Monday, December 22, 2014

Country Overview: South Africa


I don't even know where to begin with this one. My head is spinning with everything I've seen and experienced here in this country. A week is most certainly not enough time to understand the historical and cultural currents flowing through South Africa to make it what it is today. I've had the chance to scratch the surface, though, and it is absolutely fascinating (and at times, heartbreaking).

What you see above is an example of the contrast between the highly developed and commercialized parts of Cape Town and the areas left desolate by apartheid.

The Basics

Most people know South Africa for this iconic and incredible man, Nelson Mandela. I had the chance to learn a lot about his legacy and fight against apartheid. He is very much loved still by the people, and rightfully so.

Today, the country is home to 54 million people. There are 11 official languages spoken in the country, but the most common are Afrikaans and English. Only about 9% of the population is white, but from my observations they still hold a great deal of power and wealth within the country, decades after apartheid was dismantled. The majority of the citizens identify as Christian. South Africa does not have one particular capital, as the branches of government are spread out between Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Pretoria.

South Africa and My Project

For this destination, my research was once again focused on sexual exploitation - mostly sex trafficking. The 2014 TIP report ranks South Africa as a Tier 2 country, as it doesn't comply with minimum standards for combatting trafficking. However, great strides have been made, as Parliament has recently signed into law a comprehensive bill to do so. It will hopefully be enforced beginning next year.

South Africa is a source, transit, and destination country for trafficking victims, but the people I spoke to mostly work with those who have been brought into the country to work in prostitution. I was shocked to find out that victims are trafficked all the way from places like Thailand and Bulgaria in large numbers. However, Nigerian women are the largest group of non-South Africans being trafficked and exploited. This seems to be a growing trend everywhere, so I plan to post what I've learned about the Nigerian connection soon.

Like many countries I've visited, the problem of a tumultuous history and widespread poverty make many people vulnerable to exploitation. My main goal in South Africa was to understand the link, if any, between the history of apartheid and trafficking. I had the chance to see some of the iconic sites where it was dismantled, like this balcony to the right, where Mandela addressed the South African people for the first time after his release from Robben Island. I'll be sharing more about what I found out about apartheid in a later post. However, here are some other questions I was looking to answer:

  1. Why do traffickers bring victims from such far off source countries?
  2. How does the legal structure in the country perpetuate the problem of sex trafficking?
  3. What is the link between poverty in South Africa and this problem?
  4. What cultural factors impact the work of organization providing aftercare for survivors of sexual exploitation?

First Impressions

I spent most of my time in Cape Town, which is an incredible city. The most striking thing about Cape Town to me is the contrasts. You have incredible hiking and climbing spots less than a mile away from pristine white beaches. There are beautiful beachfront hotels and properties not far from an area once decimated by apartheid. The strangest thing for me, though, is seeing Christmas decorations while you're slathering on the sunscreen.

As I said, there is so much still to learn about this country and culture. I certainly plan to come back, even if just to see the view from on top of Table Mountain again (because a picture does not come close to doing it justice... trust me).



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