South Africa’s Mpoe Mogale

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When I first started this blog I thought it was going to be a place where I could share my travel experiences with all of you. It was essentially going to be an online journal in which I was hoping to entertain you with my blunders and inspire you with my stories. I jumped into the blogging world blindly and as I am coming up for air I definitely see that in order for me to give my readers the best quality of content I really have to reinvent my blog and tap into what inspires me most about traveling. Of course the beauty of the destinations themselves is a reason alone to travel, but what tugs at my heart strings the most are the people that I meet along the way. No matter where I have gone or how different people seem to be, I believe that as human beings our core values are all very similar. No matter our race, religion or sexual identity; when we strip away our skin, our hearts beat the same way. Humans yearn for love and acceptance and my hope is that we all strive to be the best versions of ourselves. Of course life is not always rosy and when we face adversity the human spirit is put through the test. I believe that by understanding the struggles of others we in turn have a better chance to become a stronger more loving society.

Where am I going with this you ask? Well I am hoping that my blog will not only be a place where people come to get travel inspiration and advise, but I want it to be a platform where I can share human stories of the wonderful people that make our world go around. I want our differences as humans to unite us instead of divide us and this is why I have created The Humans of Our World section.

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With that said I would like to introduce you to Mpoe Mogale. Mpoe is a 21 year old woman who was born and raised in South Africa. At the ripe age of 13 Mpoe was brought to Canada while her mom worked on her PhD at the University of Alberta. Mpoe’s life story (even though it has barely even begun) fascinates me because she had been born just a year after the end of South Africa’s apartheid. Being black in a country that previously catered to the white, I was interested in how Mpoe and her family coped with the injustices of apartheid and the changes that were happening in her country as she grew up.

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When meeting Mpoe her striking beauty and genuine smile are features that most people will never forget. She is soft spoken but at the same time has an air of confidence that draws you in. Behind those big brown eyes and bright smile is a girl who has had to overcome her share of obstacles. Through it all, the one person who has provided her with guidance and who she considers her role model has been her mother, Reikokeditse Mogale.

 

 

Reikokeditse was born in 1963 in the rural town of Maijane, Limpopo. Reikokeditse’s mother died giving birth to her younger sister so at the age of 7 she became an orphan. Raised by her aunt, Reikokeditse was expected to take care of her cousins. Primary school was available to the children in her town; however secondary school was not well attended as it came with a hefty price tag. Reikokeditse had a passion for learning from a very early age, and thankfully her oldest cousin moved to the city so that he could help pay the school fees for the rest of the family. Reikokeditse was fortunate enough to graduate from high school and because of her education another door was opened to get a step further in life. As a high school graduate, one was allowed to become a primary school teacher. Reikokeditse took on this role which earned her enough income to eventually send her to college.

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Mpoe’s mother and role model ~ Reikokeditse!

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Reikokeditse’s hard work eventually earned her a job as a nurse and by the time Mpoe was born in 1995, Reikokeditse was tirelessly working 3 jobs. Mpoe was born in the township of Lebowakgomo, Limpopo. Lebowakgomo was established in 1974 with a population of only 115 people. It quickly grew and developed, and today the population is roughly just over 35 000. The closest city, Polokwane is approximately an hour and a half drive away. Because we are looking at South Africa I think it is important to look at the racial makeup of Lebowakgomo. In 2011 black Africans made up 99.3% of the population followed by 0.2% being coloured, 0.2% Asian/Indian, 0.1% white and 0.2% considered other. Mpoe grew up in a place where white people were an anomaly and she said that the only white people that were in her town were rich business owners who moved there temporarily to open up shops like grocery stores.  Surrounded by people like herself she didn’t feel discriminated or mistreated based on her colour, it was when she went to the bigger cities that she noticed the discrimination.

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Mpoe performing in a school play

Both of Mpoe’s parents are college educated which is not the norm for most people of their race and age at that time. Growing up her dad worked as a clerk for the South African Department of Health and as I said before her mom worked in three separate nursing positions. Mpoe’s mother was her rock and she knew from a very early age that her mother worked so hard so that she could support her family and give them a better future.

