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Post Conflict Communities

by Lehlohonolo "Nolo" Mokoena
Lehlohonolo "Nolo" Mokoena
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on Monday, 07 July 2014
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“A commentary on Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool’s address at the Woodrow Wilson centre”

“South Africa is a violent nation. There is violence against our women, children and all vulnerable citizens. We need to move away from the violence that was invested in us a community during Apartheid, if we’re ever going to realise the full extent of our freedom.”, said Ambassador Rasool. No statement would’ve better summarised the societal challenges we face as a nation 2 decades post transition. He painted a clear narrative. One that was both true and appealing to my moral and ethical compass; one that was challenging- how is this acceptable in today’s society?

 

The more cynical reader is nodding in agreement at this point; the sentiment most likely reinforced by some sort of injustice they’ve suffered themselves as a by-product of sheer societal dysfunction. This view is valid- it is however not absolute. Likewise the optimist will claim it’s a generational attribute, and the roots of the cancer will pass with the more senior citizens of the country. This theory does hold to some degree; but the recurring attacks on some of our university campuses would suggest the water is far from under the bridge.

 

Historically, violence has been the primary medium for democratic discourse [in terms of mass movements]. I am not talking about us, the educated and privileged minority, I am speaking about my neighbours in Bekkersdal, who still have to burn tires and vandalise stores to feel they have a been heard. Often times we respond to the violence more than we do the plea. The language of democracy has to change; how is violence the loudest voice in society?

 

The idea that one fights for their freedom, was once true in the literal sense. However, in a post conflict nation, it is imperative to preserve the willingness to fight for the ideals of democracy and freedom, while substituting the ammunition for revolution with other tools, be it education, economic opportunity, welfare etc. The fight carries on, but the rules have to change. It is pointless to change the rules of engagement yet not provide the necessary tools for the transition.

 

While the solution to the root of violence in our post-conflict nations may be multifaceted, this one aspect remains clear as day- you cannot change the rules of the game without changing the tools with which it is played. How does one play water polo with a croquet set? In the same way, you cannot expect the masses of your nation to use new “channels” of free expression, while they live in pre-transition like circumstances. When marginalised, they used violence as an amplifier to air their defiance. Now, though legislatively free, those who remain marginalised by will use what freed others to free themselves.

 

 

No, this is not mob mentality. This is a “freedom story” narrative; and if we are going to successfully counteract the violence invested into our communities in post conflict nations- we must fight this fire strategically, not with fire, but with finesse and intentional policy.

 

Ambassador Rasool's speech - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=My2r42SRvbM [from 25min onwards].


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When we talk...

by Velani Mboweni
Velani Mboweni
Hand to the helpless, Friend to the lonely. Wears glasses that are prescribed fo
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on Monday, 07 July 2014
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A popular anecdote says that "courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen"

 

I write this post proudly as the last blog I will post as a 21 year old man; for on wednesday the 9th I turn 22 and hope to be much wiser than ever. However, this was not the purpose of this blog.

 

Following our journey as SAWIPers of 2014, you may have noticed that there are two concurrent sister programs with us in the form of the Washington Ireland Program (WIP) and the New Story Leadership for the Middle East (NSL). Central to each of these programs is an ongoing conflict between the various nations of which the participants originate from. Learning from their views about the conflicts and sharing what one has experienced in South Africa, you begin to observe that there is a lot of noise being made, however who is really listening? In fact, who should be listening?

 

Earlier today, my host family and I prepared supper for some of our guests who have lived in the USA for 38 years. This family left South Africa in 1976. Whilst we may have been born and raised in two different looking South Africas, the mood was one of camaraderie, intent of sharing knowledge and the good old "how is SA doing?" We engaged in discussions that were of a pressing nature, sometimes controversial; sometimes philosophical but nonetheless an exchange between two human beings with a key interest in a specific state(s). So engaged were we that, I even forgot to eat my starter salad on the table. Subsequently, we found it hard to say goodbye when time was over, let alone eat the food because of our conversations. This leads me somewhere....

 

You see, traditionally, there are many stereotypes and prejudices that could have come to the fore when one mentioned that there are three South Africans representative of two different eras coming to meet up and have a meal together, one cooked by the other. This could have had a lot of disagreement or agreement based on how one has grown up and a number of the experiences that have shaped us - yet, we sat down and spoke- as human beings ought to do.

What happens when we talk? What happens when one prepares a meal for someone else and they share in the partaking of the food - communion - the common union of man? When one considers the world and which war and conflict run rife, you begin to think that some people just don't get it. When the IFP and ANC experienced violence in the early 90s, how could we have had a different outcome? Looking at Iraq and many Arab states - as human beings - where do we learn the idea that war would produce a winner and a loser? Whilst I may not profess to be the oracle of all conflict, allow me to shed some light on my findings:

 

Firstly, when an individual sits around a table there is a sense of comfort and trust in the hosts to feed you appropriately. This illustrates an environment where dialogue could take place. Coming together as people joins us when we thought we were apart. The world continues to suffer great deals of violence, poverty, genocide and oppression and it has made me ask "when will we truly begin to work, to not only solve my interests but also to look at the issues of others?" Are we the right ones to be talking? We certainly are! We may not be the president of South Africa but we are Present in South Africa and the world. Lastly, I know there are many angles to look at, however, when we talk we accomplish a lot. It pushes our boundaries and stimulates our arguments. When we use the Elenchus (Socratic method) we even begin to understand that what we may believe is not really "what we believe" and establishes a new ground for people to then go on and reevaluate their perspectives.

