Soweto and Apartheid Musuem

Entering Soweto via the Diepkloof Extension (where some of the houses can cost in the millions) we proceed through the township to soak up sites and sounds.


We drive through various suburbs, including the suburb of Orlando where the famous cooling towers still stand out on the horizon and where many political influencers once lived.


We stop at the Walter Sizulu square of dedication in Kliptown, the oldest suburb in Soweto, where the freedom charter was signed.


From there we visit the Kliptown Youth Program to learn from one of the co-founders about the good work being done there.


KYP serves over 400 local young people, providing meals, after-school tutoring and programs, and access to resources.  The day of our visit coincides with the tenth anniversary of KYP’s founding.  It is being celebrated by supporters and beneficiaries alike, and as we leave the campus they are applauding the arrival of a new passenger vehicle which will extend the reach and services they are able to provide.


We visit the Nelson Mandela house museum and Vilakazi Street, which is the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace prize-winners lived.


The Apartheid Museum, opened in 2001, focuses on with 20th century South Africa, at the heart of which is the story of apartheid.


Of our time in South Africa, this day is one of the harder to process.  We attempt a group debrief session at the end of the day, but the emotions of being in this space are still too raw.  We briefly discuss our experiences over the past week with the realization that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of understanding this very complex context.  As has been described to us by so many people up to this point, as a young democracy South Africa does not have the luxury to solve one problem at a time.  Instead, very complex social challenges must be worked on simultaneously and together.

Tour of Soweto

Up until our day in Soweto, we had a somewhat narrow view of Johannesburg.  Up until that day, we shuttled from hotel to hotel for the conference, received tea and treats at every break, and enjoyed a lavish gala.  The contrast could not have been greater between our experiences thus far and driving through Soweto.  We arrived in Kliptown, a neighborhood in Soweto, and met our guide Sipho Dladla, deputy director at Kliptown Youth Program.  He guided us through the neighborhood towards their headquarters.  We saw homes made from billboard siding, cinderblocks, and anything people could find.  We walked by the portable toilets, all pad locked, that were used by community members.  Gathering at the main water source, a spout, Mr. Dladla explained this spot was like Facebook where news and events were shared.  We could see soiled water flowing through the rocky pathways of Kliptown.


We walked around Kliptown Youth Program on a momentous day, the 10th anniversary of the organization.  Children were gathered outside, listening to speakers and entertainers.  We learned about the educational and food program.  KYP provides meals for over 400 kids a day, using healthily ingredients, prepared by parents in the community.  WE enjoyed a performance by their Gumboot dance troupe, a dance akin to stepping performed in heavy rubber boots.  It was most inspiring to hear from Mr. Dladla, who said though he has not gone through higher education, he has dedicated his life so that others can have greater opportunities.  His commitment to KYP and the children was apparent. He spoke with such passion about the mission, goals, and accomplishments of the organization.  As we were leaving, there was a great commotion.  Children, parents, and staff were cheering the arrival of a brand-new van, decorated with KYP logos and pictures.  It was like observing a private moment of joy and hard work.  Leaving Kliptown I was struck by the contrasts of our trip and grateful for the chance to meet Mr. Dladla and others at Kliptown Youth Program trying to improve the futures of young people.

–Kamaria Porter, doctoral student


Apartheid Museum

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It is said that great leaders are those who inspire, those that have the best interest of others in mind–but revolutionary leaders are the giants, the peacemakers, visionaries, disruptors and shakers who leave a legacy for the common good of society. Nelson Mandela was that kind of revolutionary leader who brought an end to apartheid, a long history of institutionalized racism in South Africa.

Upon our last day in Jo’berg, our group visited the Apartheid museum. You cannot understand the country’s history without paying a visit to the museum in which chronicles South Africa during the Apartheid period and commemorates the great legacy of Mandela’s leadership under a new South African democracy.

Upon entering the museum, you stumble across one of the many Mandela quotes that sets the stage for the common theme of freedom at the museum.

“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others” (1999).

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No matter what corner of the world you come from, the quest for freedom remains. We live in a world that still struggles with corruptions of power and racial and economic inequities continue to persist. The Apartheid Museum encapsulates the common aspiration for freedom and equity.

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Through its 22 exhibitions, visitors can expect an emotional journey through South Africa’s oppressive past. When you manage to go through all the exhibitions, you’ll see that the museum stands for hope and anyone who visits can leave inspired and hopeful for the future of South Africa.

Aside from showcasing the rise and fall of apartheid, the museum also celebrates the rich diversity of South Africa. The Journeys exhibition illustrates migrants who came to the city of Johannesburg in search of gold in the late 1800’s. The exhibition acknowledges South Africa’s painful past. Although these migration patterns encouraged apartheid due to the fear of racial mixing, this exhibition points to a brighter and forward-thinking future. The migrants have their faces turned back, and as you walk by them, it feels like you are walking past the traces of apartheid. The migrants are all facing towards one direction.

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I personally truly appreciated the unique layout of the museum because it provided a space for reflection. It felt as though you were immersed in this difficult journey towards democracy. Upon arriving at the New Constitution exhibition, you’ll see the South African flag on display which was adopted in 1994 and represents the unification of the various ethnic groups and the moving forward into a united “new” South Africa. As a visitor, you are invited to make a pledge to fight against racism and discrimination by taking one of the stones and placing it to the pile of stones.

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When you arrive to the final exhibition, A Place of Healing, visitors are encouraged to reflect upon the wisdom and leadership of Nelson Mandela by placing a color-assigned stick next to your favorite Mandela quote. Nelson, as a prominent eloquent and inspirational leader is best remembered by his powerful statements. I will leave you with my all-time favorite Mandela quote on leading a meaningful life: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lives. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

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–Rosario Torres, master’s student

Port Elizabeth

Our next stop is the city of Port Elizabeth.


Perched on the shore of the Indian Ocean, Port Elizabeth is a seaside community whose image of itself is still undergoing change.

We arrive on a Sunday and have the afternoon to spend poking around the waterfront market where we test our bartering skills against true masters of the craft.


Our accommodations are in the seaside suburb of Summerstrand, near Nelson Mandela University.


Fortunately, we have the opportunity to drive 20 minutes north to Zwide Township to visit the Ubuntu Education Fund.  This drive help illuminate the stark difference between HAVES and HAVE NOTs living in close proximity, and the work remaining for this young, post-apartheid democracy.


Located in central downtown Port Elizaeth, we also visit the Donkin reserve, pyramid and lighthouse.  The pyramid monument was erected by Sir Rufane Donkin in memory of his late wife, Elizabeth, after whom Port Elizabeth is named.


In the evening, we return to the hotel to debrief in small groups, then all together.


Natural South Africa – Schotia Game Preserve

What journey to Africa is complete without an opportunity to see “the big five” on safari?  After the conclusion of our business at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, we visit a nearby game preserve.


We enjoy a sunset game drive in open vehicles and have many up-close animal sightings.





As the sun goes down, we share stories around the campfire and enjoy a traditional braai (bbq) meal.



After dinner we make our way back to the gate of the preserve, with a few additional animal sightings along the way.


Schotia Wildlife Preserve

Anyone who knows me knows how much I LOVE animals – from my two fluffy cats at home to big beautiful elephants, graceful giraffes, and even ferocious lions. So, our visit the Schotia Private Game Reserve near Port Elizabeth was a welcomed respite from our academic endeavors in South Africa. After a busy week in Johannesburg, breathing in the fresh South African air and gazing at an open sky full of stars was just the thing I needed to refuel.

Schotia is the oldest private game viewing reserve in the Eastern Cape, bordering the eastern side of Addo Elephant National Park. With over 40 mammal species and approximately 2000 animals, we were sure to see Africa’s Big 5 (Leopard, Lion, Buffalo, Elephant and Rhinoceros) during our Tooth & Claw game drive.

