The days are getting shorter, the leaves are falling, and the breath of winter is being felt at the tip of Africa. We ended our season in Knysna with one more trip to Cape Town, then a few days in the north at a national medical conference in Pretoria, before leaving for a few days in Berlin at an international medical conference, and back to Cleveland.
Let me summarize my thoughts after five months in South Africa. From my previous letters you know that I believe the Western Cape to be one of the most exquisite places in the world. The natural beauty is unrivalled, the people are friendly, the food and wine outstanding, the weather generally perfect, the prices for tourists low, and new surprises thrill one almost every day. Indeed, this is the South Africa that tourists experience, and a visit to this part of the world is just not to be missed.
Then there is the ugly underbelly, the real South Africa. In 1976 Moira and I left a South Africa with a feeling of being hounded out of by a Nazi-like racist government. The peaceful transition to democratic government and the election of Nelson Mandela as the first Black President in 1994 was perceived by the world to be a political miracle. Little did the world or South Africans know that the DNA of the incoming ANC government was rotten to the core, and that for many of the underprivileged, life could even be worse 25 years later. At its core is an ANC leadership that is corrupt from top to base, from Presidents Mandela to Zuma, and from mayors to the lowliest town counsellors. Wherever they rule, billions of Rands have disappeared into self-enrichment beyond imagination, while the masses have generally had promises of housing, healthcare, education, basic services and the rest completely unfulfilled. Tenders for these promises have been given to family and friends who have started companies unable to deliver a contract. The policing of all this too has been corrupted and not a single transgressor of any of these disgusting crimes has gone to prison. Far worse, in fact, as many who have been completely exposed are on the ANC Parliamentary list and will continue their evil practices in the newly-elected government.
So what is South Africa’s future? The demise of this country has been incorrectly forecast over and over. There will not be a cataclysmic end. Rather, the fight of good over evil will continue, as the infrastructure decays, oligarchs and politicians get richer, and the squalid way in which the majority of the impoverished population live will just expand. Short of a miracle, and the likes of Zuma (immediate past President), Magashula (secretary general of the ANC), Mabuza (current Vice-President), and dozens of their underlings being tried in court and going to prison, there really is no hope for change. President Ramaphosa either may not have the power or the inclination to act meaningfully, or quite simply is part of the basic problem, however cute may be his disguise. South Africa as a country will slip down the economic ratings as more forward-looking countries in the region expand their economies. The rich will live in their bubbles protected behind higher and higher electrified walls and fences. The poor will scrape to make a living and feed their kids. The real problems become more apparent where the first and third world parts of the nation live more and more adjacent to each other. An early example is Hout Bay in Cape Town where an informal settlement (SA lingo for a slum), Imizamo Yetho (IY in local parlance), in less than a decade has grown into an area covering a vast expanse of the town and continues with the uncontrolled growth of a cancer. Now it has reached the main road, and that area of once sedate little Hout Bay looks like a poor part of Lagos. When dissatisfied with anything, tires are burned on the main road and travel around the Cape Peninsula is disrupted. Yes, the tourist resorts and protected residential areas may continue to flourish, but South Africa is on a precipice and the new term for Ramaphosa is going to be a crucial watershed moment in South Africa’s troubled history. The least I can suggest is that when visiting South Africa you get into one of the informal settlements to see how the other half lives.
Enough of this, let me get to the last of the good stuff…..
In Cape Town we were privileged to attend one of the finest pieces of theater we have ever experienced anywhere, at the historical Fugard Theatre with the Royal Shakespeare and Fugard Theater production of Kunene and the King, starring John Kani (well known beyond his international acting roles for his participation in developing the movies Black Panther and Lion King), and Sir Antony Sher (South African born internationally renowned actor in roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company, other theaters, movies and television). This was riveting, multi-layered theater at its best with the play written by John Kani in addition to his acting role. Theater and the arts are alive and well living in Cape Town.
With the season over, we sadly left Knysna on election day for Pretoria in the north. We had not visited Pretoria for many years. It is the seat of the Administrative Capital of South Africa, and with its geographic linking with Johannesburg represents the true power and commercial hub of the country. Driving between Pretoria and Johannesburg is an experience, a window into the economic hub that South Africa is in Africa, and its potential for the future, all else being addressed.
Voting was largely peaceful but marked by voter apathy with turnout dropping from 75% at the last national election to around 60% now. The younger generation largely stayed away, a sad legacy to their parents and grandparents who sacrificed so much sweat and blood to get them the right to vote. But that is how unfettered corruption, failure to provide education, jobs, healthcare and services has destroyed the faith of the masses in their politicians.
Our last excursion of these months in South Africa turned out to be one of the highlights as well as a warm but sobering experience. I had long wanted to return to Lilieslief farm, with its notorious history of having been the place where Walter Sisulu, Arthur Goldreich and the other pillars of the African National Congress were arrested in 1963 and then put on trial with Nelson Mandela in the historic Rivonia trial, with Percy Yutar as the Public Prosecutor calling for the death penalty and Bram Fischer leading the defense attorneys. They were found guilty of sabotage and imprisoned on Robben Island. On this occasion Moira and I were privileged to be taken around Liliesleaf with a former co-prisoner of Mandela, and a pure older Afrikaner. You see Moira in the photo below with them. Modise Phekonyane was only 20 when he was sent to Robben Island in 1978. Now he is the assistant director at the museum. He spoke to us of the hate he had for whites at that time. He even hated Nelson Mandela for the first 3 years of his incarceration because Mandela preached healing and coexistence. Now he says he appreciates how everyone, in some way or other, were victims of apartheid and education of the masses about the truth is his driving ambition. Seeing men from the complete opposite sides embrace with tears in their eyes was truly heartwarming, and allows us to leave South Africa with some sense of hope.
That ends our summer in South Africa. Hopefully we will get to spend yet another in the Western Cape, that my predictions are wrong, that the election brings change, and life becomes better for all.
For us, we can look forward to returning to Trump’s America, and catching up with all that is happening there.
I know it is a cliché, but life is indeed a journey, not a destination.
Belvidere, Knysna and Pretoria
May 10, 2019