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South Africa: Social and Political Transformation

South Africa: Social and Political Transformation

Explore the socioeconomic, political, and cultural dynamics of South Africa—an extraordinarily diverse country in transition.

Through coursework and community engagement, you will focus on issues of memory, reconciliation, development, and nation building as they relate to South Africa’s social and political transformations in the 20 years after apartheid. The program includes multiple excursions, including a comparative visit to neighboring Mozambique, which played a significant role in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle and has pursued a different path in its own recent history of independence.

Major topics of study include:

  • The historical background of South Africa's apartheid system, the dismantling of that system, and emerging visions for post-apartheid South Africa
  • Re-membering the past through individual and popular memory and the role of memory in healing the trauma of the past
  • Reconciliation through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)
  • The evolution from the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) to a developmental state
  • The role of civil society, education, and media in the goal of nation building
  • The challenges of transition
  • Gender and social change
I can't begin to express how much I learned — both academically and personally — during my time on this program. I applied many of the concepts that I learned to my senior thesis — recently awarded the Johns Hopkins' Arthur Kouguell Memorial Prize — and my experiences on the Durban docks continued to serve as a major asset during all of my job interviews. My time spent interacting with members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union truly changed my life, and there is no doubt in my mind that my stories from within the Port of Durban will continue to help me as I work in America's labor movement.

Benjamin Mays, Johns Hopkins University

The program's complementary components — thematic lectures, hands-on experiential learning, isiZulu language instruction, field excursions, and homestays — illuminate South Africa's complexity and diversity, its poverty and richness, in both historical and contemporary contexts.

Discovering Durban

Hare Krishna Festival in South AfricaThe program is based in South Africa's third-largest city, the bustling and historic city of Durban. Durban is the site of one of Africa's busiest working harbors and is among the most cosmopolitan of South African cities with its rich fusion of African, Western, and Asian influences. Durban and the province of KwaZulu-Natal are home to the Zulu people, South Africa's largest ethnic group; English-speaking whites, many the descendants of British settlers; the largest population of South Asians outside of India and Pakistan, including Hindu, Muslim, and Christian communities; tens of thousands of African refugees; and African and Asian migrants from a range of countries. Parts of the city have transformed into distinct Ethiopian, Congolese, Malawian, Pakistani, Chinese, and other enclaves with a diversity of shops and restaurants.

You will learn about Durban and KwaZulu-Natal's rich history of political activity, which includes contributions from leaders such as Mohandas Gandhi, John Dube, and Chief Albert Luthuli. Durban was the foundation of organizations such as the African National Congress and the Natal Indian Congress.

isiZulu Instruction

DurbanA significant highlight of the program is the isiZulu language instruction, complemented by discussions of Zulu history and culture. As a language with many clicks, isiZulu is a fascinating and challenging language for English speakers to study. The course emphasizes beginning speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction, with additional practice available during the homestay.

Independent Study Project

In the final month of the program, you will complete an Independent Study Project (ISP). The ISP provides you with an opportunity to pursue a research-based project of original research on a situation or topic of particular interest to you or a practicum-based project developed with an affiliate organization working in social and/or political transformation. Projects are conducted in Durban or, with program approval, in another location appropriate to your topic.

Topics from recent programs have included:

  • Peace efforts in KwaZulu-Natal
  • Democracy as defined by South Africans
  • Education policy reform and implementation
  • HIV/AIDS in South Africa
  • The prison system in South Africa
  • Independent churches and religion
  • Trade unions and their alliance with the African National Congress
  • African refugee communities in Durban
  • Township jazz and political resistance
  • The role of online media content in South Africa
  • Zulu traditional healing and Western medicine
  • Afrikaner identity
  • Islam and Durban’s Indian community in contemporary South Africa
  • Political violence in KwaZulu-Natal

Access Virtual Library Guide

In this interdisciplinary program, lectures and discussions in the Social and Political Transformation seminar aim to provide students with a solid grasp of the historical background of South Africa's apartheid system; contemporary developments leading to the dismantling of that system; the role of memory in reconciliation; the visions for post-apartheid South Africa; the political, economic, and social structure of the future South Africa; and both anthropological and cultural approaches to understanding South African society. A central premise of the program’s two thematic seminars is the interconnected nature of issues of reconciliation and development in South Africa. The Research Methods and Ethics seminar addresses culturally appropriate, ethical field methodologies, in preparation for the Independent Study Project (ISP), while isiZulu language study opens windows into the cultural base and theme of the program.

