South Africa: still a land of many possibilities
- A compelling case for new GNU
- Little Mugabes and Zimbabwe’s tomorrow
- Of hollow milestones and tombstones
- Andy Brown: a spoilt sweet rhythm
- Gay rights: Tsvangirai’s Nobel master stroke
- After Mugabe: remember the thunder amongst the clouds
- Zimbabwe: battle lost in confused diagnosis of tragedy
- Mugabe will live long after his death
- Nkomo statue: Symbolism trumps location
- Rising above the fables of our time
THERE is something paradoxical about South Africa which will perhaps never go, at least not in our lifetime: no matter what publicity the country gets, life goes on and they survive, dance, drink, laugh, play and still attract millions of visitors, both the wanted and unwelcome, from all over the world.
During the dying days of Apartheid, the chilling scenes of street violence and police brutality were not enough to deter thousands of people from Southern and Central Africa from flocking south of the Limpopo.
In 1992, two hours after national television had showed images of the Boipatong carnage, I accompanied a high school friend Thabani Zondo to catch a mini bus to Johannesburg. I have not seen nor heard from him since.
In Zimbabwe, not only is South Africa the Holy Grail, but virtually every household has two or three members who either live or have died there.
Not even the tales of the scourge of HIV/AIDS nor the 2008 xenophobic attacks which swept through the country were enough to stop the southwards human traffic. Come what may, many are still ready to brave the crocodiles and cross the Limpopo River to sneak under razor wire (one of South Africa’s inventions) just to get to Jozi, as Johannesburg is known.
Such is the magnetic nature of South Africa which might as well serve as a confidence booster that they will successfully host the 2010 World Cup, a possibility which many are still labouring to scupper. After all didn’t they win independence at a time when everybody predicted bloodbath? Didn’t they initially lose the 2006 World Cup bid only to win some years later?
Returning to Cape Town after my last visit seven years ago, I got a glimpse of what makes the Rainbow Nation attractive and what might possibly explain why they will succeed yet again amid doubts.
I landed at the Cape Town International Airport on an SA flight from London exhausted, hoping for a quick dash through the immigration formalities so I could take a nap at my hotel. Moreover, I longed for the African sunshine being from frozen England.
First, my luggage took too long to come through and just as I was dragging it out, some customs official beckoned me aside to check my passport and my bag. Where was I going? What was inside my bag, whose was this and that inside the bag? It was like an Apartheid officer questioning a native.
In no time, he led me to a small room whereupon he emptied my bag, turned it upside down and felt with his hands if nothing was hidden somewhere in the invisible pockets. Unsatisfied, he emptied the bag completely and ran it through a scanner which identified a small object stashed into the backside sliding pocket. Excitedly, and almost drooling, he ordered me to remove it and I quickly obliged to whip out my small hard covered notebook which I had purchased at Heathrow.
"That’s it mate, welcome to South Africa," he said, leaving me to pack my bag.
I felt degraded, and by the time I got out, my friend was already worried and when he asked about the delay, I simply brushed it aside and said I was waiting for the luggage.
Next was for me to buy the sim-card for my phone. Again, they needed my passport and images not just to register my number but to place against every pound note I changed! Not only had the Cape Town Airport changed since my last visit but the way of conducting business had undergone something of a revolution. Previously, one could just purchase the mobile phone starter pack from any grocer and change it anytime, and one could change their money without problems as long it wasn’t travellers’ cheques.
Finally we were in the sunshine. The sun stood alone in the clear blue sky pouring out its heat as viciously as a jilted lover on a revenge mission.
As we drove to the hotel, I was not just feeling the strain of the heat and changes in the South African way of doing things, but the prejudice. Why should it be painful to change just £50? Why was I searched like a suicide bomber? I asked myself. Moreover I had laboured to obtained the visa in London, where you need to submit copious documents which make the Bible look like a Pacesetter novel.
On switching on the TV at my hotel, I got the answer: Security! A whole range of football people from across Europe had lined up to raise issues of security and cast doubt on the safety of footballers during the June show in South Africa following the shooting incident involving the Togolese team at Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.
If the shooting in Angola, many miles away from South Africa, could raise so much hullaballoo and cast doubt on South Africa’s capacity to host an incident-free event, one can only understand why they must not leave a stone unturned. Imagine what would happen to South Africa’s image and that of the rest of the region if a shooting were to take place, or a bomb were to go off killing footballers and the dignitaries?
This is a country which knows what tragedy, failure and pain mean and hence every effort not to sleep-walk into yet another conundrum.
