January 8: Live Without Fear

Today we did the Roving Bantu tour in Brixton, Johannesburg and then did an inner city tour of Johannesburg and Newtown including the graffiti art.

The Roving Bantu tour I can say was one of the best activities I have done on this trip and a lot of that had to with our guide, Sifiso. Sifiso was unapologetic about the current state of South Africa and gave us insightful tips on how to stay clear of bias and become great people. In my experience, I would say his visionary rhetoric is best compared to the late American rapper Tupac Shakur. Something about this man that was insanely unique was that he could turn anything he said into a form of inspiration and lit a flame within myself to go out a rise above the “bullshit.”

What I found most striking about Sifiso was his personal story. As a young child, Sifiso went to study in Swaziland the avoid the oppressive Bantu education in South Africa at the time. In his early adulthood, he traveled to Toronto, and later to New York in the United States. Sifiso said he always had anger towards other people because of the divisive nature of his home in South Africa. It wasn’t until he encountered a man named Jimmy that everything changed. When he first met Jimmy it was close to the 1994 election in South Africa. Jimmy was a nazi and had a swastika on his sleeve. Jimmy was quick to blurt out his opinions on how African groups were ruining the country and other similar rhetoric. I don’t quite remember what led up to this point, but Jimmy had a bottle of Bacardi and decided to share it with Sifiso. What was absolutely incredible is what came next. By the end of the night, Jimmy and Sifiso were seemingly best friends, shouting “were voting for Mandela, fuck De Klerk” on the city streets. Sifiso said it was that day in which his anger towards whites and other groups different from him changed.

Sifiso did not hide from us what Brixton was really like, as he took us to what he called the “hood.” On the streets there was trash everywhere, and people digging through it for valuables. One man pissed in public by a monument. We went by a “white monument” which commemorated historically oppressive names such as the surname “Delarey.” This monument was destroyed and many people threw trash at the monument. Sifiso claimed that only a few years ago there was no trash in the area.

Sifiso also took us to the grave yard which was also racially divided. The first spot he took us to was the European grave site. They had a much nicer space for their gravestones because they could afford it. Sifiso then took us to the Canadian gravestones and the Chinese grave stones. What was sad was that most of these gravestones were for young people aged 17-26 who died in the war for gold in Johannesburg from 1899-1902. This was disturbing because it was strikingly similar to many of the unnecessary wars in which people died in for the United States government. So much blood was shed by these young men simply in the name of human greed.

In terms of the Chinese, they were brought to South Africa to work as miners. The Chinese gravestone we examined was of a 17 year old girl brutalized by the South African government.

What drew everybody to Johannesburg over a century ago was that it was rich in gold. There was a huge conflict over who would get the gold however. So different countries outside of the African continent went to war to fight for it. African nations didn’t have a say because they had fallen to the hands of the Europeans at the time. The Zulu tribe, for example, up until 1838 was a great and powerful tribe. Once they feel to European imperialism, they were forever changed, as they were humiliated and considered to be second class citizens for the next 150 years. Sifiso mentioned how this affects Africans even today, as now, even though they are free from apartheid, they are not unified and are unable to form their identities. Sifiso even took us to a community center that was shut down because Africans couldn’t agree on who owned it. He claimed how tax payer money went to that recreation center and all the money went down the drain.

The Jewish gravestones were gated and Sifiso said that was because the Jewish people, although discriminated against, were mainly a unified community in South Africa. Sifiso ended the tour by taking us to the African graveyard. There was one monument in the middle to commemorate their lives, but no other gravestones were present despite the fact that many bodies were buried underneath.

After our tour, Sifiso took us to lunch at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant. The food was fantastic and the experience was delightful. Sifiso told us that he likes to go to the restaurant we went to when he feels sad about the divided South Africa he lives in today. He says he loves Ethiopian food because unlike every other country on the African continent, Ethiopia was never under European rule. He says because of this, the Ethiopians are not as divided and they don’t have “white food” or “black food” but “African food.” He took one of their business cards and said “they have their cards, they don’t care if you speak their language, they are authentic and true to themselves.”

On our way back from the car, Sifiso told us to break away and rise above all the fear in the media. He said that division of South Africa is controlled by fear, and we as the next generation have the chance to rise above it. He told us the story about his son, who unlike him had the ability to study at university in his home country of South Africa because through the struggle South Africans of his generation were able to break free from the chains of Apartheid and Bantu education. His whole story and his message was inspirational yet motivational at the same time. What I realized today was that South Africa has changed from Apartheid to basically segregation with political yet not economic freedom. There are still many problems in South Africa, but South Africans have always taken pride in their county and had the resiliency to improve. As Sifiso said to close out the tour:

“You will not find gold under these streets of Johannesburg anymore, but you will find gold in the people. You will find gold in the woman and man next to me. We cannot fear our own people, but instead we are proud of them. Because once we fear our own people, then all hope is lost.”

After the Roving Bantu tour, we toured more of the inner city of Johannesburg, including the law firm that Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo started together in 1952. We then looked at graffiti art around Newtown, which is art used to give young people in the community a voice of expression and an identity, something that Sifiso previously mentioned was mentioned in the post-Apartheid era of South Africa.

The big epiphany a realized today was that although Mandela and the original members of the ANC made a huge shift in the struggle, they did not end it. Nelson Mandela, as great of a man as he was, he was still a man and not a god. His incarceration led to a major change in an oppressive system, however South Africa’s government is still filled with corruption and the struggle lives on to this day. It was a humbling experience but also a motivating one. All over the world there are problems and it is up to the youth to do something about it. We as young people have full lives to live, and wherever the world will go, it will come down to collective choices that we make. Although that seems like an initially scary thought, it’s one that motivates me greatly. My hope is that it motivates others as much as me.

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