Lindsey Ricker
Lindsey Ricker
South Africa 2012-2014
My studies at Belmont University in restorative justice, liberation theology, entrepreneurship, and philosophical ethics guided me to explore South Africa through an interdisciplinary lens. Academic and experiential work in these fields prepared me for a year in Cape Town interning in human rights, business consulting, and sustainable development. Read More About Lindsey →

Home, and Back Again

After a year in Cape Town, I returned home. However, my visit in the States only lasted three weeks. Between 1 October and 22 October I visited Knoxville, Nashville, New York City, and Boston to see close friends and family. Along with spending time with friends and family, I was also motivated to come back to the States to attend a wedding of a dear friend and give a presentation at Belmont University about my Lumos Award in South Africa.

Once the three weeks were over, I boarded a plane to come back to Cape Town to work for the SAHRC for four more months. I’m living in the same house in Observatory, but it is much warmer than when I left it. It seems as though my timing has been spot on since I was able to catch nice weather in the U.S. while winter ended in Cape Town. Yesterday my neighborhood had a street festival and today I took a stroll by the coast.

Tomorrow I start work again and am in for a hectic week. Basically, this will be a perfect storm of work deadlines.

I’m hoping to be rested for the busy week, but jet lag is affecting me more than usual. Friday I stayed up the entire night and got absolutely no sleep because I was reading a really fascinating book– Against a Tide of Evil: How One Man Became the Whistleblower to the First Mass Murder of the Twenty-First Century by Dr. Mukesh Kapila. The book is Dr. Kapila’s memoir of  his work as the Head of the United Nations (UN) in the Sudan leading up to his discovery of the Darfur crisis. Also, he discusses his influences leading to his decision to publicly condemn the Sundanese Government’s responsibility in crimes against humanity and the UN and World’s neglect to intervene in the matter while fully aware of the situation. I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Kapila speak at the Open Book Festival, and bought his book directly after. If you do not read it, you are a fool.

My Year in South Africa

In less than a week I will be home! For the past year, the idea of coming home has been intangibly far in the future. Now, I am scrambling to prepare for my three-week-visit to the States. The end of the year has given me reason to reflect about my experience and compare my life now to where I started a year ago.

When I first arrived, I am ashamed to say that I knew very little about South African culture and history. I didn’t know who was president, what “colored” meant in a racial context, which languages where nationally recognized, or how much of colonial history still influences society–I didn’t even know any South Africans. Despite my attempts at self-education, I was completely ignorant of what daily life looked like for South Africans.

Now I am very aware of President Jacob Zuma, the ANC party, and the South African political system. I understand the apartheid imposed racial classification system that still is utilized today. I have experienced the dynamics of eleven national languages coexisting in South Africa. Furthermore, every day I see how British and Dutch colonialism still pervades economic, political, and social structures in Cape Town. I now comprehend that daily life means many different notions to the South Africans I live and work with.

There have been many more insights that I have obtained about South Africa, North America, and the international community from my trip. However, much of my insights have been reflections on past and current affairs. Therefore, it was fitting that I was recently able to attend an event series called Open Book Festival. The festival was designed for authors of recent publications to speak about their work. Several of the dialogues I was able to attend did well to address current and past international affairs, but they also expanded on how those events will impact future developments.

Along with my reflections on South Africa, my person reflections lead me to believe that very little can be understood about a place without spending significant and intentional time living there. In considering how much I have learned from when I started my year, I realize that while I have gained many insights, there are still many things that are unknown to me about South Africa. People also experience a place in a variety of ways, many of which through narrow and brief experiences. Sometimes as outsiders we see more clearly, but very often more happens than what an outsider can perceive. For now, I will look forward to what discoveries are to come in my next encounters in South Africa.

A Rough and Tumble August

If I have been less than attentive in August, I feel l have valid justification. I made it 10 months abroad without any major drama, but as soon as I entered the month of August, Cape Town ferociously rejected me. Luckily, most of my struggles had happy endings.

At the beginning of July, I was given a phone that was a dramatic improvement from my previous two phones (yes one of my old, crappy phones was already stolen). I actually had internet access, WhatsApp, AND a keyboard to type!

