South Africa, a conundrum!

After living in South Africa for 40 years, and in New Zealand for the past 18 years, I know SA is filled with some of the most beautiful places in the world along with many very special and very beautiful people.  The conundrum, how on earth do 19 or more schools get razed to the ground and or severely damaged by fire in a mere period of two and a half weeks?

I have finished another visit to my country of birth. Jenny and I returned to visit with our Mums and our siblings. We also found time to catch up with some friends and certainly we enjoyed a number of meals in some very nice restaurants. Driving or walking along the beach front and the Pier at Humewood Beach, one could be excused for thinking that you are at one of many incredible places in the world. The beachfront is beautiful with its clean white sand beaches glistening under sunshine filled perfectly blue skies! The picture gallery below attests to that.

Beach Front 1

Whilst in Port Elizabeth I moved around as one would just leading a normal life in PE. I went to the shopping centres, I drove around the suburbs, I drove at night, I bought groceries from the supermarket, I filled up my borrowed car with fuel. Basically I did all the things one would just normally do. I speak English with a fairly standard South African accent, I speak Afrikaans reasonably well and I manage just fine to hold conversations in isiXhosa. I held conversations with different people using all these languages. At no time would I have stood out as being a tourist from New Zealand! Every single person I spoke to was a very normal person with very normal views of the world. Owen at the service station filled my mother-in-law’s car and casually observed that for a 16-year-old car it was in fine form and offered to buy it from me! A check-out assistant at Woolworths observed that white men seldom wear long sleeves. We had a pretty good chuckle about that. At the Wimpy, where you get two breakfasts for the price of one on Mondays, the staff welcomed my mother as a friend and immediately asked where the rest of her “gang” from the St John’s Retirement Village in Sunridge Park were! I also had quite philosophical and political discussions with the grounds staff at the apartment complex I stayed in.  In absolutely every sense my conversations were held with the highest levels of mutual respect and on very friendly terms. I cannot think of one situation where I felt that this was a country in deep turmoil. Quite the opposite, I felt I was in an optimistic place where people really liked each other.

SA 1

The pictures above (all taken in Port Elizabeth) show “Art in the Park” at St Georges Park, a beggar at 5 Ways intersection, the new hotel on the beachfront and one of the fastest growing Banks in South Africa, Capitec. The latter is widespread but the picture was taken at the brand new Bay West Mall. There is nothing extraordinary about these pictures because they reflect a fairly normal world!

So, in a so called normal world, how did 19 or more schools get razed to the ground in Limpopo? How does a university lose an entire lecture theatre and computer science laboratory? Why would people create millions and millions of Rands damage? Why were there threats to burn schools in the Eastern Cape? Why destroy the institutions that hold some keys to future success?

SA 3jpeg

Scratch the surface and below a very thin skin lie deep levels of distrust, of alienation, of racial tension, of civil disobedience, of horrible rhetoric, of abuse of power, of corruption, of crime, of economic exclusion and what seems to be a breakdown in the political system! The simple answer to all the questions above lies in misguided frustration at seeing little positive change whilst those in power enjoy a life of privilege!

From the outside it seems the ANC is holding onto power, but just barely. Every conversation I had there was universal agreement that Jacob Zuma must/should just go. For the ANC to stay in power they will have to hurriedly tidy up their affairs, get rid of the old guard and wheel in people who can actually materialise Mr Mandela’s vision. When I read the rhetoric coming from the EFF and specifically Julius Malema, well that will set South Africa rapidly on course to match the hapless people of Zimbabwe. Reading the warmongering words, his direct instructions to his cadre to shift their attention to burning down ANC buildings rather than schools! His threats to Jacob Zuma to take power through “violence if required” is so irresponsible it is almost unbelievable – but it is not. My sense is that Malema, as described by one South African Journalist (can’t remember the name) as a man with “struggle envy!” Almost every single disenfranchised young South African is listening to Malema and joining the throng.

Where have all the moderate, peace loving, “want to do my best for my family” people gone? The ANC has had 22 years in power. From my personal observations, little has changed for the poor. Housing and social support structures are in little evidence. The EFF offers a radical departure from the current direction with promises to nationalise BANKS, MINES, FARMS and anything else Malema would like to run! Surely there is enough wisdom to know it would be a disaster. Positive change for South Africa cannot come through a radical left wing party, it cannot come from a radical right wing party, it cannot come from a corrupt bunch of self-serving politicians, it can only come from an orderly change to a moderate centre. People who respect each other, who have a wish for themselves to be the best they can be and are optimistic about a country which focuses on every citizen, irrespective of the colour of their skin or language or religion or choice of sport. Will this happen? Probably not.

