By Tracy Simmons
Last year, 23 Whitworth students spent four weeks in South Africa learning about the multi-ethnic people there as they continue to build a post-apartheid society. The class, “Contemporary South Africa,” examines the historical, social, political, and religious contexts of South Africa, according to a press release.
The class focused mainly on learning about the history of apartheid and how, even 18 years after its disbanding, it still affects the country today. Students looked at current issues in the country and the historical context behind those events.
“The South Africa study program has proven influential to the lives of many students,” says Ron Pyle, chair of the communication studies department at Whitworth and one of the trip’s leaders. “Living with and learning from South Africans can provide new perspectives on life, and being in situations that are sometimes uncomfortable – such as encountering poverty and injustice – can prompt us to consider many issues including justice, equality, reconciliation, privilege, and responsibility.”
The course is offered during Jan Term every other year.
Students began their journey on the country’s southwestern tip in the city of Cape Town before moving northeast through the cities of Oudtshoorn, Grahamstown, Umtata, and Durban. They wrapped up the trip with a visit to the inland city of Johannesburg.
The class met retired Methodist Rev. Peter Storey, Nelson Mandela’s former chaplain who opposed apartheid and took part in many protests. Storey came to Whitworth in April 2009 to present that year’s Simpson-Duvall lecture, “The Role of the Church in Peacemaking and Reconciliation in South Africa.”
Students also visited some of the most historically important sites in South African history, such as Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned, and the city of Soweto, where student protests helped bring worldwide attention to the injustices of apartheid. The class also worshipped with South Africans and spent some time sightseeing, including Cape Town’s Table Mountain and the beaches of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, according to a press release.
In the evenings students stayed with host families of various backgrounds, including black South Africans, white Afrikaners, Muslim Indians, and white South Africans. Senior Emily McBroom said she had a wonderful experience with her Muslim host family.
“My family was very hospitable and couldn’t wait to tell us all about their culture and lives,” said McBroom, a theology major. “They also really loved hearing about our lives, too. It made me see so many similarities between our lives.”
“This trip changed my life,” she said. “I am still attempting to figure out how exactly, but I know that I am different and I feel blessed to have learned so much about myself and the world in one month.”