The South African Series

The Stars Shine Brighter in South Africa

  It’s not hard to fall in love South Africa, and now that I’m here I can totally understand my husband’s lingering attraction to it.  When you live in a place where beauty surrounds you, it’s not hard to leave your old Western life behind and fail to give it a second thought. However, before I get all goo-goo eyed about my current short term residence, I have to make my true feelings very clear.


Ahh!! Tseewww. There is too much order and development for this to be Africa. I feel like I left Atlanta and went on vacation in Santa Barbara. For instance, I went to the mall (yes Americans, there are MALLS in Africa) last week. Unlike the Accra Mall which was hastily built at Tetteh Quarshie circlein a uber-high  traffic location, this was a strip mall on the way to George, a sprawling suburban area. Like all strip malls in carefully selected locations, it afforded drivers enough room to maneuver with order and ease in and out of the facility. It was also built with maximum occupancy in mind…unlike the Accra Mall which clearly did not count on becoming the ONLY attraction in the capital. The Accra Mall represents real Africa. South Africa, which it’s consistent supply of electricity, clean streets and well maintained road network is FAKE.AFRICA.

Now, back to the stars.

There’s So much natural beauty in this part of the world. Somehow South Africans have managed to merge modern human existence with a respect for nature. The beach is an excellent example of this. Although there are houses dotted all along the shore, there is little evidence of human influence outside of the lifeguard stations and the signs with the beach rules. The sand is white and pure, and the only debris is what the ocean throws onto the shore at night. Juxtapose this with La “Pleasure” beach in Accra. You pay a whopping 10 cedis (as of last year) per person to enter, only to be greeted by trash and yet more trash with every step. The water that I once remember as being jewel green is now a murky, muddy brown…but at least it matches the sand; which is also muddy and brown. South Africa is FAKE Africa.

I digress. Back to the stars.

With all this order and seeming perfection everywhere, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of bliss as a visitor.  This is a country where the stark contrasts of profound wealth and unfathomable poverty are all around. You come here and the township children mill around you with broad smiles on their faces, and the women do their best to make you feel welcome. It is possible that they will put on an impromptu play/dance and you can go away thinking that life is all rainbows and butterflies. They seem so happy in their poverty!  For example: On the N2 – the freeway through the Western Cape – Qulwayne is on one side of the road, and multi-million mansions are on the other side. Every morning, a set of neighbors wake up with the same thoughts when they look out of the window at the view just across the street:

“Man,” says the rich White South African, “I sure am glad I don’t live there!”

“Gosh,” says the poor Xhosa (who if he’s lucky works for the rich White South African as a gardener/maid), “I wonder what color they are going to paint the mansion this Spring!”

   As I see it, the thing that is different from poor Black South Africans and poor Black West Africans is not our level of poverty, but rather the level of ‘hustle’ in us. West Africa is largely a capitalist society. You eat what you earn, and if you want to eat well, you must earn more. (The Nigerians are an excellent example of this.) The hustle is everywhere you look: people hawking wares on the street; people making hushed deals in hotel lobbies; hustle, hustle, hustle. South Africa by contrast is largely a socialist society, and many (not all) of the folks in the townships are looking for a handout or looking outward for a solution. In this part of the country, many are used to getting what they’ve always had.  I believe that the reason so many people, rich and poor alike, are comfortable with the poverty is because it’s so sequestered. Township folk stay in the township unless they have a job to coax them out…and many of them don’t.

I dunno. I’m probably wrong. (But judging from Jacob Zuma’s most recent speech where he outlines an “increase in government enterprise as the only way to generate more wealth”, I doubt it.) 

I gotta get back to the stars!

They really do shine brighter here. The trees are lusher; the guinea fowls are fatter; and the constellations never looked so brilliant in all my days.