I, along with my wife, mom and cousin are flying across West Africa quietly to our final destination, Cape Town, South Africa. Although the cabin is sailing through the clouds quite smoothly, I am sure the lands we’re approaching are filled with more liveliness.
I am curious why other people are traveling to the same destination as I, especially when the flight duration is twenty hours. Are these people as mad as I with the issues taken place on a daily basis in the US and need to get away from it all? Or are they simply on a business trip AND sick of the crap taking place on a daily basis in the US? After some thought and occasional bouts of sleep, I realize none of my frustrations matter anymore as my family and I land in Cape Town, South Africa.
Arriving in Cape Town at night was uneventful for good reason. My breath smelled horribly and I did not want to misrepresent black Americans’ oral hygiene. Cape Town is called “the mother city” and I noticed why the next few days when our tour guides introduced us to the beauty of a city located where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet, penguins wobble, and seals swim.
Cape Town is home to one of the six flora kingdoms, Table Mountain, and the Langa Township. The mixture of beauty and poverty in Cape Town is hard to digest. At times, I felt confused and frustrated. On one hand, privileged and lucky tourists like me get to sit back and enjoy the sounds of the ocean currents while on vacation. On the other hand, our tour guides may live in townships and never afford the opportunity to visit the US. In fact, we learned most of our tour guides had never been outside of South Africa.
Learning about the devastating effects of African colonialism in school was educational. However, witnessing colonialism’s impact first hand is always transformational. In South Africa, it’s very clear Blacks are the majority in numbers and are the poorest. Our “colored” tour guide kept referring to towns Europeans “founded.” I was shocked to say the least but I gave him the benefit of the doubt by calmly telling myself “he’s only doing his job” which is appeasing the white tourists who mainly support the company’s enterprise.
After Cape Town, we spent a few days at a lodge near Pilanesberg National Park, three hours from Johannesburg (JoBurg). The lodge’s main activity was a game drive in the National Park. During our game drive, we saw giraffes, rhinos, springboks, warhogs, zebras, hippos, wildebeests, and even got chased by an elephant! Gladly it was not a lion and we escaped unharmed. We later learned some of the animals were brought to the park from other parts of Africa. So much for an authentic safari, but we still had a blast and the experience was real, including the elephants foot which nearly stomped on our vehicle as we speed away from its trounce. During our game drive adventures, I asked myself “why am I here in the lion’s den? A lion could bite my head off right now.” The answer was always “I would like to be around to tell my future children why when I think of an answer.”
We traveled to Johannesburg after visiting the National Park. We received multiple warnings that our lives would be jeopardized if we were not very careful about our surroundings each second we were not locked inside our hotel rooms. We were warned not to go out at night, to watch our backs and fronts, not to wear flashy jewelry, and not to go downtown. Was it possible for JoBurg to be more dangerous than the lion’s den we left? I live in a section of Washington D.C. where tourists are discouraged from traveling to. Yet, S.E. D.C. feels relatively safe to me. Why all the concern?
JoBurg is a sprawling metropolis, home of gold mines, Nelson Mandela’s home, major corporate offices, and Soweto. We visited The Apartheid Museum and took a brief tour of Soweto, a township in JoBurg with over one million habitants. The Apartheid Museum was a great reminder of small acts of courage fuels revolutions. It was also a great reminder of how organized and systemic racism was and still is. At the end of the day, racism is about control. Apartheid was a mechanism used to control the political, economic, and social structure of South Africa.
Before the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994, Soweto was a township full of Black Africans living in poverty. Currently, Soweto has middle and upper class residents living in large homes. Some lower class residents inhabit new government-constructed houses; others live in very small shacks. Crime in Soweto is a rarity. Citizens police themselves due to lack of trust of the police department. As a few citizens told us, “if you kill someone in Soweto, you will be killed.”
Joburg is home to a wide range of immigrants, Nigerians, Zimbabweans, and Mozambicans. South Africa’s immigrants were repeatedly blamed for many of the ills plaguing South Africa including unemployment, and the illegal drug trade. One of our tour guide drivers identified an immigrant by saying “South African’s aren’t that black! Look at his big head!” We were shocked at his characterizations to say the least.
Visiting Africa for the first time after the western produced global financial crisis was interesting. I found a large portion of visitors vacationing in South Africa were Australians, Africans, and Asians. As America struggles to create jobs and protect the middle class, citizens from around the world are moving on enjoying their lives. Polls reveal Americans have a pessimistic view of the direction of America’s economy. My sense is many South Africans, are full of optimism despite their high unemployment rate.
South Africa is a huge country full of energetic people, natural resources, stunning views, and great food that I was privileged to taste. Traveling abroad is indeed a luxury and I kept my friends and family members in mind that could not join us on this trip. I left South Africa happy with our visit and hopeful that I return again.
Hey Guys, I just finished watching your trip to South Africa. What a treat I had on Mother's Day, seeing the Mother Land through your eyes. Great presentation. Thank you. Jeri, 'Happy Mother's Day' love you all.