These are student projects from their January 2019 experience
Elizabeth (Bizzy) Vinton
As I reflect on my time in South Africa and in this class, I have thought a lot about my original motivations for going on the trip. I discovered through this trip just how important it is to travel and see a place in person. I learned so much from the experience, and I loved seeing the readings I did in class come to life. This is why, for the first part of my project and video, I reflect specifically on my experience in South Africa and what I learned through the different experiences I had. This part of the video is also important to me because I will be able to share the video with my family and break down some of the misconceptions they have surrounding South Africa and Africa in general.
For the first part of the video, I tried to focus on experiences that were the most impactful for me. One element of the video that was important to me was carefully displaying the income disparity that is present in South Africa. In the U.S., I think what we see on TV and read in the news, allows people to form misconceptions about Africa and poverty in Africa. People have this image that Africa is one big desert with poor and starving people. These misconceptions are harmful both because they are wildly inaccurate and fail to recognize that Africa is a diverse continent with many different cultural groups. This is why, alongside the image of the shacks near the airport, I also talk about having the opportunity to go and meet people in the townships through Mzansi and Amazink. I want my viewers that there are individual people behind those shacks they drive by on their way to the airport.
There were some instances on the trip where I felt uncomfortable, but I still thought it was important to have those experiences on the trip and include them in the video. The Voortrekker Monument was one of those places. Through the images and video I chose, I wanted to convey to the viewer just how biased the representations of the Dutch and the Zulu people are. The tour guide’s own description of the battle makes the Zulu people sound confused and incapable. Then, in other parts of the monument the Zulu people are portrayed as savage or uncivilized. I included a rather graphic scene of a Dutch baby about to be smashed against a carriage to demonstrate this representation. Although the images may be shocking, I think they are necessary to convey the representation of both groups.
For the second part of the video, I explore the nonprofit sector history and future challenges in South Africa. One of the main reasons I wanted to take this class is because I am interested in working for a nonprofit in the future, and there are many NGOs that are based in South Africa or have programs there. Throughout this class and the trip were several points where I wondered if an nonprofit could come in and work to solve a particular issue. After watching the video about the San Bushmen and how their land continues to be taken from them, I wondered if a nonprofit could come in and offer legal support. As we drove through Soweto, I can remember our tour guide mentioning the Kilptown Youth Program, and wondered what that program did. These observations in class and on the trip also motivated me to include nonprofits in my final project. After researching this topic after the trip, I found it really interesting that the government of South Africa is not supportive of NGOs. After learning this, I realized that this is probably a large part of the reason many philanthropic efforts in South Africa are funded by foreign entities. I also found that there are not a large number of nonprofits in South Africa dedicated to cultural preservation. I think this in part due to the fact that donors might have a stereotypical view of South Africa, and would be more likely to donate to causes that work to alleviate hunger or poverty in South Africa.
This is the video I took inside of the Apartheid museum. It is hard to perfectly capture on film, but when you sit in that room you can see protests gone violent on three giant projectors with graphic images of bombings and brutality. Up close you can see politicians describing the legislative struggles with passing fair and just laws on multiple small TVs. Booming down from above are radio news reports. There is so much sound and noise you can barely hear yourself think. And lastly, on the wall towards the exit are the South African Bill of Rights. When I was in the space, I was overwhelmed with emotion. As an outsider I can look at this media one by one and then leave when it becomes too much. However, for someone whom this is their lived experience, you cannot clock out of your own life. Everyday is a confusing, hectic, battlefield.
History is a collection of stories, and I chose to tell the stories from the perspectives in Iziko Slave Museum, District 6, Robben Island, Langa Township, Kayamandi Township, Bo Kaap, Soweto, and the Apartheid Musuem. Every person and every community has a different story. Throughout our visit to South Africa, a common theme that I recognized was the strength of community. For example, I vividly remember our tour guide telling us “in other parts of the world, different religions fight, but in Bo Kaap, the different religions came together.” Even the sweet woman who taught us to cook said that even though “she was a Muslim forced to go to Church, she didn’t hate Christians.” Although Apartheid was built on division, people found ways to unite through common viewpoints and music, like District 6, Langa Township, and Soweto.
Michael Jean: A Musical Piece
On The Title of My Musical Composition
The title of my musical piece is “Resistance and Restoration”. These are two themes that have lingered in my mind since the end of the PGS trip a week ago. While I have experienced both terms prior to this course, they hold a certain weight when used to explain the political history of South Africa. The first term, resistance, does not only refer to opposition or refusal to accept something the way it is. When a system such as apartheid influences every aspect of life—one’s home, school, community, education, dignity—resistance does not posit itself as a choice, but as a necessity. While resistance manifests in the work of activists—protests, meetings, organizing— it must take several other forms as well. Resistance took shape in the everyday lives of marginalized people of color during apartheid, who maintained a level of pride and love of oneself against a system that deprives a people of their humanity. Resistance also takes shape in the music that one creates. After the Group Areas Act, which segregated communities and specifically relocated black communities to outside suburbs called townships, the musicians that relocated to these townships formed a new genre of jazz music that would come to be known as township music. This music was not only played to cope with the pain and trauma of the injustices brought about during the apartheid era; it was also an affirmation of community and humanity. Mixing influences from American jazz music as well as Zulu and Malawian music, the genre went against the ideas of segregation and anti-mixing that the apartheid government stood for. I aimed to explore this idea of resistance in my short musical piece. The other term, restoration, could be viewed as the opposite of retribution. Restoration involves an acknowledgment of trauma as well as upholding a process of healing. In the case of apartheid, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was one example of a restorative process, though it can be argued how successful the commission turned out to be. Restoration also involves undoing centuries of erasure. One particular exhibit at the Slave Lodge museum involved rediscovering the histories of slaves from over hundreds of years ago, and some of these slaves don’t even have names that were recorded. In my musical piece, I particularly wanted to focus on the feelings of forwardness and hopefulness that should come from a restorative process.
On the Composition of the Musical Piece
The instrumentation of my musical piece follows that of a marimba band—two marimbas, one marimba bass, a shaker, and a djembe drum. This instrumentation is similar to the setup of the marimba band at the Mzansi Restaurant in the township near Cape Town. As I aimed for the song to sound like it could be played at one of those restaurants in the township, the form and structure of the songs imitates that of the songs we listened to that night; it utilizes a basic, repetitive chord progression; cross-rhythms and polyrhythmic textures; it also introduces variations on a simple theme (in a performance there would likely be an improvisation section where players would trade off in sections). The melody of the song I arranged was written by famous South African jazz singer Miriam Makeba, from her song titled “Nongqongqo” (To Those We Love). The lyrics are sung in Xhosa, and the song honors those who have been imprisoned fighting during the apartheid system. This melody is meant to invoke the theme of resistance, and the sacrifices that arise when one resists. The feel of the piece is nevertheless that of hope and restoration. I noticed that much of the music we heard in South Africa was lively and hopeful, even those that dealt with the darker themes of apartheid and political injustice. I aimed to reflect the prevalence of hope and jubilance against darkness and injustice in my musical piece.