I say probably not because there are so many “they” or “them” accusations in all directions. These include broad accusatory generalisations. Read the paper and one gets the feeling that people are seeking to advantage some group over another. Sport is an easy target and the quota system is the biggest debate going around. Again, here I sense that the quota is about redistribution rather than empowerment or any real fairness. I for one cannot imagine any person would enjoy knowing they play for the Boks just because of the colour of their skin rather than being the best.

I have not lived in South Africa for 18 years. I have visited a number of times. I continue to hold hope that one day there will be a united successful South Africa just as envisaged by Nelson Mandela and the many Rainbow Nation people. For as he said, “It always seems impossible until it is done!” It is my hope that what seems to be impossible today will be done tomorrow. For this to happen, South Africans must, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you expect to see in others!”


0 thoughts on “South Africa, a conundrum!

  1. Allan Horner

    Thank You Alan for your very good observations of the current situation in SA. I visited 4 years ago for the first (and probably only) time. I was struck by the same feelings without being able to put them into words. Enjoy your Blog.

    • wyntonalan

      Thanks Alan! A challenging time for the people there.

      • Charles Lord

        Well said Boet we certainly live in a difficult time, but hope and pray for the dreams of those leaders that you have quoted at the bottem of your blog.

  2. Merle Boniface

    It is a privilege to view a situation with the benefit of context and through fresh eyes. Thank you for the photos. Brings back wonderful memories!

    • Kevin Marlow

      Hi Alan, South Africa is certainly a land of contrasts with it having one of the biggest genie co – efficient gaps between the rich and poor. While some progress has been made in terms of infrastructure (electricity, water, housing etc.) regrettably the government of the day has put the ANC above the country and focused on “enriching” themselves regrettably to the detriment of the citizens of the country (read poor). The official unemployment figure is quoted at 26% of a population of some 55 million however the unemployment is probably nearer to 30%. Many of these folk are on social grants, are poorly educated and live in the rural areas and hence reluctant/ill informed/indoctrinated to change the status quo through the ballot. The political leadership of the country leaves much to be desired and in fact are an embarrassment. The EFF have therefore used the discontent to their advantage.The politicians conduct in Parliament sets the tone for the behaviour of the Y and Z generations which is mirrored through the vandalism that is occurring. The destruction of schools in the northern areas I have it on good authority is due to clashes between certain communities – read tribes and you will understand having lived in the Eastern Cape. South Africa has one of the highest per capita expenditure on education yet is ranked at about 140 out of 144 countries with regard to educational performance. Social re-engineering in terms of reflecting the demographics of the population of South Africa in the work place and in particular the Public Sector has been a priority with service delivery being impacted/suffering because of ill qualified/experienced people being appointed into positions for which they do not fit or are not ready to fill. The Auditor Generals report on the poor state of municipalities supports this. Public Sector employees “swear” to the Batho Pele (google the meaning of this term) principles however in general they are not carried through.

      However there are certainly positive aspects of pockets of excellence in terms of education, health, policing etc. and communities working together. MBSA for example in East London is ranked in the top 3 of Mercedes Benz factories in the world. The urban citizens of the country have indicated enough is enough (hulle is nou gatvol – not sure how you will translate that to your Kiwi mates) and hopefully this will be reflected in the local elections in August.

      I watched the Comrades Marathon on Sunday with some 18 000 starters and 14 000 finishes of this 89km event. An event of which I have fond memories. I saw some runners with Australian vests but no New Zealand participants!! Participants were from all works of life, culture, sex, religion, race, ethnicity etc. The spirit of the runners, supporters and communities along the way was truly amazing. Everyone was supportive of one another – and I thought why cannot this happen on a daily basis in my country!

      Desmond Tutu said: ” Do your little bit of good where you are: it is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world” I believe the average South African is doing their little bit of good and in time we will overcome the current situation as it can be done. Take care Kevin Marlow

      • Fsy

        You said that so well Alan. Having recently visited SA, we share your sentiments. Our hearts will always be with our family there.

      • Fsy

        So well said Alan. Having recently visited SA, we share your sentiments. Our hearts remain with our family still there.

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