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.
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.
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?
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!”