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Migration, immigration, and asylum after apartheid – 2023

South Africa - Cape Town
Dates June 3 - July 29, 2023
Program Focus

Assisting several community partners, including Human Sciences Research Council, Ndifuna Ukwazi, and the Refugee Rights Unit (University of Cape Town), seeking to improve the lives of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in the City of Cape Town.

Program Leaders
Program Themes
  • Ethics
  • Human Rights
  • Migration
  • Public Policy
  • Race & Ethnicity



Information Session:


Our program will begin during the Spring 2023 semester with informational and learning sessions to better understand South Africa’s history of colonial settlement, apartheid, political struggle, and liberation.

Students will dedicate the duration of the program to working at the listed community partner organizations. These seek to advocate for and improve the lives of foreign-born Capetonians with immigrant and refugee status. Focusing on creating a more just South Africa for immigrants, community partners work to help integrate refugee and immigrant families into South Africa’s social, economic, and political system. In the course of their placements, students will have the opportunity to meet with South Africans who were antiapartheid activists, union organizers, and legal advocates who fought the rigid system of apartheid. Confirmed guests will include: legal scholars who work with migrant and refugee communities and activists who advocate against institutionalized xenophobia.

Apartheid, established in 1948, operated to strip South Africans of color of full rights of citizenship and subjected a majority to racial, gender, sexual, and class discrimination. Organized struggle on the part of individuals and organizations including the African National Congress, Black Consciousness Movement, South African Students’ Organization, etc. would eventually force the state’s hand. In 1994 South Africa held its first democratic elections extending the franchise to Black South Africans. DukeEngage Cape Town affords students an opportunity to better understand this history and the many efforts to reshape South African society after almost 350 years of settler colonialism.

DukeEngage Cape Town began as an attempt to introduce Duke students to a society remarkably similar to the United States—one where race played a fundamental role in determining an individual’s fate, but also inspired a long-term political battle to eradicate the system of state violence and oppression. The civil rights movement in the US has been compared to the antiapartheid struggle, and while there are certainly parallels, given the historical time frame, political strategies, and repertoires of struggle, there are many differences too. The scale of struggle, for one, is important to keep in mind and easy comparison between South Africa’s civil war and civil rights struggle in the United States requires careful consideration. In learning the history of South Africa and working with organizations dedicated to improving the society, students have an extraordinary opportunity to learn about the values and the conflicts that continue to shape the history of both countries.


Community Partnerships

The DukeEngage Cape Town community partners work towards “the cultural, social and economic integration of migrants, refugees and South Africans into local society. Perceiving migration as an opportunity,” they are committed to alleviating poverty and promoting development in the Western Cape while fostering integration between migrants, refugees and South Africans.

Immigration, migration, and asylum is both a global issue and a South African one. While the history of the US southern border reflects efforts to control the arrival of refugees and migrant workers from Central America. South Africa’s borders similarly reflect histories of efforts by refugees and migrants to cross into a country perceived to provide both economic opportunity and political stability. In working with our community partners, students will be afforded insight into the universal challenge of displaced peoples motivated by economic, political, and increasingly ecological need.

Students interning with our partners will support job placement, tutoring and curriculum development, advocacy campaigns, access to urban housing and land, and a host of other services provided to asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants.


Program Requirements

Language: English

Coursework: no specific requirements

Skills: Good writing and communication skills are required. Experience teaching or tutoring is a plus.

Personal Qualities: Students should be interested in the lives of others, in teaching/tutoring, skills development, and have general curiosity about geopolitics. They need to be open to new experiences and to accommodating and building a sense of community with other DukeEngage Cape Town participants.



Housing, meals, and transportation: As in prior years, the program will arrange for accommodation in a guesthouse located in the City Bowl (Cape Town’s downtown). Students will be assigned roommates and will share a common bedroom and bathroom.

Guesthouses generally provide breakfast. Students will receive a stipend to purchase food for lunch and dinner. There will be access to a refrigerator, additional food storage, and cooking facilities. Most students have eaten their meals at modestly priced local restaurants or cafes, or have ordered takeout. Students share meals twice a week when there is a guest speaker and in order to reflect on their work and activities.

Most placements are within walking distance of student accommodations. Whenever feasible, accounting for questions of safety and proximity, students will use the MyCiTi Bus system.

Local safety, security, and cultural norms: We encourage students who have questions or concerns about health or safety in international programs to check Duke’s International SOS (ISOS) portal for relevant information. If you have special needs related to health, culture, disability, or religious practices, please contact the program director(s) or the DukeEngage office to discuss whether your needs can be accommodated in this program.

For guidance on how race, religion, sexual/gender identity, ability, or other aspects of identity might impact your travels, we suggest exploring the Diversity, Identity and Global Travel section of the DukeEngage website.


Academic Connections

This program is open to all, and might especially appeal to students taking courses in ICS, Cultural Anthropology, History, Political Science, Pre-Law, Pre-Med, Global Health to name just a few possible intersections between undergraduate education and the DukeEngage program.

Students who participate in this program might go on to pursue senior theses with a focus on South Africa, the history of apartheid, research projects concerned with international law and the rights of asylees, the history of antiapartheid struggles and the civil rights movement, as well as South African literature.

Potential program cancellations

DukeEngage cannot guarantee that any program will occur. Programs may be cancelled for various reasons, including COVID considerations.

Student Reflections from 2022