Speaking to South Africa

Last Thursday (7th March), I had the fortune to be involved in a video conference with a South African school, organised for our Advanced Higher History class – in which we study South African history.  The class was comprised of 17 and 18 years olds of around the same level of education as us.  I think they’re from a predominantly Coloured school, somewhere along the Cape Peninsula.

The reason I’m writing about this is because it was truly a thought-provoking experience.  Although some of their comments were drowned out by the passions of their teachers, the students had such an engagement with their history and were keen to hear our views on certain situations.  They were far more talkative than us typically shy Scots, who shuffled awkwardly and never knew what to say.  I found their views fascinating.  There was a lot of bitterness in their comments, as the Coloured community were excluded from the Apartheid regime but are not entirely at home in today’s ‘Rainbow Nation’ either.

The comment which really stayed in my head, however, was made when I asked the class what they believe individuals in foreign countries could do to help situations like Apartheid today – Syria, for instance, which was mentioned frequently.  They were all agreed that political lobbying through letter writing, petitions, etc. were important, as well as raising awareness and donating some of our collective wealth to charities dedicating to helping.  They believed that a general antipathy exists in ‘better off’ nations, where human nature dictates that people are unlikely to go out of their way to change an issue which does not directly affect them.  These comments really resonated with me.  I toyed with the idea of starting up a human rights group in our school – an Amnesty International branch, perhaps – although two months before exams and leaving school maybe is slightly bad timing.  And I’m not optimistic of the level of support it would enjoy, although that’s no reason not to try.

I discovered a deep love for talking to people of different cultures, beliefs and backgrounds – of hearing their views and ideas.  It put me into a bit of a high for the rest of the day, and I was eager to experience more.  Along with a desire to do more to help disadvantaged parts of the world, I think the longest-lasting lesson, for me, from the conference is a reinvigorated desire to become a journalist.  

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