Tag Archives: South Africa

The story behind the picture

education-is-everything

In the late 60s, early 70s Walter Mischel, a Stanford psychologist and researcher, conducted the famous marshmallow tests with children.  These experiments sought to understand children’s abilities to delay gratification [Click here for Wikipedia article].  The resulting articles that came out of the experiments claimed that children who could delay gratification would be more successful in life because they could delay gratification and understand long-term gratification or reward over short-term gains of a smaller reward. Mischel followed up with these pre-school students and found that the ones who delayed gratification fared better in life. Hence, this study has been taken up by people who want to fight against a lack of willpower, temptation and promote the latest psudo-psychology craze grit [click here for TED talk on Grit](Urist, 2014).

The study even noticed how poor children weren’t able to delay gratification whereas the more well-off children could wait the 20 minutes and receive the additional marshmallows. This section of the study also helped promote some of our most harmful tropes or “poverty myths” about poor people, its their fault. If the poor parents, like poor children, could overcome their need for instant gratification and delay then they could “lift themselves up out of poverty”.  These myths, like stereotypes are not harmful because they are untrue, but because they only tell a single story or a partial truth.

It is true that the children in the study did not delay gratification and wait 20 minutes to eat the marshmallow in front of them in order to get the additional marshmallows promised to them by the researchers.  The researchers can prove that is exactly what happened. But is it simply a lack of willpower? This wasn’t the only test that showed these results.

“Time and again, poor children have performed significantly worse than their more fortunate counterparts. A 2011 study that looked at low-income children in Chicago noted how poor children struggled to delay gratification. A 2002 study, which examined the physical and psychological stresses that accompany poverty, did too. And so have many others.” (Ferdman, 2016)

The above quote came from a piece on The Wonk Blog which is run by The Washington Post called “The big problem with one of the most popular assumptions about the poor“. This piece examined studies that took children’s heart-rate and other bio-metrics into account as they made decisions about whether or not to take a treat now or wait for a promised increase in the treat later.  The study found that children seemed to be making calculated decisions and not acting impulsively. In 2012, researchers at The University of Rochester decided to do a new marshmallow test study. This time the groups were put in reliable and unreliable situations.  The reliable group was able to delay gratification and the unreliable group took what was available now because the researchers had proven themselves unreliable.

“The new marshmallow experiment doesn’t discount the old one—willpower still does breed long-term success, as far as we know. But it suggests that when children are in an environment where they trust in a clear long-term gain, they are more likely to pursue it.” (Severns, 2012)

Which brings me back to the picture. I snapped the picture at a store called I was shot in joburg in the Maboneng precinct in Johannesburg.  You can read about the current program on their website, but the website doesn’t give you the full story.  I got the prologue on a tour during the study abroad trip I led over winter break.

As with any good story, there needs to an exigency for the protagonist to act. In this case it was a DUI the founder received while in the Western Cape. When he went before the judge he asked if he could do the community service back in his hometown of Johannesburg instead of Cape Town.  He said he would like to serve the community using his talents as a photographer.  The judge agreed to this request and he went back to Johannesburg to teach children in a poor neighborhood photography.  He showed up to the school and thought he would be greeted with open arms by grateful children who would flock to this white savior. (This part was told to us by the tour guide with a smile on her face because now he knows how ridiculous his original assumptions were.) However, when he got to the school to teach the children photography they had no interest.

Why?

For a couple of reasons, but mainly because they didn’t trust him that he would deliver on what he said he would.  So, the effort took time. First, he played soccer with the kids and, eventually, won them over.  Then he brought them disposable cameras so they could take pictures in their neighborhood.  He spent time with them week after week. Then it was his last week of community service and he told the kids, “Bye!” They said, “Okay! See you next week!”

There wasn’t supposed to be a “next week”. His community service was over. These kids though had opened up to him and trusted him. He realized that he was not going to be another in a long succession of people who let them down.  This is where the story on the website picks up [click here to read more].

Now, the company is building an avenue of trust, work, and long-term opportunity for success. If Bernard had only done his community service and not come back to the students after it was no longer required by the courts then he would have re-emphasized the pattern of mistrust and instability for the kids. This helps build the calculation in people to weigh what they’ve been told, what they’ve experienced, and what they need to make a calculation for what’s best for them in each moment.  Hopefully, what we can learn from these newer marshmallow test studies is that people whose lives are different from our own have lived experiences that are valid and they make decisions based on their own calculus with a valid logic.

 

 

 

 


Wordless Wednesday: Maboneng Part II


Emotional Scramble

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A short-term study abroad program offers many benefits for students and instructor alike, however the experience can be quite emotional for all involved. There’s quite a few articles written about what to expect as you enter a culture often referred to as the “stages of homesickness” but should more accurately be called the types of homesickness (just like the “stages of grief” bs should be re-named but that’s for another day!). Even if students are not feeling homesick they are still feeling a wealth of emotions that are complicated and often contradictory.  This is especially true when the topic and place is difficult.

I would not imagine that students going to London to study public relations would have the same difficult emotional journey that student going to South Africa to study social movements may face.  Yesterday was a difficult day for my students because we did a township tour in Khayelitsha. While students had spent the day in Soweto they hadn’t done a walking tour and the parts of Soweto we were in were quite wealthy compared to Khayelitsha. Honestly, I was surprised again by the townships and expected to find more areas of entrepreneurship.

