I am still in a whirl emotionally after our three week stay in the Western Cape. The nature was truly fabulous and was what we sought out most. That aspect of the trip was a great success. The culture of the area around Cape Town and Stellenbosch is perhaps not typical of the whole country. Stellenbosch, where we were based, is an old Dutch style settlement dominated by its university, tourism and wine estates. Its picturesque and comfortably familiar for a European visitor and that in itself was very odd. This is Africa, there are settlements all around Stellenbosch or what the locals call ‘the village,’ the houses are often pretty fortresses with electric fences and big dogs. Armed response security vans tour the middle class estates and everywhere are warning signs about the alarms. This comfortable whitewashed prettiness feels like a place under siege and that is very unsettling.
We met three types of African, Afrikaans white, English speaking white and ex-pat immigrant white. We were introduced to a few black Africans who worked for these people. Hearing them described as: ‘the garden boy’ or ‘the house girl’, even by liberal intelligent people was a shock. These ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ were my age!
Integration is a worthy aim but it’s slow and difficult and paternalism is everywhere. Not just among the white population. The upper ruling elite of wealthy black Africans are just as paternalistic and they too have alarms and live in gated and guarded communities.
The division between the striving and those at the top is stark, as in many developing countries. The white/black/coloured issue, ingrained tribalism and the legacy of the old apartheid regime complicate things here but the fact is South Africa is doing better than its neighbours. Vastly better than the totally corrupt and violent dictatorship of the former Rhodesia that became Zimbabwe.
Nelson Mandela’s influence lives in the Rainbow Nation ideal that sets South Africa apart still.
They are trying a new thing here. Its not easy and there are problems but it remains an example of how bringing a nation out of colonialism into the modern world could be done, imperfect as it is, its still better than most African nations violent attempts at the same difficult transition.