Interview with Pregs Govender
Much like the storm outside, this trip has been a whirlwind of unique and special experiences. A lot has happened since the beginning of this learning journey that began a week ago at San Francisco International Airport.
Today, my class and I had the privilege of interviewing Pregaluxmi Govender, a feminist human rights activist and former ANC member. I was excited for this interview as we would be interviewing her over lunch, which I think is the best way to get to know someone (by sharing a meal). We traveled to Kalk Bay where she lives, and interviewed her in a beautiful restaurant right by the sea. The small town of Kalk Bay reminded me a lot of Rheinbrohl, the small village in Germany that my mother grew up. We were lucky enough to have a view of tall, rocky mountains out one window, and a view of a breathtaking body of water out the other window.
Lunch was just being served when Pregs Govender walked into the room with a big smile and shining eyes. I thought, “Wow this lady seems really nice and very wise.” And, it turns out she was. I could probably write a whole paper on how strong and influential she was to me but I’m going to stick to the events of the day.
She discussed with us how the social and economic systems around the world are structured in a way that creates inequality, making the rich richer and the poor poorer. She advised us on how we must be engaged citizens that are aware of how big corporations are monopolizing all sorts of industries around the world, leaving many unemployed or struggling financially. Pregs Govender explained to us how these corporations only see basic human rights as commodities to be bought and sold. That is why in so many countries, like the USA and South Africa, there is such a great socio-economic gap. She thinks that we must learn about our participation in these systems in order to understand and have empathy for those oppressed and exploited by them. I liked how she related issues going on in her country, like poverty, with our country. This showed us that all around the world we are experiencing similar problems, and that in order to solve them we should work together to find solutions.
The conversation that we had today with Pregs Govender was very eye opening and inspirational, and I definitely know now that in my life I would like to do something to reform and humanize these systems.
Looking out onto the blue Atlantic Ocean, sounds of waves crashing and seagulls chirping, fresh and salty air wafting in and out of the open windows, the hour drive hour felt like we were close to home. The shrubs lining the one lane highway, sand dunes bordering one side and waves on the other, was nostalgic of Highway 1 southbound to Marina. The town of Kalk Bay mirrors the architecture of Carmel with colorful houses, boutiques and small cafes. The only thing that reminds you that you are halfway around the world are the rocky mountains, towering in the distance. Entering the restaurant felt just like walking into a small restaurant on Cannery Row. After some readjusting and camera set up, everyone orders and we wait. Lost in the smell of garlic and the sound of chatter, we barely notice a figure enter the room. When everyone realizes that Pregs Govender has entered the small room, we all stand.
The second Preg Govender starts to talk, I realize I am in not in Marina, driving down Highway 1 to Carmel. She asks a simple question, “What similarities do you see between Cape Town and where you’re from?” Everyone answers, “The greenery, the architecture, the roads.” Then she asks, “Have you seen poverty like this before?” No, I haven’t. I have never seen poverty like this before. I have seen tent cities and run down mobile home parks, but nothing like this. Govender goes on to say that there is poverty everywhere, and in South Africa the difference between the highest earners and the people who earn less than 28 rand a day is visually so drastic that you can forget that America also has 49 million people living in poverty. Then she asks what creates poverty? My answer, a stacked system, where a person who doesn’t have equal educational opportunities will not get the job that will pay them money to move out of the rundown part of town. Govender’s answer, it is not just one thing that makes a person poor, it is a system that is working against them and lending no aid; in this system, human rights such as water, food, and shelter become commodities. She uses a heart wrenching analogy to explain this: a mother of five traffics one of her children. Is it all the mother’s fault? No, look at the system behind it. She needs money to feed her other kids, pay rent, get her kids to school, etc. Govender says no one is inherently evil, only circumstances can make a person act evil.
What can we, this generation, do to turn the system upside down? Govender’s answer is simple; we have the resources to become conscious of the world around us. We have the technology to make others aware of the cold hard facts. “Being conscious while you do, changes the content of what you do.”
Govender’s voice, her passion behind every word, how much she cares about the issues she is talking about, sincerely inspired me. She inspired me because she is absolutely right, the difference between the last generation of activists and this one is access to information. We can know the statics and data to back up any argument, just as she did during our talk. “Take the consciousness and change the world.”