When our group arrived, we helped ourselves to coffee, tea, and cookies before loading into our open-aired vehicles to begin our adventure. Within a few minutes of entering the reserve, we had our first sighting. A group of warthogs gathered near the gravel road, grazing on the tall grasses as we drove by. From there, we saw an amazing assortment of species—wild blue wildebeests, zebras with their unmistakable black and white striped pattern, and countless antelope. This was way better than any zoo I’ve visited!

Driving off road through the rocky, mountainous landscape, we came across a group of elephants before carrying on to find a giant crocodile, a hippo, several giraffes, rhino, and buffalo. After stopping for a brief break and some delicious hot chocolate, we were off to find the King of Africa—the lion. As the sun began to set, we drove through the bush to a small open area where a small pride of lions was gathered. As intimidating as it might be to see lions in the wild, these big cats were just lounging and relaxing. One lion even let out a loud yawn before laying down and taking a snooze. We took this as our cue to leave the lions to rest and began our journey to a huge open air lapa for a traditional South African braai (BBQ) meal.

Inside the lapa there are several large ‘Schotia’ trees and a roaring log fire. We gathered around the fire as a small band played a mix of South African music and familiar tunes (think, The Lion King soundtrack). We shared a lovely meal, complete with my new favorite dessert, Malva pudding, a kind of sweet and spicy sponge cake covered in a delectable custard, before heading back to the lodge to end our day.

Our visit to Schotia Reserve gave me a new appreciation for the natural beauty of South Africa. Although the primary goal of our trip was to learn about the higher education system in South Africa, our afternoon with the African wildlife gave us an opportunity to explore another aspect of the country—and we even lived to tell about it!

–Kristen Glasener, PhD candidate

Ubuntu Education Fund (Port Elizabeth)

As we learned earlier in the trip, the concept of Ubuntu means “I am because of you.  You are because of me.”


The Ubuntu Education Fund is changing the lives of young people through education, food security, and public health resources.  The Fund seeks to transform children’s lives by engaging with (and requiring commitment by) the entire household, thus electing to make a deep rather than broad impact in the Port Elizabeth community.


The intent for visits to organizations such as the Ubuntu Education Fund, the Kliptown Youth Program, and to spaces such as Soweto is to deepen understanding of the backgrounds of and circumstances faced by students who enter higher education.


Prior to our departure, the group met together three times to read about and discuss the South African context.  Getting our “boots on the ground” may have sometimes felt uncomfortable, but through these first-hand experiences–seeing, feeling, sharing–we grow and stretch ourselves.  Hopefully becoming better people and more compassionate and proficient higher education professionals in the process.

Ubuntu Education Fund

At first sight, the Ubuntu Centre seems like it was dropped out of the sky. A massive structure made of concrete and wooden beams that you would expect anywhere in the world but Zwide, a township of Port Elizabeth. Inside this apparent symbol of modernity are the multi-layered programs run by the Ubuntu Education Fund (“the Fund”). The fund serves about children of the township through a comprehensive approach that targets every aspect of their lives along the “cradle-to-career” pathway. While most development organizations seek to serve as many children as they can, the Fund purposely chooses to only serve about 200 children albeit through a much deeper approach. Knowing that educational opportunities alone may not be enough to transition some of South Africa’s most vulnerable children toward stability, the Fund focuses on the entire family’s health and household stability alongside the child’s education. They provide such services as household support, parenting workshops, camps and afterschool clubs, routine health assessments, prenatal care, HIV/AIDS testing, family planning, career guidance, university scholarships, and more. By making such a comprehensive investment in a child’s education, the Fund is redefining what it means when a program goes to scale.


As we were ushered from the main gathering space in the building through the clinic and early childhood wings, I couldn’t help but wonder what the outcomes the Fund’s wraparound approach produced. A quick search on the Fund’s website generated a 2011 evaluation report by McKinsey & Company claiming that a $1 investment in an Ubuntu child results in $8.70 increased lifetime earnings and $2.20 net gain to society. Fund clients also adhere to HIV drug regimens at a higher rate than Port Elizabeth residents, and 72 percent of Ubuntu children pass their grade 12 exam compared to 37 percent of non-Ubuntu community school children. While these figures are certainly impressive, I felt the true success of the Fund through our interactions with our host for the day, Marketing Director Nozibele Qamngana. As a client of the Fund herself, she knows firsthand the true impact of the organization on the life trajectories of children in the township and did not hesitate to credit the Fund for the person she is today.


Nozebele’s own story is a testament to the power of local management and leadership. By simultaneously serving the needs expressed by township residents and cultivating its clients and volunteers into organizational leaders, the Fund really does act as a partner with the community it first set out to serve in 1999 and ensures its efforts are sustainable for years to come. In that moment, I recognized how the Ubuntu Centre’s architecture, as foreign as it may have appeared in Zwide at first glance, is the physical manifestation of the aspirations of the township and of the Fund’s promise to continue to serve future generations for years to come. This kind of vision­­ is what ultimately crystalized the spirit of Ubuntu for me – I am because you are – or in the words of Desmond Tutu, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” Ubuntu, though not easily translatable to Western language, is readily relatable to our work in higher education. If the work of the Fund is any indication, I believe it is our ability to tap into our humanity that will lead us to become better scholars, practitioners, or a blend of both.

–Christian Martell, doctoral student

Conversations w/ colleagues in Cape Town

Another short plane ride to Cape Town for our next round of conversations and site visits.


Our arrival is met by a stunning sunset over Table Mountain, but our gazing is brief because shortly upon landing we meet colleagues for dinner to deepen our knowledge about the university mergers which took place in the early 2000s.


Drs. Rolf Stumpf (former vice chancellor of NMMU) and Divya Singh (former deputy vice chancellor at Unisa) share experiences and impressions as leaders at the helm of institutions during great periods of change and consolidation.


An Evening with Rolf Stumpf

I had the pleasure of enjoying dinner in the company of Rolf Stumpf for an evening. He spoke to us about his experiences at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University–and much more! He was gracious and patient with our questions, and shared stories that helped us (well, me, at least) have a better understanding of post-apartheid education in South Africa.

Stumpf briefly talked about his friendship with Jakes Gerwel, who was asked to served as Director-General of the Presidency by Nelson Mandela. After Apartheid, the South African government put in a lot of effort to “transform” higher education, and it sounded like many higher education leaders were able to contribute thoughts and ideas to the efforts. As someone who was working in higher education before and after apartheid, Stumpf told us about the climate on campuses before, during, and after the transition of power. The University of the Western Cape was a particularly liberal campus that allowed students of all races to attend well before the end of apartheid.

The story that Stumpf told that stuck out the most to me was about when he first came to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (although, I think it was still Port Elizabeth University at the time), and I will do my best to share the spirit of this story with you. Stumpf, as a white man, was coming to lead a university with a predominantly black student population. It wasn’t long after the end of apartheid, and Stumpf wanted to apologize to the staff and students for the injustice of apartheid. He asked for help to translate “I’m sorry” to Xhosa, the language of many students at the university. (Xhosa is a language in South Africa that uses “clicks” to communicate!) The person he asked did not give a direct translation, but instead taught him a phrase that meant something similar. When he used this phrase as he addressed the students, they responded in unison. From what I understand (and I’ve searched for what this phrase could be, but no luck figuring it out), it was a common kind of call-and-response like “I apologize” and “I forgive you,” but Stumpf explained how deeply meaningful this was.

There’s something to be said about the leader of the university using the language of his students to apologize for the systemic oppression of Apartheid. We talk a lot about meeting our students where they are, and it seemed like Stumpf wanted to do just that when he became leader of the university.

I have thought a lot about this evening since we returned from South Africa. There are still many inequities within the country’s education system. There are still many white leaders of predominantly black institutions, which can further stratify those inequities. Not every leader is like Stumpf, and he even admitted to making his own mistakes during his time at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. But things are changing, and Stumpf continues to be involved in the higher education system as these changes are coming about. As we continued to visit other institutions and met with student leaders, it was encouraging to see the next generation of South Africa’s leaders speaking with the eloquence and wisdom of those much older. I can’t wait to see how the system continues to decolonize and transform!

–Sarah Spies, master’s student