I have always prided myself on keeping up with the news. I religiously read a daily news summary each morning, exchange New York Times articles with my dad, and am the go-to person for my friends when they need a summary on anything from Brexit to the USWNT’s fight for equal pay. The other week at work, a co-worker remarked how ‘messed up’ Cape Town is in the current moment. She went on to rant about children dying daily, a lack of access to healthcare in townships and the intervention and occupation of troops throughout the Cape Flats. She was angry, frustrated and understandably upset that as she scrolled through Facebook her feed was tragedy after tragedy occurring in her home city. Yet throughout the conversation, I sat there and listened. I tried to sympathize and process what she was sharing. But all I truly felt was sheer embarrassment that this was the first time I was hearing about the perpetual violence occurring in the city I am staying in.
Coming to Cape Town, I have been hyper-focused on ways to engage with the city. How do I find a balance between ‘seeing’ everything but not exclusively checking items off the list of classic list of tourist attractions? Where are good places to eat ‘locally’? How do I justify supporting the highly gentrified establishments near my work, that our co-workers have watched overtake their homes? All of these questions are important to consider. But by considering these ideas, I have been avoiding the easiest way to engage – which comes as second nature to me at home – reading the news.
Since arriving in South Africa, I have not strayed from my routine. At 12 pm each day, my daily news blast is in my inbox and typically read by the time I leave work. I have still frequently exchanged New York Times articles with my dad, and I am following the Mueller hearing on Twitter while I simultaneously write this blog post. But in doing this I have neglected to engage with the news of my surroundings. I couldn’t tell you why – other than the fact that it embarrassingly had never crossed my mind to change my Twitter location to South Africa until our site coordinator, Naledi mentioned it during our last reflection. It had not occurred to me to spend a fraction of the time I spend on the New York Times reading the Mail & Guardian.
In reading the news each day, I have always assumed I am well informed on what is going on in the world. The reality of this assumption is that I am (semi) well informed on American and British-centric news, and frankly have no clue on what is truly going on elsewhere. Even before arriving in South Africa, what I read about politics here, such as land reform debates, was solely through articles that produced a US outlook on the situation. Not once did I think to look for this information from a South African newspaper.
This morning at work I spent 15 minutes on the Mail & Guardian website. Yesterday, I read an article in the New York Times about the rhetoric of the phrase “shattering the glass ceiling” regarding the 6 female presidential campaigns. I was pleasantly surprised when one of the featured articles on Mail & Guardian was of a similar narrative. Reading the piece, I learned that many professional sectors in South Africa, like government, have a gender quota for the number of men and women that can fill positions. In Parliament, there is a designated number of seats reserved for women. Despite this though, the article discussed how many women still struggle to feel empowered in these positions, and question whether they were hired as an obligatory measure, or because of their ability and qualifications. I am actively interested in gender issues, especially in regards to politics, so why had it taken me 6 weeks to engage with this topic in the context of the place I am in?
The other piece I read addressed military intervention in townships in the Cape Flats. From the inner city of Cape Town, the prominent violence described by my co-worker seems like a distant thought. But again, after reading this article, I was drastically aware of how misinformed I am. The article shared statistic after statistic of frequent deaths in the townships within the last two weeks alone. 23 dead one weekend, 14 dead another. Military intervention was called in to “help” but others feared this control would only mimic Apartheid era circumstances. Not once has our group discussed these issues whether it be in reflection, sitting by the fire or at dinner. Despite my co-workers living in the Cape Flats, and reading about the relocation of District Six residents to the Cape Flats, I had never thought to read about the area.
In my attempt to engage with Cape Town, it is almost ironic that I had never thought to read the current news about the city. Rather than reading extensive lists of things to do, places to eat, etc. one of the easiest ways to engage would have been to adjust my routine of reading the news and focus on what is happening around me.