Category Archives: South Africa 2019

Capetown: Week 3 in South Africa

After 3 long days in the bus, including a 2.5 hour-long delay due to engine issues, we rolled into Capetown. As an exhausted and grateful bunch, we unpacked the bus, dragging our suitcases up 3 flights of stairs to our new home for the next 10 days. Many of us feel refreshed with the beach view from the back deck – a nice place to escape when we get tired of being in the same room (all 11 young women are sleeping in one room, and the 4 young men are in another). We share a common space and kitchen with other travellers and surfers from around the world.

In Capetown and with day trips to surrounding areas, we are learning about the colonial history of South Africa. Capetown is home to the first settlement of Dutch settlers. We visited places like the Castle of Good Hope and Company Gardens to get a taste of the history of the first settlers. We also visited places like Robben Island to continue learning about the Apartheid era. While driving to and from these places, we continue to observe obvious racial and economic disparities between neighboring areas based on housing, employment, and population density. For release and recreation to take a break from the heavy stories of harm, many of us participated in hiking, surfing, swimming, and napping. Below, several of us have answered a question reflecting on a meaningful experiences we had in the past week. At the end, we also included some brief responses to the 4 questions that have been guiding our group reflections. We as the Communications Team for the week wanted many people to contribute to the conversation. We hope you enjoy and learn from our reflections. Please feel free to add comments and questions to the response box.

  1. What was your experience with surfing and the beach we are living next to? (Addison)

The beach that we are currently living next to is absolutely beautiful. We have gotten to experience what life is like when you live by the ocean, and one everyday activity that many locals partake in is surfing. In my own personal experience, surfing was an incredible opportunity. For a lot of us, it was our first time surfing, and while it was a very grueling task, we all were able to stand up at least once! Many of us are definitely planning to surf again while we are here or when we get to our next destination.

  1. How have you experienced the change in food? What has been your favorite meal so far? (Olyvia)

The food here is amazing. Almost everything we have tried, we have enjoyed. The food can be spicier than what we are used to, such as the chakalaka, which is a yummy side consisting of vegetables and beans. Another food that is a staple here are pap, a corn based starch that is eaten at almost every meal. Some of my favorite foods here have been the braai (meat cookout), cake with custard, actually anything with custard and amagwena (fat cakes).

  1. What were some of your thoughts and reflections as you hiked Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point? (Aaron Z)

Cape Point was an amazing experience. If you want to truly experience the beauty and awe inspiring creation of God, visit Cape Point. Every new ridge you could see over gave you a whole new view. It felt like such a huge space, but at the same time we were at a very small point in South Africa. This really was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I wish I was able to show everyone it’s true beauty.

  1. Reflect on your experience at Boulder’s Beach. (Lukas)

Walking on to Boulder Beach reminded me of the Oregon coast but with warmer weather and penguins around each boulder. It was a great place to sit, relax, swim or explore and it provided a much needed rest after hiking for a majority of the morning. After hanging out at the beach for an hour or so, we walked on the boardwalk leading to gift stores, ice cream shops and street artist performers.

  1. Reflect on your experience at Robben Island. (JD)

We visited the infamous Robben Island. Robben Island was and still is a pivotal part of South Africa’s history. The prison housed regular criminals but mainly housed political activists who spoke against the South African Government. One prisoner by the name of Robert Sobukwe was kept in his own personal cell away from all the other prisoners because his ideology was highly feared. Robben Island was supposed to be a symbol of justice and peace but became the total opposite. My experience at Robben Island was not great. The Island brought up feelings of hate and fear. I constantly thought if I was alive at that time, I would most likely be a prisoner of this island. To me the Island still carries the same energy of hate and violence but at the same time is still building toward peace and reconciliation by offering a truthful story of what happened on the Island.

  1. Reflect on the morning Eucharist service at St. George’s Cathedral. (Maddie)

This service stood out to me in many ways. First of all, I was touched that we were welcomed even though the Cathedral was hosting a movie crew and set. We were not as warmly welcomed as we were in some of the churches from the past two weeks in Johannesburg, but nonetheless, we were thrilled to see the church through another lens. Growing up Catholic, I see a lot of similarities in the Eucharistic or Anglican service and the Catholic mass. The one thing that I adored about this service was that the priest was a colored woman. We would never see that in the Catholic church in the United States. The service was easy to follow and timely, as the other services we had attended were spirit-driven (the time of church was determined by the strength of the spirit that day). Overall, I am moved by the progression of the Anglican church and gender roles. I feel that gaining various spiritual views and experiences aids to the lens in which we see this country. These experiences also allow us to come to the understanding that no matter where we are in the world, we can all worship the same God and share the notion that he is alive!