Unfortunately, August took me by storm, and my fancy new phone was stolen the first day of the month. However, I am partially to blame: I was negligent and walked down a slightly dodgy street just before dark (with a friend of course). I went to a market after work to buy my weekly veggies and carelessly placed my phone in my long vest pocket. The phone was easy to see and grab while I was distracted with my hands full of groceries. Long story short, it took 6 trips to 4 different stores to get a new SIM card. After a 24 hour effort, I finally was able to lock my old SIM card and get my former number and airtime. However, I did have to go to the trouble of changing all my passwords to make sure no one could access my mobile accounts. Luckily, the phone stolen was a free gift anyways and I had crappy phone #2 waiting in the wings to be utilized again.

My week/month continued on a decline when my debit card was swallowed by an ATM. Yes, this is an actually phenomena and yes that is the technical term Standard Bank uses to identify when your card has been kidnapped by an ATM and will not be removed until regular business hours. After speaking to a bank employee at the emergency help desk number, their solution for me was to cancel my one and only access to cash and have my worthless, canceled debit card given back to me on Monday. I was told that this was my only opinion since the bank was not liable for any fraud and no one would be able to assist me before start of business Monday. Of course, this was inaccurate information. I received a call the next day (Sunday) from an “ATM cash depositor” with my debit card. Later, my inquiry/complaint at the bank informed me that the sketchy-man-without-a-uniform-holding-my-debit-card-beside-a-cash-car is most probably a contracted employee. (Certainty when dealing with potential fraud is apparently overrated at this bank.) Anyways, said individual tells me that my card did not have to be canceled since I could have been assisted the day of the incident. With this incredibly helpful information, I take my card home to be shredded before I wait about a month for a new debit card. While this particular bank failed me at almost all levels, I was still able to persevere due to the kindness and generosity of my darling parents and dear friend Mmamohau, who acted as my personal bank for the month of August.

While the loss of my debit card was a moderate inconvenience, I wasn’t really in desperation until I absentmindedly left my wallet containing my credit card and driver licenses in a cab. I have been known to sabotage myself previously with the occasional misplacement of an important item, never to be found again. However, my timing was never more disastrous. Fortunately, I was able to regain the entire contents of my wallet after several days thanks to the honesty of Excite taxi driver, Lloyd. Additionally, my survival was entirely thanks to the ceaseless compassion of Mmamohau and my parents.

To bring a close to the month, I finally received my new debit card and ATM cards. On the same day, I rushed to the train station so that my father could activate my cards while my bank in the U.S. was still open. Apparently I was slightly too eager/aggressive, and managed to slip and half-fall between the train and the station platform in front of a full compartment of concerned commuters. The bad news was that my shins and khaki pants lost the good fight. The good news was that I still have both my legs since the friendly train waited to depart until I was safely out of the way. After the train left, I stood sulking, half-barefoot over my shoe that had fallen onto the train tracks while my friend left to find an official to retrieve it for me. Instead of the ever elusive metro rail official, my unlikely hero appeared as a random man walking by who casually jumped down, grabbed my shoe, hopped back onto the platform and nonchalantly walked away without saying a word… fairly comical moment in midst of my temporary agony. Sadly, my pain was all for nothing since I missed my train and still easily made it home in time to activate my cards.

While I experienced some of my greatest adversities in August, those difficult burdens were significantly lightened through the kindness, generosity, and compassion of others. Thank goodness August is out of sight for another 12 months!

Interactions with South African Government Departments

My future is officially in the hands of South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs, which is a moderately frightening realization. I just turned in an application to extend my visa so that I will be able to stay in the county for several more months. I am still planning to come back to the States in October, but I want to continue with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to increase the complexity and depth of my work.

While many SAHRC inquiries are complaints against government departments, my personal experience with Home Affairs helped me further understand what expect from South African government departments. While help desk workers weren’t the most enthusiastic to speak with me on my four visits to Home Affairs, they did eventually  assist me. Information about my visa was not the easiest to access, but it was available and standardized. Also, I was expecting terribly long queues, and for my application to be rejected at first, but I had little trouble turning in my visa. However, my experience and circumstances are fairly different than many of SAHRC’s complainants.

When South African government departments refuse to serve the needs of complainants, the SAHRC sometimes refers them to the Office of the Public Protector (OPP). The OPP is also a Chapter 9 institution, which means that it, too, is apart from government and gains its powers and mandate from the South African Constitution. However, a larger issue now is that some government departments are refusing to respond to the SAHRC’s allegations and to make changes to policies and procedures that create violations of human rights.

