“It’s a Devil Being Born With a Conscience”

When asking Denis Goldberg why he became so passionate about the ANC’s liberation movement, he explained that “it’s a devil being born with a conscience” and he simply couldn’t ignore the injustices that were occurring in apartheid-era South Africa.

Staring at the elderly white male sitting before us, most Americans would not guess that he was one of the leaders of the ANC’s military branch (MK) and worked right alongside Nelson Mandela in the struggle against apartheid. Goldberg served 22 years in prison after being arrested at Liliesleaf alongside other prominent ANC leaders and being found guilty at the Rivonia Trial. Yet, he explained in our discussion last Monday that “to be a human being, you have to serve human beings” and this often requires sacrificing ourselves for the greater good. Goldberg knew that people had to take a stand against the injustices of apartheid and he, along with other courageous white, colored, and black South Africans, took the risks that were necessary to make strides toward justice and equality.

How does this apply to us, you say?

Denis was clearly proud of the progress that has been made over the past two decades, but he noted that, though the legal provisions of apartheid no longer remain, the remnants of this past discrimination are still evident in the persisting inequalities between race and class in South Africa. The gap between low paid and skilled workers continues to grow and, while only about 6% of white South Africans are unemployed, rates are as high as 40% for black South Africans. The economic gap continues to grow as inequalities are inherited generation after generation. Nowhere is this stark contrast between poverty and wealth more apparent than in Cape Town.

As Stefani and I walk down Kloof Street and Long Street each morning, we pass an array of expensive cars lining streets filled with designer boutiques, cute, trendy cafes, bars with specialty cocktails, hostels filled with foreign tourists, and beautiful homes with a view of Table Mountain. Yet, these same streets are home to those with no more than a sleeping bag, people digging through trash cans eating whatever scraps they can find, and children pleading for money from tourists like us that pass by. As Anne-Marie, one of our program coordinators, noted, these blatant displays of poverty may make us uncomfortable, but that’s a good thing– it should make us uncomfortable that people continue to live in such unfathomable conditions. Seeing these displays of poverty everyday serves as a reminder of the injustices that persist in society –and will continue to persist until someone does something about them.

Now we come into the picture.

As has been pointed out in our group reflection sessions (and previous posts by Brandon and Reed), it’s so easy to come and notice economic inequalities in South Africa and want to do something about it, yet we fail to address and continue to ignore the inequalities that persist in America. With the top one percent of households owning ⅓ of wealth, the US faces similar issues of disproportionate wealth distribution and persistent poverty. While it is great that we are recognizing these social problems during our time in Cape Town, we must not forget these realizations when they are less apparent and tangible in our everyday lives back in the US. This issue was brought up by Reed in our reflection session last night and left me wondering how I can continue to incorporate the lessons and understandings we’ve gained here into our lives back at Duke. Bob encouraged us to seek out different service learning and community service methods to continue addressing the social problems we’ve become invested in during our time here, and I’m eager to start researching opportunities back at Duke.

To bring it back to Denis Goldberg, “it’s a devil being born with a conscience” and we can’t continue to ignore issue of poverty and economic inequality in Durham and the US. In his parting words, Goldberg reminded us that change will not happen on it’s own:

“This is our burden & our task”


Organizations Taking Action in Cape Town

Here’s links to all of the great organizations we are working with this summer…check out the websites and learn about the amazing things that they are doing for Cape Town and South Africa!

429058_264908503589691_323232992_nAfrican Arts Institute

The African Arts Institute’s vision is for a vibrant, dynamic and sustainable African creative sector that contributes to development, human rights and democracy on the continent, and projects African aesthetics and intellectual content into the international arena.

The mission of the African Arts Institute is to harness relevant expertise, resources, infrastructure, markets, knowledge and information to help develop and sustain creative practice in Africa, and the protection and promotion of the continent’s cultural heritage and assets in line with our vision.

d6museum-bigDistrict 6 Museum

Up until the 1970s, District Six was home to almost a tenth of the city of Cape Town’s population. In 1966, the apartheid government, as it had done in Sophiatown in 1957, declared District Six “white”. More than 60,000 people were forcibly uprooted and relocated onto the barren plains of the Cape Flats. Over a century of history, of community life, of solidarity amongst the poor and of achievement against great odds, was imperiled.

The District Six Museum Foundation was established in 1989 and launched as a museum in 1994 to keep alive the memories of District Six and displaced people everywhere. It came into being as a vehicle for advocating social justice, as a space for reflection and contemplation and as an institution for challenging the distortions and half-truths which propped up the history of Cape Town and South Africa. As an independent space where the forgotten understandings of the past are resuscitated, where different interpretations of that past are facilitated through its collections, exhibitions and education programmes, the Museum is committed to telling the stories of forced removals and assisting in the reconstitution of the community of District Six and Cape Town by drawing on a heritage of non-racialism, non-sexism, anti-class discrimination and the encouragement of debate.

sonkeSonke Gender Justice Network

Sonke Gender Justice Network is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation, established in 2006. Today, Sonke has established a growing presence on the African continent and plays an active role internationally. Sonke works to create the change necessary for men, women, young people and children to enjoy equitable, healthy and happy relationships that contribute to the development of just and democratic societies. Sonke pursues this goal across Southern Africa by using a human rights framework to build the capacity of government, civil society organisations and citizens to achieve gender equality, prevent gender-based violence and reduce the spread of HIV and the impact of AIDS.

tac-logoTreatment Action Campaign

Founded on 10 December 1998 in Cape Town, South Africa, The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) advocates for increased access to treatment, care and support services for people living with HIV and campaigns to reduce new HIV infections. With more than 16,000 members, 267 branches and 72 full time staff members, TAC has become the leading civil society force behind comprehensive health care services for people living with HIV&AIDS in South Africa.  Since 1998, TAC has held government accountable for health care service delivery; campaigned against official AIDS denialism; challenged the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies to make treatment more affordable and cultivated community leadership on HIV and AIDS. Our efforts have resulted in many life-saving interventions, including the implementation of country-wide mother-to-child transmission prevention and antiretroviral treatment programmes. For our efforts TAC has received world-wide acclaim and numerous international accolades, including a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. On 30 August 2006 the New York Times named TAC, “the world’s most effective AIDS group”.


Women’s Legal Centre

The Women’s Legal Centre is a non-profit, independent law centre that seeks to achieve equality for women in South Africa. As access to justice is largely inaccessible to poor women, particularly black women, the WLC plays an important role in litigating in their interest and providing them with access to free legal advice. The WLC has a vision of women in South Africa living free from violence in safe housing, free to own their own share of property, empowered to ensure their own reproductive health rights and able to work in a safe and equal environment.

In order to fulfill its objectives, the WLC will, free of charge: Litigate cases which advance women’s rights and are in the public interest, particularly constitutional cases; and produce briefs to assist courts in constitutional cases which concern women’s rights and gender equality. In addition, where resources permit, the WLC aims to provide women’s organisations with technical legal assistance in making submissions to parliament and other institutions. Our plans include strategies to provide training and capacity building programs for para-legals and women lawyers who wish to conduct constitutional litigation in regard to gender issues. We believe that there is a need to collaborate with women’s organisations in all our activities.

The Not So Sexy Reality of Sex Work in South Africa

It’s hard to believe that we have already been at our internships for 2 1/2 weeks and even more surprising to see how quickly Stefani and I became integrated into the work of the Women’s Legal Centre. I came to South Africa with pretty negative perceptions regarding the inexplicable rates of physical and sexual violence, especially against women.

Looking at the statistics, you would be pessimistic too:

sex worker

WLC Educational Booklet on the Rights of Sex Workers

  • Studies estimate that 1 in 2 to 1 in 6 women are experiencing domestic violence
  • One woman is killed by her intimate partner every eight hours
  • 27% of South African men have raped a woman or girl
  • 14% of South African men have raped a current or ex-girlfriend
  • One woman is raped every 17 seconds in South Africa
  • Between 28% and 30% of women’s first sexual encounters are forced
  • South Africa has the largest number of recorded child-rapes in the world
  • Each day at least 50 children are victims of rape

Our first project at the WLC only reaffirmed my apprehensiveness about the state of affairs in South Africa. Sara (an awesome intern that just left the WLC) passed on her assignment of researching harmful cultural practices in SA– including witch doctors, satanism, and muti killings. Article after article revealed brutal stories of sacrificial killings for satanism and muti (body parts used in rituals by witch doctors). Satanism has also become an increasing problem among the youth population and many of the killings we read about involved groups of young adults. Needless to say, the problems facing South Africa couldn’t seem more removed from the issues we were used to dealing with in America.

However–*shocker*– I soon realized how wrong my perceptions of South Africa had been. One of the first things that Sara suggested we busy ourselves with was reading the South African Constitution. The Constitution of South Africa is shockingly progressive– perhaps even more so than the United States. The breadth and inclusiveness of the Bill of Rights enumerated in the Constitution mirrored that of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As another intern, Erin, pointed out, the SA Constitution is unique in it’s inclusiveness of so many positive rights rather than a focus on negative rights. The expansiveness of the Bill of Rights became even more apparent as Stefani and I began to work on our next project: a position paper on the decriminalization of sex work.

Though I anticipated that our internships would be enlightening in terms of legal knowledge and experience, I didn’t expect it to completely change my perspectives on issues that were also very pertinent to America. Whenever discussions regarding the criminalized nature of sex work come to the table in the United States, the prominent debate revolves around the morality of sex work and preserving American values. Before working at WLC, I had never before seen the debate about decriminalization laid out so blatantly in terms of the rights (or, rather, violation of rights) of the sex workers themselves. While reasons of societal values were briefly cited in many opposition papers, most of these competing perspectives still focused on what was best for the actual sex workers. (Check out the difference between these options of legalization, partial decriminalizaiton, and decriminalization here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/1EQ1Ht3X1LYM9y0LqgtOy6x_kPzYfAOdJtXM-dqP0wRakW34AlabBeongMTLV/edit?usp=sharing)

Criminalization doesn’t reduce the number of sex workers, it only subjects them to unsafe conditions and provides no outlet for protection or justice from the police. In fact, the police are responsible for a large proportion of the exploitation of sex workers that occurs in South Africa.  Seven out of 10 sex workers who approached the WLC to report a violation had experienced some form of abuse by the police.

Decriminalization advocates the repeal of all laws against sex work, and the removal of provisions that criminalize all aspects of sex work. In doing so, decriminalization improves the protection of sex workers and reduces violations of their rights as power shifts away from the state and clients to sex workers themselves. Australia and New South Wales are the first two places to pass decriminalization legislation and–contray to the worries of many skeptics/critics– the rates of sex work have not increased. Sex workers in these two places report feeling safer due to the ability to report abuses to the police and gain the protection of employment benefits and fair labor standards. Sex workers are empowered by the ability to challenge unfair labour conditions in court, enforce contracts against employers or clients, and collectively bargain for improved working conditions.  The ability to report crimes without fear of retaliation gives sex workers the agency to refuse dangerous clients and negotiate safer sex practices. Violations to the their freedom and security decrease because police and private actors are no longer able to exploit the illicit status of sex workers to sexually and physically abuse them.

While the morality of selling sex remains contentious, this debate is so disproportionate to the larger problem of the discrimination and extensive human rights violations facilitated by the criminalization of sex work.  Gaining such an informed perspective on the sex work industry and the accompanying laws has challenged my prior opinions based on personal beliefs and encouraged a new rights-based perspective on the subject. (Also, as I begin to consider a topic for my public policy thesis, this issue is starting to look quite appealing…)