Townships & Memorials

It’s been a few days, but here is what I’ve been up to since Monday! On Monday we had the chance to tour the Cape Flat townships with our guide, Clive Newman. Let me give you a brief history lesson J under apartheid, there was known as the Group Area’s Act which was a law enforcing the residential segregation between racial groups. The government wanted to force the Black and Colored South Africans further and further away from the city of Cape Town (they wanted the city reserved for Whites). They established what is known as the Cape Flats for Blacks and Coloreds to live in their own townships. The Cape Flats gets its name because the land is flat! The Flats are located kind of behind and off to the side of Table Mountain. When you see the Cape Flats on a map, there really is Table Mountain that separates the Whites from everyone else. The Group Area’s Act is what drove Blacks and Coloreds out of their homes in urban locations and relocated them to underdeveloped townships. Clive took us through many townships outside of the city beginning with some of the Black townships. Even after the end of apartheid/Group Area’s Act almost 20 years ago, many of the townships still remain very much all black or colored.


If you imagine in your head what you think living in shacks would be like, then chances are this is what many of these townships looked like. There were no multi-room homes with driveways and green yards. These structures/homes were built one in back of the other to accommodate for so many people. If you think about it, 80% of South Africa’s population is black or colored, making white people the minority. However, the majority of the population had to move to small townships that could hardly house them all. In the townships, as far as the eye could see, there were shacks and small homes where often time’s more than one family lived. Driving through the streets of the townships, there were so many people walking the streets, stray dogs/goats roaming around, people washing clothes and hanging them on tons of clothes lines, dirty yards, roofs with tarp and brick coverings, people sleeping on street corners, and thousands of homes on top of each other. There was a few times where I almost started to tear up in the van. Dr. Murphy shared with us a time when she first encountered children living in similar conditions and she started to weep, not just because she was sad, but also because she was simply embarrassed by her fortunateness. That is exactly how I felt. When you see the people of the townships, most of them look happy while smiling and talking together and you can get a real sense of their strong community bond. To them, this is their home, but to others who have known and have so much more, it simply breaks your heart. Clive took us to a “look out point” where we climbed up to see out over the Cape Flats. Literally as far as you could see were homes lined up next to each other. Homes not just in one direction, but all around. I could really get a sense of what the oppressed population was like under apartheid and how crowded and limiting the living conditions were and continue to be.


In several of the townships we also stopped by memorials of memorable people who have died during apartheid. There was the Trojan Horse Massacre memorial where three young men died in 1985 during a political demonstration. On the day of October 15, 1985, security teamed up with the police to crush a youth gathering who were protesting the apartheid government. There was a South African Railways truck that was loaded with crates on the edges of the truck and hidden between the spaces of the crates were armed police officers who sprang up from behind the crates and opened fire on the crowed killing three young men. We stopped at the memorial that features The Trojan Horse Massacre 1985 on a brick wall with the names of Jonathan, Shaun, and Michael (the boy’s who lost their lives) in colored paint.


We also drove by the memorial of Amy Biehl, the American young woman who was dragged out of her car, stabbed and stoned to death during an anti-apartheid political demonstration on August 25, 1993. Amy was a Stanford graduate living in South Africa as a Fullbright exchange scholar. She helped advocate voting registration programs for South African blacks and women. On the 25th, she was driving two black friends home during a huge political rant where radicals spotted a blonde Amy in her car and forced her out of the vehicle. Three men attacked her, stoned, and stabbed her before she dragged herself to a street corner and was pronounced dead. The memorial we visited was exactly where Amy Biehl died. There is a cross and a plaque that states, “If you strike a woman, you strike a stone” in rememberance of Amy. Ironically, this Sunday marks the 20th anniversary of Amy’s death. Our tour guide, Clive was a personal friend of Amy and has worked with her mother, Linda Biehl on setting up the Amy Biehl Foundation. This Sunday, a memorial service will be held and Linda Biehl is in town for the service.


The final memorial we visited in a black township was remembering The Gugulethu Seven, who were seven young men (16-23 y/o) that were murdered by members of the South African police force. The memorial features seven outlines of their bodies the way they were found dead. The Gugulethu Seven were innocent men who were targeted by police and killed on March 3, 1986. Seeing these memorials and the places of where these people were actually killed was truly amazing. We learned about these stories through the film Long Night’s Journey Into Day, but to see and stand in the actual place was very moving. It was an emotionally exhausting day, but I was so grateful to Clive to take us to these townships so that we could get a better idea of rural Cape Town, that many people don’t often times get a chance to see. It definitely makes me excited to move on to Port Elizabeth and East London so that I can get to know similar populations and learn even more from them and their stories.



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