While the SAHRC has the power to subpoena, the Commission makes an effort to exhaust all due processes first. Due to several government departments noncompliance with the SAHRC, the Commission has moved to escalate many complaints to the national department ministers. However, due to pressures from Parliament, several departments have become far more responsive to SAHRC request.

Adventures in Namibia

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About a month ago, I was able to take a week off work to go on a road trip through Namibia. My trusty co-adventurers included my housemate Kyle, my dear friend Mmamohau, her comrade Mandisa, and another American, Alison. Our road trip started strong with some Coldplay and Matt Kearney jams, aubergine pâté, and a luxurious first night at Ai-Ais hot springs resort. However, our timing was not ideal since several of my fellow Connect-123 interns left for home during our trip. Before we left, they indignantly joked, “Why would you choose Namibia over us? It’s just a bunch of sand!”


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Our strong start unfortunately did not last long. We quickly noticed that there was a scarcity of petrol stations. The majority of time on our second, third, and fourth day was spent rather slowly as we carefully took on one gravel ‘highway’ after another. At one low, low, low point we realized that we had only driven 20km in an hour—20 kilometers, not miles. Nevertheless, we persevered through the tough times with games and entirely too much Matt Kearney.


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After driving one day, we decided that we could carry on no further and stopped for the night at an accommodation in the middle of the desert. We were desperate and slightly low on petrol, so we said we would take whatever rooms they had available. My friend Alison and I got stuck in a couple’s room, which wasn’t an issue except for the fact that there was not wall in between the bedroom and the bathroom. We recovered by making s’mores outside on the campfire whenever one of us needed some privacy.

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Although we had some rough patches, the encounters we had with nature in Namibia made the trip entirely worthwhile. Highlights of our trip include a hike up Dune 45 in Sossusvlei (one of the highest sand dunes in the world), a glimpse at Deadvlei (a petrified forest in the desert), Fish River Canyon (the world’s second largest caynon), a camel ride through the desert, a tour of a ghost town (with houses covered in sand), wild animal sightings everywhere (including horses, antelope, zebra, and warthogs), and a drive by Orange River.


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The entire trip I was craving a braai (South African cookout), and I finally had my wish granted on the last night. Our last accommodation was on a farm called the White House, which we thought was too ironic to pass up. Unfortunately, it was basically the opposite style of our first lodging. The rustic nature of the White House was exasperated by Mmamohau and my illnesses. When we returned home, Mmamohau learned that she had bronchitis and I had food poisoning or the equivalent. This lead to a slightly rocky ending, but jolly camaraderie and Lord of the Rings themed accommodation in Windhoek (called Rivendell) made food poisening slightly less painful.

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In the end, I decided that if I ever consider marriage with a life partner, then we must go on a road trip to Transkei or Namibia to test our love and see magnificent landscape.

Winter Excursions

Hail in Bo-kaap

Hail in Bo-kaap

I have finally surrendered to Cape Town winter and accepted that it is here. After going to a Cape Malay cooking class, I walked out of my teacher’s house in Bo-kaap to find a massive hail storm–an unusual event for Cape Town. The cooking class I attended is located in a Cape Malay woman’s house, where she teaches tradition recipes. In two classes, I learned how to make chicken curry, roti, samosas, chili bites, and swiss cake rolls.

As you can see in the picture above, the Bo-kaap community is composed of rows of brightly colored houses. The historical Cape Malay architecture remains along with many Cape Malay residents as well. Bo-kaap is one of the few areas where oppressed people where not forcibly removed during apartheid.

According to the Iziko Slave Lodge in Cape Town, many of the Cape Malay people came to Cape Town because they were human trafficked through the slave trade industry. Later, many of the women became indentured servants and worked as domestic laborers. Then apartheid government oppressed Cape Malay people, along with many others, through legislation, which was finally abolished in 1994 with the first democratic election in South African. However, like many formerly oppressed communities, many of the Cape Malay peoples’ rights remain socially and economically neglected and abused.

As the writers of the South African constitution were composing the Bill of Rights, they recognized that not all citizens would immediately have their rights protected. The philosophy they adopted is called progressive realization of rights, which is a gradual reconciliation of past conflict to future equality. There are so many systemic flaws in South African government and social institutions that it would be impossible to resolve all human rights issues in 1994, 2004, or anytime in the near future, realistically. Therefore, rights are categorized in a sort of hierarchy to determine which rights have to be addressed the most urgently. The SAHRC prioritizes children’s rights and other vulnerable groups such as older persons, women, detained persons and disabled persons. However, different human rights violations correspond to the mandates of individual regulatory bodies.

