Security and Safety Abroad

Ololade Akingbade, COS'18

I am a 4th year neuroscience major engaged heavily in mentorship, civic leadership, and racial justice issues in Boston and beyond. I spent Summer 2015 in Ferguson researching race and citizenship and Spring 2015 and 2016 in Selma Alabama leading civil rights service trips. I am traveling to South Africa this summer on an urban sociology dialogue to learn about race, public space, and social conflict specific to the country's post-apartheid climate. I am fascinated by the complex issues cities and communities face and look to pursue a career in urban health as a physician and researcher. For fun, I dabble in graphic design and photography.


When I think of my time in Cape Town and Johannesburg I must acknowledge the comforts and discomforts I experienced. Before I left for my trip I remember the words of my protective father urging me to keep all my personals out of sight and money safe. Even so I did not come to South Africa with a wary mind: as a black woman I am cognizant of when concerns for safety are translated as a fear of local communities and people of color. Having traveled to Nigeria with my family I always felt safe in a country where my skin color was the majority and where culture and heritage bound me the space despite my socioeconomic differences. I believe that criminalization of the poor works with criminalization of blackness to create a white-western foreign fear of “the other.” What strikes me about this fear is that many engage in the cultures of Africa on the ideas of natural exoticism and some desire to learn “tribal cultures” but at the very same moment lament on issues of safety. One cannot engage in this idea of “Africaness” in the abstract yet refuse to interact with those they see in communities beyond the emptyness of a tour bus ride through an informal settlement or shackland.
As such traveling to Cape Town and Johannesburg, known as the Mother City and Heart of Africa respectively, did not instill fear of my fellow Africans. Any fear or wariness for safety came from the understanding of city crimes that do happen. Remaining street smart about personal belongings is a must whether in Cape Town, New York, London, or Cairo. Crime happens everywhere, both random and as a result of historical social conditions which have plagued the oppressed around the world. As my coursework engages in unpacking history of racial exclusion and the existing problems arising from colonial and apartheid regime, it makes no sense to engage in safety practices without the context of what permits instability and crime.
From locals in Cape Town one thing that is emphasized is that the likelihood of experiencing crime as a tourist is extremely low when compared to residents. This is not something I thought much about before arriving but it makes sense and has framed my energy and desire to go out and engage in culture without a fear of being harmed. All in all, the lessons of my home keep my grounded in remembering the conditions which affirm unsafe space and
the universal nature of crime. For a fruitful time abroad, fear cannot frame social experiences.

Week 5 - Johannesburg Apartheid Museum