South Africans, for some reason, have a habit of putting their country down. Not all of them, for sure – many are fiercely proud of their nation. But before we arrived here almost everyone had a story of a South African they knew from work or through their children’s school or just some bloke down the pub who warned them about the crime or the violence or the soaring costs or…..
Of course we ignored them all and came anyway and – as regular readers of this blog well know – are very glad we did. And what we have found here is quite a mixed bag: a beautiful country with mansions and shopping malls that could come straight out of the States or Europe, surrounded by some of the worst slums you will see anywhere. Busy restaurants with patrons spilling out onto the sidewalk, but beggars at every streetlight. A nation of many races where outright racism still happens blatantly and openly but is then called out from every corner. It’s definitely a paradox – and not like anywhere I have ever lived before.
Soweto wash day
Of course I realise South Africa has a lot of problems. A lot – massive unemployment, poverty, some of the worse rape statistics in the world, HIV, corruption…..And yet there is plenty of things that this country does right, very right. But it isn’t always easy when you are in the thick of things to take a step back and look at your country objectively. And sometimes you need the perspective of someone who has lived in many places and therefore has a few yardsticks to measure by. So, from an outsider living inside at the moment, here is my list of five things that South Africa gets right:
Wayde van Niekerk, Caster Semanya, and other Olympians
It’s not just about the medals – all you need to do is read some of the back stories to realise what an incredible achievement the SA team is. Remember, they only rejoined the Olympic movement in 1990. Two games ago (Bejing) they only got one medal. This time they got 10, including two golds, and van Niekerk’s 400m world record. Plus, you only have to look at the names of the atheletes over the years to realise how times have changed. It really is a rainbow nation team – with the medalists reflecting this perfectly.
It’s not just what’s in the parks – wildlife, mountains, waterfalls, scenery etc – but how accessible they are, what good value they are, what fantastic accommodation at incredibly reasonable prices they have. It means that even if you are feeling a bit broke you can still afford a few days away somewhere without necessarily having to break out the tent (although that’s always an option too). The only downside for me is how many there are – we could live here for years and still not make it to more than a handful. Maybe one day, when we’ve retired, we’ll return sans kids and really “do” South Africa properly. Park by park.
Kruger National Park at dawn
Water from the taps
I have lived in and travelled to a lot of places where you can’t just turn on the taps and drink. In Pakistan we couldn’t even use the water for washing vegetables – it all had to either come out of a bottle or be rigourously boiled first. But here in SA you can. I don’t know if this is country-wide and have no idea what it is like in the townships but certainly the fact that clean water comes out of the taps is indicative that something is being done right.
And in the same vein, roadside toilet stops are not the nightmare they can be in some countries. I have encountered toilets so bad, peeing in the bushes was definitely preferable. Here though they are almost always clean and usually have plenty of paper. We’re travelling to Mozambique in a couple of months – I am already nervous about what we will find there…
Okay, specifically one radio station: Five FM. Back home in the UK I have pretty well given up on radio. Sometimes I will listen to it for the news or current affairs shows but for music, there isn’t really anything that floats my boat. Either it’s trying so hard to be hip and trendy and down with the kidz that I’ve never heard of any of the songs (and the presenters jar appallingly with their attempts at cooldom) or it’s full of the sort of awful music from about 15 years ago that they think we’re interested in. And not much in between. Here, 5FM is fresh, funny, and plays fantastic music – with no ads! I don’t know how they do it but I have heard more good music on 5FM in the year since we arrived than I have in about the previous ten years in the UK. I suspect this is one I will be streaming over the internet when we leave for good.
So those are just a few things I think South Africa gets right – I can think of many, many more but now it’s over to you: please tell me in the comments section below some of the things that YOU love about this country. Or if you are not South African, do not live in South Africa or have never even visited South Africa, I would love to hear what your general impressions are of it. Good or bad…