Regina Mundi Church

img_2895When one museum is closed God opens the doors to another. I know that’s not exactly how the adage goes but it seems fitting for how we ended up at Regina Mundi Church.   We were supposed to go to the Hector Pieterson museum but it was closed. The sign said for an emergency…I’m half suspicious that it was just closed for the last of the holiday. Either way, when the guide saw that the museum was closed he thought of the church and I’m so glad he did.

We were able to rush to the church and get a tour before it closed at 5.


Our guide for the church has been giving these tours for a long time and he was perfect for our small group. He was soft-spoken but funny (grandpa joke funny). While Robben Island is called the “university” of the struggle Regina Mundi church is the “parliament” of the struggle.

Life pre-democracy did not simply mean segregation and all that goes along with that, but because life was basically outlawed for any non-white in South Africa it was a police state, even before the official “state of emergency” was declared in the 1980s.  Since the ANC (along with other political parties) was a banned organization then people found creative spaces to meet (i.e. churches).  However, the police caught on (tipped off) and became aggressive towards parishioners.  After the uprising by the high school students on June 16, 1976 the people of Soweto gathered to mourn those who were killed by police and rally for the cause that they would not die in vein.

As people were inside the police gathered outside.  People began coming out of the church confronting the police (with words and their fists raised) and the police responded with violence.  They began arresting students (people who seemed about the age of the high school students that had organized the original protest) present. Don’t misunderstand. These were not orderly arrests. Rather police were violently grabbing people by whatever part of their body they could get a hold of. Police were also using dogs, wood billy clubs, and rubber billy clubs on the protesters. The rubber ones were especially viscous because of how long the instrument was and how it would conform to the body it was being used on. The video of this is incredibly difficult to watch. One of the parents told the news crew that was there, as Soweto’s children were being driven away in the back of a police truck, “How will they ever know justice when they are being treated like this?” As I watched the video I wondered how many of those children never came home again because dying in police custody was common practice.

As we toured the church we saw bullet holes still visible in the ceiling from where the police fired into the church. We were shown two window by our tour guide which showed where bullets were fired from both inside and outside of the church.  His argument was that police were inside of the church firing on the people.  But nothing prepared me for standing in the front of the church and seeing the marble cracked and broken from the panicked people trying to escape the bullets. Imagine the crush of people it took to break marble? Standing in that space I could feel waves of emotions rushing towards us and running through us as we stood there.

On the way back to the hotel I mentioned that not fixing the church seemed like an act of defiance. Our guide quipped that they didn’t fix the church so they could make money from tours. I responded that they weren’t making money from tour groups in 1980 or 1986. Rather it reminded me of Jackie Kennedy’s famous quote after her husband, President Kennedy, was assassinated. In the plane she was still wearing the suit she’d been wearing in the motorcade as it was attacked. The pink suit had the President’s blood spattered all over it. Someone asked her if she wanted to change her clothes and she responded, “Let them see what they’ve done.” As we stood in the church with bullet holes in the ceiling and marble that had been crushed by people trying to escape the police, I imagine people from the “parliament” discussing if the church should be repaired or not and people saying “Let people see what they have done!”

We were here and we bore witness.



Meet South Africa

Meet South Africa and discover yourself.

After yesterday, I think my students feel like they are finally meeting South Africa.  Yesterday, we spent the day in Soweto and really saw the city. This was the first time I felt like I had an appreciation for the true span and scope of Soweto.  I’ve had the typical experience in the past of first the Apartheid Museum, then driving to Mandela’s house, taking a tour, and seeing the street performers who make a living from the tourist coming through. Then next it was Hector Pieterson Square.  But this time we took time to spend the day there.   The difference is like an appetizer sampler at a restaurant or sitting for a full meal.

