Mhambi has been redeployed.

Friday, August 25, 2006

How I never quite fell for South Africa

Rory Carroll - UK Guardian reporter - has left South Africa after four years as their man in Johannesburg. In an article in the Guardian two weeks ago, he tried to unpick why my beautiful, complex, vibrant nation ended up leaving him cold. Carroll is yet another lefty not impressed with the new South Africa, decribing it as a "a boot camp for progressive ideals". He never really tells us explicitly why the country challenged his progressive ideals, and he leaves that up to us:

After almost four years in Johannesburg, the time has come to move on, and I do so with a sense of detachment. This never really became home. Partly it was running to the airport every other week for overseas trips; partly it was being white and European; but mainly it was because South Africa was such a fraught place to live. The anxiety about crime, the crunching on racial eggshells, the juxtaposition of first-world materialism with third-world squalor - it all added up.

Which is a shame, because there is much to love. This is a complex, beautiful, extraordinary country. The people are among the warmest I have encountered anywhere, smiles as wide as they are genuine. From the ashes of apartheid here is a stable, peaceful democracy with a surging economy. It is a beacon for the continent, drawing millions of migrants. I am optimistic about its future. On occasion I lost my heart here but more often I lost my peace of mind. This can be a raw society and it took a sledgehammer to some cherished liberal views on race, sex and crime. I did not enjoy their bashing, though those that survived are stronger for it. Imagine a boot camp for progressive ideals.

Read his whole article here.

Now Mr.Carroll mentions a few reasons he never quite fell for the rainbow nation. The South African crime problem has featured on this blog, and I don't wish to dwell on it again. All Mhambi has to say is that Mr. Carroll reacted like I suspect most middle class Europeans would. They really ain't used to crime, can't tolerate it and don't want to make any accomodation for it. This of couse is not a bad thing. If the UK experienced the kind of crime South Africa has, the army would have been on the streets by now. The government would have fallen.

Mr. Caroll's hesitation about dating black single women seemed less convincing.

"No way would I ever sleep with anyone from here," said an American friend.

Statistics suggest black South African women are more than twice as likely to have the virus (Aids) as white women. Condoms slash the risk of transmission - but there is still a risk. Is it wrong, then, to date only white people, or expats? it just English modesty that precluded Mr. Carroll from asking his potential partners to go for an HIV test? Or was he hoping to go out on the pull for a quick shag? Well then yes, a quick shag is risky business in this neck of the woods.

The bigger issue here is the fact that black and white South Africans still don't mix, (Afrikaans and English whites don't do that much either - but thats for another day.) and this impacts even foreign visitors hopeful of shatterring through the race barrier.

Carroll is certainly not alone, and I know very few left wing South African whites with meaningful friendships in the black world (as opposed to the asian and colloured).

Paradoxically while white european (and South African) lefties in the time of apartheid visited township shebeens and frequented and lived in multi-racial hangouts like Yeoville, this ain't the case no more.

Now a mostly shallow mingling between black and white takes place in the boardrooms, clubs and bars of the rich. Black South Africans don't seem to feel the need to meet lefty whites, no matter how anxious the latter are for some real black friends to cement their fundamental beliefs. The trend whereby Africaness is increasing racially defined as not coloured, asian or white, and thus black by government does not help.

I suppose the question then becomes, what is the white left to do if it seems impossible to form meaningfull relationships with fellow black South Africans?

Aids menace

One other comment. I can understand his frustration and anger at the SA government's monstrous bungling and incompetence in the face of the Aids menace. Mhambi for one finds it hard to articulate the feelings their behaviour illicit. History will judge them very harsly.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: