Politics Meets Gravity

October 24, 2008

Falling for the ANC (follow link for video).

(From the South African Broadcast Company)

Another Voice

October 24, 2008

My driver from the convention center to the Cape Town airport was an older gentleman. Called me “sir”. (As do almost all in the various service and hospitality industries). Him, from the Cape Malay community—a group brought in as servants by the British generations ago and afforded somewhat more rights during apartheid. Called “coloured” in the official classification scheme.

When asked whether things were better now, he replied, “Oh, no sir. Things are much worse now.”

I pressed him. Surely freedom is better.

“When I was a boy, I could walk anywhere without being afraid.”

What about jobs and opportunities, I inquired?

As a child, his was a fate limited to low paying jobs, and was only educated until the eight grade.

I asked what kind of jobs. Being a driver for example.

He conceded that he could walk wherever he wanted during the day, but not at night. Still, life was safer—better “sir”.

Asked about hope for the future, he replied that it would probably come after his time was over. “After I have made a trip to another land, sir.”

Haves and Have Nots

October 21, 2008

This has all been said before, but not yet by me. The extremes in this country are overwhelming. On the way to the hotel, one passes a Lamborghini dealership with a dozen exotic cars in the front window including a Lamborghini police car. At R2.5million (remember divide by 10 or more now), that would be the equivalent of the median income of 21 families compared to 5.5 families in Harrisonburg. However, that statistic is misleading, because the $12,000 / year family income is greatly skewed due to the income disparity. There is a small middle and upper class (huge majority white), and there is a staggering underclass that lives on just ten dollars a day (actually one dollar…see comment), thus the Lambo is more like the equivalent of 720 or more families living in a shanty less than five miles down the road.

The population of Khayelitsha township is unknown, but has a lower estimate of 1,000,000 and an upper estimate of 2,000,000 residents. A huge number of which live in “informal settlements” or make-shift shanties. Khayelitsha is only one of dozens of townships around the city. So, as I stay in a lovely three star hotel in Cape Town with views of Signal Hill, Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean from my room, less than seven miles from here, literally millions of people are living in abject poverty.

The country has provided electricity and running water to about 70% of the population since the end of apartheid, but the infrastructure is broken and the economy hangs by a thread. Unemployment is estimated at as much as 40%. Of those who work, the majority do not have money for transportation, and thus walk to and from work or wherever they are going. Yesterday while returning from the iThemba LABS national accelerator facility, I saw literally hundreds (thousands?) of men and women shuffling back to the townships from their work. Seeing these nameless and drawn faces with hunched shoulders slowly trudging back home in repetitive puffs of dust was stunning.

Back in Cape Town, an elegant dinner at an Italian restaraunt overlooking the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean complete with a fine South African Cabernet, fresh fish and curried shrimp/mussels sauce, a large fresh salad and chocolate mousse dinner awaited me. This an expensive meal costing R200. I return to a marble lined hotel and jump on the internet to read about the news that I have missed from the US and check to see that the dollar is up to R10.6 = $1. I just got 5% more bang for my buck. It is difficult to process.

The problems in South Africa are hidden to those who do not really want to know. But to those who think and feel, the problems are deep, persistent and ever present with no easy fix. I have now talked to over a dozen business, science and government leaders about the future of SA. They remain hopeful, but with understandable worry. They talk about being at a “tipping point”, on a “cusp” or in a “transition time”. Which direction things will tip remains unclear.

Kristin could set a new “fountain of youth” trend in the US once this news gets out. After having her hair braided by a beautiful young lady from the Congo:

she has stunned about five people with her true age (you didn’t really think that I was going to write it here). Suffice to say that folks have guessed ten to fifteen years younger. One quote was, “three kids…did you start having them when you were fifteen?!?”

Indian Ocean in View

October 20, 2008

Kristin and I seemed to be the only ones foolish enough to get into the Indian Ocean. Once your feet numbed up a bit, it really was not bad. You just need to watch out for the penguins. Doobie, doobie, doo.

I Write What I Like

October 17, 2008

Strange and arrogant title, but for those versed in recent South African history, a title loaded with meaning. This was the title used in the regular column written by the late Steve Biko under the pseudonym “Frank Talk”. I have been reading a collection of his writings also entitled, “I Write What I Like”. For those who do not know the story of Steve Biko, he was a medical student at the Durban campus of the University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal) during the late 1960s and became the leader of the “Black Consciousness” movement of the 1970s. In addition to regular writings, he was repeatedly jailed, harrassed, and beaten for his views. In a final arrest he was taken into custody in September 1977, and was beaten to death in prison. The authorities fabricated a story of his death, but he quickly became a martyr to the liberation struggle and a rallying cry around the world to the autrocities of the apartheid regime. My first connection with Steve Biko came through the Peter Gabriel song, Biko.

In reading his writings, there is a lot that makes this Western, Christian uncomfortable as he has set his sights squarely on both groups as responsible for many (most?) of the terrible conditions faced by blacks in the 1970s. I know that the book is a product of a very specific time, and it is impossible to tell if Steve Biko would feel the same today, but my sense is that he probably would.

That said, there are many thought provoking ideas in his writings. I’ll highlight this one for consideration:

“In rejecting Western values, therefore, we are rejecting those things that are not only foreign to us but that seek to destroy the most cherished of our beliefs-that the corner-stone of society is man himself-not just his welfare, not his material wellbeing but just man himself with all his ramifications. We reject the power-based society of the Westerner that seems to be ever concerned with perfecting their technological know-how while losing out on their spiritual dimension. We believe that in the long run the special contribution to the world by Africa will be in this field of human relationship. The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa-giving the world a more human face.”

(“Some African Cultural Concepts”, I Write What I Like, Steve Biko, Edendale 1971)

An idea that a Crunchy Con can appreciate.

What to Wear?

October 16, 2008

I’m thinking the light green shirt, the khaki pants and the running shoes that I wore yesterday and the evening before. Yeah…that should work. See  here.