First, I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time at the Apartheid Museum and so we blocked off 3 hours.  Our guide said that we could block off three hours and at the end of the three hours we would still want to come back another day.  I think some students definitely came away with that feeling. There’s an interview with Winnie Mandela that always amazes me. She’s asked by the interviewer if South Africa will ever have one man one vote and without a single hesitation she replied, “Yes.” Interviewer, “Who will be the first black president of South Africa?” Winnie Mandela, “Nelson Mandela.” Period. I believer this interview took place in the 1970s, when Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned on Robben Island. There were no signs then of the Apartheid government falling or letting Mandela out of prison. Her resolute response floors me.

Second, we went to lunch in Soweto at a lady’s house who does this as a business. On the itinerary it was simply labeled “lunch with locals”.  However, it was timed perfectly because I think we all needed this lunch after an intense and emotional morning at the museum.  When you’re in a museum space sometimes you only come away with the heaviness of the past. The oppressor can still reach through the exhibit and grab a hold of you and drag you back.  However, the South Africans that we meet lived through those experiences and are here, now, and looking forward.  The food was expertly prepared. The mamas were so warm and welcoming. After we finished eating we sat in the circle where we asked each other questions (the visitors and the hosts). It was an interesting dialogue. Like everyone else I’ve encountered they wanted to know about Trump…we all felt a little closer with both country’s political situation feeling disconnected from the people in the cities. By the time we left I didn’t realize we’d been there for several hours, but  I think we would have been happy to stay for several more!

The mamas talked openly to use about their experience with the xenophobic riots.  One of them had a migrant worker renting from her in 2014 when violence broke out. She said that she protected the man by telling the guys that they just were not going to harm him, period. This echos what I’d heard from Mama Aziba, when I stayed in the township in Cape Town. It was also interesting to hear how the women are all practicing Christians (some in church some not) but they all also honor/talk to their ancestors.  One lady said, “Why would I forget them? Without my ancestors I would not be here.” True for all of us. I’d asked them if they were Christian and still practiced their cultural traditions.  All of them said some degree of both. If they’d asked me I would not be able to answer the same way because my people assimilated too well.

Once the conversation reached a natural lull the mamas said that they were going to give us Zulu names.  I felt and still feel deeply uncomfortable with this. I talked to our guide about it, but communication was not clear between all the groups and it happened.  I haven’t completely sorted through the many reasons why I find this deeply problematic, but I know I will marinate on this, talk through my thoughts aloud with some friends, and write more about it later.

No matter what, when you leave South Africa you’ll be a different person than when you arrived. 

Seeing black people enjoying South Africa’s beaches still isn’t a normal sight. It should be.

South Africa enjoys 2,500 kilometers (nearly 1,600 miles) of coastline, from the desert that rolls into the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the lush green dunes along the Indian Ocean in the east. But these beaches are also political spaces. Every New Year’s Day, it is tradition for tens of thousands of people make…

via Seeing black people enjoying South Africa’s beaches still isn’t a normal sight. It should be — Quartz

The Ripple Effect

“ I come here this evening because of my deep interest and affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, then taken over by the British, and at last independent; a land in which the native inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain a problem to this day; a land which defined itself on a hostile frontier; a land which has tamed rich natural resources through the energetic application of modern technology; a land which was once the importer of slaves, and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that former bondage. I refer, of course, to the United States of America. ” -Robert F. Kennedy, Day of Affirmation speech, June 6, 1966.

This is the begging of the “Ripple of Hope” speech given by Sen. Kennedy gave at University of Cape Town just over 50 years ago.

The most famous quote from the speech came about 3/4 of the way through the speech:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

When I visited the Voortrekkers monument it seemed as though we were coming face to face with the representation of the “mightiest walls of oppression” that represented the Apartheid government. Our guide for the site was great. He went into great detail about the design and construction of the monument, even including the careful rhetorical argument that the architect needed to make to the Calvinistic government since he included elements of North African religions into the monuments design.  As we went inside he carefully went through the detailed history that each panel represented. img_2838

He took care to tell us which pieces were not historically accurate and he paid great tribute to the Afrikaner women for their strength and perseverance throughout the “great trek”. However, I kept thinking of the chevrons at the top of the monument and on the marble tile on the floor inside.  Our guide told us that these represented a ripple or wave going out from the monument into all of South Africa.  It seems to be the most understated and most prolific part of the entire monument. Annie Coombes argues in History After Apartheid: Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa that

the Voortrekker Monument has a significance of all South Africans.” She continues, “Historically, then, the Voortrekker Monument is of critical significance for the foundational myths of Afrikaner nationalism-in particular the idea of the Trek as the moment of emergence of the Afrikaner as the founding ethnic group of a new nation, ‘the white tribe’, and the ‘divine right’ of the Trekkers to the land. These myths are embodied through the structure of the monument itself- first through the seductive resolution provided by the narrative of encounter and conquest represented by the interior freze, and second through the fact that the edifice houses what amounts to a cenotaph on its lower level, replete with ‘eternal flame’, to the memory of Trekkers killed en route.

The monument is almost perfect in its support of the Great Trek and Afrikaner myth as the chosen people for South Africa. The monument is a contested space and I agree with Coombes that the monument is significant to all South Africans but not for the same reasons.  I would argue that the majority of South Africans would see the monument as a direct representation of “the mightiest walls of oppression” Kennedy spoke about at the Day of Affirmation.


Nando’s Does it againt

side-cockerel_0Nando’s created another political advertisement posted to YouTube on 17 August 2016.  A slick :30 ad that sums up politics in South Africa, at the national level for 2016.  To view the ad click here

The advert shows three actors who represent the leaders of the three major political parties in South Africa-President Jacob Zuma of the ANC, Mmusi Maimane leader of the DA, and Julius Melema leader of the EFF

The ad is titled “Wing-Wing situation” and shows the three leaders spinning a bottle of peri-peri sauce and playing “truth or dare”. Zuma gets the first play and chooses “truth”. The Maimane character then asks, “Mr. President, are you really going to payback the money?” To that “Zuma” replies, “Dare. I meant dare.” Then you here an imitation of Zuma’s famous laugh.  The announcer voice over announces the deal and shows the awesome new Nando’s chicken.   The camera comes back to the table and “Zuma” reaches for a a wing, but suddenly gets his hand smacked away. The camera pans up slightly to reveal a female, which is supposed to represent South African public protector Thuli Madonsela who says, “I think you’ve had enough.”

While this ad is less subversive than The Last Dictator Standing  or #Diversity but more along the lines of Minister Ministers or Minister Gravy Train. Nando’s is known for its cheeky ads. Furthermore, Nando’s South Africa seamlessly uses their position to provide political satire in a country that is still getting comfortable with political satire and comedy more broadly. Nando’s continues to compel conversations through their advertising.



Family Dinner

Tonight at the Backpackers you could sign up for family dinner (R100). They served a meal of starters, main, and dessert (no pictures of that because it was gone too fast). One thing I love about staying at a backpackers is that even if you’re traveling alone you never have to eat alone! There are always people around and new friends to make. 

ATL->JNB in Three Acts


One of the best parts of traveling is meeting other travelers, people on the move either for business, fun, or both.  On the tram in ATL I met a Delta pilot who was on his way home to celebrate the New Year with his family.  He had family that had traveled from all over to meet up at his house and he was headed home after a Seattle->Detroit->Atlanta flight. I told him that I was headed to South Africa and what I teach. Then he told me about reading his children Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu.  The book is about the power of words and the power of forgiveness.  He said that his little ones are fascinated by the idea that what they say can change the world.  I tossed out the idea that we have to be careful because the power can go both ways, for good and for ill, referencing the article The Rhetoric of Power that my students read. Then he mentioned King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and how he was completely blown away the first time he read it in college.  I completely agreed with him that its an absolutely brilliant piece of writing.  Then he told me that the “fix sheet” pilots have for Atlanta has been written in such a way to include “I have a dream” within their “fixes”.  He said that the one for Orlando includes Disney references.  The technical communicator in me perked up because I’m not sure if this is only a Delta thing or if these sheets are created by the FAA?  I’m guessing that these sheets change a bit for each city to keep the pilots focused because even though much of what they do is routine and they still need to be focused as to not skip parts of their routine. But I couldn’t find anymore information with the cursory search I did online.

