For the holidays I had the opportunity to road trip from Mozambique to South Africa, stopping along the way to visit my colleagues’ friends and family members. We ended up spending almost two weeks in and around Jeffreys Bay, where I surfed, cycled and enjoyed the change in scenery. We then drove back to Mozambique, passing through and spending a night in a gorgeous park in Swaziland.
South Africa is an incredibly diverse country, with 11 official languages, 3 racial delineations, countless tribal allegiances and of course tons of European cultural influence. One South African told me that her country was a country with first world infrastructure and economy combined with third world poverty and crime. Another called South Africa “a piece of Europe lost in Africa”. Based upon the little that I saw, these were accurate statements. There were times when I easily could have been anywhere in the US; beautiful roads, infrastructure, strip malls, luxury goods, homes, and probably the most obvious of indicators, fat white people everywhere! Yet what was startling about this was that right next door was some of the poorest, hastily constructed shack villages I have ever seen. Literally I saw Ferraris driving down highways lined by “houses” built out of cardboard boxes where entire families were living. And im sure you can guess the skin colors of the respective owners. The demographic breakdown is something like 80% black South African, 8% percent white, 3% colored (which is a mix), and 9% other, such as Indians, Mozambicans, Zimbabweans etc. If someone could find the statistics for the socioeconomic status of the population, sorted by race, I think that would be a telling figure.
People that I spoke with, both blacks and whites, complained the most about crime. Mostly theft/robbery type crimes, but also violent crimes and carjacking seemed fairly common. From my very limited experience and solely based on what I saw, there were very definite trends in socioeconomic status based on race. White was usually comfortable if not wealthy and holding positions requiring higher educational levels, whereas black and colored appeared lower on the socioeconomic ladder, occupying lower sectors of the service economy and labor. I think anywhere where there is such a discrepancy and disequilibrium in economic status, especially when race and tribal cultural influences are factored in, the kindling is primed for an explosion of crime and social unrest. The fear of crime unfortunately was quite palpable; bars on all the windows, alarm systems, high tech fencing systems, security cameras and companies everywhere etc. I am not condemning this at all, as based on what I heard the security measures were quite justifiable. I got a good dose of political information from talking with people and it seems that social unrest and turmoil is exactly what is happening. A lot of finger pointing, race issues, tribal and political party loyalty etc. Basically just humans being human; quite stupid, selfish, prejudiced and disorganized. The situation is very complex to say the least.
It appeared to me as well that all the racism and racial profiling that goes on is actually quite justifiable. Statistically speaking, you will practically never be robbed at gunpoint by a white South African male, whereas being approached on the side of the road by a black South African male is statistically speaking much more dangerous. So then the question is how do you live in a society where the vast majority of crimes are committed by one specific racial group, and avoid racism and racial profiling? I do not have an answer to this question.
Geographically speaking, South Africa is incredibly diverse as well, ranging from tropical, with massive banana and mango plantations, to desert, to Mediterranean complete with wine vinyards, snowcapped mountains and beautiful coastlines. We explored a bunch of different types of terrain while driving around and I would love to go back to explore more. As the pictures will show, it is a very beautiful country. The park infrastructure is fantastic as well. There are state run parks like Kruger, that are huge chunks of land with regulated game populations and strict visitor rules and then there are private game parks, where people stock their own pieces of land with African game species in the hopes of attracting tourists. There are also loads of cycling opportunities, water sports and awesome hiking. South Africa is actually a mecca for outdoor activities and I felt quite at home. I surfed perfect 6-8 foot J-bay, a world renowned surf spot that I have been have wet dreams (sorry I just couldn’t resist) about since I was 14 years old. All in all it was a wonderful trip and I can’t wait to go back.
When I first got to ZAF I went through a bit of a culture shock with the amount of stuff that was available and how nice it was to have running water and reliable electricity. I must say that the amount of absolute shit that is produced in the developed world and is available to buy in shopping malls and stores is atrocious. Cute little candle holders, napkin pins, ornaments, you name it… it just disgusts me the amount of energy and resources that is devoted to producing these completely unnecessary goods. But I digress. It surprised me at how quickly I re habituated to and took for granted the conveniences of the developed world. After spending 3 weeks living in luxury, I was almost dreading returning to my reed house where the roof leaks, I hand pull my water from a well and have inconsistent electricity. It was a bit of a shock the first day being back in Manjacaze, however I can now say that I am completely re adjusted and quite happy to be back. There is a wonderful simplicity and tranquility that comes with being in Manjacaze. I don’t want to stay here forever, that is certain, and I do like to leave once in a while when the village becomes too small and different flavors of experiences are needed, however life is good here, there are plenty of projects and work to do and there is so much to be grateful for and enjoy.
Photos: Mostly scenery, waves, mountains etc. I took advantage of the well stocked super market to make a Mediterranean themed dinner: All home made: ratatouille, cucumber yoghurt salad, hummus and pita. It was delicious and I had the pleasure of making it for 8 wonderful new friends we made in Jbay.