For What it's Worth
06.07.2010 - 06.07.2010
It’s Time for Africa!
If Shakira says it, who dares argue? South Africans are generous, friendly without being obsequious, and wonderfully relaxed. Never was heard a discouraging word—“no, you can’t walk there; sit there; eat that; use our men’s room; watch the soccer game for three hours in our bar while nursing a single Campari & soda,” etc. Well, once: “If you step out of the car the leopard will eat you.” But hey: only that one time.
South Africa’s mountains range from majestic peaks to geometric mesas to jagged tumbles of rock and soil. Pastures and vineyards undulate hypnotically for miles; all this landscape shimmers under peek-a-boo mists that swirl and curl like smoke from the caterpillar’s hookah. For sheer jaw-dropping beauty, only Iceland comes close, but it’s a mere postage stamp. And cold: South Africa is balmy even now, as long as the sun remains above the horizon.
And there’s the animals. The Big Five—lion, leopard, rhino, Cape buffalo, and elephant. But don’t neglect the Middle-sized Five—giraffe, zebra, kudu, etc., the Backpack-sized Five, the Underfoot Five, and on and on. Also, not nearly enough is said about the birds. When God finished crafting his Fearsome and Fast, he decided to have some fun--hence the ostrich, penguin, and all varieties of hornbill. And never, never forget the red-knobbed coot.
Cry, the Beloved Country
Anyone—you know who you are—who clucks on about South Africa’s crime, AIDS, and political immaturity should bear in mind that today’s South Africa came into existence in 1994. Before 1994, the black population was educated for little more than virtual slavery. If you must judge the country, please contrast it to other 16-year-old toddlers, recent arrivals like Zimbabwe and Belarus--even Russia.
We in the west have no proportionate appreciation for Nelson Mandela’s stature and achievement. Surely he ranks with Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, and few others. For a popular example see Invictus—or better yet, the ESPN documentary on the same subject. Clint Eastwood’s film details Mandela’s embrace of the Springboks, the white South Africa rugby team that virtually symbolized apartheid. Consider:
• A white rugby player we met—although no fan of the current political order--assured us that the film is literally and emotionally true. Mandela’s political wisdom and humanity was crucial to calming white fears and shifting black anger from retribution toward reconciliation.
• A black man here—middle-aged, and raised under apartheid—referred to the pre-1994 years as “the time of misunderstanding.” Misunderstanding? Whites ground their boot into black necks for two hundred years, yet so many are so generous and forgiving that they will call apartheid a failure of perception.
Still, one need not scratch deeply to reach hardened and negative racial attitudes (not like the US, right?). History tells us that many racial and ethnic groups lived peacefully—Hutu and Tutsi; Bosnian and Serb, Zimbabwe black and white—until suddenly and catastrophically, they didn’t. The wealth disparity here is reportedly the greatest in the world. South Africa’s poor are so poor, still so undereducated, that one must fear that some flashy demagogue will emerge and strike dangerous sparks. (A young firebrand named Julius Malema is the latest candidate). Mandela’s release and 1994 election addressed the political challenge. But aren’t economic challenges still unmet? Who should own all this beautiful land? How does one group redress another for centuries of virtual slavery? How long can a nation continue to have a population where people receiving grants outnumber those holding jobs?
Tourism feeds both black and white, and a hint of conflict will finish it: Botswana has plenty of animals, Morocco has mountains. So maybe they will be patient and generous for the handful of generations that must pass for an equitable society to emerge.
A Non-Negotiable Demand
But this ravishing country deserves it, and here’s what you can do: Go visit, and soon. See the lions, the smiles, the penguins, diamond mines, and all the sweet people sweating so hard to succeed and live together. When you’re there, spend tons of cash. And give them my very best.