In today’s political climate when even I find it a little hard to be hopeful about the future and proud to be from the US where most people equate the US to Trump, I find it amazing and inspiring that South Africans can be hopeful and proud.
It has been about two weeks since I left South Africa and to be honest I still don’t know exactly how I feel about the experience. I loved it, don’t get me wrong. South Africa has been on my list of places to visit for a long time. As I told the gentleman from the South African Tourism Board who interviewed me at the Johannesburg Airport on my way back home, I can’t wait to come back. But I think my hesitation to say it was the best trip of my life is the fact that I still can’t buy the mantra that “anyone can live anywhere” and that South Africa is a “Rainbow Nation”. No offense to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela who coined the term to describe post-apartheid South Africa, but the idea that everyone is equal all of a sudden is hard to believe when segregation in the US ended well before apartheid and we still have problems. Here is where I give South Africa credit though: South Africa has a museum dedicated to its Apartheid era, they acknowledge their past in hopes that they do not repeat it.
There are two words that I would use to describe most South Africans I talked to: proud and hopeful. Everyone in South Africa I talked to seemed to have hope in South Africa’s future, even with the recent corruption in the government. Everyone in the businesses we talked to, to my Uber drivers seemed to feel that South Africa is back on the right path, that there will not be any more corruption and that South Africa will stay on the right path after the upcoming election. As hopeful as everyone was, they were equally proud of the country they called home. While I think all would admit they have a ways to go South Africa is a leader in many ways: South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and South Africa was the fifth country in the world, and the first—and, to date, only—in Africa, to legalise same-sex marriage. People also were proud to show us their country, not just the touristy/good parts but to see the real South Africa and the townships. This is where the inequality is still very obvious. In Soweto and other townships I went to and drove past they are still over 95% minority. To be told that people in these townships still want to live here is not being honest with oneself. The houses are mostly comprised of old “matchbox” tin houses where Sewerage, water, and electrical infrastructure within townships is often in need of repair, resulting in a lack of sanitation due to problems with accessibility, and availability. Who really chooses to live in a situation like that. However, it does look like the government is building some new housing in the townships with solar panels on the roofs, so maybe the townships are improving.
In today’s political climate when even I find it a little hard to be hopeful about the future and proud to be from the US where most people equate the US to Trump, I find it amazing and inspiring that South Africans can be hopeful and proud. When I think about the US immigration crisis and the problems we have had at our southern border and the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, it is hard to go to another country and try to explain and be proud of what we are doing as a country when we are supposed to be “leaders”. Meanwhile, scandals that surfaced since 2016 involving former South African President Jacob Zuma have drawn attention to corruption in South Africa. Cyril Ramaphosa, the newly elected South African President, has vowed to root out existing corruption and further the development of anti-corruption initiatives. Yet, South Africans remain hopeful and proud, maybe because it is because they just overcame something so horrible as apartheid and maybe it is the only option they have but somehow I found myself more cynical about the future of both the US and South Africa than anyone I talked to. South Africa is gorgeous, even if it is “Africa light” and I hope to go back some day. When I do I hope that the townships are history and those areas are more gentrified, more minorities are in positions of power and they hire more minorities because minorities will not be able to better their situation until they get jobs where they can afford to live in the nicer areas.
The one Africans phase I learned while in South Africa was “baie dankie” or “thank you very much”. So, baie dankie for your hospitality South Africa, I can’t wait to see you again.