Happiness in the Townships

As I have been in South Africa I have found a constant sense of joy and hopefulness among the South Africans. This has become increasingly evident in the townships. As we headed towards the townships everyone goes silent and is looking out the window. I start to see more people walking on the side of the highway, more people packed into little taxis, lots more trash along the side of the road and stuck in the barbed wire at the top of any fence. The people stare at the bus full of white students, the kids smile, wave and even run alongside the bus for a few blocks. People have lived in the townships under terrible conditions for many years waiting for hope to shine through the clouds. Nelson Mandela wrote in his unpublished autobiographical manuscript, “[Alexandra] as one of the few areas of the country where Africans could acquire freehold property, and run their own affair free from the tyranny of municipal regulations, it was both a symbol and a challenge” (Mandela 35-36). I believe this situation in Alexandra to be similar to the other townships we have visited. This explanation of the people moving into the townships from the rural areas goes to give light to the people in the township. In Langa the tour guide was so happy that he got moved up on the list after seven years for government housing to 194 out of thousands of other people. This meant if the government built more houses in the township that could hold two hundred people he would get one. However, the unknown was if and when the government would build more houses. In Soweto the tour guide said that Soweto is so blessed to have the World Cup because the World Cup brought the play grounds to the townships. This was one of the only positive comments I had heard about the World Cup since coming to South Africa. Most people were upset that the jobs did not last, and the infrastructure only benefitted the tourists rather than the people in the townships who need it the most. Many people who have lived in the townships their entire lives and become successful will stay in the townships to provide as an example and a source of inspiration for everyone else. I believe this also attests to the happiness and sheer joy people have for themselves and everyone surrounding themselves. Nelson Mandela also wrote,“I regarded the township as a home in which I had no specific house, and Orlando, where my wife and children still live, as a place where I had a house but no home” (Mandela 36). Which shows the great strength of the people and community in the townships. Something I personally have not seen in the United States.

It is interesting to go into the townships see the happiness and joy people have just for being alive when as Americans we tend to complain about even the slightest discomfort. I have been struggling personally about the contradictions we having been living since coming to South Africa. We have visited townships with people going hungry, great unemployment and such great struggle, but then we go and eat at a nice restaurant with a budget that is more than some people’s monthly salary. It is also hard to hear others complain about eating lunch an hour and a half later than expected, or even hearing us say we are starving, when we just left people who were actually starving. On this trip I have had many personal reflections, especially about the my attitude. I have tried to stay positive the entire time in South Africa because I know people are living in terrible conditions which can not be compared to any of my personal experiences.

Going back to the United States is going to be a hard transition. The United States is very materialistic, and I personally can get caught up in things that are more superficial. Coming from such an enriching and eye opening experience straight to the United States where things are so different is not going to be easy.  I want to be able to find a community, much like the people in the townships have with each other. I also want to do more for the Burlington community when I am at Elon. Burlington seems to get forgotten amidst the Elon wealth and busy schedules of college students. This reminds me of the townships outside of Cape Town which get forgotten and ignored by the wealthy living in the city. I no longer want to make excuses, or ignore those disadvantaged populations, I want to stand up and make a difference.

The happiness along with the Ubuntu spirit “I am we” is what I want to bring back with me to the United States. People in the townships are so happy with so little, and they make the most of the little opportunity they are given. We are only as strong as our weakest player. We are the disadvantaged and the advantaged, we are the oppressed and the oppressors, we are the poor and the wealthy, we are humans and we should be treated equally.

Mandela, Nelson. Conversations with Myself. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. Print.

 

 

-Katie Trumbule

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