Experiencing this election abroad in Cape Town has given me a really unique understanding of how vital and far-reaching the results of this election were. My friends and I here are all avid Hillary supporters, meaning we still spent an enormous amount of time discussing US politics and news while being so far away—because despite the distance and time-difference, it turns out the rest of the world is just as tuned in to American matters as we are. Because this election wasn’t just about us, and living abroad has illuminated how widespread the America’s reach is on the entire world. The next leader of our country would set a new precedent on how to address and eradicate growing discrimination, social unrest and injustice, especially matters that we share with South Africa such as race and gender inequality. Not to mention our market power, and the stability required to maintain financial growth and to continue to support economies around the world that are reliant on US aid. Nearly every South African I’ve spoken to here, once they realized I was American, made sure to put a plug in for Hillary and encourage US voters to make the right choice. Because whomever would end up winning, people here would have to deal with the results as well—they were counting on us to make the right decision.
As some of you may know, in the past few months at the University of Cape Town student protests have spread like wildfire and empowered students, predominantly people of color, to fight back against an extremely unequal and inaccessible system of power that has persisted post-Colonialism in South Africa and many other countries on the continent. Witnessing all of this, as a study abroad student with very little at stake in this issue, I was astonished at the power and strength of the #FeesMustFall movement here, as my colleagues marched for decolonized education not out of their own volition, but truly out of necessity in order to create progress for people of color in this country. Campus has been shut down and people are finally paying attention—I sensed strong parallels to the movements in the United States and was invigorated by the thought that with this election, we would be leading the way for positive growth in our country and thus the rest of the world. I hoped that Hillary’s firm support for the Black Lives Matter movement would create concrete change in the US that could thus inspire further action on behalf of the South African government to fix their broken system as well. What a privilege we had coming our way, that Hillary Clinton would take office as the first woman, overly qualified for a position which she would use to enforce the change and justice many thousands of people have been waiting for.
As polls began to close at home, around 2:30AM here, I set my alarm for around three hours from then, hoping to wake up to news that we finally did it. That a woman’s life achievements and dedication to this country were finally taken seriously, and she would be elected as President of the United States. That the love and acceptance of minorities in our country would obviously prevail over the hateful sentiments aimed at them from the other candidate. That the United States citizens would consider sexual assault a crime heinous enough not to let an aggressor make it to the White House. I know that’s what everyone here was thinking—the local newspaper even printed the next day’s newspaper in favor of Hillary, as the results had not come out before the paper was printed. But what I woke up to was extreme confusion and panic, as state by state the situation began to deteriorate. As the final results came in, as he was announced the winner of the election, I felt what I can only describe as heartbreak. I guess I didn’t fully understand how much it would have meant to me, a young woman, to see my own role model take the highest position of power I have ever known, and fight to end injustice at the top level. The system of white oppression that had been put on full blast throughout my time in South Africa as a witness of the student protests became, if possible, even clearer to me. The fact that the leader of a campaign built on ridicule, hate, xenophobia, racism, sexism, and utter disrespect was hailed as chief by the United States was terrifying. Unimaginable. And most of all, embarrassing. I saw a sign at a cafe in Cape Town that read “US refugees welcome” while hearing on the radio the different statements of disbelief by various African leaders that America had actually elected Donald Trump. That the former Secretary of State, whom many of the leaders had worked together personally with, was swept aside for a man whose legitimate plan of foreign affairs was to “build a wall” to keep immigrants out was and still is inconceivable.
All I can say now is that I hope he proves us wrong. Despite the already devastating blows of this election, the confirmation that in fact women are still perceived as lesser in society as well as the hugely insulting rhetoric aimed at minorities by Trump and his supporters, there’s a small chance that it was all a show. If he says he wants to be a president for all of us, then maybe he will really find a way to make that happen. The pit that remains in my stomach reminds me how doubtful this prospect is, but then maybe we’ll find a way to do it ourselves. Perhaps this election will light a spark in all of us to fight as seriously and vigorously as the students of South Africa have, and maybe we can still incite real change. As things stand currently, it seems it’s completely up to us. We are responsible for taking care of one another at all times, but more urgently at a time when it feels the country has turned its back. No one is safe unless everyone is safe, so please, let’s do our best to still set a great precedent and create a more equal and accepting society in America. See you soon, USA.