 

When we talk...
we must realise that it is a procedure necessary for progress to occur. When we talk, we get all the uncertainties out the way. When we talk, we gain understanding. When we talk, we realise our similarities. When we talk, we are on the right path to peace. For better or worse, when we talk, we are assured that "this too shall pass"...


I leave you with the words of Abraham Lincoln in 1859 drawing on from Edward Fitzgerald,

 

How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! -- how consoling in the depths of affliction! "And this, too, shall pass away." And yet let us hope it is not quite true. Let us hope, rather, that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and around us; and the intellectual and moral world within us, we shall secure an individual, social, and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.

Let us talk, so that all our troubles, will indeed pass...


- Vela Di- Vela -

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"The Amazingness that is this family"

by Sihle Isipho Nontshokweni
Sihle Isipho Nontshokweni
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on Monday, 07 July 2014
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Thinking about my host family makes me happy, genuinely happy. I have been thinking about them quite abit this week and I think it is only fitting that I share some of my precious thoughts about Patti, Jon and Sam.

Yesterday we went to the 6 Flag Amusement park, yes at our old age we joyfully rode bumper cars, stomach churning roller coasters and water rides. Before I get carried away, remembering the pop-corn aroma that filled the air yesterday, let me introduce you to my most happy place here.. my host family.

Patti and Jon have been hosting SAWIP students for the last 4 years.  Before coming to DC, as soon as I found out who my host family is - I anxiously emailed Elroy Bell, from the SAWIP class of 2013 who lived with the Paces. He enthusiastically sent me a full page email describing Patti and Jon, their house, their likes, diets, experiences and the long list of things that they did together...

"We went to Baltimore together, we took day trips to places, we went to Basketball games together, birthday parties, swimming pools and parks etc" he shared. The phrase that striked me the most in his entire email simply read "the Amazingness that is this family".

Whilst I am sure that Elroy made this word up, this phrase perfectly explains just how amazing they have been to me and Ishara.

Firstly, Patti and Jon are so comfortable and honest with whom they are. I think this is why we sit around the kitchen floor and pour out our hearts to Patti, or find ourselves spending late nights lost in conversation. Who they are is the reason we attentively, quietly watch the way they love their son Sam and each other. I have been so moved by this picture!

In the past I have seen love in action, and I have had a complete list of what love looks like derived from the famous chapter in 1Cor 13. "Love is patient and kind, it always hopes, always trusts it keeps no record of wrongs, it always believes and hopes" etc....



Whilst I have been able to define love, testing my own love for other by this standard, living with Jon and Patti has allowed me to see this word in action.  Love looks simple between the two of them and their son, Sam. It looks natural and it feels like something. If I were to put it in one word, I would say living with Jon and Patti feels like Love. And not the romanticized, soppy view of love. I see it in their selflessness and thoughtfulness towards each other. Ifeel it when Patti adoringly says to Sam who is the cutest two and half year old

"Sammy you're my heart"

and with great courage, reluctance and shades of baby language, he responds,

"No! I am Sam."

I would say living with Jon and Patti feels like Love. It feels like the warmth and the welcome that I feel in their home, the chuckles and jokes we crack. I experience it in Jons sarcasm and wit, which I don't think I would have entirely gotten if not for Ishara, (thee best host sister).

It looks like their instinctive kindness towards us and those around them, their seemingly endless generosity, their willingness to wake up early and pre-plan our day trips on free Weekends. Love in their home looks like Pattis intentional suggestion that we sit out on the deck, brew coffee and just connect on a Saturday morning. It is Jon waking me up early in the morning to go for a run with him, or him coming in carrying a blue and lime water bottle for Ishara and myself so we don't get dehydrated whilst at work.

 

If you asked me at this very moment what the best part of this trip has been, I would instinctively say... my host family. Experiencing so much welcome, love, nurture and generosity from 'strangers' is changing my heart. It is genuinely making me want to seek the opportunity to do good and to share my life driven by the value that I can add to others.  Moreover, moment by moment, I get to learn just how beautiful love, patience and understanding is shared between two people.

 

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Fourth of July

by Courtney Roots
Courtney Roots
Hello! My name is Courtney. I am from Cape Town but currently studying postgradu
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on Monday, 07 July 2014
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It was an unbelievable experience to be a part of the American Independence Day celebrations. The week of the 4th of July was filled with a heightened sense of patriotism. The fact that, at the beginning of the week, the USA football (‘soccer’) team was battling for a place in the FIFA World Cup quarterfinals might have been a contributing factor! I can vouch for the fact that there were a few South Africans rooting for the US and saddened by the final outcome of their match against Belgium. Nevertheless when the evening of the 4th of July arrived, the SAWIP 2014 team, as per SAWIP tradition, travelled to the National Mall to watch the annual Independence Day firework celebrations on the steps of the Lincoln memorial. It was simply fantastic. I must admit that I was slightly in awe (and maybe a little jealous) of the fact that fireworks are allowed in the US! But all in all the experience is one that I will treasure. It is an experience that is truly unique and simply put very American.

