that only about 9% of South Africans were White. This was the beginning of my changing perception of race in South Africa and in general. Throughout the trip, I learned much more about South Africa’s history. It went through Apartheid, which was a racist system of government which enforced segregation of not only White and Black people, but also Black and Colored people. In South Africa, the term “Colored” is not offensive. It simply means that a person is of mixed race. Whites were considered to be the most superior, followed by Colored people and then Black people. One of my tour guides explained the unfair ways that government differentiated between races, one of which was how easily a pencil could stay in a person’s hair. The Government also separated where people lived, forcing Black and Colored people out of their homes and into specific areas called Townships. While America ended legal racism and segregation many decades ago, it was only ended In South Africa by Nelson Mandela in 1994. The fact that this change is so new makes current race relations in South Africa different than in America, as there is still tension and very different living conditions of between the races. For example, almost all of the Black and Colored people still live in the Townships that they were forced into during Apartheid, some of which are more developed than others. Visiting a highly undeveloped Township called Langa is what truly helped me to understand the culture in South Africa. The homes were built by the people, and looked to someone who was used to living in nice home in Guilford, as large boxes made from various materials. Our guide, a young man who lived in the Township, showed us into his house, where he, his siblings, and his mother all slept in one bed. However, he seemed to be a relatively accepting and happy person, as he acknowledged that we probably thought he did not have much, but for him it was just the way that it was. Everybody in the Township seemed to know everyone else, as they had a very tight-knit community, and most people were excited to see tourists, as we bring business and awareness to their situation. We stopped in many buildings, all of which resembled the same unstable structures, including homes, a daycare where the children greeted us with a song, and a healer, who used traditional medicine to help the townspeople whether it be to cure a disease or find a wife. The Township visit overall was shocking to me, as I realized that the majority of the Black and Colored people I had seen working in downtown Cape Town lived and slept in one at night. In fact, the entire vacation was ultimately very eye-opening, as while South Africa has come a long way, it still needs significant change in order to reach total racial equality.