This program is organized by Duke faculty/staff in collaboration with DukeEngage. 

Program Dates

May 29 - July 23

Service Focus

Assisting social agencies seeking to improve life in townships, documenting the history of District Six during the Apartheid era, and promoting health and economic reform.

Service themes include:

  • Race/ethnic relations
  • Women’s advocacy/women’s empowerment
  • Human rights/civil liberties

Program Leaders

  • , Alice Mary Baldwin Professor Emeritus of History, Duke University. His research and teaching interests include The Civil Rights Movement, Women’s History, and the history of post-World War II America.
  • , Professor of Public Policy and History, Duke University. His research interests include twentieth century U. S. history, labor history, African American history, and contemporary social policy.


"Documenting & Engagement Movements of Social Change" will take students to service sites in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Students will spend the majority of the time in Cape Town, working with social agencies that are seeking to improve life in townships, document the history of District Six (a neighborhood bulldozed by the apartheid regime because it was a model of multi-­racial democracy), and promote health and economic reform in the nation. In the course of this work, students will interact with South Africans who were victims of, and activists against, the rigid system of racial apartheid that ruled South Africa for much of the 20th Century. Students will also spend a brief time in Johannesburg and Pretoria, immersing themselves in the history of apartheid and the liberation struggle. In both locations, participants will explore how the stories carried forward about the past help shape policy decisions in the present.

Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes

The DukeEngage-Cape Town program helps students understand how the legacies of apartheid have influenced the current political, social, economic, and cultural landscape of South Africa. Through their work with community partners, the program challenges students to become historically sensitive, critically engaged, and cooperative citizens.

Service Opportunities

Former participants have worked with the following agencies:

  • District Six Museum
  • Women’s Legal Centre
  • Black Sash (women’s anti-­apartheid organization focused on social policy)
  • Treat Action Campaign (anti‐AIDS organization)
  • Sonke, a gender justice NGO that works with male prisoners on issues of AIDS
  • SACTWU, the textile workers union, where students document oral histories with workers

Former participants have volunteered in the following categories of service:

  • Legal assistance
  • Policy analysis
  • Education and teaching
  • Documenting past experiences through oral histories

Most placements are within walking distinct of student accommodations, and transportation is arranged when needed. Placements are decided once students are accepted into the program.

Examples of past projects include:

  • Working on projects related to the decriminalization of sex work in South Africa. For example, this included developing a press pack to highlight the major human rights violations against sex workers for journalists to use to report on sex workers and decriminalization.
  • Documenting and writing an article highlighting Sonke’s MenCare program’s father’s day event in Khayelitsha, which highlighted the importance of male involvement in positive parenting, maternal and child health, and sexual reproductive health and rights.
  • Conducting research on the legal and policy framework of maternal, child and newborn health in South Africa for a UN report.
  • Organizing and leading "A Night at the Museum" – an overnight, fully-­funded experience for local primary school students centered on human rights and diversity. This also included setting up a fundraising account online to finance the program.
  • Writing and drafting a daily newsletters for the week‐long annual ConCamp, a constitutional literacy program for local high school students.
  • Updating the District Six Site Registry by photographing 60 buildings in the area.
  • Program Requirements

Language: None.

Coursework: Students applying for DukeEngage in Cape Town will be working with a group of community service agencies that will be interested in specific qualifications. Those working with the Women’s Legal Centre, for example, should be pre-­law students. Students volunteering with the District Six Museum would benefit from having courses in documentary studies, photography and/or oral history. In general, some familiarity with South Africa’s recent history will be helpful.

Other Skills: Good writing and communication skills are required in all placements. Familiarity with social media and websites is also useful.

Personal Qualities: Students need to be open to new experiences and to living in a tight-knit community.

Program Details

Description of Community: Cape Town is an urban city of great beauty and wealth as well as extreme poverty. With appropriate cautions, all areas in Cape Town and Johannesburg are relatively safe. 

Housing and Meals: Students will be housed at guesthouses in the areas we visit. Each guesthouse is located in a comfortable neighborhood, close to shopping and restaurants. Students will be assigned roommates of the same gender and will share a common bedroom and bathroom.

Students will eat breakfast together (provided by the guesthouse) and will be given a stipend to purchase food for lunch and dinner. Students will have access to a refrigerator at the guest house, but will not have access to cooking facilities. Most students have eaten their meals at local restaurants or cafes or have ordered in. Students share meals twice a week to hear speakers and reflect on their work and activities.

If you do not eat certain types of food for cultural, religious or personal reasons, please contact the DukeEngage office, , to discuss whether or not your dietary needs can be reasonably accommodated at this program site.

Transportation: Walking or van organized by the DukeEngage team.

Communication: All students will have cell phones provided by the program. There are nearby cafes that have free wireless. The guesthouses also have internet access that students can purchase; however, this is not considered a programmatic expense. Students should bring laptops for their work with community partners.

Opportunities for Reflection: Your program leaders and site coordinator will lead regular reflection sessions in which you’ll be expected to participate. More details will be shared with students once they arrive on site.  Weekly postings on a group blogsite are required.

Other Opportunities: Students will have free time to pursue social activities and have some downtime. There will be occasional weekend field trips. For safety reasons, students are not permitted to spend nights away from the group. There are many structured and non-­structured activities that allow students to meet and talk with South Africans and to visit important historical and cultural sites.

More Information

Preparation for DukeEngage in Cape Town should include some reading on South African history. Allistair Sparks has written numerous books on South Africa, but two of his best are Beyond the Miracle, a study of post-­apartheid South Africa, and The Mind of South Africa. Nelson Mandela’s The Long Walk to Freedom is a classic description of South Africa’s most important political figure. You might also consult Leonard Thompson, A History of South Africa, Mark Mathabane, Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography,and Steve Biko, I Write What I Like. The best way to be informed about events relating to South Africa is to subscribe to the email list for the Concilium on Southern Africa (COSA) https://sites.duke.edu/cosa.

Curricular Connections

There are a number of courses at Duke about South Africa, and there are several South Africans on the faculty.

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Program leader Bill Chafe wins Duke teaching award