South Africa – the “white” land

I had been here before.

IMG_0984A long, long time ago.

To be exact: in 1977, on my very first trip away from Europe. I travelled with a friend from Bremen, the place where I did my nurse’s training, and we were to visit another nurse friend of ours who had moved to Johannesburg with her boyfriend and later husband. I was 24 then, as young as you are now, Maren.

And you are travelling at this age, too.

How history repeats itself!

And how much older I am now! I can’t believe that.

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South African society was divided into 3 groups back then: the “Whites”, the “Coloured”, and the “Blacks”.

When approaching a beach, a sign would stop you in your stride and inform you: “Whites only” or “Coloureds only”.

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On the buses-the same signs.

It came back to me yesterday as we were hopping on a public bus in Cape Town.

Apartheid.

The country has moved on since then.

Has it?

Nelson Mandela is a big name. 1918 – 2013. A long life of idealism and fighting for human rights.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize  with De Klerk in 1993:  “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa”

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He left a legacy. His name can be found everywhere.

How sustainable is his work after his death?

I remember the townships. We drove into one of them by accident back then, in 1977. It was the only time I remember we didn’t feel safe in our little light blue rented VW beetle.

The townships are still here.

Have they changed? I guess we see them with different eyes today, after being to other areas like that, in Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi…..

This time, Ron and I were amazed by the sheer size of the townships, especially the one along the coast on the way to Cape Town. An endlessly stretching cluster of small, very colourful tin sheds, tiny, one after the other, with narrow gaps between them and small lanes criss-crossing through; washing hanging outside some of them, few people outside, even fewer vehicles, rubbish, yes, but not too bad; however, power lines everywhere and big satellite dishes on almost every shack.

So, we couldn’t help asking ourselves:” Are these people better off than the ones who live in the slums of Kampala?”

The townships look better from the outside, but we haven’t been inside any of them like we have in Uganda. (Later, on our last day in SA, we will visit Soweto, and yes, it is different to what we have seen in other African nations)

How come I feel like being back in “white man’s land” after spending time in “black Africa”?

Well, first of all you have all the conveniences that the first world has to offer:

Sealed roads, even multi-lane highways, good infrastructure, beautiful restaurants with splendid food and superb wine collections, clean, drinkable water, well functioning showers, nice cars, tastefully, well dressed (white) people.

Rarely does one see black people walking along the road or sitting under a shady tree here-vivid images set in our minds from previous travels through the other African countries.

Blacks are around (although most of them are a lighter shade of black than Ugandans, Tanzanians or Malawi people). You see them standing in car parks, wearing a bright red work vests, showing people where to park and helping them to get back on the road safely (and expecting money for their service; albeit not so much in your face as we have experienced before, especially in Malawi)

Near the townships you see public taxis and people jumping on or off to get to work or come home. You see blacks sitting on the back of big trucks.

But only few – in comparison.

And black (brown) and white men are not mixing in a social kind of way.

Black people are waiters in restaurants and shop assistants in department stores or souvenir shops. They drive the taxis and buses. They work on farms and clean hotel rooms. They don’t look as well nourished and groomed as the whites.

However, there are a few who appear like they have made it.  Just a few. They sit and sip a cocktail on the waterfront. They laze around the pool with their children who are dressed in designer clothes. They drive big, expensive cars. They order exquisite food at good restaurants. They are “show off’s”.

But they are not joined by white people of the same social class.

I feel safe in this country.

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I have not seen or heard any violent behaviour.

I feel like one of the other white people around me, but, after having just spent 2 months in “black” Africa, this feels weird yet again, but in a different way, uncomfortable, uneasy? Hard to put into words.

A really nice host from one of our Airbnb guesthouses tells me that the current government in South Africa is trying to build up the Middle Class. Here, as in most other parts of the world, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

According to her, the situation in this country appears to be manageable, not perfect, of course and with much criticism of the current government, but it sounds positive, hopeful.

However, most other people we spoke to paint a more gloomy picture.

