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Behind the facade - South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA | Monday, 22 April 2013 | Views [974]

Cape Town - the meeting place of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, the Southern-most tip of Africa and a climate that, at times, reflects Europe more than it does Africa. Surrounded by mountains and flanked by sandy beaches with sea temperatures that vary from ‘swimmable’ on the East Coast to ‘wet-suit-required’ on the West. Wineries, pine trees and Protea flowers, blustery cold misty skies or piercing summers – not quite England, not quite Africa.

Rejecting the bustle and nightlife of Long Street, I have been fortunate enough to discard my backpack over the last three weeks and see day to day life as lived by some residents. Driving around here, I again notice the overall courteousness on the roads, the lack of potholes and the fact that everything actually works. I am told that utilities here are mostly good and well maintained, Capetonians being pretty demanding of high standards. It may be the most expensive city in South Africa but it is a small price to pay for the daily conveniences. The ruling party here is the DA and it is the sole multi-racial run Province. I have heard that there are those who would like to see the Cape Town region being given independence from South Africa, perhaps along similar lines to Wales seeking separation from England?

The government has made progress addressing the issue of housing with many of the poorer estates now benefitting from electricity, and with concrete homes replacing the shacks. In the South Africa of today I see it is less the colour of skin that divides people, and more the colour of their money or circumstance. The misinformed perception of ‘slaves’ that I have heard all too often in the UK, could not be further from the truth. Those that have, provide employment for those that do not, some private employers even paying for the education of their employees’ children. Numerous projects are created to enhance less fortunate communities. One such project collects used tea bags from around the world which are then turned into artistic souvenirs such as bookmarks, place mats, key rings etc. So much of what we throw away in the West is sought, recycled and put to good use here. There are many ways I see the people of South Africa working together, building their country. Many hostels have a basket for unwanted items which are then distributed into the community. There is no social security and our assumed right to put bread on the table in England, here can be a huge daily struggle.

Crime exists, of course it does, as it does much anywhere. One of the big problems has been the introduction of Tic (crack cocaine) both here and in Hawaii, to test how addictive it is. In short, it is highly addictive, cheap and easy to produce and has thus created a sector of the population who are completely dependent on this almost inevitable one-way ticket to self-destruction. Alcohol abuse can also result in some fairly gruesome paramedic callouts, particularly within the townships.

My own experience of crime during my 3 months here has been limited to gunshots heard rather too close to my friend’s house in Midrand, near Jo’burg. Yesterday on the way back from visiting the Sterkfontein Caves (home to some of the oldest archaeological skull finds in the world) we were approached by a man at the traffic lights and told there was a problem with the front of our car. He told my friend she should get out and have a look – she refused. He then said she should wind down the window a little because he was not a bad man – again she refused. Fortunately the traffic lights then turned green. We pulled into a side street some way further down the road and examining the so-called problem, found that there was nothing wrong at all. Had she got out of the car, he would have certainly jumped in and driven off. If you are driving over here, be aware of this. Keep your windows up and doors locked when stationary.

The Sangoma (witch doctor) still features in parts of society. It is said that during the mining strike, one Sangoma provided ‘Muti’ (medicine) to make the strikers bullet-proof! Needless to say this was unsuccessful and he was found to have been shot dead on account of it. A ‘Muti’ is often used for burglaries. An odourless substance burned under open windows or under doors has an effect similar to chloroform and victims have awoken to find their homes stripped completely bare.

Aside from petty crime, poaching is another means of income. It is said that China values the use of the rhino horn in certain medical preparations used to enhance the manhood of those that can afford it, creating a market whilst diminishing a species to the brink of extinction. It is hard to believe that this can exist at its current levels without having contacts ‘in the right places’.

It would be impossible to touch on politics here without mentioning the much revered Nelson Mandela. The Robben Island tour is informative on his history, particularly as part of the tour is done by ex-inmates. I am not an expert on the ins and outs of his career, but looking at the South Africa today from the one I vaguely knew in the late 70’s, I see a man who has achieved the impossible.

South Africa is a Rainbow Nation striving – against the odds of blatant corruption, immigration and over population – to stand proudly and take her place on the world stage.  I cannot help but admire the efforts and achievements of all those involved. The ill health of Mr Mandela is cause for concern. He has lead by example as a statesman and citizen of his country offering stability and bearing the olive branch that has permitted such progress. Whispered voices speculate that he cannot bear that forever. His legacy may be strong, but can a worthy successor be found? For a country still in its infancy, it will be a test of the fragility or strength of its progress.



Tags: carjacking, crime, long street backpackers, mandela, politics, rainbow nation, safety, south africa, tip of africa

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