When I lived in South Africa people constantly told me that South Africa is not the “real” Africa. I’ve never quite understood what is meant by this comment. I gather that the people who make these proclamations are under the assumption that Africa is a cesspool of war, sickness, danger, and corruption. I would argue that this is NOT the case, but rather that Africa has been pushed into this pit by centuries of slavery, servitude and colonialism. This does not make these assumptions correct and it also does not justify the label. These things exist because they were made that way by foreign men searching for their own wealth and their own glory by ripping apart the entrails of the continent. What’s left is a dying land trying to put itself back together amongst roving bands of the sick, the starving, the oppressed, and the criminal.
South Africa is beautiful, it is relatively stable, and has the Western amenities that we have become accustomed to. The crime is outrageous, but let’s be realistic; as a tourist, in a wealthy area of Cape Town, you are severely less likely to become a victim of a violent crime as is a South African living in a slum, or “shanty town”. The crime rate in South Africa is no joke, and it should perhaps deter you from visiting Johannesburg or Durban, but Cape Town and the surrounding wine lands has its own sense of softness. If you are careful, and I mean much more careful than if you were a tourist in Berlin or Paris, the beauty of Cape Town is worth every breath of the “doctorly winds” you breathe in.
Does this make South Africa exempt from this history? On the contrary, its bleeding heart beats this history every second when another child is killed, every 10 seconds when another woman is raped, and every day when another South African dies of AIDS. No amount of whiteness or wealth has been able to prevent this history from seeping into the beauty of Table Mountain or the soil of the wine lands. This history screams murder every time the world community condemns Africa for being, well, African.
So what can we do about this? As individuals, first and foremost, we can study this complex history that is unique to every single African country. What made South Africa what it is today did not equally make Kenya or Mozambique. As with everything, the more we dissect the more we are able to understand the inner workings. But we should carve lightly in our dissection, because history is sensitive to modernity.
I wish that everyone in the West had the chance to visit Africa at least once in their life. Visiting African countries and experiencing its culture is life-changing. In Africa, we somehow get a sense of our own history and see the frailty yet gracefulness of life in the eyes of both those who are struggling and those who have triumphed over their struggle. Once you have lived in Africa the continent is in your blood and never leaves you. It no longer matters that you have less than you would if you moved to West, or that you have had to give up amenities that you’ve grown accustomed to. In Africa, that all changes. You adapt. You become part of the history and part of the present. You don’t think too much about the future, because you struggle but you are also content. You breath, you eat, you watch the animals graze in the sunset and feel the warm dry air caress your skin. You may not be 100% content, but you are home. For the first time in your life, you are home.