Wednesday, December 01, 2010

South Africa as I see it today ~ I left in 2002.

In my last post about my trip to South Africa I had just been met by Mike Larkin ~ a wonderful friend who sponsored the entire trip, which I really appreciate. I had hoped to continue posting but was unable to as will become clear if you carry on reading.

Everyone sees life through their own perspective. Things that matter to you will be noticed, others will fade into the background. If you love motor cars, for instance, but are totally switched off by the natural world, everywhere you look on the roads you will see the latest models, the the classics of your youth etc. etc. Trees and shrubs, flowers, birds and butterflies will be almost non-existent.

This is especially true when you visit a country. If you happen to travel almost exclusively on potholed, bumpy roads with puddles of water, when you return home you will probably tell people all about the bad roads and equate them to the standard condition of the country as a whole.

Those people living in a country will be conditioned to see life as they perceive it and will only see what is in their consciousness. The person who earns a good income, drives the latest motor car and lives in an upmarket suburb will find it difficult to see the same country as the pauper living in a squatter camp.

So it was when I arrived. I was last there some three years ago ~ BWC (Before the World Cup) and the changes I noticed all stood out. Improved Airport Facilities ~ not that well designed nor sign posted but cosmetically a great improvement ~ bigger, faster and smoother trunk roads, big stadia and so on.

The greatest change though, to me, was in the attitude of the staff at the Airport. Whereas on my last trip the Immigration or Border Control Officials had been surly and "hard done by" this time they were open and friendly. The customs staff simply waved me through, whereas last time they had asked far too many unnecessary questions. Traders inside the airport where friendly and we exchanged bantering comments about my leather hat, veteran of dozens of trips in a variety of countries, whereas last time they were surly and almost unpleasant.

Was it me? My own attitude? That must have had a lot to do with it.

Once we arrived in Randburg, to the north of the O.R Tambo Airport, I saw the down-side, to me, of living in the Gauteng area. High walls surrounding large houses set in big gardens and with Armed Response signs on Electrified Fences.

As we drove through the Electrically Controlled gates into the complex where I was to live with Mike the "laager mentality" that was once a catchword phrase to describe White South Africans came to mind.

A huge gate controlled by an electric motor and remote keying system slowly opened. Mike drove through and, once his car was clear, stopped to allow the gate to slide to. "Just in case" thieves slipped in whilst it was open. I had visited and stayed with him here before but the shock to my system, even though there had been little change there in the intervening few years, was manifest.

My perspective perhaps had changed since my months in Central America where people left their bakkies (pick-up trucks) outside their flats in the street with thousands of dollars worth of tools and equipment on them; even England with its comparatively high crime rate but with an absence of bars on windows and no alarms, at least where I live, must have influenced me; Burlington in Canada, where I saw a man "reserve" a table in a supermarket coffee bar by throwing his wallet and car keys onto a table right next to the exit before going around to get his coffee and bagel; a Cultural village in Takayama in Japan, where my daughter left her daughter's push chair piled high with jackets and other valuables on the path because the the way we were walking was too steep with steps to allow push chair access ~ we returned three hours later to find the push-chair untouched except that it had been moved into the shade; all these experiences had changed my outlook.

This is a photo from Mike's veranda. Note the high walls and gates even though the units are within a wall and an electric and alarmed fence.

Tomorrow I will be expanding on the security situation as I saw it.

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