I couldn’t believe it when I received the email to say that I had got the scholarship to go to South Africa! I truly applied by faith and submitted my application at the very last minute. I was so nervous during and after my interview, that I thought I messed it up and wouldn’t get it. But, to my surprise I was chosen and I am glad that I got to embark on this adventure.
Out of my friends, I would say that I am the one to take chances, try new things, and make the most out of my university experience. Trying to juggle too many things at once may have cost me last academic year, but this year I made an investment not only in my education, but in my personal development and my future. “Experiences” are priceless and impact on us mightily as individuals, and for that reason I will be eternally grateful for this opportunity.
Before I go on, I’d like to say a massive thank you to Dr. Annie Hughes for facilitating this opportunity, her support and for going above and beyond for us throughout the process. Peter Garside, for being the entertainment throughout the trip, Cecilia Cappel, who constantly challenged me to come out of my comfort zone and think critically about my place in the world and Saffrina Ahmed, who has inspired me to become a pro-active student in my student union. I would also like to thank everyone who funded this scholarship and believed in the cause. Being a previous telephone fundraiser for bursaries at Kingston and also working within the Alumni relations department I can only thank you investing in the potential of those who would otherwise not have these types of opportunities.
Day 1 – Table Mountain
We arrived in Cape Town from a 12 hour flight and went straight to Table Mountain. I couldn’t believe we were actually there! But I mean, wearing my airport attire (a thick-grey-tracksuit) in the summer heat made it feel a tab bit more surreal. The scenery was so beautiful and so breath-taking. I thought to myself that, people who live here are so lucky to have such a beautiful landscape to wake up to everyday. That type of view would give me motivation to keep going! You’d think, “there’s no way people could be unhappy living in such a place like this”. On our way there from the airport we saw beautiful homes and restaurants but right on the other side of the road were homeless people and shacks. A strange dynamic…little did I know that, that would be a reoccurring reality that I would witness throughout the trip.
Day 2 – District Six
On Sunday we visited District Six. Our tour guide was Joe Schaffers, a man who grew up in District Six in the 1960’s. He told us about the history of the area and that the government demolished the area in order for white people to build new buildings and property. People were relocated and some displaced and not fully compensated. As a result there were a lot of social issues such as poverty, depression and racial division. The people’s ways of life were affected and a lack of recreational activities also formed idleness and therefore, gang cultures and crime. As we walked along the roads, Joe told us what life was like back then and I could vividly envision what the neighbourhoods would have looked like in the 60’s. After the tour, we explored District Six Museum and its artefacts, memorabilia and photographs which were submitted by District Six’s very own residents.
Robben Island had an eerie yet peaceful energy about it. It was as if the spirits of the ex-prisoners were present but now at peace somehow. Our tour guide, Ishmael, was an ex-prisoner on Robben Island and his positivity toward life left me astounded because even whilst he told us about the horrific conditions he faced in the prison he still had a smile on his face. He told us that prisoners were stripped from their normal everyday routines, had to eat rationed food and were under surveillance at all times. I commend his forgiving nature because despite living through a tragic ordeal in those cells for many years, in his heart, he truly forgave his oppressors. That’s the type of forgiveness I aspire to have in me…
Day 4 – Tshishimani Centre
On Tuesday, we visited the Tshisimani Centre, an activist education centre that offers short courses to provide information and work in social justice, crime, security, activism, sanitation, water and low BME attainment. Paula and Dinga, the two main leaders at the centre were very active protesters in their younger years. We heard about what they do to support students in terms of expression that are fighting for reduced fees and a more equal curriculum. We debated whether the ‘rainbow nation’ was an illusion, factors that contribute to the low BME attainment amongst poorer black people and educational attainment both in the UK and South Africa. We found that the perception on the rate and amount of social change in South Africa since the end of apartheid differs greatly between the older and younger generation. They also gave us more background and historical information about how people were identified during the apartheid which helped me to understand that it was deeper than just black and white people, but also those that were identified by whites as ‘coloured people’, such as Indians and Cape Malayans were also discriminated against too. Overall, I think it was an important conversation because we got told the history of the apartheid from those that were living during that time. It was empowering to see that people are still willing to educate themselves on their rights and stand up to oppression that they face today.
