Departure Day - Reflections on South Africa
Jan 10, 2007
|The Sani Lodge and my return to the mountains was a great way to finish my time in South Africa, and fortunately for me, I was able to hitch a ride up to Johannesburg and avoid an 8-Hour busride. Mathan has been working for an Israeli Technology company in Johannesburg for a few months and was eager to have the company on the ride back. Unfortunately for him, rather than leaving on Wednesday as he'd planned, he received a call from his boss telling him they had a client with an emergency and he'd need to get back ASAP. So we finished our hike and got on the road, pulling into Johannesburg at about 11:00 that night.
So I had a day to pull together some loose ends and get ready for the next chapter of my travels, and also to think back on the last two months in a a very beautiful, but very confused place. As I walked the suburban streets around the hostel, I couldn't help but be reminded on the racial divide that exists in South Africa. Every home surrounded by high walls and fences topped with razor wire. Signs for "Mamba Security" everywhere. Even the sheer quantity of dogs barking in the neighborhood indicated not a fondness for pets, but the desire for security.
As I thought back, I realized I was tired of South Africa. Certainly not tired of the lively, friendly people, the absolutely stunning mountains and sweeping coastlines, but there is a constant anxiety that you carry with you...a worry that you might take a wrong turn and walk where you shouldn't. I fortunatley did not have any personal experience of danger, but just when I'd think I was too apprehensive, I'd talk with someone who'd been mugged or in the wrong place.
In fairness, the majority of people in South Africa are just wonderful. They're eager to host the world in 2010 for the world cup, and their eager to put the past injustice of apartheid behind them. But in so doing, there will be tension...it has to happen. Whites who had always been at the front of the line...by law...now have be at the back, so to speak, as Black Empowerment programs try to systematically level the playing field. And with so few people enjoying such a high standard of living and the vast majorty living in virtually third world conditions, bridging the gap, while hopefully leading to significant improvements for most of the population, will conversely mean a step down for those at the top.
Add to that an absolutely unbelievable rate of HIV infection, and the future seems very clouded. I heard figures of 30, 40 and even 50% of adults from 18 to 50. Swaziland, despite being a very warm and welcoming country, reportedly had infections rates topping 50%. Efforts are being made obviously, but stories of prominent officials caught in sordid liasons wih HIV positive staffers who insist they're OK because the took a hot shower after don't help. Neither do distributing over 1 million condoms with the instructions stapled to the packet. Stories like these abound, and with the legacy of Polygamy in the tribal cultures, coupled with the guilt and stigma brought by the Holy Rollers, clear communication about HIV is rare.
Still, it was a wonderful two months, and South Africa is definitely a place I'd like to return to, not just to explore more of its varied cultures and landscapes, but to see how it's progressing. Right now, there seems like equal potential for both incredible growth as well as collapse.
-Sitting atop the Spitzkoppe at Sunrise in Namibia
-The waves crashing on the Otter Trail
-Losing my breath at the coastal view turning the corner just outside Capetown enroute to Hermanus.
-Dancing the Baboon Dance with the Xhosa on our village stay in the wild coast
-Looking at a starlit Lesotho sky so clear and dark you could track satellites passing over head.
-Watching the Swazi sunset dancing the Ncwala
Special Thanks to...
-The Gates family for providing a home away from home
-Jenaya and Stephen for getting me started in Namibia
-Gabi and Ian for their steady pace on the Otter Trail
-Mathan and Dominique for finishing things on such a high note at the Sani Pass
-And of course Ronnie and Nick for their wonderful companionship and humor