 

Being in the US for the 4th of July I felt that I needed a better understanding of the history behind the American Independence Day. SAWIP is an opportunity for us young South African’s to share a bit of our country’s history while in the US and so I felt it was apt to find out a bit more (through an informative internet video) about the history behind the date 04.06.1976 (or if you prefer 06.04.1976). Feel free to check it out.


http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/july-4th/videos/fourth-of-july-history#

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Pledging Allegiance

by Brynne Guthrie
Brynne Guthrie
3rd year LLB student at the University of Pretoria. Passionate about debate, hum
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on Monday, 07 July 2014
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“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands…” These words rang out across my suburban neighbourhood on Friday the 4th of July, as the residents of Chevy Chase gathered to celebrate their nation’s independence. It is traditional for the 4th of July parade to start at my host parents’ house and the whole affair was about as stereotypically American as I could have hoped. The fire truck leads the procession and all of the children ride bicycles behind it, dressed in the customary red, white and blue. The crowd was led in a chorus or two of America the Beautiful before passionately belting out the national anthem. Couple this micro experience with the fireworks display at the National Mall and I can safely say that I never imagined that patriotism like this existed.

The Declaration of Independence, which we had the privilege of seeing at the National Archives, was signed more than 230 years ago and yet the nation celebrates its signing with unbounded enthusiasm every year. South Africa gained its freedom just 20 years ago and yet, the 27th of April is embraced because it is a public holiday – a day away from work – (by many at least) rather than because it is one of the most important days in our young nation’s history. There are no fireworks displays – to be fair fireworks are illegal – and the celebrations at the Union Buildings go largely unadvertised. There are so many wonderful things about South Africa and 27 April seems like the perfect opportunity to hail them.

There are many arguments against patriotism – especially the kind practiced by America. People blame it for the massive numbers of young military recruits and for giving the government the political capital necessary to start numerous wars. I believe, however, that South Africa would do well to try and instill a little more patriotism into its people. In a state that has numerous problems between social groups, any unifying force has to transcend race, class and gender. The idea of belonging to a particular nation is one that, if used correctly, could be inclusive because it focuses on heritage rather than what you look like or what belief system you hold. Initiatives such as ‘Proudly South African’ are going a long way to promote the South African national identity and a feeling of patriotism could be the key to greater reconciliation in our society. Just look at how people united behind the Springboks in 1995, or how we, as a nation joined in pride and excitement, welcomed the world to South Africa in 2010, or how we mourned the loss of our beloved Madiba together. All of these are moments in our country’s history that brought people together and embodied the idealism that our Constitution or the TRC tried to promote.

Politics is all about striking a balance, and I don’t think that South Africa should go so far as to mandate that all people must pledge allegiance to the flag. I do think, however, that we need to latch onto the moments in our history that have brought us together as one, united nation and celebrate them with as much fervor, enthusiasm and passion as we can muster.

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Global Think Tank on Sports for Development (Part 1)

by Bongani Ndlovu
Bongani Ndlovu
Hey There, glad you finally found your way to my SAWIP Blog. I am a Finance and
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on Monday, 07 July 2014
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On Olympic Day, the 23rd of June, I had an awesome opportunity to listen to a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. This is where fellow SAWIPper Joshua Nott is doing his work placement; I was incredibly stoked as he managed to join me for the discussion. The panel discussion was chaired by Nicole Goldin who is the director for the youth and security initiative at the center. Her guests were Paul Teeple, Awista Ayub and Briana Scurry. The talk focused on the use of sport in order to promote gender equality and also ensure social progress.


The panel was involved in different regions of the globe advocating for the use of sport as a catalyst to social change. With over 40 years of experience in the field of sport for development, the panel had a very robust and informative discussion. The theme of the discussion moved around the use of sports for building self-esteem. ‘Also how it provides an alternative to risky or anti-social behavior amongst young people, creating sufficient structure, discipline, and incentive to keep some people away from drugs, violence, or criminal activity’. The issues which were being discussed spoke to what I am currently doing in South Africa.

 

At this point of the discussion, I am hoping you are asking yourself, why sport? Why don’t we simply the youth within the townships of South Africa in schools and educate them? Surely the educators will deal with the problem. Is that not what they are trained to do?

 

However with a drop-out rate of over forty percent, South Africa needs more than just textbooks to keep the young people in the classroom. I believe that sport is that catalyst that has the potential to keep young people in classrooms.

 

My answer to the above questions is fully vested in my belief in the magic that sport brings. There is a great deal of magic that lies in sport and especially when young people partake in sport. Sport has many life skills to teach young people, changing the way they approach challenges and the way they interact with others.

 

I believe that sport fosters resilience among young people and enables them to build leadership and teamwork skills. These partnerships will ensure that they become leaders in their respective communities and also agents of change that will inspire a generation that will follow in their footsteps.

 

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Our Greatest Export

by Joshua Nott
Joshua Nott
I am a proud son of Africa. Political science and law student at the University
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on Sunday, 06 July 2014
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My experiences in Washington DC have continuously reminded me about the innovation and technological advancement of the American people. This week the team and I visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Throughout the tour I was in awe of the great achievements of American scientists, pilots and astronauts. I not only learned on my own accord but was also informed by our tour guide, which the SAWIP has arranged for each museum we visit.

 

Throughout the tour I kept wondering how South Africa could ever compete with this global power, that is America. After my experiences in the United States, I have no doubt that South Africa has a long way to go in many respects. Having this realization made me feel small and insignificant. Moreover, I am constantly reminded of the efficiency of American society. From self-check out services to reliable public transport, we seem to be behind on all fronts.

 

However, feeling intimidated and defeated has never driven human development. With this understanding, I tried to determine what South Africa’s contribution to the global village has been. At first I was disappointed in that our history is one, which is defined by a poor human rights record and a history of domination of one group over another.

 

I then recalled the words of our ambassador to the United States, the honorable Ebrahim Rasool. In his keynote address at the Woodrow Wilson Center, the ambassador spoke of South Africa’s greatest export to the world. Our export is one, which showcases the very essence of humanity. South Africa’s peaceful transition from tyrannical minority rule to a constitutional democracy is our gift to the world.

 

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What's in an anthem? Part 2: The now.

by Imaad Isaacs
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on Sunday, 06 July 2014
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In this post, we’ll look at the amalgamated version of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and The Call of South Africa (known in Afrikaans as Die Stem van Suid-Afrika) that were the essential contributors to South Africa’s present-day anthem.

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Small differences leading in new territory = Growing

by Kabelo Gildenhuys
Kabelo Gildenhuys
Young Urban Gentleman. Passionate about leadership and contributing towards buil
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on Thursday, 03 July 2014
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This week we have surpassed our half way mark of the DC journey for 2014. This hallmark requires first and foremost conscious reflection as to determine our own personal progress and assessing our experience thus far. This is not only necessary in order to optimize this valuable experience but crucially also to ensure that we either stay on course or adapt as to get the most of the remaining time. It was no surprise that the first few days were mostly about soaking in the environment and trying to find our feet among the consistent movement of this wonderful albeit extremely humid city. Now that I am more comfortable with my new surroundings (particularly getting around on the public transport) I am starting to sense and observe all the minuscule differences between the USA and SA. On a surface level one could say that there are more similarities (people, food entertainment etc), but it is in the small things, that which you do not initially notice that one starts to see the difference and hence reminisce for that which you are used to. This made me wonder how other Africans that come to South Africa in search of a better life experience our country. Do they also feel a bit out of place? Fearful? Discouraged? Once again one could say that one a macro level the differences our not that significant, but it is with the small things (signs, contextual language etc) that the ‘differences’ becomes ever more omnipresent. Yes we are a more globalised world and yes we are more interconnected, yet this does not replace our longing for understanding or our desire for expressing ourselves in forms that do not require consistent explanation or consent from others. This becomes particularly evident when the initial excitement of new uncharted territory and exclusion of all the accompanied difference surpasses and the attention shifts to the small things that are different and essentially lacking (one can even making a link to the post 1994 and so called post ‘honeymoon’ phase in South Africa). In this situation it can become very easy to be unmotivated, depressed, anxious and initiating an intense longing for the familiar. Yet this phase is the biggest learning curve and obstacle of the entire journey and therefore being able to manage with this change and still thrive is when most of the ‘production’ of growth takes shape. Going through this experience of being in DC is invaluable for the molding of leaders as leadership demands being able to feel comfortable despite being in a new ‘uncomfortable’ environment, i.e. being able to still perform and lead at an optimum level even though everything feels out of place. Ultimately leaders are required to consistently enter unknown territory and once there not only lead others but crucially themselves as well. For me dealing with the emotions of feeling out of place and longing for the familiar, has meant opting to search for inner peace as to rather feel comfortable from within and in so doing lessening the desire to be in familiar spaces. This process thus far has allowed me to not only grow professionally but more importantly also emotionally and thus allowing me to appreciate the time here to the utmost.

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English -The Modern-Day Verwoerd

by Li'Tsoanelo Zwane
Li'Tsoanelo Zwane
Affectionately known as Lee, I am a lover of nature and all things wondrous and
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on Wednesday, 02 July 2014
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There is no denying the prestige that the English language has in South Africa. It is the language of socialisation, the language of business, tertiary academia and it commands a lot of power within the professional aspects of one's life and professional development as well. Part of that prestige can be attributed to the fact that English is a global language, even though it may not be the most popular language in the world. It is also a better alternative to Afrikaans, which is still perceived by a lot of black people as a language of oppression and a language of the denial of many freedoms.

 

 

English is a language which is taught in township schools in order to meet the additional language requirements as stipulated by the Department of Education's Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) document. The rationale is to make students able to be active members in social, academic and professional spheres. The Department of Education employs and additive approach when it comes to language teaching; this means that children are taught in their mother-tongue during the initial and foundation years of their schooling and English only gets introduced as an additional language during the Grade 3/4 years. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of this method.

 

I strongly feel that we need to use simultaneous bilingualism as an approach in language teaching, children should acquire their mother-tongue and English simultaneously. According to a language study conducted, the stage for optimum language acquisition is early childhood. Why are we not taking advantage of this? Why are we not exploring a different approach to language teaching?And the beauty of language is that some theoretical frameworks from a language can be transferred onto another.

 

 

Sadly, many township school students are being dealt an unjust hand; the combination of when English is introduced and also how it is taught, form a seamingly insurmountable obstacle. The traditional, intensive approaches of language teaching  are not reaping any rewards in terms of the academic performance of our students. The focus is too much on the actual words (doing generic word exercises), completing pre-set worksheets which don't incorporate achieveing a communicative competence in the language. Most lessons follow a parrot-style, straight out of the book method which does little for achieving a communicative competence in the language.

 

I believe that there needs to be the utilisation of extensive reading an approach to language teaching; reading for pleasure must be greatly emphasised. Particularly since recent studies have shown that there is a strong interdependent relationship between reading and writing; and these are key aspects in developing a communicative competence in the target language -which in this case is English. The assessment standards used to assess learners' progress is quite unfair. They'e expected to answer questions during tests and examinations in a language that they are not familiar with. This leads to a lot of frustration being felt by the learners, especially since the society we live in dictates that if you are not fluent in English then that is a sign of 'stupidity'. Our newspapers and television channels ridicule politicians for the grammar, spelling and punctuation errors which they make. This deters learners from seeing the necessity of school as the language issue alienates them. This results in report cards marked with huge 'F's and even GG's. Do we blame students for dropping out? Ofcourse not.

 

 

 

We need innovative ways to teach languages in our schools, ways which will preserve our mother-tongues and not linguistically oppress anyone. We need to do that fast especially since English and how it is taught in township schools has become the modern-day Verwoerd - an oppressor of note. A measurement of 'intelligence' and no longer just a language. It condemns the black child to a sub-standard educational qualification and prepares them for the kind of reality experienced by any marginalised person living within an oppressive state. It violently screams, "You will never be good enough, and you will never get an education which can bring you the socio-economic tranformation that you need". The Black Child has been failed....again.

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What’s in an anthem? Part 1: The story

by Imaad Isaacs
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on Tuesday, 01 July 2014
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South Africa’s national anthem is considered to be amongst the most beautiful in the world. It brings together all the leaders, servants, the mighty and the less-mighty in our country. It’s the words that Helen Zille, Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema all know and can sing together.

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The Not-So Invisible Teacher (Part two) -My Work Placement

by Li'Tsoanelo Zwane
Li'Tsoanelo Zwane
Affectionately known as Lee, I am a lover of nature and all things wondrous and
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on Tuesday, 01 July 2014
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When I heard that I would be placed at Higher Achievement, I was very pleased with that. Being someone who is unfathomably passionate about education and using education as a tool for socio-economic transformation, Higher Achievement is right up my alley. It is an organization which aims to provide scholars -usually from 'disadvantaged' (that is how the government eloquently puts it) background -with a headstart in their upcoming academic year in the form of extra and co-curricular programs. These programs are ultimately designed to enable scholars to meet the admission requirements of prestigious high schools so that the opportunity gap between social classes can be narrowed. I love Higher Achievement because I believe in its goals and its mission; equal opportunity and bridging the opportunity gap so much that quality education becomes accessible to all students -irrespective of their socio-economic background.

 

 

I have been very fortunate in that I have had some wonderful opportunities thrown into my path. I attended a prestigious pre-primary school, which effectively laid a good educational foundation. By the time I got to grade 1, I was already able to read and write words which were far beyond my age-group. I was fortunate enough to attend schools outside of my beloved Gugulethu, which is something I don't take for granted at all. Life would have been very different had I not had the fortune of that. I hope, through my work exposure at Higher Achievement, I can gain all the knowledge and the skills required to start something like the organization in my community as well.

 

 

I believe, unapologetically at that, that quality education and equal opportunities are an inalienable and non-negotiable human right. I believe that everyone has a specific purpose and a specific calling, mine would be transforming the ducation system in South Africa -starting with my community and starting by introducing a program which closes the opportunity gap. I've said it before and I'll say it again. There's a new sheriff in town. Some serious change needs to be catalyzed. I'm not playing games. A life and a society where there is still blatant inequality infuriates me, and I won't sit around and let that continue on my watch. I'm about many lives but not that one in particular, and as my new American friends would say, "I aint about that life yo".

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50 Shades of Coloured

by Lauren Hess
Lauren Hess
Hi, I'm Lauren Hess - tea drinker, critical thinker and lover of all things witt
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on Monday, 30 June 2014
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Sitting on the metro, I looked up to notice a woman and her husband staring in my direction. Not sure how to respond, I went with my go-to reaction of smiling which seemed to prompt her to approach me.


Her: “You have such exotic skin.”

Me: “Uhh. Thank you.”

Her: “So, what are you?”

Me: “…”


Across continents, cultures, cities and all sorts of spaces; my ethnicity never ceases to confuse or spark some kind of curiosity in people – and DC has been no exception. As markers of race and ethnicity continue to be viewed as inherent biological differences; for many, the need to know is partly curiosity and partly trying to figure out how to process me through a lens of what is ‘expected’ from someone of my race. To answer those, I identify as ‘coloured’ (a perfectly acceptable term back in South Africa), which I would guess would make me ‘mixed race’ here. But what does that mean? With so many combinations, shades and cultural practices found across the coloured spectrum (as found in any and all race groups) the process of trying to classify a people group according to specific physical characteristics is shown to be particularly ludicrous.


Along with more specific requirements such as hair type the general requirement for Apartheid classification was that one should be “in appearance, obviously a [insert race group] person who is generally not accepted as a [insert another race group] person”. Due to these vague classifications, which had as much to do with appearance as social behaviours, many members of the coloured populations attempted to be reclassified – and were often successful. ‘Successful’ reclassifications resulted in the splitting of families based of varying shades of ‘colouredness.


This reclassification (and the apartheid system in general) created a hierarchy, within the coloured community, as the majority aspired to ‘whiteness’. This is a trend that has been seen across the world, but more often in societies where race has been used as an instrument of oppression and privilege. Today, these ideas still permeate the subconscious of the ‘coloured’ community in Cape Town where straight hair, green eyes and lighter skin remain prized possessions. In my own family we range from having afro’s to silky straight hair; from porcelain pale skin to the richest of ebonies.

 

While race continues to be an important part of society and a necessary one in order to address past inequalities, I hope that in future we will be able to transcend these socially constructed boundaries which have caused such real tragedies – not only in South Africa, but across the world.


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The Spirit Of St Louis

by Erwyn Durman
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Over the past week we have been to a host of museums and memorials and all have been contributory to the themes of war, civil rights or politics in some way or another. Yesterday, on the 29th of June we went to the National Air and Space Museum, which changed up the general trend and allowed us to learn about some fun facts from the scientific world.


