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In depth In South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA | Friday, 21 February 2014 | Views [428]


Its hard to see my dads point when he’s using the word pride to describe how his domestic would be feeling after coming home from work each week with 500 rands, the equivalent of £20. Baring in mind she does two full days of cleaning, I don’t really think pride is what she’s leaving with. However after he explained the unemployment rate and I’ve seen first hand how people live here, I guess a job is a job. I was shocked to find out that not only do they have a maid, which as women, I disagree with because why you can’t clean your house is beyond me but they have gardeners who come to all the houses in the complex.


There’s a lot of begging, street stalls and people selling between busy traffic, but I was not expecting any of these people to be white! Stood between stationary cars at a junction, two white men, both middle aged, holding signs that tell of their unemployment and low standard of living. I look at my father, who has struggled with work because of his colour but managed because of this nationality, these two are somehow at a disadvantage being South African and white.


Now, I want to clear something up; I am not writing this because I am saddened that a white man is lower in society that a black man, I am writing this because I find it interesting that 20 years after the Apartheid, the only thing that has happened is that the tables have been turned, and the black side of the table cloth is now showing. What I was expecting was that they would have incorporated a mix of colour, sewn black patches onto a crisp white cloth and used coloured thread. That colour would not be the separation between success and joblessness.


When people give directions they use the men standing at the junctions as a reference like they rely on them being there or else the directions are wrong. ‘Take a left at the robots with the man in the wheelchair and then you’ll get to the crossroads with that white guy’ and people will know exactly where they mean. Plus, if they’re not there people get concerned, because heaven forbid they’d have to learn the street names as appose to the which beggar will be there. ‘I wonder what’s wrong, why aren’t they there?’ I wonder whats wrong, why are they there? Why are they standing in the road begging for food?


These people have succumb to society and despite feeling as though they control themselves they are controlled by the fascist regime which leaves them soaking wet, standing at the traffic lights where their day is broken up into a thousand one minute intervals as the cars shift in sequence. Never knowing who’s window they will wave through and if the hand that reaches out to feed them will be the one that changes their life. It gives a whole new meaning to phrase window shopping. Watching them in their silent movie as hands dismiss their presence behind the slowly rising window and seeing suits look away to ignore their fellow man who stands alongside them asking for help. It shows pride in a weird way; they don’t just sit and wallow in their poverty but go out, show their face, they have a job at least!


Here I am in a place I don’t understand but there isn’t anything to understand; I’m not confused, this country is just a mess, two steps forward one step back. It’s like a sad dance but when will the pendulum stop swinging between such extremes and stop in a place which makes people feel safe. The police are completely corrupt, they wont do anything unless you stumble into the station with a knife sticking out of you which wouldn’t be a surprise from what I’ve heard. But why would you go to the police when they probably know someone robbing you; probably supplied the weapons they’re brandishing at you and your family.


On the surface it seems like such an angry country, somewhere you’d expect people to mope around, wallowing in their own self pity as many people do, blaming everyone else. But they don’t. 99% of the people I’ve met are happy, friendly, generous and hospitable and even visiting the townships where people are living in corrugated iron houses with no electricity, you’d think they would hate people visiting and shut themselves away, mad at the world. But I was invited into homes, shown around, waved at and asked to take photographs.


Walking around the manmade houses you see creativity everywhere. If I were given scrap and asked to build a house that would stay upright during a storm, I’m not sure I could and whats more, I definitely couldn’t make a two story house. These homes sometimes have 10 people living in them and despite being cramped, they take pride in what they have, even if it’s very little. One man showed me around his house and was so proud of everything in it. It had two rooms; a kitchen and then a living area with a bed, two sofas a music system and cupboards filled with ornaments and pictures. He pointed out his family in the photos and then pointed to the ceiling where a disco ball was hanging. We joked that he must have lots of parties there and soon his wife arrived to join the conversation. They sat and asked me to take a few photos which I did, and returned the prints to them the following week. He was so happy to have me in his home and show off his life, his house was immaculate and you could just tell he was happy. He didn’t need a huge house with a swimming pool and gated driveway. He didn’t need a maid or a flashy car. His children had grown up and left the family home, he had his wife by his side, a roof above his head and he was content with what he’d achieved, and he should be.


