July 24, 2013
The number 52 has never had any real significance in my life. And maybe it only does now because it is an honest reminder than I’m now past the half way point. I’m in South Africa every day saying to myself, “allow people and places to change you”. It’s something I wrote on Facebook once and felt it carried so much weight that I maintained it as one of many personal mantras. In order to do this I wanted to write a list of some things that were interesting to me, unique to South Africa and caused me to check some of my assumptions.
I am learning..
1. Race/racism exists everywhere and nowhere.
2. Even in Africa ‘black’ people have to fight for land, are less visible in well-paying positions and deal with many of the same issues as Afro descents in Latin America and North America.
3. Apartheid was successful. People continue to be grossly divided among racial and class lines. The townships are overwhelmingly non-white people and the big white houses on the coast are only white unless they have employees. Political Apartheid might have ended but social, structural and economic Apartheid is ever-present.
4. I spent so much time listening to advice about staying safe and violence in South Africa that I initially missed other ways of seeing the country.
5. I’ll never get used to calling someone a ‘coloured’ but this is something I need to negotiate because many people are proud of this identity.
6. ‘Tribe’ was a word I always avoided; I thought it made communities sound primitive. I had to check myself and realize tribal identity is a proud and integral part of people’s lives. The images of tribes and my subsequent understanding of them was informed by uninformed and prejudicial sources and it was something I long left unchecked.
7. The landscape in the Western Cape is a so interesting. The ground is mainly sand based yet coniferous trees, cacti and palms all grow in the same vicinity!
8. Children as young as 4 years old are free to play in the streets with their other 4-year-old buddies. I love to see that, something about it makes these young ones seem older than they actually are.
9. South Africa forces you to question definitions of ‘first’ and ‘third’ world. It is the most economically unequal country in the world (source: ;Class in Soweto’) and living here, the split identities of the country is clearly visible.
10. Winter in South Africa is no joke and with no insulation inside is often colder than outside.
11. Electricity has to be purchased like you would airtime for your phone; you then need to punch in the numbers into the electricity box inside your home.
12. Nights are so dark here, very few streetlights are used and the few that are on seem very dim. It almost feels like the Toronto blackout during regular nights. I wonder if that is connected to the electricity shortage in SA.
13. ‘Born Frees’ are the name given to children born after the Apartheid era.
15. Township Jazz is the illest. Check out Sipho ‘hotstix’ Mabuza
16. ‘Colored’ and ‘white’ South Africans only refer to ‘black’ South Africans as ‘Africans’. Actually its not uncommon for a ‘colored’ person to say “I don’t live in Africa, South Africa isn’t like Africa Africa, that’s more the DRC”.
17. A very common meal is white bread, butter and cheese. My co-workers eat it everyday.
18. Very few of the crafts and artifacts in stores are actually made in South Africa, and few of those who work in said stores are from South Africa.
19. Next to race, land is probably the most contentious issue in South Africa.
20. I need to spend time in a predominately Xhosa or Zulu community.
21. The South African Indian population is left largely out of discussions
22. China is really dominating the smaller markets here. Most of the affordable clothing for people in Laingville comes from the ‘China shop’ or ‘Japan Shop’.
23. Nelson Mandela is revered also to saint status— to the point where church leaders and others claim him as the anti-christ. Opinions on him vary though as others see him as a sell out.
24. Being gay in Laingville seems to be relatively accepted. I remember asking my boss about it once and he said, “I love gay people, how could you not love gay people, they’re gay!” SA was also one of the first places to legalize same-sex marriage.
25. Hitch Hiking is a common mode of transport for folks whom are without transport.