Coming Home -- from South Africa
I am normally a huge advocate of travelling to foreign countries, but I came back from a recent Christmas trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, convinced that it can, by itself, be transformative.
My wife and I visited my sister over the recent Christmas holidays, staying for about three weeks. During that time we stayed with friends of my sisters, and mostly spent time with my family -- my parents were also there from Jamaica for a long stay themselves.
We stayed in an exclusive suburb that is one of the most affluent in Africa-- Sandton -- that is growing quickly, and holds the distinction as the fastest growing suburb in the continent. While there we also visited Soweto and Alexandria, two townships that Blacks were forced to live in up until the early 1990's when the dreaded Pass Laws and Group Areas acts were repealed. To help put things into context, we also visited the Apartheid Museum, which helped us understand all that we found so very confusing.
The bottom line was that we were happy to return home from what was an enlightening trip to a country that we barely began to understand before we left.
For us, waking up each morning in Sandton meant to wake up to alarm systems, 10ft+ high, electrified fences, a security company and a preoccupation with security at every turn. The streets of Sandton are lined with high concrete walls, which hide everything except the roofs of the houses inside, electrified wire atop the walls, security cameras, private security vans shuttling guards back and forth and an eerie dead feeling that would only be broken by one or two black people here or there, going to their jobs as gardeners and household helpers.
While this bears a certain resemblance to upperclass neighborhoods such as Norbrook or Jacks Hill,the scale of it was astounding. Sandton's population is some 200,000+, and I could not find a single area where Blacks existed in more than trace numbers.
On the other hand, Soweto has 3-4 million people, and Alexandria another million (although I am not too sure about the latter figure.) I did not see a single white person in either township.
This is a country marked by extreme differences, and also extreme crime -- the country's murder rate is the highest in the world, per capita.
(I just hope that Jamaica does not evolve in that direction, and hope that the 25% fall in our murder rate in 2006 is sustained.)
Like every other travel experience I have ever had, it helped me to appreciate what we take for granted here in Jamaica, and the great things that we have here that we don't even bother to talk about.
Not the least of these is the spirit of our people. This year, we celebrate the two hundred year anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. I imagine that we will be proudly "bigging up" the slaves who contributed to its demise through various revolts, escapes and other actions.
This contrasts with the average black South African I met on the street, who would rarely look me in the eye, never say Good Morning, and generally not act as if this were _their_ country... yet. At the museum, we learned about the Bantu "education" that lead to the Soweto Uprising. We also saw a clip of a white government official from the 1960's and 1970's explaining that this education was specifically to help Blacks in their role as servants... to whites, and that was all it was for.
I am sorry to say that he and his evil kind were successful in oppressing the blacks of South Africa. Unfortunately it looks like it will take at least a generation for the country to fully create the "New South Africa" in which each person can be proud, and act proud.
P.S. I like the idea of a travel agency with the name "Transformative Travel."