Memoirs of Life in South Africa

English 162: Literature and Place (A Queens College Study Abroad Course)

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Blog #13

January 29th, 2012 by mikestrianese · Uncategorized

Blog 12: Write about something you learned in Cape Town. Suggestion: Use images or video.

On January 4, 2012 I went to the District Six Museum in Cape Town.  I was surprised by its size, my initial conception had a much larger building in mind.  One of the first things I noticed was that many exhibits were unglassed and unprotected, something you would never see at a museum in America.  I went to the Museum of Modern Arts in Manhattan a few weeks ago and was reprimanded for standing too close to an exhibit behind ten panes of alarm protected glass.  At the District Six Museum I could have filled my pockets with trinkets and walked out unnoticed.  I guess there’s a level of trust and respect in the African culture that isn’t there in American culture; in America everyone feels as if everyone else is out to get them.  Are they? Is it truly different in Africa? I doubt it.  The world is a giant mirror and people see in others what they project outward themselves.

Noor Ebrahim, the author of Noor’s Story: My Life in District Six gave my class and me a brief tour.  Holding up a picture of Michelle Obama and himself, Noor told us about the many well-known people he has given tours to in the past.  Besides the first lady they mostly consisted of famous Hollywood actors/actresses.  Most of the people surrounding Noor smiled and seemed pretty impressed, but I found myself wondering, “So what?”  It was not that I wasn’t proud of Noor’s accomplishment, or whatever one may deem it, but did it mean any more that he was giving a tour to them than me? Than the others in my class? It was then that Noor get my teeth to reveal themselves, and upon doing so we made eye contact, his teeth exposed slightly as well.  Noor said, “Please don’t feel as if I’m denouncing these people’s statuses but in my eyes there is no such thing as a VIP.  We are all God’s children and we are all equal.”  I feel as if Noor knew what he was evoking within me- he wore a hat similar to that of a snake charmer and I was certainly his serpent.  It’s hard to describe this man to someone who has not been in the same room as him, he truly emits an aura that is simultaneously loving, accepting, welcoming, warm, tender, and beautiful.

 (I did not take this picture)

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Blog #12

January 29th, 2012 by mikestrianese · Uncategorized

The post ( — sorry, the hyperlink won’t work) I chose deals with a theft charge against Ms. Mayet and  Phil Timkhulu, founding members of the Union of Black Journalists, or UBJ.  Mayet and Timkhulu were charged with having stolen money from the state liquidator when the UBJ and other organizations were banned on October 19, 1977.  Mayet and Timkhulu were arrested Monday, December 19th of that year.  Questioning their safety and feeling as if something bad could happen to them, Mayet and Timkhulu withdrew the funds.  The UBJ “had a printing press, an electric typewriter, very possibly a type-setting contraption, a filing cabinet or two and various oddments of the usual office furniture” that went missing and were not possessed by the state liquidator.  Mayet would like the TRC to look into their whereabouts in hope to award their value to a new library that was opening in Soweto at the time.


ADV POTGIETER: Thank you Hugh. I don’t know, we’ll probably have to look into it but this must be a record. I mean at least the re-born UBJ came into being in ’75. It seems to have been formed somewhere around ’73. But the time that it was really becoming active and the time that you became involved, that was in ’75.

MS MAYET: That’s correct yes.

ADV POTGIETER: And then it was banned in ’77. I mean within two years. It might be a record. I mean we’lllook into that. And I suppose what you’re saying is that the fact that it was a black organisation has attracted the attention of the authorities and that’s when you were on this collision course. No matter what you did, I mean you say that basically you were striving to advance the interests of your members, I mean you’re not a political organisation as such.


ADV POTGIETER: So I mean it seems by definition, just the fact that you were a black organisation that that sort of resulted in this sort of instant banning.

MS MAYET: Ja, that’s correct. 







