Posted by: haleymulf | February 6, 2009

School and Soweto


It has now been a week since semester one at the University of Pretoria started. That means I have officially been to all of my classes at least once. Last wednesday I went to my first class, sat down, and the teacher greeted us by saying that only 34% of students usually pass his class. For the rest of the hour he talked about how the semester is going to go and every once in a while would add a comment about why the United States is so terrible or about why the United Nations doesn’t work… these are two things that I happen to hold near and dear to my heart. The next day I went to my International Trade class and the teacher let us take a vote on whether we would start classes the following day (which would be following the schedule) or if we wanted to skip friday and start the next week. I’m going to assume everybody can guess what the end result was. After ten minutes in economics we were let out and I waited until my public administration class started. We all sat down in a large auditorium and went over the syllabus for the semester. I happened to come across a paragraph that said in order to be enrolled in this class you must have a complete working knowledge of the South African government. Finally I went to my last class which happened to be South African politics. I have to say that I am very excited about this class, and I think I will learn a lot from it. I am especially excited because I am enrolled in this class and in April South Africa will be holding the presidential elections. This year will be especially exciting because of the reason split of the ANC, South Africas majority party that has been in power since Nelson Mandela was the first democratically elected president in the early 1990’s.


Although my week didn’t start out the way I was hoping it would, I have already learned a lot of interesting things. For example, 20 million South African live on less than one dollar a day. I thought that sounded like a lot but it wasn’t until I looked up the population of the country that I realized just how much it really is. 20 million people is almost exactly 50% of the population. That means half of South Africa lives in extreme poverty. I did have a chance to witness this a couple weeks ago when I went on a tour of Soweto with the other exchange students. Soweto is a township of Johannesburg and consists of mostly government housing, or shacks that the government is currently in the process of replacing with small houses.


When we first arrived in Soweto our tour guide let us know that if we had been in this situation even only a few years ago we would have stones being thrown at the bus. The people didn’t see how tourism was affecting them in a good way. Soweto is not a big tourist location and we were told that you should only go there if you have a tour guide. This is the same with any township in South Africa. As we drove a little furthur into town we passed the former house of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and ten seconds later on the opposite side of the road passed a former home of Nelson Mandela.

During the apartheid there was a lot of activity in Soweto. One event in particular is a big part of the history of the township. In the 1970’s the Board of Education enacted that all African school children in Soweto must learn half of their studies in Afrikaans, a derivation of Dutch that is spoken by the white population, instead of solely in their mother tongue English.afri The reason for this was that the Board felt the schools in Soweto were being supported by the white population of Jo’burg and therefore they deserved to have a say in their education. The students fought against the new rules and eventually formed a protest in the streets with thousands of students from all over Soweto in June of 1976. The police began firing into the crowd when they believed it was getting unruly. One of the victims was Hector Pieterson who was only 12 years old and walking with the crowd. There was much more violence from the police after this event in Soweto and it also caused uproars in other cities of South Africa. Eventually the Board overturned their original decision and now the day of the protest is a national holiday called National Youth Day.


All in all I’ve had a great three weeks so far and have learned a lot. Hopefully I’ll be able to stay on that path for the next five months.



  1. I think it is so interesting all that you are
    learning and I appreciate you sharing it with
    us. What an incredible experience for you !!!!
    Let us know about the elections and the impact
    on the people there. Have a great time in
    Jo’ burg this weekend and be safe.



  2. Wow Haley, I don’t even know what to say. You are truly living a dream. Soak it all up kiddo and have a great time. I check this blog daily so keep up the updates. I LOVE to brag on you!!


  3. I’m so proud of you! What an exciting life you lead! What a great experience for you! I think of you often! Missing your smiling face here at the Oklahoma State Capitol!!!!
    Love ya!

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