Following the Fellows

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By Matthew Kelleher

Last Saturday, the African Cup of Nations kicked off between the hosting country, South Africa, and visiting team Cape Verde.

The first time South Africa hosted was in 1996, only two years after the country’s first democratic elections.

South Africa won the title giving a divided nation a team to unite behind.

However, while watching the game in the community where I work, whenever the team missed an opportunity to net the ball, the locals blamed the poor performance on the team now consisting of a majority of black athletes.

As is evident from local sports, racial divisions in post- apartheid South Africa are still very real.

The organizations I work with during my Minerva Fellowship all deal with issues of racial divisions and tensions.

The education system is one area where traditionally disenfranchised groups still have less access than traditionally privileged groups.

The school I volunteer with, though an English language school, has a majority  of black Xhosa-speaking students who are sent by their parents because English is seen as the language of higher education.

Yet the Xhosa speaking students compete in national standardized tests—administered in English—against students from more privileged schools, whose first language is English, putting black Xhosa speakers at an inherent disadvantage.

Part of my work is to focus on English reading skills development with students in hopes that they will have a greater chance of success despite being disadvantaged by a system that favors the minority of English speakers.

My work through the Minerva Fellowship has given me firsthand experience with the immense diversity of cultures and challenges facing the people of Cape Town.

To read more about my projects, check out my blog: https://contemplatingcapetown.wordpress.

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