South Africa - Our Take

Ever since we left South Africa, we have been thinking about all that we observed, heard, learned, read and concluded about this complex country. So, how can we interpret all of this and share our interpretations with others who might wonder? We'll attempt to put into words at least a bit our thoughts and feelings.

In summary, our conclusion is that South Africa has a veneer of normalcy and stability that leaves the impression that all is well and the country is moving ahead in today's world. But underneath this veneer, one soon becomes aware that there are many problems that if solved will allow the country to grow and prosper as an important member of the world community, but if allowed to continue could undermine that future, perhaps seriously.

Let's begin with what's to like about South Africa - attributes that contribute to the veneer of normalcy

  • First and foremost, the country has great scenic beauty, charismatic wild animals, and a system of National Parks that offers amazing animal viewing to people while managing the parks for the benefit of the wildlife. Many visitors travel to South Africa just to go on safari because the opportunity to enter the special world of lions, elephants, hippopotamuses, giraffes, impala, kudu, zebra and all of the critters that live in the reserves, parks and other wild places. We admit that going on safaris was a primary reason we decided to travel to South Africa and that our experiences being close to these amazing creatures great and small was never to be forgotten.

  • We discovered there are many more reasons to believe that 'all is well'
    - Tap water is safe to drink and the electricity stays on with no sudden outages.
    - Mobile phone service is inexpensive, connectivity is broad and consistent.
    - Streets, roads and highways are mostly excellent and for cross country travel, E-tolls are available
       along with modern and efficient rest stops.
    - Intercity air service is frequent and inexpensive. Airports are modern and world class.
    - Cafes and restaurants offer well prepared, fresh food, delicious local wine, excellent and friendly service,
       and pleasant ambiance in most cases.
    - Hostels are clean, well managed and inexpensive.
    - Many people speak English well so communication was easy for us. People were polite, friendly and helpful.
       They often smiled and say hello when we passed on the street.

    Overall, daily life was pleasant and easy for travelers.

    But, there are definite areas of concern, too

  • Personal safety and security are a continuous concern, creating uncertainty about where to go safely. This uncertainty arose as we were doing research for the trip. According to our Rough Guide, "Protecting property and security are major national obsessions, and it's difficult to imagine what many South Africans would discuss at their dinner parties if the problem disappeared." Other international travelers we met offered warnings, too. "Don't carry anything you don't want to lose," a fellow traveler told us. We began to suspect that this might be a problem of perception rather than reality, but we could not be certain.

  • The obvious inequality that abounds is disturbing. Everywhere, service people are mostly black, while managers are mostly white. Many white people live in the verdant suburbs, safely behind walls topped with razor wire or electric fence and drive large expensive cars. A sign on every home announces the security service that protects it. Many black people live in townships where expanses of small cottages sprawl across the land, many without heat or running water. On the edges of many there are shanties. Even those townships with water, wastewater and electricity suffer frequent service delivery interruptions. Although the government is building better housing, they cannot meet the need. People claim that the township schools were better in the Apartheid era. It's difficult to know.

  • Racism is still pervasive among white South Africans and many are resentful that the ANC came to power. Perhaps the criminal activity is partly due to black racism as well as poverty.

  • Based on media reports and people we spoke with, the ANC government is extraordinarily corrupt and this has enabled a select few black people to gain great wealth, prestige and power while failing to improve the lives of most of the people. Many feel that once they gained power, the ANC put their own people into higher management positions irrespective of their qualifications to do the job. There's a feeling that there is much incompetence within government because of this.

    What Next ?
    This veneer of normalcy and stability throughout the country is quite apparent, but as one spends time here the underlying unrest and dissatisfaction becomes more evident. We fear that this situation could foretell a grave and ominous future for South Africa. And yet, we cannot believe that the situation is so hopeless. There is a lively democracy and new political parties have been formed in recent years to challenge the power of the ANC. One man told us, "We are for Mandela, but the ANC is not leading as he would have." This attitude may free people from their support of the ANC and enable new forces to seek new more equitable policies.

    The most recent election in May, 2014, was the first one in which the "Born Free" generation voted. These are the young people who were born after Apartheid, those who never experienced the oppression of that unfortunate era. These people are the hope of South Africa who will free the country to chart a new course and create the home of the Rainbow People!

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