MR LEWIN: Juby, if I could just ask one question about the relationship between journalists and politics, because we heard yesterday a great deal, we had a great deal of discussion about this. I’ve got two questions actually but the first is in relation to that. The experience of UBJ members seems from your testimony and also from history to have been one of total confrontation with the then government, so that people like Joe Thlolwe, like Zwelake Sisulu, like yourself spent a large amount of time in detention. Do you thing that was inevitable at that stage?

MS MAYET: Ja, I guess I would say that. I don’t think the system liked us very much at all. I don’t think they liked the way we wrote about what was happening, so whether we were politically inclined in whichever way at all or not, this was going to happen. I personally was not a political person. The problem here is that in this country, if you were black, you were political whether you liked it or not because politics bound up your whole life. Politics was where you lived, where you worked, who you slept with, what bus you took, you know, the whole thing. So whether or not you were a political person, which I was not, I still became a political person, but I was a journalist first and foremost and I think I can safely say that of most of my colleagues at that time.

MS MKHIZE: As one of the senior journalists, if I may ask you, how do you think unions should restructure or position themselves today …(intervention)

MR NUTTALL: Proprietors, proprietors bodies are you talking about now?


MR NUTTALL: Yes. The Newspaper Press Union at this present time I gather is holding a congress at the Victoria Falls and I gather that on the agenda is a proposal for transformation of the NPU which is being put forward by one of its members. I will be interested to see the outcome of that, because the NPU still exists to some extent, it’s still made up of the sort of profiles that I’ve painted from across the spectrum. It seems to me that it’s absolutely essential that a body like the NPU in fact should transform itself into being able to speak and represent and act for a much wider range of media diversity as I have indicated than it has done up till now. I think the era of looking after its own members and its own newspapers is well past, and that it should now be addressing in fact the wider needs of communication and interaction with communities. The small publications that I was able to sponsor in recent years through a development trust that I worked for are crying out for training, for support, for equipment. The Independent Media Trust, which I have served on for the last five years, has done what it can but it has lacked resources to do it. The NPU has resources. And I believe in fact it should be transforming itself to be able to encourage media diversity, to ensure that the smaller voices that are emerging all over the country are given a chance to move towards some degree of viability and not to live or die according to the whims of those who subsidise them. So that for me would be the major area of transformation that a body like the Newspaper Press Union should be considering.


“[Mayet and Timkhulu] appeared in court on the 21st of December, got bail of R500 and were remanded. When the case finally came to court on Tuesday 25 April 1978 [they] were both acquitted.”





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Blog 12-Baboon Problem

January 28th, 2012 by Talisa Feliciano · Uncategorized

One of the most recent things I have learned in Cape Town is the problem between humans and baboons.  I never knew that baboon raids were a problem in Cape Town.  For some reason I had assumed that baboons, like birds, dogs, rats, and cats may be some nuisance to humans but that humans learned to live somewhat harmoniously with them.  As the other students explained the specifics of the situation to me, I realized that particular communities of humans have problems with baboons, not all.  Still it baffles me how baboons are constructed as a major “problem” especially when there are many solutions.  I compared what I learned with my brief but informative meeting with baboons on the side of the road when we went on the tour of Cape Point and Boulder’s Beach.  The video below does not show ravenous baboons attacking babies and ripping through the defenseless homes of humans in search of food.  Rather they seem calm, if not shy, as the cars that pass by.  For most of the video they lounge carefree, grooming each other, breastfeeding, or playing.  Although the video is of one isolated instance, it seems that humans are a major cause of the creation of the baboon “problem.”

Baboons on the Road

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Blog 11-TRC Testimony

January 28th, 2012 by Talisa Feliciano · Uncategorized

The testimony I chose is by Joyce Marubini from the “Women’s Hearings” section.  Joyce Marubini was arrested along with 5 other women.  All of those arrested were part of a youth organization that

Marubini referred to as the “youth league.”  At the time of the arrest Joyce Marubini was the youth organizer of this particular meeting.  The police barged into the church where the meeting was held and shooted at people.  According to Marubini the meeting had not yet started when “they [the police] just started shooting and when I looked around I saw people going out through windows.”