University of Cape Town
Going to visit the University of Cape Town was an amazing experience! I was blown away by the beauty of the campus and couldn’t stop taking pictures of the grand buildings. We toured the campus and took the opportunity to buy some books and souvenirs. Looking around the walls, I saw a board with quotes and images from students inspired by the Rhodes must fall protest in 2015 who were unapologetic in their expression and anger towards the predominantly “white curriculum” that were being taught.
We also met with two young brave and beautiful black women, Shola and Mmone who told us first hand about the realities of being a back student at UCT. They explained to us that poorer (mainly black) students had a tough time finding accommodation near campus because white students from Cape Town who could afford filled up all the rooms, whilst some of the poorer students have commute up to three hours. They continued to tell us about their struggles, not being heard and all the inequalities they faced only in their first year of uni.
It seemed as if it was obstacle after obstacle for these students. But gladly, they have a close-knit union and share their experiences with students who face similar issues that they do. Their union is intolerate of xenophobia, homophobia, racism and sexism and makes sure it’s a safe space where everyone is clued up about each others experiences. It struck me that these girls had no ill feelings or contempt towards their white counterparts because they understood and accepted that society has been socialised to believe ‘black is bad’. Black people included. They explained to us that on the surface (and also the general perception of South Africa to non-South Africans) is that racial equality now exists because apartheid was made illegal in the 1990’s. But, the discrimination, hate and injustice is still prevalent overtly and covertly. It still remains deep rooted in society. From my observations I could see that this was true – black people did all the labour work and a majority of the homeless people we saw were black.
It got me thinking that we back in the UK need to stop being complacent. Despite living in London, known as a multicultural city, there are still many inequalities and prejudices that ethnic minorities face. When I realised that these students literally fought for their right to an education and lower university fees, thats when things shifted. It also made me think that maybe we need the ‘Trump’s’ to wake us all up from this bubble and actually fight for what we believe in and not let people who do not have an interest in wanting to improve the quality of life for all people to take up positions of power. Although we are young, we will be the next generation of politicians and MP’s so we need to stand up for justice, NOW.
As I reflected on what the young women said on our way back to our hostel I realised that I have been taking my education for granted. I complained in first year about getting up early for lectures when it only took five minutes to arrive to uni on the uni bus. Going on this trip, I knew I would meet with people who have gone through hardships. I could relate when one of the girls said that black students don’t feel confident in themselves or their abilities because they are faced with so many obstacles and stereotypes from the beginning sometimes leading to a large dropout rate among black students. It made me desire to have the same hunger to understand their knowledge of their roots and resilience because, they fought for all they deserved. At times, I times I haven’t had the boldness to express myself and call out what’s wrong. I felt like I should never take my education for granted because I can give other students confidence in themselves by being transparent about my experiences. I can definitely say, university makes you “woke” and makes you realise what you do have and what you don’t have. I almost shed tears listening to the girls speak. This experience has planted the seed and I think this will change me as a person. I want to graduate knowing that I worked hard for my degree and put my all into obtaining it. Earlier, I made the statement that most people that live in Cape Town surely can’t be depressed but the young women I spoke to proved me wrong from the stories they shared about students they knew who had committed suicide because of their experiences at university.
Day 5 – Village Heights
Visiting Village Heights was very emotional for me. As soon as we arrived and stepped off the coach, I wanted to hop right back on it again. I was scared. I sensed danger and I knew this wasn’t a place where I wanted to be. The area was littered with trash and the dogs roamed the streets barking at us, the unwelcomed guests and the locals stared at us like a bunch of foreigners. However, when we got to one of the homes, the locals were so welcoming. They cooked us an amazing meal and the work that they were doing was outstanding. I was warmed up by their positivity, one ladies entrepreneurialism and desire to keep their community safe and young men off the streets. I had a great time playing with the kids and even bought a knitted tortoise key chain. It felt great to help out and donate some of the shoes we had all collected, right their on their doorstep and see the gratitude and happiness on their faces.
On the same day, we visited Green Point Park, just near the Olympic stadium. I was impressed to see that the owners and keepers of the park emphasis on sustainability and opened it up to locals for leisure purposes. Although, it cost about three to four thousand rand to maintain a month, they use water from the mountains to water the garden and do their best to limit waste and increase biodiversity.