On our recent wine tour through Franschhoek we met a young South African lawyer, who spoke fluent Africaans and English, a well educated young lady.  At our last wine tasting stop (and surprisingly enough, we were all still quite sober, at least in comparison to some others, who were singing and dancing by this time), we started talking over our constantly filled glasses and she told a rather different story. She had recently moved her area of work from “crime to “property”. Her reason:

“I didn’t feel safe in my neighborhood when working with cases of crime, property disputes are much safer”. She told us that her father owns a farm here and has to fear for his life every day, farms get attacked and each day of the year at least one white farmer gets killed in this country.  Consequently, she is trying to migrate to Canada. Her brother has already left and lives in London. She believes, in the foreseeable future, a civil war is unavoidable, and she has little hope for the survival of her home country.

What is going on here?

After all of Mandela’s work! Over decades, he fought for equal rights for all people in this beautiful country.

Yesterday, we went to Cape Town and from the coastline, you could easily spot Robben Island, where this man was unjustly imprisoned for twenty years because of his belief in racial equality.

You have to hope that this can’t all be lost!

On our very last day in Africa we spend 5 hours in Johannesburg and decide to book an individualised tour through the township Soweto. We visit this widespread suburb, where 3.5 million blacks live (in contrast to 4.5 million people in the rest of Johannesburg). The township is very diverse, from richest to poorest, very interesting to visit and it’s safe, assures us our private tour guide Agnes, who picks us up from our airport hotel and drives us there in a white Mercedes. Much safer than the other part of Jo-burg (the white part?), the city centre, where there has been a strike going on by the rubbish collectors for a few weeks now so the city is a stinking mess.

At the end of our 5-6 hour tour through Soweto we return home to our airport hotel with a changed view on South Africa’s history. We talked to people, we visited The “Hector Pieterson” museum and the Mandela House, and learned many things that we had no idea about. The most interesting thing for me was this and I have just copied the following information from the internet:

The June 16 1976 Uprising that began in Soweto and spread countrywide profoundly changed the socio-political landscape in South Africa. Events that triggered the uprising can be traced back to policies of the Apartheid government that resulted in the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953. The rise of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and the formation of South African Students Organisation (SASO) raised the political consciousness of many students while others joined the wave of anti-Apartheid sentiment within the student community. When the language of Afrikaans alongside English was made compulsory as a medium of instruction in schools in 1974, black students began mobilizing themselves. On 16 June 1976 between 3000 and 10 000 students mobilized by the South African Students Movement‘s Action Committee supported by the BCM marched peacefully to demonstrate and protest against the government’s directive. The march was meant to culminate at a rally in Orlando Stadium.
On their pathway they were met by heavily armed police who fired teargas and later live ammunition on demonstrating students. This resulted in a widespread revolt that turned into an uprising against the government. While the uprising began in Soweto, it spread across the country and carried on until the following year.
The aftermath of the events of June 16 1976 had dire consequences for the Apartheid government. Images of the police firing on peacefully demonstrating students led an international revulsion against South Africa as its brutality was exposed. Meanwhile, the weakened and exiled liberation movements received new recruits fleeing political persecution at home giving impetus to the struggle against Apartheid. 
( sahistory.org.za)

How interesting: the students in 1976 protested against the language Africaans in their schools.

And while we were in South Africa, the newspapers reported on recent student strikes.

And what are the students demonstrating for these days? They refuse to be taught in Africaans and demand English to be the only language at university studies.

How important is language!!

Apart from all these thoughts, just a short chapter on Cape Town itself:

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Beautiful city, surrounded by the natural beauty of the Table Mountain watching guard over the city, multiple superb beaches along the city’s coast for swimming and surfing, a well developed waterfront harbor, a metropolis with a rich history of pride, cultural diversity, full of acceptance and tolerance, happy and friendly people, street artists, markets and overall, just a very good vibe!

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We loved this city and our only regret was that our time was limited here.

Even for us, being 12 months on tour? We should have ample time to do whatever we want…….

How is it possible that our time is still limited?

Are there life lessons to be learned?

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