There were many impressive exhibits on display some of the hi-lights included: Sputnick 1, the Wright Flyer (the worlds first successful aeroplane) and the Moon Rover. The exhibit that I will most remember was the one where we made our last stop on the tour. It was of an Aeroplane called the Spirit of St Louis. The story behind this plane is an enduring one and serves as an example of determination of one mans will power to succeed in an outrageous task. That man is Charles Lindbergh.


Charles Lindbergh, was an aviator who is known famously for the FIRST non stop solo flight across the Atlantic. The purpose behind Lindebergh achieving this feat was as a result of a challenge set out by Raymond Orteig, for a total of 25,000 dollars, to the first person who would make the trip from New York City to Paris.


What is so remarkable about Lindbergh's journey is his employment of some rational yet irrational methods. There were many that doubted whether he would succeed but also whether he would make it out alive. Here are a few of the crazy techniques Lindbergh used in his arduous journey:


1. Side panel windows were removed: There was a method to Lindbergh's madness. He did this so he would have a constant flow of air in the cockpit. Lindbergh was fearful that he would fall asleep and relied on the constant flow of air to keep him awake. He did report that there was one occasion that he recalled of falling asleep but fortunately he awoke to steer on.


2. There is NO cockpit window: Lindbergh requested that the large main and forward fuel tanks were placed in the forward section of the fuelage, which was in front of the pilot. This helped with the center of gravity but also meant that he had no window to look out of. Lindbergh's argument was that he had no need for a cockpit window as either the sun blocked his view or the cloudy atmosphere did not allow him to use the window. How then did he navigate himself? Well he would constantly look out the window frame of the side panels. Our tour guide explained to us that at some points he would fly close to the ocean and estimate the height of the waves and the direction in which they moved to orientate himself. He also had his trusty compass assisting him.

 

3. What did he eat?: Food was not a problem ,he took three sandwiches with him on his trip, of which he only hate half of one sandwich.

 

 

Lindbergh flew a distance of 3600 miles or 5800 km non stop which translates to a total of 33.5 hours without any sleep. The Spirit of St Louis captures the minds of both the elderly and the young. It is a story of bravery but also of a man who was determined to see through a task, no matter how ludicrous it may have been. Charles Lindbergh's adventure is not only a story of one persons life experience but a metaphor of the Human Spirit. As each day continues here in DC and with many of the conversations I have with my peers, the interns at work and the highly profiled people I have met, there is one thing  I am always left bewildered by. That one thing is the infinite potential that of the Human Spirit.

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Immigration Reform for Who?

by Ishara Ramkissoon
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Immigration reform must be one of the most conscientious issues facing America currently. With opposing views from citizens and government, this a long battle waiting to happen in the near future. As a South African, one can only hope that the situation doesn't escalate to something similar to the Xenophobic attacks of 2008 throughout South Africa.

On Saturday morning, with all the construction happening on the Metro lines, I was forced to transfer to a taxi in order to get to my session. Initially displeased by this inconvenience, it turned out to be a great experience for me! The taxi driver was very pleasant when he picked me up and we engaged in light conversation.

Pleasantries were observed and we found common ground - we are both African. He is originally from Ethiopia, having immigrated here 13years ago. He now holds a green card and even owns the the taxi he drives, serving as a private contractor for the taxi company. During the drive, because we felt the African connection, communication just flowed and it felt as if we were old time friends from back home. Surprisingly, he found it odd that I am Indian and from South Africa ( not the first time I encountered that here). Everything from politics and crime in South Africa to rape and the judicial system in India - I was so impressed not that he knew about these topics, but that we could have such an intellectual conversation and a global comparison of social issues affecting developing countries. Our conversation was more than just skin deep, even touching in the psyche of man (yes, Oscar Pistorius did come up) and the fall of mankind into chaos.

At some point in the conversation, he asked about me trip to Washington DC and I mentioned to him that I am in my final year of medical school. He then said something to me that I will never forget - he was a qualified medical doctor back in Ethiopia but working as a taxi driver in America in order to provide for his family back home.

Here is a man who is willing to sacrifice many long and difficult years of studies for the sake of his family thousands of kilometers away. A man contributing to the American economy through hard work. An individual who considers himself as much of an American as he does African and therefore wants to see the success of both continents.

So I ask the question: why the need for immigration reform? Is it truly to regulate who is coming into the country and what the individual can contribute? Or is it to appease the minds of others who aren't happy with ideal of an "American America "?

 

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State of Emergency: Democracy despite Poverty

by Sihle Isipho Nontshokweni
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The harsh landscape of South Africa’s democracy carries in its crevices the secret hopes and idealism of “a better life for all”. Two decades into democracy, glimmers of this hope still linger amid extreme poverty. The enduring hope of South Africans is seen in the popular aspirations of ‘the people’, with 56% of South Africans stating that the county will be in a much better condition economically  twelve months’ time from the time the Afrobarometer survey was taken 2012.It is positive that a majority of South Africans have confidence in the economic future of S.A.

 

Across literature,  we begin to understand that the better a country performs economically the greater the likelihood of sustaining its democracy. This points towards a positive probabilistic relationship between the economic growth of a country and the survival of a democracy. The latest scholarship however has revised this understanding which is commonly known as 'Lipset’s law'. This revision is based on the understanding that “third wave” democracies have been assembled in both flourishing and extremely poor countries

Even though we know of the positive relationship between democracy and economic growth, there has surprisingly been minimal work or insights given on the relationship between poverty and democracy.

My beloved country, South Africa has a growing economy and has had a fairly stable democracy with  a vibrant civil society and  free and fair election.

Whilst S.A stands as the paragon of democratic governance in S.A, It is worth asking how poverty or rather inequality impacts the quality of our democracy.

Do people who experience higher levels of poverty demand less democracy-does democracy increasingly  become a luxury good rather than being   intrinsically valuable when people experience high levels of poverty? How does poverty impact democracy?

South Africa’s economy, because of  its contradictions and untidiness has been described as a ‘cappuccino economy’. This is an economy with frenzied growth; in this metaphor the black majority is consumed with steady or no activity at the bottom of the cup with a white minority gleaning from the creamy froth at the top and a few black elite as a chocolate sprinkle at the top.

My questions about the “D” word and poverty are ones we ought to continuously examine, relentlessly, tirelessly, persistently because if they are left unanswered they will affect the future of our nation and continent. Poverty and inequality threaten the quality of a democracy and the people must urgently work towards building a more equal society. This is a state of emergency…

I say this because poverty and inequality are the hallmarks of a divided society. Unless we deal with this wicked issue, the chasms in service delivery will continue to negatively impact the overall quality of life that we espouse towards.

This is a state of emergency.

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a tour of Google

by Sihle Isipho Nontshokweni
Sihle Isipho Nontshokweni
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Early in the morning on Friday the 28th of June, the team gathered  at the doors of Google ready for a tour, we were about to walk into the offices of thee most widely used search engine on the World Wide Web.

It would be fair to say that the entire experience seemed surreal, particularly because one seldom thinks of GOOGLE in physical terms, as an institution or as having a building to host people in.

We began with a breakfast and sat attentively listening to Ben Blink. He is the head of the International Relations division at Google and he invited a number of staff members who generously shared their time with us, explaining the work that they do. Listening to them alone, our minds ventured to the uncommon place.

As we walked through their corridors we walked past their offices, and the entire building oozed of creativity. Knowing the brand, heart and quality of work that is produced at Google, I could only imagine the conversations shared around the office, in their brainstorming rooms.

I felt my ideas about the future sharpen just from walking in their corridors and seeing the creative clamor of the green, yellow, blue, and red Google colors. I longed to sit down in their ideation room or to walk and talk about inventions, technologies, designs, things that no-one else had considered.

Google strikes me as a place where everyone values innovation and original ideas. It is a home for possibility thinkers, innovators and for original ideas.

I completely enjoyed my experience at GOOGLE, it was mind and eye-opening. For the first time I thoroughly understood that technology is an indispensable tool for deepening democracy and for engaging citizens. It was more enlightening though realizing that technology can be used creatively to shape and influence the politics of our day.

 

The work and vision of Google immediately expanded my vision as we listened and we walked out, generating new and innovative ideas about start-ups that we could start in S.A.

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The Law of Attraction - What a blessed experience!

by Boipelo Ndlovu
Boipelo Ndlovu
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On the 26th of June 2014, we had a discussion with Congressman James E. Clyburn at the Home of Tom and Carol Wheeler.

As I began researching Congressman Clyburn, reading whatever material I could get my hands on, I could not believe that I did not know anything about him prior to my Washington, DC journey. He broke barriers through peaceful protests and steadfast beliefs in equality and justice. He explained that he did not just knock down doors and brake barriers, but he also marched the streets and occupied South Carolina jail cells. Congressman is the third highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, U.S.

 

As the evening progressed, I would learn and understand why President Barack Obama described him as, “one of a handful of people who, when they speak, the entire Congress listens.” When he spoke, my team and I listened. He has a remarkable presence.

 

Congressman Clyburn was accompanied by his daughter, Mignon Clyburn, a Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, and his nephew, Walter Reed. Not only did they have a notable presence, but they were sincere and humble too. We had two prominent figures dedicate their time to us, a group of young and hopeful people who have a vision for our country. I am constantly learning and drawing inspiration from everyone and anyone I can learn from generally and while in America. Therefore, when I took note of their leadership style, I was profoundly inspired. I believe that it is important to become a leader that is not only knowledgeable, but one that imparts knowledge and your experiences to others as well. We are in need of a generation that mentors and advises young people, those leaders that are willing to leave their offices to engage with young people. The more I get exposed to such leaders, the more I become immersed with being a servant leader.

 

As I was reading up on Congressman, prior to the session, I came across his book, Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black. After reading the reviews, I knew I had to read it. I decided I was going to buy the book and ask him to sign it after the session. I was that excited about this session. Unfortunately, due to time constraints I was not able to buy the book. However, the most amazing thing happened. God intervened. At the end of the session, Carol Wheeler ran a raffle draw on an extra book she had. No one picked the marked paper in the first round. Sad and disappointed, Commissioner Clyburn and I made arrangements for me to buy a book and have it signed by Congressman on a different day. We all tried our luck again in the second round of the draw. Carefully picked, with a quick “God, please can I get it” prayer and hope, I opened the red raffle paper to see a mark on it. How amazing? The law of attraction is always working, whether we are aware of it or not. God is always at work.

 

There are many lessons I took from the session, including:

 

  • We should stop talking and start doing.
  • Confront the issues you are facing first then deal with them.
  • Don’t try to make those you are leading understand you; you must try to understand them.
  • There is no limit to getting what you want accomplished as long as you don’t need to take credit for everything.
  • "While I breathe I hope. If you still breathing you have to keep going. It's not accepting defeat. It's inhumane to give up".
  • Always be conscious of your environment, not satisfied.
  • When you win, brag gently, when you lose, weep softly.

 

I opened my book to find these simple but profound words, “To Boipelo Ndlovu, Be a Blessing”.

What a blessed experience.

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A ‘Blessed Experience’

by Erwyn Durman
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On the 26th of June we were afforded the opportunity to meet Congressman James E. Clyburn, of South Carolina, as well as his eldest daughter Commissioner Mignon Clyburn (of the Federal Communications Commission). I am almost certain that a great many of my SAWIP team members will be writing a blog on this session. Why? Because, it was a night where 18 young South African Leaders sat around two people whose words dripped with wisdom and experience. It was a night where leadership was presented to us in its truest form.

The Congressman has recently released a book entitled: ‘Blessed Experience: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black’. On this night he shared with us some of what was said in his book but also there was the additional personal touch. I sat on the floor this evening, in the lounge of Tom and Carol Wheeler, and whilst the Congressman shared his stories, a nostalgic feeling overtook me. I was reminded of the fondest memories in my childhood, where I would sit with my granddad listening to all of his adventures and laughing at the quirky jokes he would make.

The beauty of this evening was relayed in the type of leaders the Congressman and the Commissioner are. They shared with us a great deal of golden nuggets and all through their own personal experiences and stories. One story that stands out for me was when the Congressman first ran in the general election of South Carolina. He was first announced the winner of the election but was called up at 3am and then declared a 500 vote loser as opposed to a 500 vote winner. The words that got him through this ordeal were written on a sticky-note that his wife placed on the mirror in their bathroom. The words read:

‘When you win, brag gently and when you lose, weep softly’

The Congressman told us that, that morning he wept softly. There were other narratives where the Congressman and the Commissioner had endured failure and with patience and resilience were able to bounce back to establish themselves indelibly in society. Perhaps, why we will remember this night so well is that these two immense leaders were not afraid to share their hardships, their vulnerabilities and their failures with students who they have met for the first time. The Congressman and Commissioner spoke to something that all human beings have and something that most leaders try to hide or cover up. They spoke to our insecurities. Dealing with these insecurities is a challenge we all take up and we all are trying to overcome them. But in the mean time we can become extremely harsh and patronizing of ourselves. On this night I learnt that whilst caring about my reputation is important and worrying how others perceive me is imperative to present a good image, there is an aspect that is far more valuable. That aspect is to just be myself and accepting that well there will be occasions where the public may not see that as good enough. Having the courage to simply be myself is imperative to not losing my identity. The message I received on this remarkable evening was that failure is not the end of the journey but the start of one.

We were blessed to have met and engaged with the Commissioner and Congressman. Their words will resonate with me for many years to come.

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Oh Human Spirit, against all odds, why art thou so great?

by Velani Mboweni
Velani Mboweni
Hand to the helpless, Friend to the lonely. Wears glasses that are prescribed fo
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An Ode to the Observations of the indomitable Spirit

During the course of Week 2 in DC, our theme was "Global Affairs". However, there was an implicit theme within it - The Triumph of the Human Spirit. With all intents to keep this intro brief, let's engage....

Slavery



Oh Human Spirit, why art thee so great? You endured shackles of changes, the noose of oppression and dispare. You fought every single death-ensuring day one-by-one with no physical hope of a brighter tomorrow but a sense of a greater time to come. You looked in the eyes of your oppressor and told them what you wanted - liberty, life & freedom - regardless of the punishment that awaits. Human Spirit, you sang songs to lift you up when all signs were down. Whether 12 Years a slave or 12 generations a slave, you kept on keeping on - showing the strength of your power.

OH Human Spirit, why art thee so great?

When society tried to mold you, prison couldn't hold you. Apartheid couldn't break you, Laws tried to shake you and sure as the sun would rise again, neither violence, racism or genocide could take you. Spirit of Spirits, you took the anguish upon yourself - pressed forward, covered your wounds and sought the journey that would set you free. Oh Human Spirit, you show how determination, discipline and commitment to your destiny have been the key ingredients to success.

Oh Human Spirit, why art thou so great?

You push on - beyond the barriers defined by your foes. You push on, as the captives are set free. You push on to ensure that neither those that have come before you and those that arrive after will be greeted in the name of triumph, record and history of the infinite possibilities. You know it well indeed that our deepest fear is not that you are inadequate, rather that you are powerful beyond measure.

Oh Human Spirit, why art thee so great?

Perseverance and diligence are your key character traits. You sweat tirelessly to overcome all the challenges you face - yet overcome, eventually, you do. Your integrity is conveyed in your results - when trial or tribulation cometh your way, it is as if you had already seen and prepared for it. You are never down for the count - though you stumble - you reign victorious! 

Oh Human Spirit, why art thee so great?


You have fallen down 12000 times, yet you get up 12001! You sore above your critics as you commit to the impossible, yet even your commitment itself says "i'm possible". You are the first to confess that the road you travel is not easy, yet you smile, wave, laugh and celebrate the fact that it certainly is one worth embarking on. You are the spirit of a champion - you are the champion. You have seen the boundaries draw with chalk; you dust the path away, crossing it and instructing like to confront you with a new challenge. You rise above all, as the crtics scheme and believe the 555 secrets hidden astray. Yet it is you who is the indomitable. You are the one who treasurers failure as a vital ingredient for success. Oh Human Spirit, why art thee so great?


 

You are the overcomer. You are the one who understood that in order to 

You have showed that you are the captain of your fate and the master of your destiny.
Oh Human Spirit, your greatness abounds and transcends the depths of the ocean whilst the breadth of mother earth cannot possiblly define you. For you, yes you, are above and beyond more than this weathe

 

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