Cape Town has been on fire both literally and figuratively in the past few weeks. While the record high heat sparked a fire that covered the mountain ranges, a fire was lit in the hearts of the UCT community and the population of Cape Town in general. On Monday the 9th, the “one man protest” occurred at the Cecil Rhodes statue on UCT upper campus. A student threw human feces onto the statue and got the attention of the entire student body, faculty, staff, and media. Everyday since then, there have been students protesting at the statue, and security guards constantly monitoring. The Rhodes Must Fall campaign is fighting to have the statue removed, as it symbolizes and glorifies the ideals of colonialism and racism and creates an unsafe space for students whose families struggled through the apartheid and continue to struggle now. I chose to attended a large open discussion on the steps of Jameson Hall to watch students voice their opinions and get a better idea of the arguments from both sides. It was incredible to watch and listen, to hear the stories students had to share. Please do some research on this current event!
(Open discussion on Jameson steps)
While this event sparked a huge debate on institutionalized racism, white supremacy, and white privilege, Cape Town was also preparing for two major cultural events: the Infecting the City Festival and the Cape Town Carnival, both of which I got to attend. Infecting the City is a public arts festival that ran all of last week at different times and places in the city centre. Ranging from dance performances to acting, films and visual art, each presentation or exhibit raised issues that are currently affecting the people of Cape Town as well as people globally.
A performance titled Trapped, surrounding issues on disabilities, was one of the most moving and emotional 30 minute experiences of my life. Here is the description from the program: “The soloists appear simultaneously, each story intersecting and interacting with the others. Through their stories, the dancers use their disabilities as a catalyst to open dialogue around questions of belonging, especially for people living with disabilities in a non-integrated society.” One soloist was missing both of his legs, and his set was all hanging shoes around him plus two leg-shaped wire statues. Watching him perform brought me and my friend Twyla to tears. After the performance ended and everyone was leaving, we chose to go up to the artists on the side to say thank you and hug them. We were some of the only people to do so, and looking into their eyes and witnessing the pure emotion within them was something out of this world.
The next day (Saturday) I went to the Cape Town Carnival with my friend Deena. The Cape Town Carnival was a huge event with a spectacular parade as well as food, crafts, and other activities. We walked up and down the parade route, and ended up buying feather headdresses from a cool group of twenty somethings. They were talking about how they had traveled all over the world, just living their lives doing random things they wanted (I stood there like yes how do I do that please tell me your secret). We found a spot for the parade and watched the amazing floats and dancers go by. The theme for the carnival this year was Elemental: Celebrating Earth, Water, Fire, and Air – The Unstoppable Forces That Shape Us and Our Environment. The parade also honored the fire fighters and other emergency response team involved in fighting the fires all around Cape Town. There was such a sense of pride for the mother city amongst the crowd as well as the performers. The floats and costumes were bright, colorful, and handmade by the performers. We got delicious food afterwards and then spontaneously decided to go hang out on the balcony at the Carnival Court backpackers on Long St. to people watch.
Sunday morning we met up with the second half of our program group in the Gugulethu township, where they had just finished their homestays. We headed to Mizoli’s, the most famous and delicious meat/braai place in Gugulethu and Cape Town as a whole in my opinion. It was full of visiting foreigners as well as locals from Gugs and Cape Town. The music was loud and food was plenty. It was another genuine glimpse into the South African way of life.
I’ve noticed that in so many aspects of life here, you need spontaneity. It is easy to get into a slump of going to class and coming back to your room and simply sitting on the computer. You have to explore and go on random adventures if you really want to experience Cape Town in its prime. Just like the “one man” who started the protest, you have to make the choice to take the chance if you want anything to change.