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South African Experiences

Page history last edited by Mrs. K. 12 years, 4 months ago


Nelson Mandela 
Some thoughts from Julia, our own South African Correspondent (2001)

14 Feb 2002

    I have written all these comments without completely understanding everything (culturally and historically) about the situations here, in South Africa, and home.  As I grow in my knowledge of both places and develop more relationships with people here, my ideas and comments may change.  The following questions are the main three that I have formulated and will continue to consider during my five and half month stay in Pretoria, South Africa.

    Please note that all comments here are a result of my own personal observations and perceptions after only a little less than a month in Pretoria, South Africa, and are not to be considered as reflective of the realities in an entire community, city, or nation.


How does South Africa today compare to the United States today?

    The United States is a developed country while South Africa is a developing country.  In the United States we are able to concern ourselves with the seat-belt use and recycling because we do not have to first concern ourselves with mortality and poverty as much as is necessary in a place such as South Africa.  Since September 11th, many Americans have been reacquainted with a notion of fear; in South Africa, this notion of fear tends to be a way of life, no matter if that is fear of robbery or fear of AIDS.  Both South Africa and the United States of America are diverse nations as a whole and their cultures are eclectic results of the different cultures blended together to form each nation. The United States is a predominately rich white English speaking nation while South Africa is a pre-dominantly poor black tribal language-speaking nation.  I think that the social situations of South Africa today are comparable to the social situations of the late 60’s/early 70’s in the United States.  Although civil rights have been achieved here, like home only work and time will put them completely into effect.  The United States of America has 50 states and South Africa has 9.  Although there are some differences in topography throughout the nation of South Africa, the climate is pretty consistent throughout the entire nation, unlike the Unites States.  Finally, like many places in the world South Africans look to American movies and music to discover their own sense of fashion and culture.  Of those South Africans that are able to go to the cinema, they are not ignorant about America and the states and differences throughout the nation.  I would guess that most South Africans have at least heard of the United States while I would also guess that not all Americans have heard of the Republic of South Africa.


How does Pretoria compare to Clermont-Elgin-Wadena?

    Some of the differences are completely obvious and inevitable when comparing a rural area with an urban one, however the smallest details are often the most interesting.  Pretoria is the capital city of South Africa.  It is difficult for me to compare the CEW community with Pretoria because the contrasts are so strong.

   Size. First of all, if my knowledge of population statistics is accurate, then the city of Pretoria (1.6 million) itself has more people than the entire state of Iowa combined (approximately 1 million).  The amount of space that greater Pretoria covers (350 sq miles) is comparable to the approximate distance between Decorah and Dubuque.

Safety.  There are many “safer” neighborhoods and there are other areas that are dangerous even during the day. Crime is incredibly high here, effecting the lack of trust people have for one another.  For example, in Elgin people don’t lock their cars; sometimes they don’t even turn off the ignition and will simply leave the keys in the vehicle.  In Pretoria, things are stolen out of locked cars and cars are stolen.  In Hatfield, and other areas of Pretoria, people are often on the street eager to help you park you car and then watch it for you for a price.  For those that own the cars, the feeling is often that they are just as eager to help assist with the parking of the car as they are to steal them.  There really is no such thing as a safe area in this city, although some areas are kept cleaner creating a false sense of security.

    Racial Diversity.  The CEW community is a predominately white community.  In Hatfield, a more white area of Pretoria, it is impossible to walk down the street and see only white people.  In rare cases the different races will mix willingly.  In one church that I visited where there were approximately 150 people in attendance there were blacks, whites, Asians, and Indians.

    Languages.  The CEW community is based almost completely on the English language, although Spanish is the preferred language of a few. In South Africa there are 11 official languages, but because of tourists and international students, more languages are used.  In Pretoria most signs are in English and Afrikaans.  The blacks communicate among themselves in their particular mother tongue, although most can also speak in English.  Most people are at least bilingual, and many are fluent in more than three languages.  The most common tribal languages spoken in the Pretoria area are Sesotho and Zulu.

    Clothing. Trendy, simple, exotic, Western, and traditional… all clothing types are here.   The youth tend to dress more trendy and fashionable than in Elgin.  Girls wear skirts or jeans on most days, and few actually wear shorts despite the heat.  However, some people must wear the same clothing each day, while others can afford to change their clothing three or four times a day. Usually the clothes that one wears depend on their race, which is closely related to socio-economic status.


How do I see the impacts of Apartheid here today?

    Apartheid ended and the new South Africa began in 1994, but the impacts of the Apartheid era are still evident, without searching too deeply.

    One of the major differences between the CEW community and Pretoria is the socio-economic contrasts between the blacks and whites. The racially based class contrasts are so strong that although many whites here live similarly to most middle-classed residents of the CEW community, they seem to be really stand-out as incredibly wealthy, in contrast to the shack neighborhoods and townships on the out-skirts of the city, or even the homeless and beggars within the city itself.

As a white who is used to taking care of her own dishes, gardening, and cleaning, it is bothersome and doesn’t feel right to have a black maid and gardener working in the house I live in.  Often I get the feeling that it is acceptable in this society for whites to make a mess and expect the blacks to clean up after them. In addition, one of situations that also may or may not be an impact of apartheid is that most blacks seem to use the buses, and mini-bus taxis, while most whites own and use cars.

Many attitudes and notions of segregation, which are remnants of apartheid, exist between the different races.  The remnants of apartheid attitudes in the whites seem to carry-over into the ways that many of them treat, view and speak to blacks. Blacks and whites seem to be most comfortable in settings where they are within the majority, therefore they tend to stick to their own color.  For example, one white South African once was talking to me about the catholic churches in her hometown, and stated that there were two white churches, a white church and a colored church.  When I commented that that sounded pretty segregated for Christianity, she just seemed to shrug it off as an acceptable impact of apartheid.

    Blacks seem happy to have a white join them, while whites seem nervous to have a black in their company.  I have gone certain places where I am the only white among a number of blacks.  The black South Africans have greeted me with more friendliness and joy than the whites ever have.  Complete strangers would happily greet me with hugs and smiles.   White South Africans often seem to still struggle to trust blacks and develop close relationships with them.






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