Day 6 – Century City
Century City is a beautiful area, no doubt. Grand malls, beautiful houses, amazing scenery. It’s a small town within the town. To some, it may be their dream environment and by the facts and figures the property developer told us, it’s a very desirable and sought for area to live in. The developers saw an opportunity to build on old marshlands and they did just that! I loved that there was a significant effort gone into building an eco-friendly town and Intaka Island (a bio-diverse and ‘green’ Island). It seemed too good to be true! To an extent, it really was because although this beautiful complex was built for its residents and they enjoy a nice and convenient life, it was quite a disturbing thought that they don’t see much of what happens outside of Century City. I believe that the disparities between the rich and the poor is causing a greater divide between different groups. I found the juxtaposition between this idyllic town and the shacks that people built on the highway a mile away ironic.
Day 8/9 – The Breede Centre Mcgregor
We arrived at the Breede Centre, which trains local children and adults and allows them to build practical skills to build themselves a better life. In groups we took it in turns to paint the building, create candles, do some wood work, play with the children and cook for them. I really enjoyed working together with everyone to decorate the centre and get stuck in with the activities.
On the second day at the Brede centre, Pieter Holloway, the founder gave us an inspirational talk about why he started up the centre. He wanted to give young children and adults the skills they need to be independent and start their own businesses. He also gave us a tour of the centre, showing us the kitchen where cooking classes are taught, the computer room, t-shirt printing room and also the wood works workshop. I’m glad we had the opportunity to help the children, give back and be part of such an amazing job Pieter is doing, along with the workers in inspiring a new generation.
I enjoyed staying at the Onverwacht cottages much more than I thought I would. We lived minimal. We ate meals at the table. We were made to spend quality time with one another which is something you don’t always get to do in London because of our busy lifestyles. But I realised you can always make time to do what needs to be done. It’s just a matter of priorities and how much importance you place on certain things.
Day 10 – Final Day – The beach and going back to London
On the last day we did a lot of touristy things like go to the beach, see the penguins, taste some good ice cream and visit markets. I was so sad to leave and we all said that we could have easily lived in South Africa for another week! I truly enjoyed my time in Cape Town.
My time in Cape Town was an experience I’ll never forget. It was a truly humbling and eye opening experience. A lot of the time I would just find myself quietly absorbing my surroundings getting to and being so blessed to experience this. I learnt so much in the short time that I’d like to share with you and will be taking back with me.
- Get to know my roots and find our more about my culture.
- Have confidence in my abilities.
- Overcome the limiting and self-sabotaging beliefs that young, black women like me “do not get these type of opportunities” or “cannot succeed in academia”.
- Don’t be too concerned about peoples opinions of me. What matters is how I see myself and the opinions of those that truly love me.
- Use my knowledge and experiences to invest in others.
- Learn to humble myself and be grateful for what I have.
- Be an encouraging person.
- Speak up when something is wrong. Take a stand for what you believe in.
- Don’t believe everything you hear or what you see at first glance. Question people and what they do. In terms of my education, I’ve learned to no longer be passive and now take an active approach in my learning. I now speak more in class and an glad I have the opportunity to study and learn and change my community, impact minds, change lives and ultimately the world.
- Appreciate and be grateful for what seems basic here, because it’s a commodity in a place like South Africa. Before I think about wasting food, remember those who don’t have any, preserving energy and water because these resources are finite.
- If these people can live on 200-300 rand a month I can live well but comfortably too and within my means.
- Understand not everyone thinks like me.
- Appreciate family more and spend time with them because life is short. There were people I met who didn’t have much money but had so much joy which proved to me that money isn’t the sole source of happiness, nor will it solve all your problems.
- “First world problems” are minuscule compared to what I’ve seen in South Africa because it’s a real life struggle to survive. It made me realise everyone has their hardships but the way you deal with it ultimately matters.
- The trip also made me more determined to be me unapologetically. Dream big and express myself authentically in all aspects.
For those wondering why scholarships like this exists or why universities should continue to fund projects like this is because you’re investing in an individual that could possibly change the world. How would greats be greats without mentors, without investment and experiences. Academia is one of, but not the only way to stimulate thinking. Seeing the real life world is and how we can make a change does because it has long lasting effects. Investing in those who wouldn’t normally get an opportunity to travel is a great investment because the gap of inequality is gradually being closed. It’s showing these people that they are capable, it gives them confidence in themselves and shows them that they can achieve better. We all deserve the opportunity to grow and make a greater impact than the last generation.
Update: We were also able to raise $10, 000 to offer 10 scholarships to 10 BME Kingston University Students. Find our more about Kingston2CapeTown here.
Watch the highlights from my time in Cape Town below: