Picture 1: Solms Delta Winery
Today was a cultural adventure into the winelands of the Cape, a place that made me feel like I was travelling into a European countryside. While at the Solms Delta Winery, we had a brief introduction to the history of the vineyard and its contradictingly competitive, but cooperative relationship with the government. Also, some of the workers who grew up on the farm were indigenous South African people, a group that was never even recognized by the apartheid government as a race classification. After tasting their wine, even a wine that was on the list of 1,001 wines you have to taste before you die, we had a picnic lunch by a creek that was quite hot, but nonethless, lovely. After that, we continued further into Franschhoek to see the Huguenot monument dedicated to the French settlers that came to South Africa for religious freedom (but had to give up speaking their language.. So like.. More oppression?) and established the winelands. Lastly we drove past the 3rd and last prison where Nelson Mandela served his 27 years and where he was released in 1990.
However, what was most enlightening about my day was the conversations I was involved in with Prosper, our guide and friend, on the way to the winelands, and a conversation that was brought up during dinner with Danielle, an American female missionary, who has lived in South Africa for 8 years and lives in the team house. Both conversations had interesting parallels to our respective cultural attitudes.
In the car for the long drive we asked Prosper, recently engaged, about marriage traditions he has had to uphold and about his upcoming wedding. So based on his culture, he had to pay a dowry to his future bride’s family, but as a Christian man he will have a ceremony that reflects his religion. Anyways, the conversation went on about marriages and the institution in America and Prosper made a comment to the effect of “divorce would not happen as frequently if there was a head of the household,” the head being a man. As the feminist I am, I immediately launched into a rebuttal of his statement. After a little back and forth, I decided to back off a little thinking that maybe in some way I’m being disrespectful of his cultural traditions, like giving a dowry. However, I then realized I’ve had the SAME conversations with white, Hispanic, and black American men. So what this conversation demonstrated to me was the partiarchy alive and well on a reflective international scale. While Prosper tried to defend his statements by explaining that it wasn’t as dominanting and hierarchial as I was making it sound, he didn’t quite grasp what I and most of the other women in my group were explaining as the damaging and limiting space marriage can be for women in respect to his “head of household” narrative. In the end, no limbs or friendships were lost, but I did come away with the awareness that the Feminist movement truly needs no country borders, the harmful effects of masculine expectations need to be deconstructed, and EDUCATION about the subject should be on the international agenda.
Now at dinner, a couple from the Netherlands also staying in the house asked about current social movements in South Africa since it’s our area of study. My professor mentioned the student protests against rising university fees over the past year and a half. It was at that moment that Danielle wanted to clarify that the fees aren’t that bad and students (or the fake student protestors she mentioned??) simply want everything to be free, but “nothing in life is free.” As Americans, we’ve heard the condescending critques of our generation, but I was completely thrown off to hear it from a missionary (don’t they help people in need?) who has lived in South Africa for 8 years having firsthand experience and learning of the economic turmoil in South Africa and the major wealth discrepancies inflicting the black/colored/indian people within the townships. I immediately thought of our meeting with the Soweto women and one mother explaining how difficult it was to try to support her son’s education, especially since his intellect could see him through medicial school, their poverty could not. Not only is this unequal economic situation a result of apartheid sanctions, but it also effected the educational levels of the township people. So now, in a post-apartheid era, township students are striving for higher levels of education to overcome their forced economic and social situations while Universities are continuing to burden and exacerbate their struggle. So yea, these students perfectly understand that “nothing in life is free,” but maybe their access to higher education really should be. I did not say anything to her about my feelings, although I felt the same disagreeing energy around me, but I definitely felt like her white American privilege was spilling over into the context of discussion. It was interesting to observe and participate in these much needed discussions.