Harvard Summer Program in South Africa

May 24, 2019 to July 20, 2019
Apply by: 
January 31, 2019
Guest Houses

Participate in a rigorous, vigorous intellectual adventure -- from a multidisciplinary perspective -- in both formal and informal settings across South Africa​

This eight-week program investigates South Africa’s experience as a new democracy; the cultural, economic, and political past-and-present of its indigenous populations; and what its contemporary history has to teach the world at large about a range of critical social issues.

Program Structure

The first six weeks of the program are devoted to intensive coursework, a weekly lecture series given by major South African public intellectuals, and excursions to sites of historical, social, archaeological, and cultural significance. The closing weeks will include a homestay in a historically black urban township, a safari in the rural Cape Province or the North West, and several days in Johannesburg, whence day trips will include, among other destinations, Soweto and Nelson Mandela’s erstwhile home, the legendary Apartheid Museum, a youth radio station, and a well-known African urban market.
The program is led by a team of professors and supported by experienced local staff. It aims to create a reflective environment for you to relate your experiences and, thus, gain a deeper understanding of your life back home in the United States.


AAAS S-171 and S-188 count as two semester-long courses (4 credits each) of degree credit. 

AAAS S-171 Study Abroad in South Africa: Pre-colonial and Colonial Perspectives on African Economy, Society, Politics, and Law (34406)

John Comaroff
4 credits
UN, GR Limited enrollment.

This course explores pre-colonial and colonial African societies, examining their social organization; political and legal systems; economies; and more generally their cultural orders. It begins by interrogating popular European images of Africa, and the ways in which the precapitalist societies of the continent have been understood—and colonized—by Western social scientists. Examples are drawn from different parts of the continent, but particular attention is paid to the to the Zulu, Sotho, and Tswana peoples of South Africa, and, by way of comparison, to the Nuer of the Sudan and the Ndembu of Zambia. The relevance of understanding "traditional" African practices for making sense of the African present, and of the present and future of the global north, is a parallel theme of the course throughout.

AAAS S-188 Study Abroad in South Africa: Colonialism and the Dialectics of Modernity (34407)

Jean Comaroff
4 credits
UN, GR Limited enrollment.

This course deals with the rise of African modernity. In the first week we consider classic accounts of traditional African cultures, in particular the centrality accorded to religion, magic, and ritual. The course encourages students to rethink accounts that place these worlds outside of history, and seeks to track their complex engagement with international forces of various kinds. In the second week, students explore the novel cultural schemes and identities produced under colonial conditions, and the forms of politics these conditions produced. The final week is devoted to processes of decolonization and the growing impact on the continent of global neoliberalism. This era has given rise to a distinctive postcolonial modernity, which provides a unique perspective on the contemporary world order.

The final, experiential learning portion of the program is spent outside the classroom. It begins with a two night homestay in the township of Langa, on the Cape Flats, the oldest black residential neighborhood in greater Cape Town, and an overnight safari at a game reserve three hours outside the city. Thereafter, the program moves to Johannesburg, a major African metropolis. Here we shall explore the urban ecology of apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, focusing on the ways in which race and class has inflected the cityscapes of the country, past and present.

Where you Live and Study

South Africa provides a fascinating, unique, and frankly exciting context within which to examine African societies and cultures, and to understand the legacy of colonialism on twenty-first-century social and political institutions. This program uses various locales to introduce students to contemporary Africa, its peoples and places, its arts and theater and music, its varied landscapes – even its wildlife.


While in Cape Town and Johannesburg, the group will stay in guest houses. During an excursion to a San (“Bushman”) rock art site outside Cape Town, students and staff will sleep over for two nights at a local research center. On the safari, accommodations will be provided by the game park. Homestays will be located with hosts accustomed to hosting visitors from abroad.


Early application is strongly encouraged. Each program has unique requirements included in the online application. Beginning your application early is the best way to ensure that you have sufficient time to review and complete the application requirements by the deadline.

A complete online application includes:

  • Basic personal information
  • A statement of interest
  • Your most recent transcript
  • Program-specific requirements (if applicable; may include letters of recommendation, audio or video submissions, etc.)
  • A $75 application fee (per program)

Interviews may be requested at the discretion of the program.

The summer 2019 application period is now closed. Harvard College students applying for funding from the Office of Career Services (OCS): Please note that the OCS funding application is separate.

If you have questions about the application, please contact the Harvard Summer School Study Abroad Office by email at summerabroad@summer.harvard.edu, or by telephone at (617) 998-9602.

Cost & Expenses

The program fee includes:

  • Tuition
  • Accommodations
  • Scheduled program activities
  • Some meals (the program will provide further details)

You will also need to budget for a number of expenses not covered by the program fee. The amounts listed below for these out-of-pocket expenses are approximate, and you may incur additional expenses not noted here. Your actual expenses will depend on a number of factors, including personal spending habits and currency exchange rates.

  • International airfare ($1,800 - $2,000)
  • Ground transportation ($300)
  • Meals ($800)
  • Personal expenditures, communications, course materials, and miscellaneous ($700)

If you have specific questions about personal budgeting, please contact the program directly.

See Funding and Payment for information on how to submit payments and funding options.

Additional information

In the following video Julia Dratel, a former program attendee, discusses her experiences in Cape Town.


  • John Comaroff, PhD, Hugh K. Foster Professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology, Oppenheimer Fellow in African Studies, Harvard University
  • Jean Comaroff, PhD, Professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology and Oppenheimer Fellow in African Studies, Harvard University