The six women who were arrested were brought to jail.  They were denied water, food, and the use of toilets.  During the night the police assaulted the women with sjamboks “up to the time that our panties were torn and our undergarments were exposed.”  After the night was over the women were sent to court in bloody and torn clothing and were not charged with anything.  They saw a doctor who “found that we were assaulted grievously.”  It seems that they also consulted with a lawyer concerning their treatment at the hands of the police.  After their case was thrown out however, the lawyer did not proceed to file a case with the police and they were denied further treatment from the doctor.

A lot of the basic issues with translation that are discussed in There Was This Goat are apparent in my own reading of this testimony.  For example there are two instances in which the term “to see Mandela” comes up in the testimony.  The first is after the doctor examined them and they were told “if we want to see Mandela, we’re going to see Mandela on that particular day.”  The second is when Joyce Marubini explained why the police beat them:


Ms Seroke: Did you ever ask [the police] as to why you were undressed [during the assault]?


Ms Marubini: Yes, they said they wanted to show us as to where Mandela is and they would tell us as to where he stays and which area he stays, because Mandela is Xhosa.


“Seeing Mandela” and being shown Mandela seem to mean to very specific and different things.  In the transcribed version they seem similar and it is hard to guess as to whether the examining doctor meant this in a negative or positive light.  This situation with word use reminded me of the cultural background and context that the “goat” imagery was explained in the book.  I think my confusion is a similar problem in which I do not understand what is meant by “seeing.”

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Blog 10- The use of humor

January 28th, 2012 by Talisa Feliciano · Uncategorized

Humorous subjects are often those that people feel uncomfortable talking about.  Topics can often include politics, social tensions, and racial tensions among other things.  Successful humor depends on the context.  If a comedian is speaking about an unfavorable politician, for example, it is important that the audiences/viewers understand the political situation.  In this way humor is often a successful and lasting form of political protest.  It is successful because at certain times political protest may not be an open option available to everyone in society.  However, once something is comical the ideas may spread more.  They tend to stick in the minds of the audience more.  Unlike politics, humor is far more available to people who do not have the means to openly say to a listening public that something is unjust.  Humor is an extremely accessible means to protest because it presents itself in many forms.  Humor is not just the domain of comedians.  Anyone can use it from the form of jokes, to comic strip writers, to sitcoms, to plays, to books, to movies, to youtube.  The access of technology to more and more people has allowed more and more people to express themselves in a humorous way.

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Erin & Stephanie Dancing at Moyo

January 25th, 2012 by Jason Tougaw · Uncategorized

Dancing at Moyo

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A way of life

January 25th, 2012 by Merzela · Uncategorized

Blog 8: Choose a life story you’ve encountered during your time in Cape Town and reflect on it through the lens of Eakin’s essay “Rules of the Game.”

Raquel and I decided to have breakfast at a café on the main road. The others had gone shark cave diving or to the beach to surf. We weren’t feeling adventurous that day. We entered the café and was greeted by a soft-spoken, dark skinned woman with braids. We sat outside and reviewed the menu. A young black man came over and took our drink orders. Soon after the same woman that seated us, came to take our orders. She said, “Where are you from guys?” and we answered “New York”. She smiled and asked us how long we were here for. When we told her we were leaving the upcoming Wednesday she replied, “I should have met you guys sooner. What are your names?” We told her and she told us her name was Winnie. She continued to ask us if we had facebook and suggested we become facebook friends. We agreed.
Then I asked her if she has always lived in Cape Town and how did she like it. She answered, “I’m from Zimbabwe and I’ve been living in Cape Town for seven years”. She sighed and continued, “It’s not a matter of liking it, it’s just a way of life.” There was no excitement in her voice as she forced a smile. Raquel and I replied “oh.” There didn’t seem to be an appropriate response. She continued to explain that she was there to work. Her answer gave me a glimpse of Cape Town that a tourist may not see. I trusted what she said was true and continued to linger on what she said.