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Mpoe’s father Kutume and his family in Durban (he is the little boy)

When Mpoe was only 12 years old Reikokeditse made a huge sacrifice for the family and moved to Canada to work on her PhD in Nursing. Mpoe was left to be raised by her father and an older cousin who would live in the family home during the week to help out with Mpoe and her brother. It was a difficult adjustment for Mpoe as her mother and best friend was now on the other side of the world.

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After living apart for that year Reikokeditse decided to bring her daughter back to Canada with her while she finished her studies.  Mpoe started the eighth grade in a brand new country on the other side of the world with many that looked very different from her. Even though she was now a visible minority and most definitely nobody in her school spoke her first language of Sepedi, she felt that the transition was fairly easy. She expected people of colour to be treated like they were back in South Africa and was pleasantly surprised by how positive Canada seemed to be. Looking back Mpoe realizes that due to her naivety and innocence she didn’t notice the small micro-aggressions that people of colour face. Mpoe defines micro-aggressions as assumptions based on one’s appearance. Over time she has become aware that even though Canada remains a positive place she is not blinded by people’s racial ignorance.

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A whole different world of winter with snow

As my discussion with Mpoe went on, it definitely veered away from what I originally thought my interview with her would be about. Instead of the cultural differences of her South African upbringing we soon dove into the topic of race and how that defines a person. She was quick to define herself as black number one; not a woman or a dancer or a scholar, but black. This really surprised me because when I look at others, their race is not what I choose to define them. After a lot of thought on this issue I have concluded that perhaps some people define themselves by a certain trait when that trait itself has been undermined in some way. For instance, if I lived in a country where woman’s rights were staggeringly different than they are in Canada perhaps I would feel more strongly by identifying myself by my gender.

Mpoe has opened my eyes to what people of colour face. I definitely realize that racism still exists but my discussion with Mpoe has made me question whether I see things through a clouded lens because I myself am white. I have family members of mixed race and some of my closest friends are of colour, so when I see others I do not distinguish or make judgements based on the colour of someone’s skin. I realize that not everyone thinks the same way as me, but I guess living in Canada in this day of age I truly thought that racism and bigotry were something of the past. It saddens me to know that in a very liberal, free-thinking country people are still being mistreated.

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Mpoe had a lot to say about her racial identity and I knew that if I paraphrased what she said I wouldn’t do her thoughts justice.  I asked her to write in her own words why she defines herself as black before anything else. Below are a few excerpts from what she wrote:

‘It was only until recently (around 2 years ago) that it hit me that I could have the same resources as these white women—live in the same neighborhood, drive the same car, attend the same school, be Catholic, be straight, etc.—but because of that one feature, my entire life and experiences would still be very different from theirs.

Before it used to be a “well I am seen as black so I might as well embrace it” kind of thing. This attitude has evolved to become a lot more than that! Much of my being is now surrounded around my blackness, the hair I choose to wear, the people I associate with, the music I listen to; they are all grounded in blackness. These experiences have therefore molded me into the person I identify as, a BLACK woman; and not a woman who happens to be black. It has taken the experience of far too many micro-aggressions for me to reach this point, but I want to clarify that it is not an end point; I am still learning what it means to be black. For now I understand blackness as described in Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star by a small girl “Black IS. Black is something to Laugh about. Black is something to cry about. Black is Serious. Black is a feeling. Black is us, beautiful people.” 

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My aim is not to make political statements but rather to expose us to different views. Race is a touchy subject and I wouldn’t want to offend anyone with my own words. I truly just want us to understand each other and embrace our differences. After sitting down with Mpoe and hearing about her stories growing up in South Africa and then moving to Canada I am truly grateful for what she has taught me. As a white woman from Canada I am rarely discriminated against. Yes, I have felt lesser being a woman in some of the Muslim countries that I have visited, but I was a visitor in their country. Perhaps if I was treated differently in a place I call home based on something I cannot change my thoughts would be very different. Maybe I too would embrace that quality that makes me different and identify with it with pride, just as does Mpoe.

It was a complete honor to sit down and listen to Mpoe Mogale. She is incredibly beautiful inside and out and I hope that by sharing her story we can perhaps understand each other a little better as humans.

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