Happy 4th of July! At a lecture today, a professor noted “Democracy means access to basic services.”. Thinking about the creation of our democratic nation and celebrating declaring its’ independence from the British, it is exciting, yet, difficult to visit a country with a democracy so new.
This was my first visit to a township. I think the fact that is the most visually apparent, and also the most challenging to think about, are all of the walls and fences enclosing the communities and towering light posts to keep watch of the community. These townships came about with the introduction of legalized apartheid with the Group Areas Act which forced the removal of all non-whites from the city center to outside communities based on “race”.
I was fortunate to tour the townships around the Port Elizabeth area with our guide who took us to three stops. The first was the Red Location Museum located in the Red Location township. This area has seemingly become the community meeting area for the townships. The museum effectively tells the disturbing story of apartheid and brave stories of local freedom fighters.
Afterwards, we drove to the Ubunye Art and Craft Centre which sold local artisans works. It was tucked away in a informal neighborhood which provided a better sense of living conditions of the “previously disadvantaged communities” as they are now called.
We circled back to the Red Location lodge for a meal cooked by a group of women who have purchased a former beer hall and converted it into a community and lodging center. We feasted on a traditional meal of sheep’s head, beef and corn stew, rice, beans, carrots and bread. My first (and last) tasting of sheep’s head was short-lived as I carved the meat out of it’s cheek and saw how gelatinous is is. I did it though.
The highlight of the evening though was hearing from three women about their life experiences living, fighting, and surviving through apartheid. As each woman spoke her truth and related the beatings and family separations endured because of race, I couldn’t help but to think about those that came before me in my home country that lived many similar experiences all in the name of freedom and democracy for ALL.
So here I am about to go to a 4th of July “braai” and eat my obligatory grilled (ostrich) meat and share a cold beer or two. However, I will continue to wonder when true freedom and democracy will truly be realized for all races and socio-economic levels in the US and, now, South Africa.