South Africa: Social and Political Transformation

Key Features

“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

Hare Krishna Festival of Chariots along the Durban beachfront

The South Africa: Social and Political Transformation 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
The 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.

Students 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
A 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, students complete an Independent Study Project (ISP). The ISP provides students with an opportunity to pursue a research-based project of original research on a situation or topic of particular interest to the student 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 the student's topic.

Topics from recent programs have included:

  • Peace efforts in KwaZulu-Natal
  • Education policy reform and implementation
  • HIV/AIDS in South Africa
  • The prison system in South Africa
  • Independent churches and religion
  • Trade unions and the ANC alliance
  • 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
  • Political violence in KwaZulu-Natal

Costs Dates

Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Durban

Language Study: isiZulu

Prerequisites: None

South Africa

View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)

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