  1. Reflect on your experience with hiking Table Mountain. (Rachel)

Hiking Table Mountain has been one of my favorite experiences so far. These past two weeks have required an immense amount of mental energy, so it was a nice change to exercise the physical body. As someone who often processes best during physical activity, it was a nice opportunity to reflect on some of the other learning experiences we have had thus far.

  1. How has your view on community struggle changed since hiking Table Mountain? (Alyssa)   Since hiking Table Mountain, community struggle has taken on a new image in my eyes. As we hiked, we encouraged, uplifted, and struggled with one another. We went up in three different groups, but all came to the realization that the hike would not have been possible without our community and sense of a mutual goal. This image has been illuminated countless times not only through the struggle of the hike, but has also taken place throughout every community we have learned about and/or experienced. Community is more than just a place; community is a people in unity as one working towards Ubuntu (“I am because we are.”Another way to say it is “A person is a person only through other people”). This concept has brought to light the fact that we are all one and that no matter the circumstances or struggles, we need each other.

  2. Compare and contrast your experience at Stellenbosch Motherchurch (Dutch Reformed) and Grace Community Church. (Holly)

Grace Community Church located in Colesberg is a passionate and lively black township church. Stellenbosch on the other hand is a Dutch Reformed in a former whites only town with European undertones. The similarity between these two churches is that they worship the same God and despite the vast differences, the spirit was able to move in both places.

On Sunday, May 19th we attended Grace Community Church. Immediately upon arrival we were greeted with smiles, hugs, and numerous welcomes. The building was one large room constructed with corrugated metal panels. The building was plain and simple but filled with loud, exuberant worship. During the service we were welcomed numerous times, danced, and were even invited to talk while Andrew was asked to give the sermon.

The next Sunday, the 26th, we attended The Dutch Reformed Church. Being a White, Stellenbosch was familiar even with the language barrier of Afrikaans. The building was conventional like what you would see in Europe. We sat in a pew, attentive to what the pastor had to say that day, sang songs with all of the same tunes that are found in the Mennonite Hymnal and yet there was still an eerie presence of discomfort. Apartheid history still looms over Stellenbosch as the theology and leaders of apartheid come out of the university and church there challenging my view of comfort.

A quote that has stuck with me throughout my time states, “We used to have the land and they had the Bibles. Now we have the Bibles and that have the land.” I find that this quote gets at the root of the differences between services.

Summary of responses from the whole group to 4 big questions that have guided our reflections:

What has been a high point?

Hiking Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, and at lighthouses

Boulder beach

Growing together as a group and being unified through experiences and desire for change and justice

Laughter and conversations around meals

Feeling alive and grateful to be in South Africa

What has been a low point/challenge?

Seeing differences in socioeconomic status in neighboring places

Experiences at Robben Island

Challenged to ask what do I do with this information when I go back to the States

Questioning comfortability

Overworking on food committee (shout out to Maddie, Lukas, and Kayla)

Being sick throughout the week

What have you learned?

Apartheid is still a reality

How we can learn about the history of our hometowns?

Realizing passions and what makes me feel angry

Hospitality is beautiful

Seeing similarities between South Africa and USA

The reality of relocation as breaking apart communities

Taking a risk to talk to people is rewarding

Do not sit comfortably in the status quo

We need to trust in God and encourage others to do the same

How have you seen God?

In the people hosting and feeding us

How we have come together as a group like a family

The Suderman kids – embodying love and joy through laughter, hugs, dancing, ukulele playing, surfing, and so much more

In the resistance groups we have learned about such as Fees Must Fall and Reclaim the City

Being challenged in our comfort

Hearing repeatedly the phrase, there is only one race, “the human race”

In the beauty of nature

-Lydia, Alyssa, and JD

South Africa: examining criminal justice

5 June, 2019

This is a short post, but it was a heavy day:

At a place in Johannesburg called Constitution Hill, we learned about the history of criminal justice through the Number Four prison and Women’s Jail. They were open during the majority of the 20th century, a reflection of apartheid, as they forcibly separated people using walls and bars. Number Four imprisoned thousands of black men, many of whom were guilty of merely political crimes. Mahatma Gandhi and Robert Sobukwe are two well-known examples of prisoners who violated race laws. The black prisoners of Number Four were brutalized and treated unequally compared to their white counterparts, being provided inadequate food, bedding, and sanitation.

