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The Essence of the Traveller's Tale - Part 5

SOUTH AFRICA | Friday, 28 December 2012 | Views [89]

Hitchhikers and Pit Stops

"Travel, its very motion, ought to suggest hope. Despair is the armchair; it is indifference and glazed, incurious eyes"

Paul Theroux, Fresh Air Fiend

I would not trade my 2012 experiences for anything. The journey re-ignited my passion for South Africa in so many ways. It also highlighted just how much work needs to be done and how widespread that work is. Many people thought The EXPEDITION Project was too diverse. They saw a diffuse, unfocused attempt instead of a holistic approach. A Department of Health representative recently summed it up perfectly:

“It is about a whole person and for this reason you can’t restrict yourself to one aspect.”

South Africa is at a crossroads. One path leads to a bright future and the other lies in the shadow of a dark cloud of animosity that refuses to let go of the past. The aim of The EXPEDITION Project is to find out exactly what we need to do as a nation to move into the sunlight of a promising future. Where are the necessary pit stops that will make that journey possible? How can we build and support them? What do they need? This project is not after cosmetic changes and warm, fuzzy feelings that disappear the moment that a taxi cuts you off on the highway. It is about making a real and lasting impact. This is why it needs to continue connecting with the people of South Africa and find out what they feel, think and want.

Our nation is filled with so many positive stories and yet the negative ones make much better news. Communities of all sizes are making inspirational efforts to remain above the poverty line. Even the smallest communities have some sort of community centre, orphanage or NGO crèche – created by the community itself, to answer an overwhelming need.

Tired of poor service delivery, Graskop in Mpumalanga became the first town in the region to vote for the opposition party and see its municipality re-structured. Piet Retief, closer to KZN, was the centre of the first uprising in 2007 when the government and local municipalities weren’t keeping their promises. Of the towns surveyed this year, 78% don’t care who is running the country as long as the people’s best interests are looked after.

Hard-pressed and fed-up South Africans are coming up with ingenious survival tactics and enduring so much more than the average westerner could manage or even imagine. Best of all, they do this with a smile on their face – a truly African smile from ear to ear.  This creativity and tenacity make South Africa the small business blueprint for the world.

But of course, it is not all moonshine and roses. The EXPEDITION Project aimed for an accurate assessment and noted the negatives too. The Department of Social Development spent R3.8 million on a community development project in Hondeklipbaai, Northern Cape, only for it to be vandalised and abandoned. The thought was there but the follow-through failed. The Department of Health set up a LoveLife Centre (HIV awareness) in Bray in the North West, only for the staff to sit around with minimal facilities to execute their assignments.

The majority still see big families as a security blanket for the future rather than a burden in the present. Condoms are still generally rejected in favour of a religious philosophy that “If God wants you to have kids you will have kids” – 67% of South Africans surveyed agreed with this statement.

82% of the small towns we visited believe that substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) is the number one problem within their community. That is followed by education, health service and job creation. But as one interviewee in Jozini said, “There are plenty of jobs out there people just like saying there are no jobs. People think the jobs will come looking for them but they need to look for the jobs.”

In every instance, the force for positive change from within the communities far outweighs any negatives. Positive people are helping their own communities and in the process, they are transforming this country. That is what The EXPEDITION Project wants to publicise and replicate.

“There are plenty of jobs out there people just like saying there are no jobs. People think the jobs will come looking for them but they need to look for the jobs.”

To be continued...

Tags: africa, expedition, fresh air fiend, paul theroux, roger wynne-dyke, south africa, the expedition project, volunteer

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