I never offered any sort of conclusion on my South Africa trip because the trip home takes 30 hours and I was sick for most of it. But, here it is, a few conclusive thoughts after a week of processing.
South Africa is a very, very interesting place. It’s a place of great complexity, first and foremost. The most familiar issue – that of race – is not just black and white. It’s black South Africans vs. black immigrants, black Africans vs. colored descendants of slaves, white South Africans vs. colored, white British vs. white. Afrikaans. Not to mention other small minorities like Chinese and Indian populations. So, it’s not just simple issue.
The history is complex, too. Not just one, but two colonizing forces, duked it out over the territories and dead bodies of more than a dozen native peoples. It’s not hard to see the privilege and the oppression where it’s clear, but it’s more striking to find it among unexpected story lines.
South Africa is a tense place, in a lot of ways, too. A place of heavy statistics. The highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS out of any country in the world. The country’s suffocatingly poor, almost 90 percent one ethnicity (black) and ruled by a parliamentary party that regularly receives upwards of 65 percent of the vote in elections. That’s no democratic margin.
But it is shrinking, and an official opposition party is emerging. These political developments, along with capitalistic ventures like foreign investment and small-business entrepreneurship and stronger, more widely available education, are the keys to opening doors for what many South Africans call the “New South Africa”.
There’s far too little hope in a lot of African countries, but in South Africa hope exists. People are looking forward there, not backward, and while the country moves along slowly, it’s moving. And that’s what counts. That’s what I value most about this trip, I think. I learned a little more than the average person about an astonishing young country, and because of that I’ll be able to watch it grow as I do. Throughout my life I’ll check in with South Africa. I hope to point to it when I’m old and say, “I was once just a 19-year-old in Pretoria, and things were not this good. Look at South Africa now. Look at what it’s achieved. They said they would, and they did. Look.”
The next few years are crucial, though, and I hope the government and civil society make the right decisions for their country.