Similarly, in the Women’s Jail, Black and White women were separated and treated very differently; some of the inmates were political activists, such as the famous Winnie Mandela. Learning about the history of Number Four and the Women’s Jail raises the question: who is a criminal? A criminal justice system is designed to bring justice to those who break the law. But under the laws of apartheid, the system itself was unjust.

Similar to when we visited Robben Island a week after our visit to these prisons, we felt struggle in a deep way in these locations, where it was so evident. This quote found on the site sums up how it illuminates the strength of a human in struggle and the purpose of these sites to bring attention to this: “The buildings of Robben Island bare eloquent witness to its somber history and its prison buildings symbolize the triumph of the human spirit.”

Thank you Barbara for submitting questions in response to our last post! One we chose to answer:

–    Who were the white instigators against the movement of the Blacks? Were they the Englishman or Dutch or a combination or others?

o   At the time of the Black movement, the white people had identified as their own people, the Afrikaners. The heritage of these Afrikaners was and still is mainly Dutch and a few other white ethnicities mixed in. The Boers mentioned in one of the previous posts later turned into the Afrikaners in the early to mid-1900s, then started apartheid. The Afrikaners were the group responsible for starting apartheid and running it.

Looking forward to more : )


South Africa: understanding the Boer narrative

What we’ve experienced, which has provoked much thought and emotion, are the many ways in which one history can be told. In the last blog post, we focused on the how the oppressed experienced apartheid, which, on this cross-cultural, is intentionally what we’re choosing to focus on first. In this blog post, we will elaborate on the narrative that the apartheid regime wanted to be heard. And it was, and still is in ways, heard loud and clear. Here we will go into depth of the white, Afrikaner historical perspective of apartheid.

So the day after we went to the Apartheid Museum, we went to the Voortrekker Monument, which told a narrative beginning in the early to mid 1800s. We traced a very specific picture that was being painted through the carvings of the walls of the monument; the bias was in favor of the Afrikaners and what they would consider their struggle.

Here’s what we gathered: the Dutch didn’t come intending to settle, but ended up doing so. The monument’s walls have stone carvings, which wrap around the main front room, depicting South African history from the Dutch (known as the Boer’s) lens. The story starts and ends with depictions of agreements, the first being between the Boers and the Zulu and the last being between the British and the Boer. Both agreements ended in “betrayal.” These betrayals had a galvanizing effect on forming the identity of who would become the Afrikaners.

In all of the depictions, the Boers are portrayed as victims of oppression under the native South African tribes present on the land they settled. This view of their victimization began when the Dutch were sent to run an outpost in South Africa for trade ships to stop at on their way to India. This victim view continues as they portray themselves in the monument as innocent, while the natives brutalize them. These natives were usually depicted as male, violent, and animal-like in demeanor. Almost every carved scene portrays Boer women at the center, helping the viewer to sympathize with the Boer, as noble protectors of women and children subject to this native-inflicted struggle.

A significant historical event that framed the Afrikaner history into a mythology was the Boer’s victory over the Zulu in the Battle of Blood River. This battle took place between nearly 500 Boer and 10,000-12,000 Zulu. During this battle, the local river was said to run red with blood, hence the name. This battle was so commemorative that it today is still marked as a significant part of the Afrikaner history.Furthermore, the Voortrekker was erected in 1936 just after the British had come and imposed many oppressive laws and even placed many Boers in concentration camps while attempting to colonize South Africa. This oppression is another galvanizing event in the Afrikaner past that helped shape their identity leading up to the Apartheid era. The Voortrekker is a manifestation of Afrikaner mythology, and a shrine to commemorate the “struggles” that the Boer settlers overcame.

photo credit:


South Africa: Soweto

Bumping along in our small, faulty-but-still-chugging bus driven by Baba, with mini Table Mountains lining the landscape of our three-day trip from Joburg to Capetown, we compile this blog, attempting to blend together these many thoughts from the past week. We’ve decided as a group to release this first week of learning over the course of four blog posts, focusing on the essential themes. Not only do we welcome your questions, but we ask for them. We will read them as a group, discuss, and answer as best we can; we’re excited to say we’re looking forward to starting the conversation.

This has been a week of seeing Soweto through the wrinkled eyes of its majority rather than through the tints of its flashy few. Coming from the lifestyle of privilege that is normal in the United States, it is so easy to magnetize to it in any new context we find ourselves… and globalization has made it so that we could access it anywhere in the world. It takes organizing and preparation to travel somewhere else in the world and plan a trip of honest encounter with the Other, an encounter of intentionality. I feel grateful to have leaders who know the context of South Africa well enough in this way to craft a cross cultural that illuminates the reality of the (black) majority, while intentionally juxtaposing the lifestyle of those who have convinced themselves to believe they’re above it. (system?)

The Apartheid Museum and insight provided by those who are guiding us through, including South African pals connected through the Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA), laid a foundation for understanding apartheid in South Africa (SA). This is a system strategically set in place in the early 20c to impart hate, to divide, and to confuse, so that the black majority would never have more power than the Afrikaner minority. Having at least some basis coming in to SA, a question many of us had coming in was: how similar or different is the people’s history of racial discrimination in SA to that of the US? A few gleanings learned from this past week made the answer to this question clearer:

  1. A similarity: The native makeup – there are 11 official languages and in the regions we’ve been to so far, you can usually assume a black person is either tribally Zulu, Xhosa, or Sotho. Most people speak far more languages than my mere one, which allows for translating and compromising. Our host mom said she is usually the one to compromise in a conversation – when she hears that the person’s accent is Xhosa she’ll switch from her native tongue of Zulu to Xhosa; when she hears a Sotho accent, she’ll switch to Sotho. Communities like the one in Orlando of Soweto that we stayed in are a “mixed masala” she says – all black ethnicities live on one block. In the US context, this is most similar to the Native American population with its multitude and diversity of tribes and cultures, comprising the first population to live on American soil. Similarly, Native Africans were on African soil for centuries prior to any white man stepping foot on it, sustaining thriving kingdoms and knowing the land and its resources as their own.
  2. A difference: The system of apartheid was socially engineered – “perfect racism”, says Trevor Noah. The Afrikaner of SA felt threatened by the black majority of nearly 80%. The government therefore travelled to and studied other instituted systems of racism around the world – in Australia, in the Nazi regime, and in the US and Canada. “Then they came back and published a report, and the government used that knowledge to build the most advanced system of racial oppression known to man.” Land rights became one of the main ways that apartheid was installed and established, despite the irony of true black ownership of the land (insert pic) Overall, there were over 3 thousand pages of laws written to suppress the agency and power of Black, Colored, and Indian people; a new law was created in reaction to any time a non-white person attempted to squirm free from the system.
  3. A difference: The US has never had anything like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), for the deep harm that colonialism drove into the natives it subordinated, abused, and killed. We mainly learned about the TRC through Desmond Tutu’s book No Future Without Forgivenessand Pete Meiring, a TRC commissioner who spoke with us about his reflections and experiences on the commission. In wondering how to go about moving forward as a nation post-apartheid, brainstormers who were mainly theologians discussed whether it was preferred to have this process look more like Nuremberg (the typical retributive justice way), amnesia (forgive and forget), or a third way. That third way became “granting amnesty to individuals in exchange for a full disclosure relating to the crime for which amnesty was sought” (30). Tutu emphasizes that the basis of this third way is the concept of Ubuntu, which “speaks of the very essence of being human”, saying “I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.” “A person is a person through other persons; in other words, “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours” (31).

The interconnection of black struggle, around the world, became glaringly clear throughout this week. From the Foreword of a required reading by Steve Biko entitled “I Write What I Like,” which explores his philosophy called Black Consciousness:

Biko’s Black Consciousness (in which the term “black” includes all people of color) stands on the shoulders of this history. It is grounded in the recognition of the high costs of truth. Biko wants the people, all people, to seewhat was going on in South Africa and all over the world. He wants us to see the connections between South African black townships, the black ghettoes in England, the United States, and Brazil, and the many similar communities in South Asia and the Middle East. Many of us share his insight today when we seek those whom we call ‘the blacks’ of their society, even if they may not be people of African descent.