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Friday, May 25, 2012

South Africa: Must return!

It has always been my dream to go to South Africa. Having spent a brief week here, it is still my dream. A week in South Africa is like a European tour in 10 days - largely unsatisfying. There is so much to see and do and experience, you feel like you have done nothing at all.

Between meetings in Johannesburg I managed to go to the Apartheid Museum in Soweto,  to Nelson Mandela Square in the north, to Moyo's in Melrose Arch, and to a Portuguese place Eira Moura  in the East. Consistently great food and wine and such nice warm people. Yes the men are kind of macho and yes racism still exists, but show me a country where it does not. In fact it was interesting to hear very nice men discuss how they were raised compared to how they are expected to think, feel and behave today. Clearly the law is helping, but we should also recognize that no law can mandate how people feel or what they believe. This is a much more complex topic.

Table Mountain in the rain

Off to Cape Town for some tourism where I took a cable car up Table Mountain, but saw nothing due to being smack in the middle of a rain cloud, had a lovely lunch and extended walk around the V&A Waterfront district, including the  purchase of a beautiful handwoven scarf, a sunset cruise on the catamaran Tigresse with 50 people from India, and a follow up glass of wine at Sevruga. The head bartender is from Congo and was delighted to have someone to speak French to. Another bartender was from a war torn area and came to Cape Town 4 years ago to escape the camps. His family is still there and you can definitely see in his eyes the pain this causes him.
Camps Bay and the 12 Apostles

Sunday was a tour of the greater Cape Town area including Camps Bay, Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, an ostrich farm (not sure of the relevance), a penguin farm and a winery.

We drove past several beautiful neighborhoods with truly lovely houses, and also numerous townships with perhaps 100 decent homes each, and then up to several thousand shacks. Apparently the government sets up a neighborhood with a limited number of new homes. Friends and relatives then arrive as well and build pretty awful shacks, usually with very unsafe paraffin stoves for cooking. As you can imagine a fire in such conditions affects everyone, since the shacks are close enough to shake your neighbor's hand through the doorway.
It is impossible to describe the complexity of issues here. Of course it is not as simple as color: nothing ever is. Listening to people from different perspectives talk of their situation of being white, colored or black, I hear a real confusion about how things should be. How to provide equal opportunity to education, to meaningful employment, to a home with running water? How to prevent the growth of the townships where shacks continue for miles, where most have no garbage removal, no toilet, no electricity? How to deal with the anger that is created by the history, the lack of opportunity, the 25-50% unemployment and most of all the government's inability to fix things?
Not my photo. Taking pictures here felt disrespectful somehow.

Significant research and reporting far surpass my humble first view of Johannesburg and Cape Town.

South Africa's Post-Apartheid Generation from May of 2012 provides a brief overview of the situation before and after 1994. Of course no brief report can adequately describe the numerous issues. You also see a bit of Alexandra in this video, a very large township in Johannesburg of 250-500,000 people.


  1. It sounds like such an incredible place. So much to see, so much to learn and so complicated politically and socially. A great start, but too much to absorb in a brief trip.


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