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Blog 12: What I’ve learned

January 25th, 2012 by stephaniejeanbaptiste · Uncategorized

One of the main things I learned in Cape Town is to not assume. Of course it is something I’ve always tried to learn how not to do, but somehow it seemed to have sinked in while being here. I learned how not to assume that the townships would be crawling with dirt and beggars and broken glasses. As I was surprised to see, the townships were very clean, something that didn’t fit into the pre-conceptions I had of a township. Before coming to South Africa, I had assumed that all people who lived in South Africa or in all of Africa for that matter, were white. But there was never in my head even the concept of White south-African citizen. Before coming here, I was not expecting to find this highly westernized land. I know it is wrong of me to say that I was expecting a much less technologically advanced spectacle, but once again, there is no association in my mind between Africa and wealth. I suppose these were all conceptions created by the media, and all of it was wrong. So now, I am left with the must frustrating fact of all, and that is that “ All I know is that I know nothing”. I suppose it will make it easier for me to take in the world for what it truly is instead of what I assume it is to be.

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Blog 11: TRC… What good is it in the end?

January 25th, 2012 by stephaniejeanbaptiste · Uncategorized

The piece I chose from the TRC website was in the Women’s hearing section was the Case of Kedeboni Dube. This testimony is the story of a woman who had been falsely accused of stealing from bodies and was then raped and contaminated with syphilis. She then describes the hassles of living with the disease and how difficult it was for her to relate the event to her family and boyfriend. How her neighbors curse at her. Her story shows that although the attack happened a while ago, she still living in fear and in pain. Indeed, her rapist still roams freely and his in her immediate surroundings as they are, she says, related.

This testimony was highly controversial to me… The very beginning makes no sense whatsoever in the South African context; indeed the chairperson said:

“ I will request you to stand up and take an oath and raise up your right hand”

I do not know much about Xhosa or Zulu but I am rather unsure if this very gesture has any value whatsoever to the speaker, who does not share the western culture highly predominant in this court. It is true that the point is to “show” that she was indeed telling the truth, but it was however clearly exactly that a “show”, there is no guarantee the truth will or has been told. I do however believe that the story that I read was factual, I just believe that there was not respect of cultures by asking someone to tell the truth based on a purely western or European belief.

What was the most difficult for me was that after she has shared her story, she was not guaranteed justice:

“after a rape, there are certain examinations that must happen so that one can actually identify whether in fact the person you say raped you , is in fact the same person that you identified. (…) So whilst we will try to investigate this matter, it is going to be quite difficult, because it will be in a sense your word against him.”

The whole format of this discussion is very interesting. You have along paragraph in which the chairman is saying what the TRC has been trying to do with women, says it’s going to be difficult to help her, then goes back to her sickness and advises her to take treatment. To which she simply answers “yes” then there is another long paragraph and then the chairman says “Thank you very much for talking to us today” to which she anwers “yes”. Her opinion in the matter of getting justice or not was completely dismissed and she simply wasn’t asked how exactly that made her feel.

This passage reminds me of what made me so uncomfortable about the TRC. What exactly can the TRC guarantee? Now that the truth has been told, will justice be served? It doesn’t seem to be so in this testimony and that in turn is highly upsetting.

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Blog 10: Humor (Option 2)

January 25th, 2012 by stephaniejeanbaptiste · Uncategorized

What makes something funny? I believe it is the unexpected, the vulgar, the unspoken obvious truth and if one is talented, the controversial that make something funny. Now honestly, I believe that humor is probably the safest way to counter injustice. Because of humor, the words you say, or the truth you say will not be taken for true, they will be interpreted as meant for entertainment and not philosophical awareness. That is why the speaker must be talented in order to hide his or her intentions; because the intentions are what make the difference between an entertainer and a let’s say a revolutionary for example. Often, it is difficult to talk about serious matters without creating an ambiance of uneasiness, which is where humor comes in and smoothes out the process. It is the same I believe for responding to suffering. Talking about things in a “funny” way might help alleviate the ways in which you feel about certain things and see the funny aspect of a bad situation. Of course I don’t believe this is true for every situation, but I do believe a little humor can do a lot in this world.

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