South Africa is also a country which can undergo some collective soul searching, and perhaps nothing epitomises this than the reform from the dark era to democracy and the fight they put to win 2010 after the 2006 disappointment. I will never forget listening to Lawrence Dube playing Ray Phiri and Stimela’s ‘Tell me where did we go wrong’ after South Africa lost the 2006 bid to Germany.
And yet as South Africa strives to avert carnage, the country seems to have overlooked its one major strength — the timeless attractiveness of the Rainbow Nation which not even the mighty of Apartheid and many other un-pleasantries, some of which are still present to day, could deform.
There is just too much to parade, and yet there are some missing billboards and words. When the likes of Hull City Manager Phil Brown and the Bayern Munich President Uli Hoeness spew their bigoted bile, the South Africans simply need to whip out their 4,344,136 vuvuzelas and drown the senseless World Cup concerns.
When their security measures are questioned, they don’t just need to search visiting journalists but they also need to parade their credentials in peace. This is a country with four Nobel Peace Prize winners — three of them still alive.
Why worry about bad press when they can use their own wordsmiths of global stature? They have two Nobel Prize winners of literature and both of them are still alive — John Maxwell Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer.
Why not a billboard on all these luminaries at the Oliver Tambo International or in Cape Town? It could, perhaps, read something like: ‘South Africa 2010 — we have Nobels in Peace’.
Just to step into South Africa and walk around is to meet the world. In Cape Town not only the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans meet but people flow in as a river into the sea. There are stunning beaches where you can relax and splash with people from all over the world before you set out for dinner, provided you survive a shark attack (during the week I was there, a Zimbabwean man was eaten by a shark and nothing but his goggles were recovered).
Cape Town’s Water Front stands unmatched. Here, food, fashion, craft, entertainment, education and drink collide. Nothing beats the view of the Table Mountain while sitting engrossed in a discussion and watching the tame sea lions stagger out of the water to sunbath. It’s not only the affluent who eat here.
My friend told me of a must-see barbeque spot somewhere right in the heart of the Gugulethu Township. I know about this township for giving us Afro-pop singer Ringo Madlingozi, and the so-called Gugulethu Seven shooting as well as the "reconciliation tree" which I saw at one primary school when I last visited in 2003.
On our way, we cut through some affluent suburbs with vast irrigated loans like we were in Sydney, except here they lay side-by-side with collapsing shacks. South Africa is a land of contradictions: infinite wealth and immeasurable poverty lie side-by-side, like finding a beauty queen intimate with an elderly leper.
If you thought the Water Front was for the white people, as some young Capetonians disturbingly kept saying at my hotel, then you must visit Mzoli’s Meat, as the barbeque spot in Gugulethu is called. Here tourists from as far as Europe park their cars along the township roads just to eat. During the weekends, I am told, the place teems with trendy people in a way that would rival Melville in Johannesburg.
There are many such places in South Africa where people eat boerewors (another SA invention), pap and meat. One such place is in Ivory Park, Johannesburg, where I ended my trip. After the barbeque in Thembisa, the Sunday I left, we had a mini afternoon bash in Midrand, where I was staying, dancing to latest kwaito and house music. It was painful to leave right in the middle of a dance party full of professionals — accountants, journalists, engineers and business people. I couldn’t bring myself to accept that I had to leave shisanyama, as barbeque is called, here into the freezing England.
At the airport, I bought my last Castle Lager and thought silently. This is the land of many possibilities. If there is the Water Front, there is Mzoli’s, if there is Khayelitsha Township, there is Constantia and Sandton, if there is Eugene Terreblanche, there is Nelson Mandela, if there are 48 million people there are 11 languages, if there is a razorwire there is the Simunye and Ubuntu concepts, if there is Robben Island there is the Bill of Rights. The possibilities are limitless.
I had not yet finished my beer when I noticed that our flight was going to be delayed by three hours. After those three hours came the news of a cancellation, meaning we had to put up at some hotel. We were told the South African Airways plane had a blocked loo!
Queuing for the bus outside after reclaiming our luggage, I overheard an elderly lady saying: ‘Come the World Cup, I think there will be chaos.’ Disappointed as I was with the cancellation of the flight, and for having to wait out there like I was at Park Station waiting for buses to Harare, I wished I had a vuvuzela. ‘Awulethi ivuvuzela yami,’ I said in my mind. Yet another billboard, I thought to myself, and smiled as I opened my pack of nuts to crunch away.