A Finland Swede in Bavaria

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Why I think South Africa is on track

In addition to my earlier observations on the promising future of South Africa, I'd like to come with a very hands-on report from the dance floor of Kievits Kroon and add furher observations, which make me conclude that South Africa is on track.

1. Races happily mix! And respect each other!

The dance floor at Kievits Kroon was a happy place yesterday evening. Everyone enjoyed themselves. So did I! Friendly people. And, I could see little if any animosity. I'm not saying there isn't any. But what I'm saying is that it's rapidly decreasing, as I saw plenty of it in 1993. A good symbol of the mutual respect is that the all-white girl band played Gimme Hope Jo'anna, the anti-apartheid reggae hit banned in South Africa when it was released in the 1980s. And it seemed a natural, painless, everyday kind of thing for both the band and the audience. I felt that I was the only one paying any attention to it.

2. Sub-Saharan Africa experiences explosive growth!

Of all Sun territories, Sub-Saharan Africa seems to be growing the fastest. That gives confidence, self respect, and resources for sustaining peace.

3. People have learned to live with crime

It isn't as if crime would have stopped to exist. Yes, there's much less of it than before. But I found it telling that I was one of the few who found the entry of the acting group (with the purpose of showing how Sun Microsystems has green values when it comes to hardware and power consumption) was too violent. Myself, I jumped at the very authentic "Freeze!" with a mockup hand gun. Patricia, the South African host of the event, told me "Oh, we're seasoned". But herself, she jumped when the (white) actor loudly screamed "Harry! It's Harry! Barry is my brother!", an innocent line which was part of the plot and didn't make me raise an eyebrow.

4. Foreigners get a needlessly negative picture of South Africa

As we know from other circumstances, the press tends to prefer negative news over positive ones. And foreigners are also more exposed to emigrated South-Africans, than those who haven't emigrated. Of course, émigré white South Africans have a natural tendency to rationalise why they emigrated, and hence portray the crime situation in South Africa a bit too negatively. That's natural, and I would do the same in their shoes.

5. White émigré South Africans are being encouraged to move back, by all South Africans

As said, I see more respect between races. This shows also in programmes to get educated white South Africans to move back to South Africa. And allegedly, these programmes have traction.

6. Even white South Africans are well seen in the rest of Africa

With the end of apartheid making it possible for South Africans to travel abroad on the rest of the African continent, they travel all over the place. And they tell me they're being welcomed most everywhere, something that also goes for white South Africans. That's a bit of a difference to the times when South African Airlines had to fly over the Atlantic instead of flying over Africa, just to avoid the risk of being shot down.

7. Afrikaans is alive and well

Although the position of Afrikaans is "diluted" through the nine new official languages of South Africa, the language is alive and well -- in the IT industry, in ads, in street signs, in music (see below for the Afrikaans band Fokofpolisiekar but don't translate the band name literally).

8. Re-naming of places and streets is limited

Jan Smuts may have lost his airport to Oliver Tambo, but he got to keep his avenue. Transvaal no longer exists as an province and instead, Johannesburg now is in Gauteng (pronounced "how teng", just like the Botswanan capital Gaborone is pronounced Habbo-raw-née). Still, the vast majority of names continue as-is.

All in all, South Africa seems quite a self-confident country, with shrinking crime rates, and a relaxed attitude between races. Before my trip, I thought crime would be the limiting factor for whether my football-addicted son and I would go to see the World Championships in 2010. Now, I'm more worried about traffic, travel cost, and whether the championship coincides with any school holidays. And that's much more healthy and normal!

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