Give me hope, Johanna

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Sunday, November 19, 2006

You always hear bad things about Joburg, and it's always the crime. Houses have high walls with electric fences on the top, and armed reponse warnings are plastered over all the walls. And with good reason.

Thanks to mainly to gold, Joburg is the wealthiest city in the nation and is surrounded by townships where the non-whites were forcibly relocated during apartheid. The police are easily bribed as they are poorly paid and largely ineffective so violent crime is rampant. I was told that in South Africa annually there are 50,000 murders and 250,000 violent crimes, and muggings are so commonplace that the stats are unreliable (people only half-jokingly say when you get mugged in Joburg, not if).

So I didn't walk around much. I took a shuttle down to the Apartheid Museum where I learnt more about the horrors of the regime (you are randomly given a white or black card on entry which only allows you in certain doors to simulate the feeling of segregation). Similar to the District Six Museum in Cape Town it was impossible not to be moved with the inhumanity and insanity of apartheid. Being a young western whitey in the early 90s all I knew about it was that pop stars were vilified for playing at Sun City and the cricket team was banned from international competition. The thing that gets me is how it could have lasted for so long.

It's only been 12 years since the Nelson Mandela-led African National Congress party took control of the country with a new constitution. Of course things don't change overnight and there are clear racial divisions with many of the whites still coming across as being racist. It's the same with the economy. During apartheid the whites profited while the blacks were intentionally made poorer and less educated (after all, nobody in power wanted smart blacks questioning authority: look what happened to Steve Biko). The government is now trying to address this discrimination through a controversial policy of affirmative action, where jobs are first offered to non-whites before whites regardless of experience or capability. With this disincentive to achieve many educated young whites are leaving the country - which helps to explain why London is crawling with them! (Sports teams are also subject to these laws and have to contain a certain percentage of coloured players, hence Kevin Pietersen is now talking smack for England not his native South Africa.)

Speaking of cricket, I spent the Sunday at the Wanderers for the first One Day International between South Africa and India. Unfortunately, it pissed it down from about 20 minutes before the start for the next six or seven hours. The game was abandoned without a ball being bowled but I did get to see a replay of the last one day game played here, that ridiculous one in March against Australia that is now known here as the FourThirtyEight Game.

So that's it for Africa. It's been an amazing two months with some marvellous experiences and good people. As Bono isn't afraid to tell us, there is an awful lot to be done to improve the lot of the African people (as opposed to the criminals in power). I've just read a fantastic book called The Shackled Continent by Robert Guest which tries to explain why Africa is poorer now than it was thirty years ago. Let's hope the situation here improves, but with despotic leaders, idiotic policies and ineffective aid programmes I'm not holding my breath.

Next up for me is the mother of all cricket series: The Ashes in Australia. I've missed most of the hype so it's time for me to catch up with the excitement. In the meantime here's my
YouTube video of the day.
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