Unfortunately, just because rights are categorized in certain ways, does not mean they are manifested in the intended fashion. For instance, education is not a right that is considered under progressive realization. However, while listening to a lecture sponsored by Equal Education and given from the first Constitutional Court Chief Justice, Kate O’Regan, I learned that many issues educations issues should be immediately realized, but are not. A lack of resources, limited funding, and corruption in government departments create violations of educational rights even in the new South Africa.

While Ms. O’Regan worked intensively for years in building South Africa’s Constitutional Court, she surprised me in her perspective about the role of the court system. She stated that South Africans are often too reliant on the court, especially when other branches of government fail and the courts cannot turn people away (in the same fashion at least). Ms. O’Regan encouraged grass root movements of people first understanding their rights, next recognizing when their rights are violated, and then seeking alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before litigation. Listening to Ms. O’Regan was encouraging to me as a proponent of ADR, but even more insightful was her description of when court cases are appropriate for litigation. She clarified that when cases can represent a class of people or answer questions that are quantitative rather than qualitative, then traditional court litigation is suitable.

Even though winter weather has slowed me down, I’m still finding time to explore Cape Town through cuisine and educational events.  The weather has also fostered my creativity in planning my time since I am forced to spend much of it indoors. Here’s to more cooking classes and bookstore human right events!

A Sentimental 4th of July

A slight feeling of patriotism is in the air for many Americans living in Cape Town. President Obama visited Cape Town two weeks ago as part of his State visit to South Africa. In addition to Obama’s visit, we just observed Independence Day, bringing memories from past 4th of July celebrations.

Last year, Nashvillian friends and I watched fireworks while (ironically) reflecting on what we loved most about America. Whether I knew it at the time or whether the absence of such things now made me appreciate their value—S’mores, Michael Jackson, Dollywood, chocolate chip cookie dough, Mexican food, and live blues concerts were on the top of my list. However, 4 July 2012, I was very far from what I would call patriotic.

Although after nine months of living outside of the country, my perception of the United States has shifted. I wouldn’t say that America is the greatest nation, but I have a much deeper appreciation for it now. Living in another country has given me significant insight in the strengths and weaknesses of the United States. Throughout daily life in South Africa, it is impossible not to compare the two countries and notice how different parts of life are better and worse in each place.

While I miss faster internet and the life of convenience found in the US, it is appalling how little Americans, in general, know about the world. I certainly wouldn’t say I’m suddenly an authority on international affairs, but in nine months I have been far more exposed to diverse cultures in Cape Town than my entire life in the United States. This is partially due to the fact that I’ve only lived in Tennessee, but even my education gave me little knowledge of international affairs and foreign languages.

Americans’ exposure of international affairs at a superficial level is also exasperated by the over-saturation of American affairs in international markets. The world knows so much about my culture and I know so little about the world. The best and worst qualities of American culture are on display, often making Americans completely overbearing and the object of ridicule. It is hardly fair. Luckily, I better understand the negative stereotypes of Americans and do my best to leave them unfulfilled; I even make fun of the US and Americans with my international and South African friends. However, I sometimes find myself defending my culture and feeling frustrated when people think the American experience is the same for everyone.

This phenomenon has led me to welcome time with other Americans, because I don’t have to constantly define the realities and myths of American stereotypes broadcasted to the world. While I am grateful of my time with South Africans and other foreign nationals, I look forward to the time when I do not have to explain myself for using an excessive amount of ketchup. Until then, I will value the insight I receive from viewing the US through international perspectives.

Thoughts on Human Dignity

Recently, I expressed my dismay at a bathroom that charged me one rand (ten cents in the US) to enter it. I asked an acquaintance with me, “What’s the point of charging R1?” She answered that it was to keep homeless people out of the bathroom. I felt rage and horror at the establishment’s alleged discrimination against homeless people. However, my friend disagreed with me, arguing that the discrimination was not unfounded.

To give a context: my acquaintance is a South African living in the township in Cape Town that has been identified by a media statement of the SAHRC as a crisis area in regards to toilet sanitation. For 6 weeks toilet workers in the area have been on strike because of low wages. The residents attack city workers who try to clean it in the meantime. The protest is now very political and largely blames apartheid and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for leaving Black South Africans in poverty today and the DA (the political part in power in the Western Cape) for not making more substantial changes.

