Third World and First World

Trip Start Jun 10, 2005
Trip End Nov 23, 2005

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Friday, October 21, 2005

I can't believe it, but I have been in Cape Town for almost a month now. That seems like such a long time compared to my constant moving over the past four months. I also can't believe that I left Korea almost four months ago. Time has been flying by, and this past month was no exception.

One reason it flew by is that I have been staying with a family and living very comfortably. There are two very distinct worlds in South Africa that exist at the same time but at different locations. There are the townships (for the blacks) and the suburbs or towns (mostly for the whites). Now it isn't quite as easily defined as black and white, it is blurring a little bit, but that would be the case in the majority of the country.

I have been staying in the suburbs with my Indian friend (born in Karalla on a small farm and didn't attend a physical school until she was 12), her Afrikaner husband (born in South Africa and his family came from The Netherlands in 1667) and their two daughters (ages 10 and 12). Their house could be in any suburb in America, minus the fact that there are huge walls built around the entire house. Every house in the suburbs has large walls or fences for protection. Many people are scared of robbery and other crimes. The day before I arrived, the girls got their bikes stolen out of the garage because they din't lock the gate properly. It seems every time I sat down with white people they talked about some sort of crime they had recently heard about.

Around the suburbs are all the things that you would expect from any first world suburb: malls, 7-11s, fancy coffee shops, BMW car dealerships, and gourmet hamburger restaurants. There is a street called Long Street, which is the most famous street for travelers and the night life. Long Street could run through Ann Arbor, and no one could tell a difference with the shops. However when one looks closer, all the places are guarded by black people, have black gardeners, have electric fences and beggars on the corners.

The other world here is the townships. The townships are the equivalent of American Indian Reservations, except worse. During apartheid the whites forcibly removed people from their homes to make them live in designated areas. The idea was to have separate development based on race. So all the blacks (native to this land) where moved to the worst land on the outskirts of towns. Then the coloreds (mixed race) were moved to another, and the whites were able to live on the best land. Since apartheid ended, many people have not been able to get on their feet and still live in these townships with inadequate facilities. I worked in two places, Masiphumelele and Khayelitsha. Khayelitsha is the biggest township in Cape Town and has over 1 million people living in shacks!

Besides the strange first and third world combination, it is a beautiful city. It is in the most amazing location: to the south west is the Atlantic Ocean, to the south east is the Indian Ocean, and to the north is a mountain range. The mountains are steep and flat on the top, with clouds constantly rolling over and around them to add to their beauty. The whole city is basically encircled by the sea or the mountains.

My work was to help with organizing a workshop in two townships. The workshop was about creating a new style of development based on the local needs, instead of development based on what the government or other outsiders say needs to be done. So we were there to give ideas and let them create what they needed. This new development would be based on what they have available and what they could do for themselves. One huge problem in the townships is no one has jobs, therefore no one has money. Another problem is that the people who do have jobs can only spend their money outside of the township. So they earn their money in the towns, spend it in the towns, and don't do anything to boost the local economy.

So this organization (SANE - South African New Economics) has created a local currency called talents. The simplest way to explain it is that it is an IOU system. So for example, if I paint your house for an hour, you write me a "check" (fancy IOU) for 50 talents. Then I can use those 50 talents to "pay" someone to sew me a dress. But the benefit is I don't have to have the talents to start with. Instead of a debt based economy where banks make money off of poor people taking out loans, there is no interest on IOUs. If I "pay" 250 T for the dress, then I will just look for work within the community. It really doesn't make sense in writing, because I am not an economist. But the essence is that the people can create their own currency, so that they don't have to rely on the outside for assistance. They have the resources available to them to help themselves. There are already 1000 people using the talent system offering some sort of service, from house cleaning, to yoga classes, to cell phones, to car washes and many more. All of the trades are recorded on the internet in a "bank." In theory, they should be able to start their own vibrant local economy.

ZERI - Zero Emissions Research Initiatives - the organization I am part of, is helping with this by teaching people to use waste as a resource. It is another way to see that they can help themselves and not rely on the outside. If they can see waste as a resource - instead as of negative - and put it into a circular system - as opposed to a linear system - then they can start to earn a living. One way they are going to be able to do this is by using the waste from a beer factory near the township - it will be free because then the brewery doesn't have to dispose of it. This waste is all spent grain, they can use it to make bread. What is left over from that can be used to grow mushrooms. The mushrooms can be eaten, or fed to livestock. The waste from the humans and the animals can be used in a biodigestor to create energy for them, and to be used as fertilizer for crops. In theory they can create everything they need: jobs, food, money, electricity.. and much more. Everyone was really excited and I hope it works for them. Everyone I met was so loving and welcoming, they deserve to live more comfortably.

I really hope that this project will help out the communities we visited. It seems like there are all sorts of organizations that are out to "develop" the townships, I would hate for this to be just another demonstration of all talking and no action. Unfortunately, I will not be staying to ensure that it does happen. There are four other people who have started the project and hopefully will be able to continue it.

This is a very interesting country because they restructured their entire government only 11 years ago and are now trying to create equality in a country that hasn't had it for over 300 years. This project that I just touched on is one of hundreds if not thousands that have taken place over the past ten years. I don't even pretend to know how to reach "equality," but I hope there can be more positive changes to this beautiful city and country. I don't see any excuse as to why two separate worlds have to exist.
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