The tour experience for the students was a high level of discomfort because they didn’t feel appropriate going into people’s houses on a Sunday afternoon without warning.  A couple of the students who were in the front of the group saw the woman heading the tour pay people to let us into their homes. We went into a barber shop and the men made appropriate comments to my female students. My students felt on display as much as the people in the townships were on display.  One of the girls was asked if someone could take their picture with her and she was uncomfortable because she was unsure what he was going to do when he posed for the picture.

At one point on the tour one of the men in a house we were visiting said that the girls looked scared. He compared the students to visitors from other countries who’ve visited the township and, evidently, are very flamboyant while they’re visiting the township. The girls weren’t at all scared but they felt like people’s private lives weren’t for touring. People don’t drive through our neighborhoods, want to come into our homes, and randomly take pictures.

Also, I felt like our tour guide wasn’t as passionate or considerate as her mother may have been if she’d been the one to take us on our tour.  The mother was the one who started the tour business and bed and breakfast about 15 years ago.  She briefly spoke to us before we went to church and she told us about studying in the United States in the 1990s.  She wanted to come back and help women start businesses. She wanted to be the one who would train them in entrepreneurship and help facilitate their start-ups. But when she came back to South Africa she wasn’t able to get loans from the banks to start that type of business. So, she started her B&B.  She was very proud of her house, which they’d expanded to a quite large home with a garage. She now works with a lot of universities from the US and hosts students in her home as they volunteer with NGOs in South Africa.  She really seemed to care deeply about the townships and giving people an experience. I didn’t get the same feeling from her daughter as she gave the tour. There seemed to be a class divide between her and the people whose homes she was asking to come in.

My students had a lot to say about the day too! Here’s links to a couple of  their blogs:

If you have thoughts about touring townships please leave your comments or feedback below! Do you think that tourists should go into these spots? Why or why not?

 

 


South African Hippo

The hippo is Africa’s most dangerous mammal.  When I first learned this it went against everything I’d learned about hippos and seen from the docile animals in captivity.  Hippos are dangerous because they are highly territorial and do not want humans in their water territory.  As you can see from this video, they move a lot faster than you’d first imagine [click here for video]. It makes sense that South Africans would rename the Casspir, a hippo.

These vehicles were used by the South African police force to maintain their military hold over non-white South Africans during the Apartheid regime.  The casspirs were built are mine resistant vehicles and holds a total of 12 people (two crew members and 10 officers in the back) with remote operated gun turrets. As Trevor Noah writes in Born a Crime, the townships were military occupied zones build to control the population.

Now this machine that represents control, oppression, and death has been beaded in traditional Zulu style beads by artist Ralph Ziman. The Zulu culture uses beads to communicate, tell stories, and pass on their cultural heritage [click here to learn more]. This piece called “Afrika Four Seven” is on display in front of the South African National Gallery. This hippo is covered with 50 million glass beads that were all hand-threaded and then affixed to the vehicle.  The level of detail is absolutely stunning as you walk around the piece and see that every inch that could be beaded was.

There’s a public art piece in Maboneng that this reminded me of a bit.  Its a portrait of one of the early colonizers of South Africa.  He’s painted very traditionally, in period clothes/hair, but if you look below the collar you can see that current South Africa is about to consume him.  Our guide told us that “he was now being colonized by South Africa.” I think the same thing is happening to the hippo here.  The traditional Zulu bead work has consumed this vehicle and reclaimed it for South Africa by black South African culture.


Travel isn’t magic

“Not all those who wander are lost”-J.R.R. Tolkien

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I’m not sure if you can read a study abroad blog without, at some point coming across that quote.  However, not all those who travel are seek to have their minds broadened. Sometimes travel is just about a nice trip.  I’ve had profoundly moving experiences domestically as well as when I’ve traveled internationally. I’ve also encountered people

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

almost seemed to be determined not to change despite of the evidence around them. I’ve met a lady who in some ways confounds me and in others ways I feel like I’ve known her my whole life. She’s been living in South Africa for 8 years and came on two mission trips to the country before moving here. She lives in the house where we are staying in Cape Town and encounters/works with people from all over the world.  However, when she talks about current political issues in South Africa she does not sound all that different from how the majority of white people in America talk about #BlackLivesMatter. She is one degree removed from saying “those people” but the phrase feels embedded in her thoughts, the language she knows better than to say.

When she started talking about the current university protests from last year and simply how wrong the students were, everyone in my little group (me included) just let her talk. It was only our second day at the house and we had five more to go.  South Africans are quite open about controversial topics, but Americans are not and this was an American speaking. The Dutch couple eating with us did not have the same social constraints because they were leaving later that same day. So, when the American woman stated how wrong the students were for their demands of free higher education because “no one in the world gets that”, they quickly challenged her on the facts of the matter by stating the countries in Europe that do, indeed, get free bachelors education. I wondered if she was accepting the new information or if she was re-calclulating why the students were still wrong even given the new information.

Yesterday afternoon I brought her up to our guide that’s been with us since day one. But in that delicate way you have to do when you are not sure how the other person feels about the situation.  He responded in the same delicate way but letting me know that he did not agree with her. Once I saw an opening then I stated flatly how I was a bit shocked that someone could live here for eight years and coming here for two more years before that and still not know very much about South Africa. He said that they “just let her talk because she knows everything already.” Honestly, it seems as though she has moved from one small bubble in the United States to another small bubble in South Africa.


Wordless Wednesday: Maboneng Edition


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.

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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. 


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.

 

 


Erin A. Frost

Technical Communication. Rhetoric. Feminisms. Composition.

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