Which One Is The Real South Africa?

South Africa is beautiful, ugly, friendly, dangerous, sophisticated, primitive, and very, very complicated. Yesterday we visited two black townships, the District Six Museum, the penguins on Boulders Beach and the Cape Point lighthouse at the southernmost point on the African continent.

We have met people who had to leave the country because of their activities under apartheid and people who think things were better then. We have met blacks, coloreds, and whites – distinctions that would be racist in the US but are convenient and acceptable labels here. We visited astonishingly beautiful wineries set in the fairytale landscapes of Stellenbosch and Franzhoek, and spent time with a former miner who makes gorgeous flowers out of discarded Coke cans. We have seen beautiful blonds carrying their yoga mats into an upscale yoga studio and looked down on the shacks of Khayalitsha where 391,000 blacks live in squalid galvanized tin huts (above). We ate in one of the world’s best restaurants and took a bag of potatoes and onions to Rosie, a woman who feeds breakfast and dinner to 185 orphaned township children before and after school. We’ve seen lion and cheetah eating their kudu and young giraffe kills, and we’ve noticed that almost every middle class dwelling in Cape Town is like a fortress with locks and bars on all the doors and windows. Wherever we have gone – on the street, in the townships, at the wineries, or in the open markets – we have been greeted by friendly, welcoming, generous, and seemingly happy people. What is the real South Africa?

At this point I would say all these people, situations and conditions are the real South Africa. It’s a fascinating place but dense and complicated. It’s impossible to decode the mystery in two short weeks. With all that is happening in Africa today it wouldn’t be surprising to see the country reach a tipping point in the not too distant future. Mandela is in his 90s, Tutu is 80. The current President has 5 wives and no one we’ve met thinks he represents the best of South Africa. It is a country tucked away as far from America as any in the world. It’s been a privilege to spend time here. I wish it were easier and cheaper to get here. We would definitely do it again.

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