Yes walking around the townships wasn’t all happy faces and definitely isn’t somewhere I could live as fear for my own safety would keep me up all night. There were people who hid themselves away, people who’s houses stood next to a river of sewerage or a skip full of rubbish. I’d heard from someone that another baby corpse was found the night before I visited which didn’t seem to surprise them, something which in England would have been all over the news with investigations and people being held accountable. But here, it’s always another; another dead baby, another robbery, another rape and it seems like the country is numb to it.


Listening to the radio this morning was not a good way to start the day. As South Africa mark a 1 year anniversary of the rape and murder of a 9 year old girl, they reflect on the state of the country and how things have changed for women. It is apparent that the answer is, nothing! People are vocalizing their concerns but have decided it’s the rapists mother who is to blame, because she obviously isn’t teaching her son how to respect women. Sometimes you have to laugh, just for a second, because they follow that up with the amount of rapes in January alone. The number is astonishing; 4000. Take two zeros off that and I’d be shocked. 4000 is inexcusable and brings my laughter of comic relief to a sudden stop.


Understandably, I’m unnerved walked through the streets of Pretoria. Little white girl, bright red hair fluttering in the wind and a backpack full of camera equipment, talk about an easy target! Strangely I don’t feel like I stand out too much, despite being the only white face on this stretch of road. With the words of the broadcaster hanging in my ears, I head to a place I know I’m safe (silly when its midday in the city centre), Nando’s. So here I sit, two hours I will wait here for my dad to finish work and I’ll return home disappointed that I still haven’t witnessed the real Africa and it’s my own fault.


Obviously crime is high here, with so many people unaccounted for and the police being less then attentive you expect to hear a lot of bad things. A protest in Bronkhorstspruit, just north of Pretoria caught myself and the medias eye when people began torching their own town. The protest was based on electricity bill and obviously the town was annoyed with not having a choice so, angry at the government they torched the local police station and a clinic, which does not make sense because they’ve just limited their own services but thats what they chose to do. They covered the roads in rocks so no cars could enter the town and forced the police away so no help could be given. To them this would make things better. As well as that they burned down a neighbors house because they wouldn’t join the protest, the parents and 11 year old girl were unhurt but were driven away by angry mobs that said they must leave the town. With celebratory cheers as they drove away it’s obvious that many people are forced into doing things they don’t want to. A problem is made bigger because once the majority has decided, you’re better joining them than taking the highroad because the highroad will get you killed.


It’s been interesting being in Africa whilst England has been battered by storms, not only because I don’t have to wear 8 layers here but because every single night the news goes on about peoples houses being ruined by floods and asking who’s to blame for all of this. I don’t know have they haven’t managed to realise its nature and no one is to blame but hay ho, thats brits for you. I’ve sat here and listed to the rain and wind hit the windows as thunder storms bellow above the house and all I could think about was the townships. These people in England’s carpets are damp, their gardens now have a pond, we get it, and yes a few houses have been completely ruined but the amount of help provided and the fact they can just go stay with a friend is more than a luxury to the families living in shanty towns. If there is a storm, their whole house is ruined, every time it rains. Many don’t have doors, proper walls or a second floor so when the floods hit, every house is sitting in a river. No help is given; their lively hoods ruined within an hour, their families cold, wet and hungry. The next day they get up, go to work and then have to come home and rebuild their house before the next storm hits and they have to go through all of it again. So I have no sympathy for the people of Britain who are more concerned about if their insurer will pay or which governors fault it is. Don’t get a house on the seaside and complain when you know what England is like, it was your choice. These people don’t have a choice, they have to live on the street, they have to use scrap metal to build their house and they have to sleep on the floor.


The diversity you come across is astounding. The complexes with free security guard and the glass shopping malls, next to the slums and rubbish heaps. It’s a different way of living for sure but have the people living in these horrid circumstances achieved any less than those in mansions? They are rich with pride and knowledge but their lives are saddened by the constant reminder that it could be so much better. But perhaps they don’t want all that, they have their families for the most part and a roof over their head. They aren’t living off the government and they aren’t a burden to society. They work to have a life and that life is all they need.

Tags: south africa, travel

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