The following syllabi are representative of this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Memory and Reconciliation in South Africa – syllabus
(POLI3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
An interdisciplinary seminar conducted in English focusing on 1) the challenges of transition; 2) re-membering the past through individual and popular memory; and 3) the challenges and processes of reconciliation and the current state of the nation, through an exploration of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), among other approaches, in a fledgling democracy. The course aims to provide students with a solid grasp of the historical background of South Africa's apartheid system; contemporary developments leading to the dismantling of that system; the visions for post-apartheid South Africa; the political, economic, and social structure of the future South Africa; and the role of memory in healing the trauma of the past.

Development, Transformation, and Nation Building – syllabus
(SDIS3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
An interdisciplinary seminar conducted in English focusing on 1) development in South Africa; 2) nation building explored through education and the media in South Africa; and 3) gender and social change. A central premise of this course is the interconnected nature of issues of development and nation building in South Africa; as such, when focusing in the first instance upon issues of development, students will also consider how the issue impacts and is shaped by specific patterns of nation building. Core themes addressed in this course include the evolution from the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) to a developmental state, and the role of civil society, education, and media in the goal of nation building.

isiZulu – syllabus
(ZULU1000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Emphasis is on beginning speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction. The course aims to develop conversational abilities in isiZulu and provide greater insight into various aspects of Zulu culture through discussions and excursions.

Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 /3 credits / 45 class hours)
A course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience. The seminar provides an introduction to the Independent Study Project and related material including cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; project selection and refinement; appropriate methodologies; field study ethics and the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review Policy; developing contacts and finding resources; developing skills in observation and interviewing; gathering, organizing, and communicating data; and maintaining a field journal.

Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 /4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted in Durban or in another approved location appropriate to the project. Students may choose to complete either a research-based or practicum-based Independent Study Project, the former being a traditional research paper and the latter emerging from a practicum with an affiliated organization working in social and/or political transformation. Sample topic areas: HIV/AIDS in South Africa; peace efforts in KwaZulu-Natal; democracy as defined by South Africans; education policy reform and implementation; the prison system in South Africa; independent churches and religion; the role of online media content in South Africa; trade unions and their alliance with the African National Congress; township jazz and political resistance; Islam and Durban’s Indian community in contemporary South Africa; land reform; Zulu traditional healing and Western medicine; Afrikaner identity.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects/Undergraduate Research

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

SowetoEducational excursions are an integral part of the program. Designed to directly complement learning conducted in the classroom, excursions give you the opportunity to explore South Africa's socioeconomic complexity, diversity, and natural beauty in greater depth.

In and around Durban

In the greater Durban area, you will visit and interact with the residents of an informal shack dwellers settlement. You will also visit an informal African traders market (including a traditional bead market), an ecotourism project, a center for jazz and popular music, the University of KwaZulu-Natal campus, and several local high schools. You will also visit the Luthuli Museum, the former home of the first African Nobel Peace Prize winner, Chief Albert Luthuli, and the Phoenix Settlement, the former Durban home of Mohandas Gandhi, now a museum.


During the Johannesburg excursion, you will spend time at the following sites:

  • The Apartheid Museum
  • The Constitutional Court, Soweto — where students visit the Hector Pieterson Museum
  • The Mandela House — the former home of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, now a museum


An excursion to Mozambique will give you with a firsthand opportunity to learn of the shared histories of South Africa and Mozambique, with a focus on the key collaborative role played by Mozambique’s ruling party — Frelimo — in the liberation struggle against apartheid following its own hard-fought independence movement from Portugal in the 1970s.

You will learn of the African National Congress’s military wing — Umkhonto we Sizwe — and its bases of operations throughout Mozambique, witness the physical effects of the South African apartheid government’s attacks in the capital, Maputo, and meet key individuals and institutions, with a view toward the shared, but divergent, project of political transformation in both countries.

Excursions in and around Maputo typically include visits to museums, sites of ANC armed struggle, and Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, and a discussion at the Frelimo Party School with Dr. Arlindo Chilundo, the head of the school, a fighter on the frontlines during Mozambique’s liberation war, and currently Mozambique’s minister of education. Read more about the relationship between South Africa and Mozambique in a column in Durban’s Independent Online by Imraan Buccus, academic director of this program.


Rural KwaZulu-Natal

Rural School in South AfricaIn week six of the program, you will undertake a ten- to twelve-day rural homestay during which you will live with families in the Amacambini Reserve, about a 90-minute drive north of Durban. During this excursion, you will engage in a special educational program with the graduating class at Amatikulu High School.

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve

You will visit the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, one of the largest and oldest game reserves in South Africa, where, with luck, you may spot the "Big Five" (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and black and white rhinoceros) as well as giraffes and zebras.

Cape Town

During the evaluation period, the program visits Cape Town, where you will typically visit Robben Island and Table Mountain. You may also have some time to explore the city on your own.

