The purpose of my trip to South Africa in 2009 was not a holiday in the sun but an educational visit to perhaps open our minds to a completely different way of life in a place such as Cape Town that has such deep historical connections with slavery, for example, and the apartheid.
With the help of WISE (the Wilberforce Institute of Slavery and Emancipation), an organisation which recognises that slavery and the social injustices associated with it are as real today as they were 200 years ago (particularly when William Wilberforce led the movement), five people from St Mary’s College and I recently visited Cape Town.
We visited three schools in Cape Town: St George’s Grammar School, Somerset West Methodist School and St Joseph’s. I learnt that whether a school is private or run by the government (unless in a very poor area such as a Township), those who want an education have to pay. Whether this was a factor or not, it seemed evident that even children from wealthy backgrounds appeared to appreciate their education substantially more than those in England. The two private schools we visited, St George’s and St Joseph’s, were of a much higher class than our own in Hull which I hadn’t expected at all; our welcome was warm and the system much more relaxed. At St George’s, we learnt of the school’s involvement in anti-apartheid movements and at St Joseph’s we found the students (or ‘learners’ as they are called) very keen to establish links with our school. Perhaps the most wonderful experience I have ever encountered in my life was our visit to Somerset West Primary School, which was in founded by St Barnabus Shaw from Elloughton. The WISE group, ourselves and many others took over the school for a morning which was definitely too short a time period. We held an assembly alongside the youth ambassadors of the Hull and Humber Clipper Yacht which had stopped in Cape Town as part of the round the world race, and in turn the learners welcomed us with their version of the rugby dance The Hakka, some songs sung by the school choir and most surreally, the whole school sang their National Anthem, an experience which, though serendipitous, was truly magnificent. After this, we split off into groups and taught lessons about children’s rights as well as telling the children about life in England. The learners were very inquisitive and it was astonishing how good, despite being their second language, their English was at such a young age. Overall, their spirit and enthusiasm was an inspiration and I couldn’t have wanted anything more from this experience (other than to spend more time there) – it was almost painful to leave. I think these visits were the most important to me and had the biggest impact; it is certain that as a tourist, I wouldn’t have had this amazing opportunity.
Our visit to a Township with a local guide has left me a lasting memory and I realise how important it was for me to see all the economical aspects of Cape Town. Despite being quite shocking, it was uplifting to see the community spirit that has been the result of the poverty that forms their daily lives and that, in the face of this, there was still cameraderie which was evident throughout the Township, even in the structures that had been built to replace the old shacks in an attempt to improve living standards.
Throughout the visit, I gradually became more aware of the infamous era of apartheid and having only briefly studied it at school, I found it fascinating visit the District 6 Museum and shocking to see the extent of the overwhelming extremist views in the Apartheid era. We also visited Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. We were shown round by an ex-political prisoner. This visit brought home to me the tremendous sacrifices people were prepared to make to fight an unjust system and to win freedom and equality for all.
We also visited an area called Bo Kaap, formerly known as the Malay Quarter, and were given a tour of the area by a local Muslim woman. We then were invited into the home of local family and the 30 of us squashed into a fairly small room to share a full three/four course home-cooked, traditional meal. This wonderful experience would not have been possible had any of us visited Cape Town as tourists.
I can say with certainty that the trip to South Africa has changed me and now realise the opportunities that I have. I hope our school is able to fully develop the links that we are in the process of establishing and that, on a more personal level, I am able to visit Cape Town again someday as it has had such a remarkable impact on me.
Paige Boxshall, St Mary's College