South Africa: Multiculturalism and Human Rights

Key Features

Apartheid museum

Share in an important time in South Africa’s history.
During the month of April,  South Africans celebrate Freedom Day, commemorating the transition to democracy. South Africa has made great strides in righting the wrongs of an unjust system, but significant challenges remain. South Africa is striving to implement a very progressive national constitution, restructure local governments, have all levels of government working to one cohesive end, deliver basic services to all communities, and come to terms with a high rate of societal violence and a still uneasy racial divide. Students on this program explore these issues, meet inspiring individuals and organizations making a difference across South Africa, and contemplate the country’s future path.

Live and study in Cape Town (program base).
Students spend the first four weeks of the program in Cape Town living in a township called Langa. Primarily isiXhosa-speaking, Langa was one of many areas designated for black South Africans and is one of the oldest townships in the country. Settlements in apartheid South Africa were populated not only according to race but also ethnicity. This was a deliberate policy by the state to control South Africans using the “divide and rule” tactic.

The SIT classrooms and office are located in the southern suburb of Rondebosch, also the site of the University of Cape Town. Students spend an additional 14 days in Cape Town during the Independent Study Project (ISP) preparation period concurrent with the Bo Kaap homestay period. Depending on where a student conducts his or her ISP, the total time spent in the Cape Town area could be ten weeks.

Multiculturalism has long been a defining characteristic of Cape Town, and the program takes advantage of the multiple resources the city offers. During the mid 20th century, the population of Cape Town had reached approximately half a million, of which whites were less than half. Economic hardship and racial discrimination encouraged policies that favored whites; this created economic and cultural differences that steadily split the population along racial lines. Immigrants, colored, and black groups struggled to define their identity and respond to this discrimination. Meanwhile Afrikaner nationalism grew stronger in Cape Town and elsewhere in South Africa, leading to a growing right-wing movement.

Through monuments and new institutions, Cape Town has asserted itself as a cultural center of South Africa and is commonly known as the “Mother City” of the nation.

Explore South Africa’s multiple identities through firsthand experiences.
The program engages deeply with South Africa’s history of multiculturalism and apartheid, but also focuses on ethnic identities today and how those are reflected on national, regional, local, and individual levels. The program includes four different homestays enabling students to immerse themselves in a variety of South African cultural environments.

Learn isiXhosa.
Students receive intensive isiXhosa language instruction, focusing on beginning speaking and comprehension skills. This allows students to more meaningfully engage with isiXhosa-speaking communities. A tonal language with click consonants, isiXhosa is spoken widely across South Africa, and students can practice their new skills during their first (and longest) homestay in Langa.

In addition to isiXhosa, students receive introductory instruction in Afrikaans, a language that emerged historically from the creolization of the population through slavery and immigration of Dutch settlers. Afrikaans is spoken as a first language by the Afrikaner community and, to a larger extent, the coloured community.

Independent Study Project
Students spend four weeks near the end of the semester working on an Independent Study Project (ISP), pursuing original research on a selected topic of interest to them. The ISP is conducted in Cape Town or in another approved location appropriate to the project.

Sample topic areas include:

  • Equity in education
  • Affirmative action issues
  • The role of Afrikaans in a multilingual society
  • Xhosa women in contemporary South African society
  • Socioeconomic realities of HIV/AIDS
  • Student politics and university life
  • Hate speech, racism, and freedom of expression
  • The role of religion in social change
  • The police, law, and social justice
  • Microenterprise and the new South Africa
  • Individual verses group identity


Costs Dates



Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Cape Town

Language Study: Afrikaans,  isiXhosa

Prerequisites: None

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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