Monday, June 30, 2008
I have their stories scribbled in my notebooks. The stories sit-waiting to be revised, edited and reworked. The people in the pages among my scribbles and notes are waiting too. They are waiting to find out what will become of their futures.
Maxwell Kazembe, a father of eight, lives out of a tent in the Rifle Range Camp. Pascalina, Maxwell's 2 year-old daughter, wants ice cream and to have a place to color. Maxwell is hoping for a better future for his children.
Joseph,19, wants to come to the United States to study. He wants to return to South Africa to help the people of the country. Before Joseph went to Rifle Range Camp, he was connected to the U.S. He had been emailing students from the U.S. he had previously met. After a while they stopped writing. Joseph wanted to know what he did wrong. Now, he wants a chance to get his education.
In between the gap of wants and needs, Maxwell, Joseph, and the other countless people I met at Rifle Range are faced with uncertain futures. When will they be able to leave Rifle Range camp? Where will they go when their time at the camp is finished? What will they do once they leave? Can they go back to living with the same neighbors who attacked them? Who will help them?
I don't have the answers. As a journalist, answers are what I look for.
Today as I get ready to venture back into Alexandra, a township where much of the xenophobic violence started, I have a quote I read earlier this morning running through my head.
"Each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lots of others, or strikes out against injustice, (s)he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and caring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightest walls of oppression and resistance" -Robert F. Kennedy
As we press on into the last two days of our trip, I'm still looking for the answers to all sides and currents of the story-past, present, future.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
From the get-go, I told myself that this trip was going to be a success regardless of what happened, but I couldn’t help but to immediately get on the computer, and do some research hard-core cram style.
It was difficult for me to find stuff, but by that evening the Arizona State student-journalist had made some pretty good contacts and I was very excited to know that they were also going..
I set my alarm to go off at 4am Wednesday Morning, but to be honest didn’t even need it. It’s not everyday that you travel to a new country, and I woke up a couple times that night due to sheer excitement.
By 5:30 we had loaded up the van and were ready to ride. It was my first time being out in Jo’burg in the early morning hours, and let me tell you, this city never sleeps.
We must have seen thousands of people during the pre-dawn hours, doing everything imaginable at the hypersonic pace, I have barely become accustomed to during our two week stay here. Boy there are times when I don’t see how people do it….but that’s just another reason I was glad to be seeing something new, if only for a couple days.
Thoughts about the ride out to Maputo….
After making it to Pretoria we rode through a thick smoky fog, courtesy of the brushfires. In South Africa it seems like the authorities just let these fires rage on, concentrating there efforts on other things.
The scenery between Pretoria and the S.A. – Mozambican border is breathtaking. We rode through mountain after mountain and were treated to one panoramic view after another. This was the most physically striking landscape I’ve ever encountered.
. Driving on the N12 in South Africa felt like driving an interstate highway in the United States. There were plenty of tourist type gas stations and eateries, signs were everywhere, there were even speed raps. I didn’t really make anything of it until I got to Mozambique, and realized that everything was different. Seriously, crossing the border between South Africa and Mozambique was like going back in time 200 years. Most stretches of highway were completely devoid of human contact, except for every 10 miles or so when we would see a collection of shacks.
Quick History Side-Note (caution: may be a little nerdy)
Many of the streets in Mapoto are named after communist revolutionaries such as Karl Marx, Ho Chi Minh, and Kim Song II etc. Our approach to the city was done on Vladimir Lenin Ave; that was interesting.
Metro Maputo was definitely a sight to behold. Miles and miles of shacks flank the highway on the approach to the city center. These communities resemble the townships in Jo’burg, but seemed to be even less developed. On the sides of the highway there are vendors who sell everything, clothes, food, etc. Even in downtown Maputo commerce is primarily conducted with vendors rather than in stores.
Will write more later…
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Most of the people I talked to at the rally were South Africans. One woman told us that she went to Zim when she was younger and she thought that the country was just beautiful. She said that she came to the rally to support change because Zimbabweans are her neighbors.
After the rally on the bridge, the people moved down to Mary Fitzgerald Square where there were Zimbabwean bands, poetry readings and a candlelight vigil.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
This camp was a sight. It by no means looked poor, but more simple. It seemed to be very organized in terms of dividing up tasks and everyone seems to be content with their contribution to the community. Don't get me wrong, this isn't perfect harmony either. I say this because Peter did mention there was some sort of disagreement the previous day and one of the inhabitants involved hadn't been seen at all today. I'll be sure to post photos once I get them converted to jpegs, which is my goal this evening.
Simplicity is what I like about South African life. No one seems to let the daily routines completely dictate their lives. They take there time as if never to be rushed. Being at the squatter camp, life is still rough because they don't make much from the vegetables they sell and the money they do make is used to pay rent and buy groceries. But in a community where everyone eats and prays together where can one go wrong?
Sunday, June 22, 2008
The trip to the border was a lifetime experience. I can't say the actual 7 hour bus ride was something I want to write home about but seeing the amount of goods people take back with them to sell in Zimbabwe is just astonishing. Currency in Zimbabwe is printed weekly because of the inflation. Immigrants from Zimbabwe come to South Africa with briefcases full of Zimbabwe dollars to exchange it for maybe R20. We were able to trade R6 for about 10 50 Million Zimbabwe dollar notes that expired at the end of June. We were told the highest note is 75 Billion Zimbabwe dollars.
The run-off election is supposed to take place on June 27th and ask anyone here and they will express their uncertainties that it will not happen. Mugabe has all of his bases covered to ensure he still takes the presidential position, which could lead to civil war in Zimbabwe. All of the immigrants we talked to along the border have lost hope in their country and are thankful they are trying to make ends meet in South Africa. A few we talked to said they would go back to vote but many said they would not go back to Zimbabwe unless the had to. We met a 17 year old boy who has illegally crossed over the border 3 times. Every time they arrest him and take him back he just finds another way to cross back over. He lived in the mountains for a short period of time before he crossed over the last time. This was also where he crossed the Limpopo river, which is infamous for it's crocodiles and their appetites. He now works at one of the market stands in Musina, a city just past the border where in exchange for food and shelter he helps sell food and clean up the stand. This kid looked exhausted but he's just happy he's found opportunity in South Africa. He's not worried he'll get arrested again because he'll just come back over.
Last night I got into a political debate from someone who is from Cape Town. Hearing what he thought about Zimbabwe's situation and what would happen in the future was eye-opening. It was at that moment I didn't feel like a foreigner. I felt like I was sort of a South African in living history. I hope civil war doesn't break out in Zimbabwe and I hope for the best for that country, but right now things are so shaky no one knows what could happen.
I suppose we'll have to anxiously wait until June 27th.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
I have no words to describe what the past week here has been like. Nothing I can come up with does Jo'burg and the people here justice. Everyone we've met has been so extremely hospitable and welcoming--we were told before we left that it feels like home, and it truly does.
While we were at the Xeno Forum Tuesday night, one of our professors met Shayne Robinson, a senior photographer for The Star here in Jo'burg. He has been more than amazing to us and I'm not sure where a lot of us would be if he didn't have the sweet connections he does. Seriously. He has a contact for everything, every story we could possibly imagine. He's awesome.
Today he took myself, Kate and Jenna out to shoot a youth against drugs rally. It rained last night and he said when it rains, things usually get called off. So, we had no rally to shoot but that was no big deal. Shayne took us up to the highest point in Jo'burg where we found some pretty amazing photo opportunities. We've got some pretttyyy cool stuff planned!
I believe I've developed a British accent this trip--and am trying to get the African one down. No luck yet, but the Brit one is quite fun to break out now and then. We've been to a couple dodgy parts, but all very interesting.
A Bollywood movie is being filmed on campus, so the past couple days we've walked past the crew and mass of extras. Our goal is to creepily be in the background of every scene *DAVDIIDD WEBSTERR* (Which is comparable to High School Musical...perhaps.)
Friday, June 20, 2008
help. four letters which can ask for a world of things.
hate. a word which can represent a world of things.
lack of housing.
loss of government grants.
Somewhere in between those eight letters and two words, here I am.
In the middle of Jo'burg South Africa trying to figure out how the two starkly different words can be so entangled in one world. Here I am, trying to figure out how to tell you why it is so important to understand both and their balance together. I'm trying to understand why one must integrate the other for a solution and why the opposite must stand in the first place.
The past few days I've spent in South Africa have felt like a century of days compiled into six. Each day I've felt inspired by my peers and the people I have been interviewing. As I grapple with questions of human interest, human dignity, origin and heritage I can hardly remember a time when I have felt more alive.
Today I went to a camp located outside of Jo'burg where internally displaced people from multiple African nations have been sent in the wake of the xenaphobic violence. Rifle Range Camp is home to more than 2,000 men, women and children. As I walked through the camp and talked to the people staying there I was overwhelmed with people asking for help.
Help from someone, anyone who would listen and do something. Help from anyone who does not hate them. I saw people today who were living with few belongings but surviving with strong words and strong hearts.
The people I met today where forced into tents by hate. Hate that is still prevelant and boiling. It is a hate I have to understand by the end of this trip. A hate I must see objectively to tell all sides of the story, so I can explain how the hate and help on both sides can be transformed into hope.
Right now my hair smells like a camp fire. The stinch is from the fires at Rifle Range. These fires burn into the night and through the day. These fires heat their bodies and their water, but not water for a warm shower. When I take a warm shower tonight the smell in my hair will be washed away. The memories of what I saw today will not.
One of our contacts, Eddie from the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, was able to take us to field where Zimbabweans sleep while awaiting their asylum papers. There, we heard from a man who crossed the flooded Limpopo river in order to come here and get money for his family. Another man was in South Africa after he was beaten for openly supporting the MDC in Zimbabwe. This man inspired me the most- he had been beaten for his beliefs, his arm was broken, yet his main concern was getting back to Zimbabwe to vote in the upcoming election.
We also spent some time in an old tire warehouse where a large group of Zimbabweans are staying since their houses were burnt down in the xenophobic attacks. A volunteer woman there, a South African, came to the building twice a week in order to cook for the people and pray with them. She had an interesting view on the situation, having been inspired by the Bible to help the displaced people.
Overall a great day, and it looks like we will have another today.
I usually keep my gear in a backpack because theft is so common here.
My group has been pretty successful thus far. Yesterday we drove to Pretoria to meet with one of Jenna's contacts, Eddie, from the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum. We assumed we'd just get some good background information and maybe some audio to use somewhere but then Charlie jumped in and asked Eddie where we could go to tell a visual story. So Eddie ended up taking us to the Home Affairs building in Pretoria. Zimbabweans literally camp out around the building, waiting for papers. There was a squatter camp across the street so we walked through there and talked with Zimbabweans. There was a group of them cooking chicken heads. One of the Wits students later told us that, if cooked just right, they're actually pretty good.
Eddie also took us to this old tire shop that was an informal home for Zimbabweans whose homes were burnt during the xenophobia attacks. We met a christian South African who, instead of getting a job, makes food and cares for the muslim Zimbabweans who live there.
We got lunch at this American restaurant that was called Ohio...well...I don't remember. But it was pretty awesome. Pretoria is different from Jo'burg. I felt more secure there. And there were a ton more Afrikaaners there. The place where we got lunch was right by the university so it's the college hangout.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
I'm part of a group dealing with border control with Zimbabwe immigrants. In a few hours I will be leaving for a 6-7 hour bus ride to Musina, a city on the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe. We won't get there until tonight which means a full day of reporting tomorrow before we make the trek back on Saturday afternoon. After talking to one of the photojournalist for The Star, a paper in Johannesburg, there are many photo opportunities to be had, which only makes me more anxious. We already have a team that took the train last night so we have all of our bases covered.
Many of the other groups will be making their way around or just outside of Jo-Burg (what the locals call Johnnesburg) in order to come up with some really awesome stories. Some of the other themes we have are health, migrant origins, economics, children, xenophobia, and a few others my scatter brain is probably forgetting.
I'm off to make some sandwiches for our journey, be prepared for some photos coming up. We're trying to update as much as possible but the internet isn't as reliable as we thought it would be.
Until next time.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
I'll be working with Jenna, Charlie and Kenichi on origins of immigrants in South Africa.
Apparently there is a small population of Pakistanis in Jo'burg so hopefully we'll get to visit them tomorrow.
Other than that, tonight we went to a debate about xenophobia. It was nice to hear the people speak for a change. I've been seeing images in papers and hearing speakers vaguely touch on the topic but hearing the people speak out their opinions and their concerns about the attacks made it tangible.