South Africa: Beautiful, Scarred, Complex and on the Cusp

April 20, 2019

April 14, 2019, South Africa — I’m going to do South Africa in several parts and out of order: It’s going to take me days to edit over 900 Kruger safari photos, and I need the upcoming 7 sea days to do it. So first I’ll do a general South Africa synopsis, then cover our seaside ports of call before showing you the animal pictures you’re waiting for!


Go make another cup of coffee. This is a long one. I hope I got it right. 


According to the World Atlas: ‘Adopted on April 27, 1994, the flag of South Africa was designed to symbolize unity. The red, white and blue colors were taken from the colors of the Boer Republics. The yellow, black and green are taken from the African National Congress (ANC) flag. Black symbolises the people, green the fertility of the land, and gold the mineral wealth beneath the soil. Those colors were adopted by the ANC in 1925.’ ​

South Africa is, as one lecturer put it, an important center of human evolution, traced back 2.5 million years. A mud impression named ‘Little Foot’ — probably the footprint of a child — has been dated to 2.2 to 3.3 million years ago. Engraved stones have been dated back 700,000 years. 


Once again, it was the Portuguese who found the place, in 1488. In 1497, Vasco da Gama made it official when he rounded the Cape of Good Hope seeking a sea route to the spices of the East. (The cape was originally known as the Cape of Tempests — the wind and the weather were that bad. Today’s Cape Towners still complain about the winds.) The good ol’ Dutch East India Company set up trading posts in the 1600s, to re-supply all their ships headed to the East — then they shipped in Dutch farmers to raise crops and livestock to supply the passing ships. 


Of course, there wasn’t enough ‘free’ land, so the Dutch farmers encroached on land belonging to the pastoral native people (collectively called the Khoikhoi, or the Khoe-San or the Khoisan). Farms need labor, so the Dutch turned the native people into indentured servants, and brought in 21,000 African and Indian slaves, for starters. After slavery was abolished in 1834 (across the British Empire), there was a labor shortage — solved when 150,000 indentured servants were brought in from India. Today, South Africa has the largest Indian population outside of India. 


Enter the British, in 1806, during the Napoleonic Wars. They seized land from the Dutch and tried to force them to speak English and adopt English culture. No go: The Dutch went on ‘The Great Trek’ north and formed an area they called the Transvaal, which was a recognized republic from 1852 until 1902 (at the end of the Second Boer War). That year the British combined all the regions of Africa into one: The Union of South Africa. By that time, white supremacy was undisputed, and white South Africans — who were a very small percentage of the population — owned 90% of the land. The Blacks, Coloreds and Asians got what was left. Those are the only 4 recognized groups: White, Black, Colored (mixed race) and Asian.


South Africa is beautiful, as you will see from upcoming photos. But South Africa has many scars, including two Boer Wars between the original Dutch colonizers and the second colonizers, the British: The first (1880-81) was fought over control of diamonds, which had been discovered in 1866-67 in Kimberley, and gold, discovered that same year at Witwatersrand. The Boers won. The Boers (‘farmers’ in Dutch) fought the second war (1899-1902) against British influence. The British won. Add to these two named wars centuries of battles between white settlers and native tribes, often over land and grazing. [Remember the 1964 Michael Caine movie Zulu, about an 1879 battle during the Anglo-Zulu war, when 150 British soldiers held off 4,000 Zulu warriors?] 


But the deepest wound in South Africa’s history is apartheid, which means ‘separateness’ in Afrikaans, and dates from the Afrikaner Nationalist Party’s election in 1948. This ‘separateness’ became the official government law in 1960, when the new Union of South Africa became a republic, it withdrew from the British Empire, and Afrikaner Nationalism prevailed. It lasted until 1991. Everything was separate: By 1949, intermarriage was prohibited. By 1950, it was illegal to do anything that crossed ‘the color line’ — except churches: the races could ‘mix’ in church. The Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 labeled anyone who opposed any government policy in any way a Communist. Coloreds (mixed race) lost the vote. Asians had never had it.


Non-whites were banished to their own areas — ‘townships’ — thus, interracial families were split up. Johannesburg banished 60,000 blacks to Soweto. Cape Town forced out 55,000 Coloreds and Indians. In all, 600,000 Coloreds, Indians and Chinese were kicked out of their homes. Non-whites lost their citizenship. Everything was segregated. The (fictitious) America concept of ‘separate but equal’ did not apply.


In the late 1970s, the Parliament was still passing laws to affirm ‘separateness’ and to silence liberal opposition to the policy. To put this in an American historical context: Brown vs. Board of Education, which desegregated public schools, was in 1954. 


The rest of the world was paying attention — and trying to figure out how to punish South Africa for their policies. In 1964, the International Olympic Committee told South Africa, if they didn’t change, they couldn’t compete. They did not change, and they did not play. They only got back into the Olympics in 1992, after the end of apartheid.


By the 1960s, the country was experiencing great economic growth while black resistance was being crushed. By the 1970s, blacks were feeling encouraged to resist when they saw Portugal pull out of Angola. On a larger world scale, countries were beginning to pull out of business in South Africa, the U.S. imposed sanctions, as did other countries, and by the end of the 1980s the South African economy was foundering. Conditions were dire.


In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years as a political prisoner. In 1991 the ban on the left-leaning African National Congress was lifted. In 1994, under the white president F. W. de Klerk, apartheid was finally banned. That same year, Mandela was elected president, in the country’s first democratic elections. His ANC party had won 60% of the vote. (South Africans vote for a party, not a person. The president is selected after the election.) The U.S. removed the economic sanctions, and South Africa was re-admitted to the United Nations. Things had begun to change... for a time.


Despite all the positive things Mandela brought about through consensus, coalition and bi-partisanship, it did not last. With Mandela’s election, the country’s 4 provinces were further broken into 9 areas, and people were displaced again. Still fractured, today the country has 3 capitals, each with a specific function: Cape Town (legislative, where Parliament is located), Pretoria (administrative) and Bloemfontein (judicial). 


And when Mandela’s term was up, his successors decided that his standards of bipartisanship, coalition and consensus were not needed. Today South Africa faces the problems of a ‘normal’ country: health care, labor needs, severe water shortage and rolling black outs — and pervasive corruption. 


South Africa’s 56 million population is 80% black, 9% white, 9% colored and 2% Asian. There are 11 official languages, starting with English (the language of business) and Afrikaans (a ‘West Germanic’ language that evolved from a Dutch dialect). Today’s students are required to learn English, Afrikaans and a ‘black’ language as well, such as Zulu or Xhosa. Eighty percent of South Africans are Christian, 2% Hindu and 2% Muslim; the rest are ‘unaffiliated.’ The unemployment rate is a horrendous 35%, though the government does sponsor sugar cane workers. 


The West and North provinces are dry, and good for gold, diamonds, cattle and sheep. The eastern provinces are wet, and good for bananas, sugar cane and wheat. Game parks and reserves throughout the country, both national and private, contribute to the economy, as does platinum mining.


As one lecturer put it, South Africa today is a conflict of urban modernity — with many large cities of high-rise corporations and residences, Ferrari and Bentley dealerships vs. rural stagnation — people still living in huts.


Through a friend on the ship, I met a couple, originally from Germany, who have lived in Cape Town for nearly 60 years. They are wondering about the future and awaiting next month’s elections, which will decide which party will be in power for the next 5 years. Then they will decide if they will stay — or leave this beautiful but conflicted country. #











Sign on a truck: Honey Sucker Drain Pumping






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