Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nothing but the Truth: The other side of South Africa

Pretoria, South Africa---I love it here. But I have seen South Africa through some rose colored glasses. Staying in an Embassy home in a great neighborhood, going to the nice Game Parks, walking through a mall for the first time in 6 months, Traveling to Cape Town and its beauty of two's all so perfect. But everyone knows there lays the intense struggle of the poor. The corruption of the government. The high crime.

It would be so easy to look the other way.

My cousins, who I am visiting, are with the American Foreign Service. Prior to this new assignment they were in Ethiopia. Stories from there make this country sound like the American poor, compared to the Haiti Poor.

In the distance: Shacks and lean-to's as far as the eye could see...

But still, here in South Africa, tucked in between Johannesburg's city landscape, Game Parks, and Resorts including Sun City, are the living proof of Shanty towns. I didn't feel right taking my camera out of a rental car to snap photos from a distance so the only shots I have are from the highway.

There is so much to the politics and history of this country and the whole of Africa, that I don’t understand. A short trip would never educate me enough. But I did a few things out of my curiosity to know more.

I bought Nelson Mandela’s book: Long Walk to Freedom which I have started and it will keep me busy during the upcoming long passage.

The embassy had a night where a group went to the Theatre to watch a play called NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH. It was a one set, three person drama about so much. The main actor was incredible. I had flown in from Cape Town that evening and my cousin Jason from Madagascar. We met at the airport and rushed to meet my cousin Mary at the Theatre.

Written and acted by John Kani, the 2002 play has had worldwide attention as well as being made into a major feature film.

Here is what the review summarized the play as being: “The story explores the relationship between those who remained in South Africa to lead the struggle against apartheid and those who returned victoriously after living in exile, the destruction of a man's aspirations at the very moment when democracy promises their realization; examining family secrets, sibling rivalry, exile, memory and reconciliation.”

And as we sat there, many times the crowd erupted in hardy laugher, an inside joke that we did not have the background to get. The language, mixed with expressions and sayings that included the clicking of African native tongue, left us at a loss several times. But weaving around the story was one thing I walked away to think about. Yes, they settled for answers instead of revenge. This left many angry. And some of that anger still is left lingering through the generations. But, as one character pointed out in the play, if they were to act out in anger, seek revenge and kill, what separates them from how they were originally treated?

Then thirdly, there was a Human Rights Film Festival going on and ironically being shown at the Movie Theater in my cousin’s neighborhood. We chose the documentary movie GOOD FORTUNE. This was especially interesting to me because sometimes in our desire to help we forget to ask them if they want help and how to help. Pushing ideas and change on someone else who does not want it is not helping, its domination. Two stories are weaved together in this documentary.

Set in Kenya, on the outskirts of Nairobi, a women’s home and business in Africa’s largest squatter community are being demolished as a part of a United Nations slum-upgrading project. Interviews go back and forth between the UN’s project manager and the residents who do not want this kind of help or change.

In the rural countryside, a farmer’s land is being flooded by an American Investor who hopes to alleviate poverty by creating a multi-million dollar rice farm. The definition of “poor” can be a matter of someone else’s opinion.

Gripping stories. Human perseverance. Resilience. Africa still has such a long way to go.

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