Thoughts on South Africa

I saw a slice of South Africa, the one meant for tourists, and not even all of it. My vacation itinerary started in Cape Town, worked its way through the historic towns, wineries and game reserves of the Western Cape, and ended up at seaside resort Plettenberg Bay. It was beautiful, interesting, relaxing: the sort of vacation I like to have in order to unplug yet maintain the feeling that I’m learning something new about the world. Yet, it took place in a country that is not just wretched, but probably getting worse. From the recent Economist briefing:

South Africa’s Gini coefficient—the best-known measure of inequality, in which 0 is the most equal and 1 the least—was 0.63 in 2009. In 1993 it was 0.59. After 18 years of full democracy, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world. […]

In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, South Africa ranks 132nd out of 144 countries for its primary education and 143rd for the quality of its science and maths. In the Department of Basic Education’s national literacy and numeracy tests last year, only 15% of 12-year-olds (sixth graders) scored at or above the minimum proficiency on the language test. In maths just 12% did.

Nelson Mandela, the universally revered 94-year-old “Father of the nation”, was released from hospital a few days ago and is reported to be recuperating at home. Yet, after his monumental achievements, how many opportunities has the country missed since then? How much of its potential has been lost to a dysfunctional political system, greedy politicians, and bogus theories about AIDS?

During my trip, I felt safe, as a tourist should be – just a bit unnerved by metal gates at the entrance to every little shop, reminding me that things can get occasionally dangerous. I did not feel I saw the new black ruling class: that has to be, I reckon, a Johannesburg (and Pretoria) phenomenon. Blacks and whites mixed at the popular tourist attractions, such as the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town and the Cango Caves in Oudtshoorn; but the wine country was very white, restaurant and hotel patrons were invariably blond and blue-eyed, and they mostly spoke Afrikaans. I do not recall seeing any mixed-race couples – apparently a more common sight in Paris more than in Cape Town. Being a tourist, I did not test people’s education nor witness the country’s incompetence and corruption. I left with mixed feelings: the place is beautiful, but hiding very deep wounds.

In the picture, a Cape Town view from Table Mountain.

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One thought on “Thoughts on South Africa

  1. Pingback: Getting past Coetzee. An essay by Hedley Twidle | Live from Planet Paola

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