Peace Boat participants enjoy an impromptu dance with the owners of Mzansi, a wonderful family-run restaurant in Langa township.

From the Ship

South Africa Then and Now - The Struggle for Equality

Jan 15, 2017

In early January 2017, Peace Boat sailed around the south-eastern coast of Africa - calling in Madagascar, Mozambique, and South Africa - and afforded participants the opportunity to deepen their understanding of some of the pressing social and environmental challenges which presently face the continent. During this leg of the 93rd Global Voyage, two guest educators came onboard to focus the minds of participants on one issue which blighted the lives of millions of South Africans for decades: apartheid.

Nondyero Shabalala runs Incredible Tours and Travel, a growing South African tourism agency which she established in 2009. She has been working in partnership with Peace Boat for the past four years to provide tours of Soweto - the largest township under the apartheid regime - to participants, and enable them to experience life there through homestays with local families. In her lectures on Peace Boat, she explained to participants that apartheid was a system of racial segregation legally imposed by the white-controlled South African government from 1948 to 1994. Black South Africans were required to carry an identification pass (or risk facing a heavy fine or imprisonment) and were prevented from living, studying, travelling and working alongside their white counterparts, who received preferential treatment in all areas of life.

Participants also had the opportunity to interact onboard with Ela Gandhi, a peace activist, social worker, and former member of the South African parliament. She highlighted to Peace Boat participants the need for non-violent solutions to conflict, and outlined various non-violent strategies which were used against the apartheid regime, including mass demonstrations by the public, as well as the boycotting of South African products and sports teams by the international community. During his time imprisoned on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela became inspired by Ela's grandfather Mahatma Gandhi's teachings on non-violence, and subsequently went on to negotiate a peaceful settlement in South Africa. With empathy, compassion, and a strong sense of responsibility, Ela Gandhi reminded participants that we can all make a positive change to our lives and the lives of others. This philosophy should be central to our pursuit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which the global community has pledged to meet by 2030.

In Cape Town, a group of 22 Peace Boat participants had the opportunity to visit Langa, one of the oldest surviving planned black townships in South Africa which was established in 1927. Participants learned about the dehumanization of the black community during apartheid at the Langa Pass Museum, housed in an apartheid-era magistrate's court, and witnessed a disturbing reenactment of a court proceeding in which a black African man was charged with having used a lavatory designated for use by white men only. The defendant was forced to pay a fine for his "crime" - the officials took all the money the man had in his pocket, a sign of their corruption and arbitrary application of the law. This type of injustice was commonplace during the apartheid system.

Despite its troubled past, in recent years a number of organizations which aim to revitalize the community have bourgeoned in Langa - Ikhaya Le Langa is one such example. It aims to promote Langa's rich history and heritage, and create jobs and business opportunities for its residents - 60 per cent of whom are unemployed - by providing a space in which local artists can sell their products, as well as a growing homestay programme which connects tourists with residents. Before visiting the organization, its founder Tony Elvin guided participants around the township and took them to lunch at Mzansi - a family-run restaurant famed across Cape Town for its delicious home-cooked food and heartwarming atmosphere.

At Ikhaya Le Langa, participants delivered support goods for the Langa community which were collected in Japan. Participants were delighted to hear that the football shirts which had been donated the previous year had been used by two children's football teams, both now unrivalled in Langa for their skill. "I was moved to learn about the suffering of the black community under apartheid; however, I was inspired by the skill and enthusiasm of Langa residents, and I believe they will have a bright future", commented Naruko Takatoshi, a Peace Boat participant. Today, South Africans enjoy equal protection under the law, but poverty and inequality are still daily realities for many. While on Peace Boat, Ela Gandhi echoed the famous words of her grandfather: "Be the change that you want to see in the world". Just as the residents of Langa are doing, we should all strive towards this goal.