Imraan BuccusImraan Buccus, Academic Director

Mr. Buccus has an undergraduate degree in education and a master’s degree in social policy from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in South Africa. During the period of apartheid, he was active in student politics, having served on forums linked to the Student Representative Council (SRC). He began his PhD as a Ford Fellow in development studies at Radboud Nijmegen University in the Netherlands and is currently a PhD fellow at UKZN. He has been a lecturer in political science at UKZN and is currently a research fellow in the university’s School of Politics. He is widely published in academic journals and book chapters in the areas of participatory democracy, poverty, and civil society. Mr. Buccus is the former editor of Critical Dialogue, a journal of public participation in review, and the current editor of Democracy Dialogue.

Mr. Buccus has experience in the civil society sector, having served in research and policy NGOs for many years. He was involved in a number of international research projects and co-authored the National Framework on Public Participation for the South African government. During his time at the Centre for Public Participation, he led an initiative to bring policymaking spaces closer to ordinary people and also led a project to assess the state of participatory democracy in Namibia. He has wide-ranging experience working with various donor agencies including the Ford Foundation, NiZA, EU, Kellogg Foundation, and the Open Society Foundation.

Mr. Buccus has worked as academic coordinator of the Workers College, a progressive experiential education college for workers from the trade union movement, where he developed a passion for experiential education and its personal and academic developmental potential. In 2008, he was an Open Society Foundation Media Fellow, and in 2009 he appeared on the prestigious Mail & Guardian list of South Africa’s 200 Leading Young South Africans. He is currently a columnist for Durban’s popular paper Mail & Guardian and is often called upon by television and radio stations to offer political analysis. In 2011, he was part of the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s team of election analysts.

Mr. Buccus has traveled extensively in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. He has also served as academic director of various SIT Study Abroad summer programs since 2010, having run both SIT’s World Cup program in 2010 and, since 2011, SIT’s summer Education and Social Change program.

Bryan Stone, isiZulu Language Instructor

Bryan joined SIT as a language instructor in 2013 and brings a wealth of experience to the Social and Political Transformation program. He completed his BA in isiZulu and psychology in 2010 and received a diploma in jazz in 2013 from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has also taught isiZulu for the past three years at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College, Westville, and medical school campuses.
Bryan has lived in Durban since 2009 and loves Durban for its “laidback” lifestyle. He is trying to learn how to surf, and is called Zamani (which means “try”) by his Zulu friends. Growing up, he moved around a lot and experienced the many corners of South Africa during several family vacations. He also plays the drums for The Sir Walrus Band.

Shola Haricharan, Office Manager and Homestay Coordinator

Shola currently serves as the program's office manager and homestay coordinator. She has been vital to the program in various capacities since its inception in 1992. Prior to that, Shola worked in administrative capacities with a number of nongovernmental groups, some of them active in the anti-apartheid struggle.

Dr. Scott Couper, Academic Coordinator

Scott Couper has lived and worked in South Africa for fifteen years as an ordained Congregationalist pastor and academic. He is married to Susan Valiquette, chaplain of the historic Inanda Seminary, and has two teenage children. 

Couper is currently a senior honorary lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics), an adjunct lecturer at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary (faculty of systematic theology and history), and the resident historian at Inanda Seminary. Couper attended undergraduate school at The American University’s School for International Service in Washington, DC (BA in international relations), the University of Chicago (MA in divinity), and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (PhD in history). Couper has studied and worked in Chile, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, the Kingdom of Lesotho, Ghana, the United States, and South Africa. Couper’s studies in Nigeria and Zimbabwe were with SIT Study Abroad. Couper wrote the first, and still the only, substantive biography on Albert Luthuli (2010) and is completing his second book on the history of Inanda Seminary. Couper’s intellectual passion is the fusion of history (biographical), political science (current events), and issues of faith and spirituality (ecumenical and interfaith).

Couper enjoys travel, long-distance running (five, going on six, Comrades ultramarathons), reading, watching rugby, and hosting friends for a braai.

The program also draws on a number of guest lecturers from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the NGO sector.

Lecturers include:

Kiru Naidoo, Lecturer, ISP Advisor

Kiru Naidoo studied political science and development at the universities of Durban-Westville and Cambridge. He also has expertise in marketing and communications. He has been the director of public affairs at UDW and senior manager for communications in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government. He has also held positions at the universities of Natal and Durban-Westville, Durban University of Technology, National Research Foundation, and the South Africa-Netherlands Research Programme on Alternatives in Development. Kiru is a valued member of the SIT family, as lecturer and ISP advisor.

