Today we visited with Professor Suellen Shay, Dean of the Centre for Higher Education Development at the University of Cape Town. She shared with us specific information about the nation's (and UCT's) work to improve access to higher education. She estimated that only 16 percent of the university age cohort in South Africa are actually in institutions of higher education and that the drop out rate is 30%. Bachelor's degrees are three year degrees but UCT is moving some students towards a four year degree program. When one of our students asked why so many students do not finish, Dr. Shay said that she believed it was mostly due to financial and academic difficulties but that some of them do not finish because they experience a sense of disorientation on campus--they do not feel as if they belong. Dr. Shay also said that their higher education system is largely not articulated. This means that if a student takes classes at another institution, those credits do not transfer to another institution. The student would have to start over.She recognized that Eastern Cape schools (where Emafini is located) are largely under-resourced. They now have a set of minimum standards for schools, but it may take 15 years to reach those basic standards (i.e. that every school has running water and enough functioning bathrooms). She also made an important note that explained part of our experience at Emafini. She said that quite often in the township schools, students and teachers left early to catch their transports. So, if a school is supposed to close at 3:00, students might leave at 1:30 to catch the transport and get home before dark.
When we arrived at Robben Island, we did the tour, half of which was on the bus pictured above. As I watched the tour buses rolling around the island, I thought back to Dr. Shay's comment regarding transport. Transportation symbolizes the old and the new South Africa. Because Black South Africans were relocated to specific lands, they often lived in an area separate from their place of employment. To get to and from work, they had to carry an official pass. Official passes were difficult to obtain, but they came to symbolize one's total identity under apartheid. Because the movement of Black South Africans was so regulated, transportation/movement represents a certain freedom. Today, Black South Africans still struggle with transportation. On the side of the bus pictured above, it says "Driven by freedom." So even though Robben Island was a place of imprisonment for Mandela and others, it also represents, what our tour guide referred to as "the triumph of the human spirit."
I titled this post Rolihlahla--Madiba--46664 so that we do not forget all of who Mandela was. He was not just his prisoner number. He was "Rolihlahla" (pulling the branch of a tree or troublemaker) and he was Madiba (his clan name). Just as he is the symbol of the anti-apartheid movement, so is he just one of many. We heard about Stephen Biko who founded the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa and Walter Sisulu, a member of the ANC (and others). Robben Island is incredibly desolate. This was my third visit and I am still left with a feeling of the loss that it represents. But at the same time, I was struck by how the prison became an educational exchange so much so that our guide says the mantra was "Each one, teach one." The island is also home to two Christian churches, a reminder that religion was ever-present, both liberating and oppressive.
As South Africa continues to struggle with undoing the legacy of apartheid, it is clear that political and economic transformation must be considered simultaneously. The nation is particularly struggling with what have been labeled affirmative action policies. We have watched a short video clip entitled "Are poor white South Africans being left behind" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFj0HdW2iDs) and another number of video clips that discuss the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the role of youth in the new South Africa, and leadership in education. Each of these sources touches on the incredibly diverse South African experience. I heard at least six different languages being spoken today and many of the teachers at Emafini speak at least four languages. When South Africans refer to themselves as the rainbow nation, they are quite serious. They are a country marked and connected by their differences.
Nelson Mandela Foundation (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/names