South Africa Series: No. 4

My sisters and I were raised on a healthy dose of Willie Nelson, Dire Straits, and Paul Simon. Don’t get me wrong, we could also belt out every Disney song under the sun, but it was more common for us to know all the lyrics to You’re the One or Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. Whenever I hear these songs today, I am overwhelmed with nostalgia and a sense of home. Our parents made this music important to us by explaining the stories behind the lyrics, and it was through Paul Simon’s Graceland album that we first learned about Apartheid. As I sat aboard the safari vehicle at the Aquila Private Game Reserve on Sunday morning, I thought back to those powerful learning moments and reflected on how they had prepared me for my time studying in Cape Town.

The two weeks in Cape Town had gone by with lightning-speed, immersed in lessons about foreign policy analysis and the structural legacies of colonialism in Africa, as well as Africa’s cultural influence on Brazilian society and India’s development assistance as forms of soft power. The LSE-UCT Summer School programme had indeed brought the best-of-the-best to teach us about African political economy and international relations. We learned from Professor Chris Alden of LSE about the role of China in Africa; his lectures augmented with two presentations from Dr Zheng Yu from Fudan University where we learned about globalisation and China, as well as traditional foreign aid versus new development assistance.

We travelled to Stellenbosch University, where Professor Janis van der Westhuizen taught us about comparative politics of South Africa and Brazil. Stellenbosch University is a multi-lingual campus, where Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa are practised. It is also an institute with a deep and dark history where legacies of eugenics and Apartheid haunt its campus.

Back at UCT, we were joined by Dr Karen Smith, who is special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the responsibility to protect and a lecturer at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. Dr Smith helped us gain insight into Africa as both an object and an agent of International Relations theory. Drawing on Nelson Mandela’s statement that “South Africa cannot escape its African destiny”, Dr Smith shared with our class how South Africa’s foreign policy developed post-1994. We explored key drivers of South Africa’s engagement with the rest of the continent, including historical, economic, and diplomatic factors.

Foreign Policy Analyst Sanusha Naidu joined us during our second week of studies to speak about South-South Cooperation and the changing dynamics of development corporation. Beginning with the traditional and existing global architecture of development corporation, Ms Naidu explained the explicit links between security development and development assistance. An example of financing for development cooperation that we turned to was the Belt and Road Initiative. We built on our Week One lessons through an exploration of the five pillars of the BRI being cultural exchange, policy coordination, facilities connectivity, trade and investment, and financial integration.

Throughout the entire course, our learning had been facilitated by Neil Berry, who expertly engaged our class with challenges such as conducting a SWOT analysis on the EU in Africa, and integrated multi-media into our classroom debate about Brazil’s ProSavana project and China-Africa relations. Our two-week course cumulated in a final exam, where we demonstrated the learning acquired throughout ten sessions.

Most profound during these sessions was the vast array of perspectives our cohort brought. The multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural diaspora of our cumulative experiences lent well to discussion and debate about the continually deepening relationship between Africa and emerging powers, with specific reference to BRICS. Our cohort took our learning outside the classroom with visits to Spier Wine Farm, the Castle of Good Hope, and the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, located at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

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