While this person is not directly affected by the sanitation issue in the area she lives in, I was still shocked that my acquaintance was so inhospitable to the thought of sharing toilets with homeless people. Sure there are other issues to consider, but at the end of the day, homeless people deserve the same amount of dignity as anyone else.

What are your thoughts?

The Latest at the SAHRC

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When applying for the Lumos Travel Award, my grant proposal consisted of an interdisciplinary mixture of three program placements. I wanted to work in entrepreneurial consulting, human rights, and sustainable development in different organizations for four months each; however, my plans have slightly shifted. I will now be finishing my time with the SAHRC rather than changing internships for my third placement.

My entrepreneurial consulting placement at TSiBA was one of the best places to start my work in Cape Town. Now I can see how important it was for me to work in different fields and organizations. The placement was highly compatible with my degree in entrepreneurship, but my interests are diverse and I knew I would also want exposure in human rights.

Lately, my work at the SAHRC includes attending:

  • ALgal interventions with local universities;
  • A lecture on the transformation of the Justice Branch by Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Mogoeng Mogoeng;
  • A farmworker rights summit in Citrusdal;
  • A SAHRC presentation on the rights of children to the Parliament Portfolio Committee for the Department of Basic Education;
  • The Judicial Inspectorate Q1 briefing to the Department of Corrections Parliament Portfolio Committee;
  • An event with presentations from the SA Dept of Corrections and Nicro discussing issues surrounding prison overcrowding and potential solutions hosted in Pollsmoor maximum security;
  • An inspection in a local township to investigate the water and sanitation conditions after a series of strikes and protests.

Thus far, my work at the SAHRC has been challenging and fulfilling. I feel like I am achieving several personal and professional goals and that I have the ability to achieve even more. My increased length of time working at the SAHRC allows for me to take on more substantial projects, augmenting my level of impact on the local (especially marginalized) community.

An Overdue Update

Noordhoek Beach

Noordhoek Beach

It feels as if life has just exploded here. My work and social calendar have gone from 0 to 60 lately, making me negligent, forgetful, and lazy to post. I’m so sorry for the overdue update. My latest personal and professional adventures consist of: an exploration of the Cape Peninsula and Franschhoek, a road trip to Transkei in the Eastern Cape, a camping trip with Green Pop to plant 3,000 trees, a visit with the BU study abroad group, and new developments in my responsibilities at the SAHRC. For now, though, I will just tell you of the wonders of the Eastern Cape.

My traveling has brought me to lovely parts of the nation, untouched by commercial development or western culture. Outside of the Western Cape, South Africa has a beauty truly foreign to  my eyes.

Even though I traveled with other Americans and South Africans for several of my excursions, many of my needs were unexpected. For instance, for two days in Transkei I had no cell phone service. This was unfortunately not accounted for and led to many misadventures. After following landmark descriptive directions for about three hours in the dark wilderness (including a hour long wrong turn because our car couldn’t make it up a hill), my fellow comrades and I rolled up to Bulungula backpackers at 12:30am. Long story short we didn’t think things through and sent non-Xhosa speaking comrades to speak to the only Xhosa speaking villagers we woke up in the middle of the night. The result: sleeping in a tent/the car/fail. In the morning, we did realize that we,in fact, found Bulungula in the dark and we were camped in the middle of the school yard. The funniest part was that everyone went about their day like it was the most normal thing in the world.

While Bulungula provided a fairly difficult destination to get to (especially with the flood-washed Eastern Cape backroads in our cheap car), it was one of the most serene places I have beheld. The backpacker is essentially a social venture, empowering the local community by providing entrepreneurial services at the backpackers. I spoiled myself with a canoe trip, sunrise pancakes on the beach, and a massage. The BEST!

On the way home, we realized that cell phone service would have been helpful while our gas light was flashing about one hour away from the closest petrol station. However, our previous adversities made us innovative and strong. Well that and we were lucky. One of our comrades was African, so we had to rely on her to pull up to a shady minibus rank, speak broken Xhosa, and buy some greenish looking petrol to get us to the next garage.

Our road trip ended well, with me safely making it to the gas station and learning how to drive manual!


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Cape Point

Cape Point

Easter at St. George's

Easter at St. George’s


The beautiful Eastern Cape Xhosa houses

The beautiful Eastern Cape Xhosa houses

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Bulungula Backpackers

Bulungula Backpackers


random horse grazing outside of our room

random horse grazing outside of our room