I read an article stating that people cry more on planes and couple this with the phenomena of people confessing their secrets to strangers and I always have interesting travel experiences.  I met two people on the flight from ATL to JNB because I usually have a hard time sleeping and so I’m up and about for parts of the flight. Cause, its a serious haul. Both of the people I met were traveling back home to South Africa after visiting new grandchildren in the US. The gentleman told me about moving to South Africa from England 13 years ago after retiring from “the motor trade” (he’d owned a Land Rover Dealership). He said he left because computerized pricing had taken the human skill out of the job, which was what he’d enjoyed most.  When he and his family moved to SA they got their permanent residency through a “broker” which he fully believes now probably wasn’t really legal. He bought a property north of Pretoria and it sounded like he has what we may call a “hobby farm” in the states.  He spent these past 13 years developing the property and he’s loved his experience. He’s not sure what the next few years are going to bring because his one daughter and family are in the US, he and his wife are getting older, and the property takes constant maintenance. Also, he said that he’s concerned about South Africa because the institutions are not functioning as they should, police and politicians are seen as equally corrupt and inept. But what country is living up to is promise right now? He comes from England and me from America-I’m not willing to pick up the first stone, that’s for sure!

The other passenger I met was coming back home after being in the U.S. to help her daughter with her second baby (nine years younger than her first grandchild). She said she had a marvelous time, but doesn’t know how often she’ll be able to come back because her other daughter in South Africa is severely disabled and can’t travel internationally.  She wasn’t able to make the trip to America for several years because of her own health. She’d had a great trip but was anxious to get back to her daughter in South Africa.  She’s in a home where she can receive the care she needs 24/7. However, while she was in America she’d received word that one of the aides had been abusively rough with her daughter and she wanted to get home and take care of things.

Each conversation ended like an act from a small play…we encountered some small turbulence, the seat belt sign was turned on, and we had to return to our seats.



I leave this afternoon for a unique trip and I’m SO excited!

I’ll get to Joburg just in time to check into my accommodations, freshen up, and get dressed for New Year’s Eve. For the first few nights in Johannesburg im staying in my hometown neighborhood of Maboneng at Curiocity Backpackers. Hopefully this will give me a chance to get over my jet lag, get a bit adjusted, and do some reading before Tuesday.

Tuesday is when the study abroad program starts. I’ll check into our hotel that morning, get settled for the week, and meet our guide for tea before heading to the airport and collecting the students. We have a jam-packed 14-day program in Johannesburg and Cape Town (don’t worry there will be plenty of posts!).

Once the study abroad program is complete I’m taking a long weekend in Zanzibar before heading back this side for spring semester. There will be much to write about over the next month…stay tuned!

South Africa’s bestselling books are mostly about South Africa’s political dysfunction — Quartz

If South Africa’s non-fiction bestseller list is an indication of the zeitgeist, the country has had an anxious year. The nation’s bookstands reflect a country trying to make sense of a tumultuous political environment, high crime statistics, and an unreliable power grid. Apocalyptic titles like How Long Will South Africa Survive?: The looming crisis and…

via South Africa’s bestselling books are mostly about South Africa’s political dysfunction — Quartz

Orientation (What do you wish you’d been told?)

Today the Mason Study Abroad office hosts an orientation for all of the Winter and Spring Break programs. They’ll go over general safety and insurance, culture shock and mental health while abroad, and behavioral expectations while abroad. After the general orientation I’ll meet with my students, as a group. This will be the last time I see them as a group until January 3rd when we pick them up from the O. R. Tambo airport. 

This morning I’m still trying to figure out the balance between what I should tell them and what I should let them discover on their own on the trip. I’m wondering what other people who’ve studied abroad which they’d known before their trip?

For the Love of Jozi.

I walk the streets camera in hand, to discover my city.

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Erin A. Frost

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My Experience Studying Abroad in South Africa

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Fly High, Fly Far: Maya's South African Experience

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