Michael Sutcliffe, PhD, Lecturer, ISP Advisor

Michael Sutcliffe has an MSc from the University of Natal and a PhD in city planning from Ohio State University. He was appointed chairperson of South Africa’s Demarcation Board in the post-apartheid order by President Mandela and was Durban’s city manager, or mayor, for nine years. Dr. Sutcliffe played a significant role in the country’s anti-apartheid struggle and is widely recognized as an influential member of the African National Congress, the ruling party in South Africa.

Janine Hicks, Lecturer, ISP Advisor

Janine Hicks is a senior commissioner with South Africa’s Commission on Gender Equality. She holds a master’s in development studies from the University of Sussex and an LLB from the former University of Natal, Durban. She has more than two decades of experience working with South African civil society and educational institutions, and is widely published in the areas of participatory democracy, gender issues, and access to education for women in South Africa. She is a dedicated member of the SIT family and, as ISP advisor, has mentored several SIT students to research awards, and publication of their ISPs.

Dr. Nthabiseng Motsemme, Lecturer, ISP Advisor

Nthabiseng is the director of Postgraduate and Research Capacity Development at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She has also held positions at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) as a researcher and at the University of the Western Cape as a lecturer. She was also the manager of the university-wide funding and research capacity program for young, black, and female researchers and the Women-in-Research Initiative at the University of South Africa Research Directorate. She currently sits on a number of editorial boards for academic journals, including African Identities, Africa Education Review, and Feminist Legal Studies. Her research interests include African feminist and womanist theories, township women’s identities, and women’s experiences in higher education.

Geoff Waters, Lecturer

Geoff has a master’s degree in economics from Manchester University (UK) and has been a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Natal (now UKZN). He has expertise in social research methodology (qualitative), urban life and culture, and rural community life. His research interests include homeless people of the inner city, street children in central Durban, and retirement communities.

Additional lecturers include:

  • Prof. Chris Ballantyne on music and resistance in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa
  • Mr. David Ntseng on the issue of public housing, service delivery, and the empowerment of the poor in South Africa
  • Prof. Percy Mabogo, South Africa’s foremost Bikoist, on the role of Steve Biko in South Africa’s transformation
  • Aziz Pahad, former minister of foreign affairs, on South Africa’s foreign policy
  • Judge Chris Nicholson, the judge who presided over President Jacob Zuma’s trial, on the state of South Africa’s constitution
  • Dr. Cathy Oelofse on the environment and development in South Africa
  • Dr. Brendon Boyce on land reform and restitution in South Africa
  • Mr. Richard Dobson and Mr. Charles Mncube on the informal trade sector in South Africa
  • Dr. Ben Roberts on the South African economy

You will experience three different homestays on the program, each of which opens a larger window into South Africa's extraordinary diversity and complexity. Homestays are in urban, suburban, and rural areas. In each of the homestays, you will be either in neighborhood clusters or placed with families in pairs.

Cato Manor

Cato ManorThe program's first homestay is with isiZulu-speaking families in Cato Manor, an urban township about five kilometers from the SIT facility in Durban. You will spend approximately five weeks with your own family, within a quarter of a mile of other students, and within a mile of the whole group. The homestay in Cato Manor gives you the opportunity to practice isiZulu and gain an appreciation for the richness and challenges of township life. All houses have cell phone reception, flush toilets, and electricity and are constructed of cinder brick.

homestay familyAmacambini

In the ten- to twelve-day rural homestay in Amacambini, about 100 kilometers north of Durban, conditions are basic, with some marked differentiation between households. Some households may not have electricity, indoor plumbing, or piped water.


During the program's third homestay, you will live in Newlands with an Indian or Coloured family for approximately two weeks. Newlands is approximately 20 kilometers from Durban’s city center.

Independent Study Project (ISP) Accommodation

During the ISP period, many students remaining in Durban choose to stay in apartments at the beachfront, which underwent a stunning renovation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Other accommodations during the program may include hostels, private homes, or small hotels.

Program Dates: Spring 2016

Program Start Date:  Jan 29, 2016

Program End Date:    May 12, 2016

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Nov 1, 2015


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $15,690

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Memory and reconciliation
    • Development and nation building
  • Research Methods and Ethics training in preparation for the Independent Study Project (ISP)
  • Intensive language instruction in isiZulu
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, rural KwaZulu-Natal, and a game reserve, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board:$2,810

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Durban), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
  • All homestays (including five weeks with isiZulu-speaking families, and two weeks with mixed race “coloured” or Indian families. There is also a ten- to twelve-day rural homestay with isiZulu-speaking families.)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $348

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $250

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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SIT was founded as the School for International Training and has been known as SIT Study Abroad and SIT Graduate Institute since 2007. SIT is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. (NEASC) through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

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