July 02, 2004

Parting thoughts on South Africa

As we head to "Moz", a few toughts on what we found endearing and what we found quirky:

Stuff we found endearing about SA:
The Wildlife: While it may be an obvious one, our encounters with nature were truly amazing. There's a lot of debate as to which country is home to the best game reserves (Kenya, Botswana, etc.) but our experience at Kruger was awesome. 'Nuff said.
The "Fresh Start": My term...but given that SA's democracy is only 10 years old, people are less jaded and more participatory when it comes to the government. That SA had a good deal of infrastructure in place in '94, and was able to witness some of the mistakes and pitfalls suffered by its modern democratic predecessors was also undoubtedly beneficial. One editorial we read warned South Africans and its officials not to fall prey to what they viewed as one such downfall in America: a system that pays heed first to special interests, second to the people. Whether or not you agree with the sentiment, having a nearly clean slate and some hindsight to boot is appealing.
Pinotage: A wine varital that South Africa created....it's a cross between the Pino and Shiraz grapes and it's YUMMY: basically a Pinot with more body. For that matter many of SA's wines are tasty and quite cheap.
Race relations: Though apartheid was only abolished in '94 we detected no ill will in the blacks we met against whites. Likewise, the whites we met went out of their way to demonstrate that they, like their fellow black citizens, always viewed apartheid as an evil and often did their part to help end it.
Natural Diversity: South Africa's Cape region is classified as one of the five Floral Kingdoms on earth (North and Central America, in spite of their comparative size only cover two). SA's Fauna diversity nearly matches its Floral, with an amazing variety of creatures on land and below the sea.
5 (6 at the latest) O'clock sutdowns: While the Westerners occasionally found the short workdays inconvenient, it was a nice reminder of the balance most South Africans have b/t work & play.
Capetown: One of the most beautiful cities we've ever seen (ours included).
Road Etiquitte: Given the amount of driving we did, I for one appreciated the courtesy of my fellow drivers :-). When one is passed in SA, one moves to the shoulder to afford the passing car more room. After passing (which I did quite frequently :-)), the driver flashes his hazards to say "thank you" and the passed vehicle says "your welcome" with a flick of her brights.

Stuff the Westerners found amusing > annoying > disturbing about SA:
Disparity: No country is immune to discrimination and, given SA's history, it's not surprising that it still occasionally occurs. However, the fact that the "face" of business (especially tourism) was almost always white and the behind the scenes (and often menial) stuff fell to blacks was disheartening. However, with the recent improvements in education, hopefully this will change sooner than later.
Minibuses: Black South Africans boycotted public transportation in the 70's and up sprang the minibus "service" to enable inter-township/city trasport. The drivers are certifiabely insane.
Difficulty finding a "real" African experience: SA is undoubtedly the most Westernized country in Africa, which was both a blessing (we were almost always in our comfort zone) and a curse (we found it hard to experience true native African culture)

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