Updated: Jan 19
A month into South Africa and I am a bit conflicted. One side of me is in love with this place, not wanting to leave. The beauty of the mountains, beaches, and people, alongside cheap food and drinks, Ubers, and always having something to do is so attractive coming from Rwanda and the US. I don’t stick out as a foreigner here, until I talk. Blending in has been cool. One lady thought I was going to rob her while I was walking past her one day. A black lady. Which leads into the other half of my contention. It is hard to enjoy the luxury and serenity of South Africa when also seeing the inequality it has ignored. South Africa is ranked the #1 most unequal country in the world, despite having truth and reconciliation, leaders such as Desmond Tutu, Winnie and Nelson Mandela, or Stephen Biko, and a shift to a democratic government. Where did they go wrong? White South Africans still garner 90% of the wealth while only being 13% of the population. Most Black and Colored South Africans still live in Townships (ghettoes but worse), and suffer from poverty, crime, and abuse (drug and domestic). I visited one township (Bonteheuwel) with a Sewanee Alum who lives there with her family. She looks like she could be from my family but we technically would be different racial groups had I been born in South Africa. I walked around the township and was in awe of its existence. I have seen poverty, and I have seen ghettoes, both in such poor countries. But what is hard to understand is how such poverty can exist while people (the White minority) are living as Kings and Queens on the beaches, in the mountains, or in the suburbs? There are areas in Cape Town and Johannesburg that look like Beverly Hills. There are too many wineries to count, and game reserves and lodges are all controlled by these people. How does this happen? Can I, as a Black man, as an African of descent, enjoy such luxury while the majority of people who look like me continue to live in bondage, merely becoming products of their environment? I not only realized how poverty, crime, and violence are created. I also saw how someone can become radicalized, how someone can learn to hate another race, how someone can want to go to war. It seems like that is the only time they get attention anyway. I have never seen a clearer image of how each of those items transpire more than here.
Allow me to paint a picture: A predominantly Black country is infiltrated and colonized by the Dutch and British, and they unify in its plunder. You import slaves while enslaving others, strip the land from its owners, and extract natural resources from the country. Not only does this occur, but the white people (Europeans, Boers, etc.) stay in your land, and build one of the most egregious apartheid states in the world, rivaled only to Germany and the United States. I could list each of the crimes committed but that would not do it more justice. What should be realized is that this all happened in Africa, a majority Black continent. Can you imagine the psyche of Black South Africans when meeting Africans from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, or other independent nations? Where the majority controls the wealth, the resources, the power? I know the US’s case is bad, but the analysis of all this happening is baffling. Where was the rest of Africa while their brothers were fighting for their lives? Outside of this, it’s not hard to see that apartheid is still alive and well. Is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission effective in actual reconciliation? What is reconciliation? South Africa is considered the hallmark of truth and reconciliation. But with these statistics and facts, one should reconsider what they consider reconciliation. Former President De Klerk even said that apartheid was not a crime against humanity. South Africa shouldn’t be studied as the hallmark. It should be studied for inequality, or rather, for its inability to reconcile despite formal processes. A love hate relationship this place has produced. And I’m sure that is how it will remain until power returns, not just by faces in the government, but in wealth. People do not want apologies solely. They want justice, accountability, and reparations.