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view from atop Table Mountain
Cape Town, South Africa; Nov 8, 2004

10 years of freedom

South Africa is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the end of apartheid. Instead of confining the celebration to a specific event, it is simply a general long-term recognition of progress. We have seen a fair number of advertisements referencing it and it is mentioned frequently at various public events (as well as being the subject of a considerable number of TV shows). We also have had the occasion to chat with several South Africans about it.

former District 6 resident working on a quilt of
other residents' comments about apartheid
(amazingly, she actually sews each comment
into the quilt by hand)

While Grace was programming the website, Susan took the opportunity to read Nelson Mandela’s The Long Walk to Freedom, and we visited the District 6 Museum (District 6 is an area of Cape Town from which a large number of blacks, including many that owned land, were forcibly relocated during apartheid to the Cape Town Flats, a very poor area outside of Cape Town proper with almost no infrastructure).

Obviously, South Africa as a whole and Cape Town in particular have changed an incredible amount since the end of apartheid. In general, the South Africans are proud of their progress. But to claim that the shadow of apartheid has been left completely behind would be a serious misstatement. For example, the difference in economic status, skilled employment, education, and opportunity is significant among the various ethnic groups.

To the casual observer, routine public life seems to be fairly lacking in hostility related to the past injustice of apartheid. Don’t get us wrong, plenty of pent-up anger is still present (we witnessed this on the news, TV talk shows, and books, for example), but in general, the people that were repressed (and often witnessed the death of family members and friends) go about their daily life without a visibly huge chip on their shoulder. Perhaps this is born of Mandela’s amazing attitude of forgiveness and his positive influence over so many people, but for whatever reason, it is an almost unbelievable credit to the blacks (and other non-whites) of South Africa.

On that note, it is worth mentioning that terms of racial distinction are used freely and without derogatory nuance. While they used to mean life or death, they are now simply descriptive (at least for the most part). During apartheid, the terms used were Europeans, Natives, Asiatics, and Coloreds (see Today, people tend to use the terms Blacks, Whites, and Coloreds (including a wide variety of ethnicities, among them Asians and those of mixed descent, so we, for example, are both Coloreds). Interestingly, we also heard the term “Bad Whites” used to refer to the people that created and/or propagated the state of apartheid.

South Africa implemented something similar to Affirmative Action within the workforce some time ago, but it has recently been revoked because people are convinced that it isn’t really working. Instead, it has been decided that it’s more important (and in the long-term, more effective) to provide increased education opportunities to folks born into less-privileged situations. So, for the time being, the difference in occupations among various ethnicities is still great.

The neighborhoods are also still somewhat segregated, arguably by economic status rather than by race, but the effect is somewhat similar. The city proper is not so different from any city anywhere. But outside the city there are several areas called “the flats,” which is almost entirely populated by poor blacks (this is true in Johannesburg as well). The houses are made of thin, rusting metal, the infrastructure is almost non-existent (dirt roads, sometimes no electricity or water, etc.), there is an extremely high crime rate (a TV show we watched claimed Jo-burg Flats has the highest number of murders per capita of anywhere in the world), and the hope for economic advancement is very low. Although apartheid has officially ended, the current generation that was denied education and opportunity (and possibly many generations to come) are still very much suffering the fallout.

Nonetheless, given the starting point 10 years ago, the change is nothing short of remarkable. In summary, we are as impressed with how far South Africa has come in 10 years as we were appalled by apartheid. The horror of the country’s past still looms clearly in the social conscience (and continues to cause very tangible effects), but from what we’ve seen they are determined to move past it into a state of genuine equality.

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


Regarding security, I found that the banks (at least some of them) in Paris also have this sealed entrance chamber. So it's not just a South African thing. Thoroughly enjoying reading your site - why no new updates since Jan 30? Hope you guys are OK and still enjoying fantastic travels!!

--Aaron (New York, NY, USA); Jul 4, 2005

Thanks for checking out the site and sending a comment! We're going to Paris soon so we'll check out their "sealed entrance chambers" too. :) We're glad you're enjoying the site.

Regarding the updates... the last journal entry you're looking at (in Japan) is dated Jan 30, but we actually updated the site a couple weeks ago (in June, from Brazil). Yes, we're a bit slow getting everything posted. It usually takes us a few months to compile all the journal entries and pix and video. And as we travel, we simply fall farther and farther behind, but that's okay since we're obviously trying to spend a lot more time experiencing than documenting.

--Susan; Jul 5, 2005