I remember a while ago there was a thread asking “If you had to start your own ‘Ask the …’ thread what would it be”. I had no real answer because I felt most of what I could say would be done better by someone else. However, in this thread I was trying to explain how different South Africa is to the rest of Africa and I realised that most people from the US and Europe have no real understanding of what Africa looks like and what the African way of life is like. You can’t tell from photos because it shows only a small part and doesn’t give you a true reflection of the “African Experience”. So I checked here just to make sure it hasn’t been done before, and so, here it is.
I have lived in South Africa all my life but I have travelled extensively in the rest of Africa too. I can answer question on the people, languages, cultures, sights, cost of living or anything else you care to ask. I can comfortably also answer questions on Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi as I have spent a lot of time in those countries on business and pleasure. I have been to a few others but only once or twice.
I’ll try and answer everything that I can but obviously I don’t know everything and I am also coming from a white, privileged background, so some questions I’ll have a specific view of due to my own experiences.
PS: I expect this thread to die a quick death but in the spirit of fighting ignorance I thought I’ll give it a try.
PPS: Please bear in mind the time difference. I will answer in my daylight hours which is most likely your night time.
What’s South Africa really like to live in these days? I’ve heard reports of great violence, such that you can’t use the commuter trains without going in armed groups. Is this true? Do people get along with each other in general?
What languages do you learn in school?
What is your opinion of the situation in Zimbabwe?
Yes and no. It depends on where you are. Unfortunately this questions highlights the inequalities that are still very much a part of South African life. If you live in a squatter camp it is very dangerous. You are likely to get raped or murdered quite easily and your living conditions suck. If you live in the townships (slums or areas where blacks used to be forced to live) it is slightly better but not much. If you live in the suburbs it is much better. The trains are no picnic and I would personally not get on them as a whitey. However if you are a middle class white or black South African you would generally not take any commuter trains but would drive your own car. The townships are very up and down. At times they are fine and at times there are riots and violence.
The problem in South Africa is not so much that our crime rate is that high but that many crimes go hand in hand with violence. You won’t get robbed, you’ll get shot and robbed. Your car won’t get stolen, you’ll get shot and then your car will be stolen.
Personally I have not been touched by violence but I know people who have. I am generally not afraid to drive or walk around but I am much more aware of my surroundings than any American would ever need to be.
People get along in general but there is some still a lot of racial tension around. Also understand that not all Black people belong to the same culture and there is a lot of tension between for example Zulus and Sothos or Xhosa. It is not just about black and white racism but sometimes black and black too.
When I was at school we learnt English and Afrikaans and could choose an African or some European languages as a third language. Nowadays you are supposed to be taught in your mother tongue but it doesn’t happen everywhere. We have 11 official languages so you can imagine it is a bit of a problem. Most schools teach primarily in English and many of the old Afrikaans schools have become dual medium schools. (PS: English is my 3rd language as I grew up on a farm and my first language is Afrikaans and 2nd is Sesotho)
It sucks. SA should do more but Mbeki is useless. I’ve always loved Zim and it is sad to see the country go the way it’s going. I don’t think the problems will be solved overnight and I worry that nothing will change unless SA or someone else steps in to ensure democratic elections.
If you ever immigrate to the U.S., you’ll become one of the problems with the currently preferred term African-American for black people. You’d be a white African American. An old friend of mine is another African American–his family were Egyptian Catholics who fled after Sadat came to power in the 1960s.
Is your first language English or Afrikaans?
During the time of apartheid, for some reason I got the idea that the bad actors tended to be the Afrikaaners, while the English-speaking whites were less so. Is that impression in any way accurate?
What do your fellow citizens think about the fact that we’ve nominated Obama, and he will very likely make it to the White House? I have to say that this American is getting more thrilled about it by the day. I’m white, and I always thought the race issue was a bore. I also thought there was much too much focusing on his race, as there was on Clinton’s gender. But now that it’s happened you could say I’m almost overjoyed, because it redefines our country in a very positive way, and something that has been needed for a very long time.
…as what happened in Angola? i know a white african guy, whi grew up in Angola. The capital city (Maputo?) was a gleaming art-deco, modern city. The roads were paved, and the streetlights worked. Now, the place is a dump-nothing has been fixed in 30 years. Will the same thing happen in SA 9if the educated people move out)?
Do you think SA is unified in one culture, but with smaller sub-cultures, or are there still really strong divides?
What do you think needs most improvement in SA, and how would you go about doing it?
black South Africans vs. white South Africans: I’m not even sure what to ask here, other than…what’s it like now? Is there a lot of day-to-day interaction? Do people of the same economic class but different races get along better than when there’s an economic difference added in? Is there a strong divide along racial lines, or are other factors more important? (You mentioned divides between black racial groups/cultures.)
What economic level does most of the population live at? What kind of jobs/home/property/education?
I don’t know anything about South African writing, music, really art of any kind–any recommendations?
Do people ever automatically assume that you’re violently racist? (Ok, you can’t speak for everyone, but bear with me.) Do you ever feel that the world may seem to just think of you as an afterthought and not really African? Do you even get that impression, or am I entirely off base? (You wouldn’t want to see how pissy white people here would get if someone said we’re not really American.)
Are there poor white people? How poor- like mud hut and bush taxi poor? If there was some sort of disaster would they have something to help them out?
I know this question may sound kind of racist, but in Cameroon the only white people you saw were people there to do something. Peace Corps volunteers- who have pretty good support- were about the only people living somewhat like “normal” people in Cameroon. And a white person could generally expect any other white people to help them out. When I went to Mali, it was a trip to see Arabs “really” riding the bush taxis. And it’s just always been something hard for me to wrap my head around.
I user to work with an older guy who was also white and South African. He told me that when he was growing up there, the work “kaffir” (not sure how it’s spelled) was a far more offensive slur against blacks than the word “nigger”. Is this still the case?
SA wines seem to be coming along, esp in Stellenbosch and Paarl. Are there any other grape varietals that are unique to SA? Do common folk in SA drink the local wines or just the “landed gentry” types?
I have tried a few Pinotages but I can’t wrap my palate around them. They seem to have a burnt rubber quality to them that I don’t care for.
Maputo (formerly Lourenço Marques) is the capital of Mozambique. Angola’s capital is Luanda. Both countries were formerly Portuguese colonies, so I wouldn’t be surprised if your friend had spent time in both cities.