Friday, 20 July 2018

South African Overview – still an unequal society

I planned a two week walking and safari holiday in South Africa to celebrate finishing 21 years of working on the UCLH Infectious diseases service in February 2017. My holiday plans included visiting The Kruger national park, the coast at St Lucia and then walking in the Drakensberg. I had barely started my holiday when I had to return to the UK because my mother was very ill.  I had one day walking above the Bylde river, I saw the old gold towns and had one night in the hotter low veldt in the Kruger park.

During 3 days in Joburg I enjoyed seeing the Apartheid museum and biking round Soweto. I was touched to read about the struggle against apartheid because I lved through that. I enjoyed seeing the skill that mandela used to enable South Africa to have democratic elections. Joburg is developing rapidly as a black African city. I experienced the racist attitudes of people who moved there during apartheid.   South Africa is palpably unequal and feels very divided. (gini co-efficient is 0.65). The poorest 20% of the South African population consume less than 3% of total expenditure, while the wealthiest 20% consume 65%.  I was surprised how strong the influence of the Dutch Calvinists is in the rural areas.

Political discourse is limited the because of the dominance of the ANC. Whilst this was necessary initially as a counterweight to the years of white domination. Now greater political pluralism is needed. I enjoyed using the Gautrain and seeing the emerging black middle class in Joburg.

It was surprising to see my old student friend, Nkoasana Dlamini in a senior government position and having political problems as minister for social affairs. She later lost the presidential elections in Dec 2017 within the ANC.

I read Andre Brinks book a “Dry White Season” which took me back to the apartheid era with a strong description of the Afrikaner society then. He explores the importance of taking stands against injustice even if there is a large personal cost.  I read Zak Mda’s book about his life and struggle to develop his theatrical career under apartheid. That was an interesting apartheid and post apartheid era history. I became very aware of the deep legacy of violence in South Africa and the consequences this has especially for young women.

I came away feeling uneasy and will probably not visit SA again as a tourist.

Dry White season, Andre Brink  1980
Sometimes there is a Void. Zakes Mda.  Faber, Strauss and Giroux, New York 2011

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