My lasting impression of South Africa .. even though my visit had been brief .. was of a country of mixed race giving mixed emotions. I was more used to travelling through the countryside of North
West Africa .. where the influence of European involvement had little changed the use of local languages and traditional lifestyles and dress were still the norm.
Swaziland was most similar to West Africa in
preserving their 'Africanness' especially in the form of African dress worn nearly everywhere, compared to the mostly European styles seen throughout South Africa. Obviously hundreds of years of contact with so many
European explorers, traders and settlers has greatly influenced South Africa ... in my opinion, not for the better. As a Brit, I do not feel proud of most of our part in their history.
When inviting me to
visit her country, my kind and generous host and her family had mentioned the notorious reputation South Africa had for serious crime. Once there,
I did receive a large amount of kindly-intended, advisory
warnings from all three sections of the community; Black, White and Coloured ( mixed race ) against 'serious dangers' which were likely to occur from encounters with the other two. Naivety did not prevent me from
believing the media stories of the crime which does happen in that country, as it does throughout the world. In the event, perhaps I was lucky .. but the people I met from each community we visited were all equally
as welcoming and friendly.
Not once did I feel threatened, anywhere by anybody.
Despite government efforts to provide housing and improvements, there were obvious problems with poverty and unemployment.
The most contrasting differences I saw were between the ultra-rich living in sumptuous luxury on the coastal side of Cape Town's
Table Mountain and the people who worked for them as gardeners, maids and drivers,
existing in very basic shanty-town conditions just over the other side of the mountain.
When I left in 2001, very grateful to my hosts and sorry to leave South Africa,
I hoped that conditions would improve for those in greatest need .. whilst having doubts about the pace of change,
mainly because each section of the community seemed so entrenched in their opinions and distrust / dislike of the others.
Recently ( October 2009 ) a good friend of mine, experienced in South African and
world travel and an intuitive observer of social conditions, reported great changes for the better.
I am happy to learn of his observations and to quote his words:
The biggest surprise was the actual stable and improving situation as far as politics is concerned. Although there was a lot of controversy about the new president (Jacob Zuma) before the election,
everybody is VERY optimistic for the future as so far he has done a really good job for blacks and whites as well. Infrastructure has heavily improved since I was last there and he has done a lot against corruption,
sacking those at fault and putting decent people in place. I honestly hope this development will continue.
Very much in agreement, I will leave you with a quote from one of my all-time heroes: