Monthly Archives: January 2007

Learning by doing III

Actually, there should have been a post today but it did not come, neither yesterday. Since I am on the Beach since Monday staying in a backpackers with a very limited Internet access I used tried to use the “timestamp” tool from wordpress. Unfortunately, this does not seem to work.

WHY??

Advertisements

Cry the beloved country

Alan Paton
Cry the beloved country

Cry the beloved country - Cover

Written by one of the great, white liberals supporting the Anti-Apartheid struggle over more than 50 years, Alain Paton is drafting a powerful novel going beyond the limits of paper by picturing South Africa in its depth.

Cry the beloved Country is the story of two families, a white and a black one, separated by the race barrier, hundred years of development and nevertheless closely linked to each other. The Zulu reverend Stephen Kumalo searching in the Johannesburg for his son Absalom and the white farmer James Jarvis loosing his son Arthur.

The book was written in 1948 and describes the conditions in the black shantytowns in contrast to the white settlements. It details the problem of the unequal distribution of land, leaving to the black population only such a small part of their ancestral land, that their traditions can only be destroyed. This unequal distribution of land is the issue of important development struggles of South Africa at that time and today as: erosion, rural exodus, overcrowded townships, destroyed families and traditions, violence, and hatred.

Paton has a very own style, which first seems strange but develops soon in an intense rhythm. The story is told more as a tale in a repetitive style reminding some ancient legends. This style is not easy to read but makes the book all together more authentic.

Cry the beloved Coutry pictures life in South Africa as what it has been for a long time and what it is to some extend until today: the white minority closing the eyes to or simply not knowing the black majority out of ignorance, fear and a feeling of superiority. The black majority, half aware of its power but intimidated by hundreds of years of oppression, a feeling of inferiority and fear, torn between hope and rebellion.

After having been to South Africa for three months, I perceived this book as parabola to South African life and history: dead, desperation, seemingly destroying everything but against all odds, people rise above themselves, crossing the invisible but still powerful border of race and their own fear. Thus, they show their pride for this country, a sometimes surprising and strong optimism, and making a promise of a better future.

Paton describes South Africa as what is can be: beautiful, amazing, welcoming, cruel, violent, desperately human – extreme and overwhelming.

Best quotation among others: “I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they (the white minority) are turned to loving, they will find that we (black population) are turned to hating.”

Coming home

Saturday evening, it was not the first time that I took a taxi (= minibus) from Cape Town Central Station to make my way home to Gugs. So I know by now which one to take. Tiny problem this time, the placement person put me in the wrong taxi going to NY1 instead of NY108. I only asked twice…

The problem was now that I was going to NY108 while my host mum was sending someone to pick me up to NY1. Remember: I have been strongly advised not to walk alone in this area.

When I realised that the taxi was going the wrong way, a slight panic came up. I got of at the usual stop but nobody else, so nobody to walk with. Only solution coming to my mind: going right to the police station, which is at the next intersection. Thought, done. While walking, a called the daughter of my host mum who told me to ask the police to give me a lift. And since I had no better idea that was exactly what I did.

Now, imagine you the following picture: a white girl (to be more precise: this one white girl being crazy enough to come to this place) walking in to the police station explaining her problem. The policemen first would not even believe her that she is really, truly living in this area and even working here.

Finally, they agreed to give me a lift because it is too dangerous for me to walk alone (statement of a police constable). For the first time in my life, I have been brought home in a car with four police men, two of them armed with MGs.

We discussed about the areas here (Gugulethu – black township, Manenberg – coloured township, Thambo village – just in between where I stay), the crime, the violence, crazy European volunteers working and living there and sport.

They invited me to come over one evening and to observe their work. Seriously, if I had more time left, I would like to do this. It must be a challenging experience. But so, I just thanked them and I am glad to know that in case of any problems (and may it just be transport), I can address the next police/security officer. Very, very reassuring. No kidding.

Fish

Saturday, I visited the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. Nice experience teaching me a lot about fish, algae and all the other stuff what swims in the oceans. Let me share my newly gained knowledge:

Did you know that Eagle rays seen from down seem to smile. It is sooo cute. And, I made a photo, publishing date in probably two weeks.

Did you know that baby sharks look exactly like adult sharks, only smaller? They have already a lot of teeth and they look somehow mean. We are used to see baby animals as sweet or cute but this seems to apply only to mammals.

Did you know that Giant spider crabs are really giants growing up to have a diameter of 4 meters? I wonder what they taste like;

Did you know that fishes never stop growing their entire lifetime? They only grow slower when they are getting older. And Nemo fishes are smaller than I thought. Hollywood is not a reliable source of knowledge…

Did you know what algae, sponge, Kelp, anemones, star fish and sea urchins feel like? No? Me too, I had no idea. In the Aquarium, they have a genius invention: a Touch pool where you can touch all this stuff. Yes, real touching in a museum. Since I am a one of these people loving to touch, smell or taste, this was definitely one of my favourites.

Did you know that seals and penguins are stinking? Probably yes. But at least the penguins are moving, fighting and busy while the seals are just laying lazily in the sun…

What else? I spend a lot of time watching the sharks, other fishes and the turtle (one poor, lonely turtle) in the huge predator tank.

Only problem: now that I have seen very closely what a shark’s teeth look like, I wonder if the idea to spend my last week here surfing was such a good one. False Bay, where I want to go to, is one of the best spots in the world to see the Great White Shark. On the other hand, I learned in the aquarium, that sharks have killed only 9 people during the last year, but more than 300 by defect toasters… I think, I gonna take the risk.

Oh, and for dinner, we had fish, of course 😉

Just thinking

I was wondering if the idea to prefer English instead of German to write this blog was really such a good one. If I wrote in German, I could express all this weird stuff in my mind so much better, easier, perhaps even funnier.

But then again, I became aware of the fact that I read only German blogs. And, I am clearly influenced by their style, something I notice while writing mails. So I would write more in somebody else’s style instead of finding my own one.

Furthermore, I remember when I was in France, I easily adapted the style of the book I was currently reading in writing and even speaking. That is quite funny confusing when you read Serge “Le petit Nicolas” and Françoise Sagan “Bonjour tristesse” at the same time.

I will stick to English for a while, developping my own style, improving my English writting skills, and yeah, gonna see

Taxis

One of the cheapest ways to get transport in and around Cape Town (except walking and highly dangerous cycling) is to use taxis. First thing to know: we do not speak about the European kind of taxis you call and than you pay a fare per kilometer. Taxis are minibuses usually made to transport between 14 and 16 seated passengers.

Taxi

These figures are more theory than reality because I’ve been in taxis with 20 people and heard about worse.After some breathtaking experiences, I can say that, except all, it is pretty safe to take a taxi (safe by South African standards). Exceptions are: the poor condition some taxis are in and the way most drivers try to get their costumers in the quickest way from point A to point B.

First aspect: I saw and drove in taxis which were more rust on wheels than cars. I was especially impressed by a taxi I took in Langa. How this car was still moving is an enigma to me. Unfortunately, I could not find photos on the Internet showing this kind of taxis.

Second aspect: Drivers have a licence to drive badly or how a friend put it: to kill. I had some breath taking experience while sitting on the front seat in the morning rush hour. Taxi drivers drive where and how they want to drive. I had one driving on the pedestrian walk using the horn to get pedestrians out of the way. Note to everybody who wants to come to SA: as pedestrian you are better prepared to jump when a car comes fast in your direction. You are pregnant, on crutches, in a wheel chair?  That does not matter, you better jump. No kidding.

Taxi rank

Taxi ranks are mostly part of this places in South Africa (ok, I can only speak about Cape Town) where you hardly see white faces. Blacks and coloureds yes, but very few white faces. The inconvenience is that I always feel uncomfortable the way some people stare at me. The advantage is that people sometimes take care of me, asking me where I come from, how I like SA, if somebody picks me up at the taxi rank, and so on.

You can take taxi at a taxi rank, stop them by waving your finger. You have to know where to get of except if you go to the terminus. To pay the taxi, you give the required amount of money (usually between 4 and 8 R) to the guy or the woman sitting next to you. If you do not have the matching amount, the change comes back to you in a fascinating way I am too lazy not able to describe. That’s definitely something to experience on your own.

Ok, that post is much longer than I wanted it initially to be. But now it is written, so you have to read it. 😉

Original images from here. The site gives a good review of housing in townships, too.

Book review

Anthony Sampson
MANDELA

The authorised Biography

Cover

It is not easy to write about a book I did not really enjoy reading but since I did not have anything else to read…

Content

Anthony Sampson, journalist and author of books like Anatomy of Britain or Black and Gold, met Mandela in 1951 when he was editor of the black magazine Drums in Johannesburg. Sampson was a close observer of SA politics and the anti-Apartheid struggle. He visited SA frequently and kept in touch with the political and social development.

The book is structured in three parts, the first from 1918 to 1964 describing the development from the country boy Mandela (still of royal origin) over the ANC Youth leader to the freedom fighter (or, according to the government of the period: terrorist). The second part until 1990 illustrates the time in prison, the country’s development and the changes in relation to friends, family, and political enemies. The last part finally is about the difficult transition from the Apartheid regime to a new South African constitution and country focussing on Mandela’s impact and influence.

Critic

This book is certainly nice to read when one comes to SA and wants to know more about Mandela, his comrades (Sisulu, Tambo, Mbeki, Kathrada, Winnie Mandela, etc.) the ANC and the whole system of Apartheid. It is interesting to see how other, international aspects and actors influenced South Africa: the Second World War, the Cold war, the issue of communism, the UK (especially Thatcher), the USA, the struggle of independence, the world economy, the UN, the developments in other African states/colonies and so on.

The principal focus is on the political being Mandela but even if Sampson does not forget the family man, I did not really get in touch with the “person” Nelson Mandela. I also believe that a biography should provide a minimum of entertainment. In this sense the book is a complete failure. It is an objective and unemotional report of Mandela’s life.

There are too many details, every single letter, speech, discussion, and meeting seem to have been taken into consideration. This is a pity in my point of view because there is so many drama, ups and downs in Mandela’s life and South Africa’s history. Sampson could have written an outstanding book if only he had allowed more emotions and a little bit more intimacy. In his effort to draft an overall biography, not judging, not praising, not sucking up, he forgets one important aspect: to reveal who Mandela is.

What I felt was missing, is a real feeling for the living conditions of the black majority. Sampson does not spend a lot of time and paper to describe this and without leaving a lasting idea of how it has been. Once again, Sampson describes it but he fails to bring it close, to make the reader feel it.

When I read this book I had the feeling that it would never end, especially in the first part, when I had the impression that the 1950s were stretching like old chewing gum.

Only interesting quotation: “… a human being has an amazing capacity for adaptation, getting used, in due course, to some of the most impossible situations”

I don’t agree with the statement from the Sunday Telegraph on the cover: “It is hard to believe that a better biography will ever be written.”

Hopefully, a better one will be written, Mandela and South Africa would both deserve it.