Wednesday, March 11, 2009

First World Ambitions

I live in a third world country with first world ambitions. And no, this realization didn’t just dawn on me, I am reminded of this everyday. Between potholes, endless road works, beggars, politics and crime, you have no choice but to accept the fact that if you live in Africa you are still behind most economies and the tall shiny sky scrapers and expanding highways only camouflage our poor standing.

Driving to work and home everyday can be treacherous, humorous and sometimes frustrating. In South Africa having your own transport is essential, as public transport is notoriously unreliable and can be fraught with danger. Anyone that has ever taken a taxi (and yes I have done so a few times in my youth) knows that once that tomb of death’s doors closes you are bound for a heart stopping roller-coaster ride. It may get you to your destination quicker but at the cost of accompanied reckless abandon of all traffic rules which could result in a high probability of death. Having your own transportation may not be better for your blood pressure either but statistically could increase your mortality rate, but it too does not guarantee your safety. You run the risk of being high jacked and mash and grabbed therefore most of us drive with the vigilant observation skills of an American Secret Service Agent. As if potholes, crime and general road accidents are not enough one also have to dodge beggars, pedestrians, cyclists and the odd goat, depending on where you drive.

Everyday I am amazed with the creativity the beggars in our country employ to soliciting money from us. Perfectly healthy men, woman and children with torn and dirty clothes with pseudo ailments and/or disabilities stands at virtually every traffic light, some clutching babies, others crying and all are sunburned. Some days I get the distinct impression that begging has turned into a form of street performance art: You have to have acting skills, be a good copy writer and be an expert in repetitive universally understandable gesturing. I love reading their boards, some are funny mostly due to their creative use of language, and I always feel blessed as most of their boards end with the words “God bless you”.

In just over a month we will have our national elections and it’s hardly going to be the Obama-McCain nail biter. In what other country, outside Africa that is, do you find some political parties bribing voters with food and being elected to the highest office in the country could require a prison rap sheet as prerequisite? Admittedly the majority of our political leaders were in prison as political prisoners but since democracy 15 years ago, I get the sense that the reminiscing sounds of steel doors slamming shut and keys locking cells are enticing a few of them back to prison. Corrupt government officials is by no means only secluded to third world countries, the USA and many other countries have had their fair share of scandals. The only difference is in Africa, I believe, there is no shame in it: If you don’t get caught it’s not viewed as being wrong and if you do not admit to it you’re not guilty. If all else fails you can always blame Apartheid as it was and is the root of all evil. I think most of us liberal South Africans are grateful that Apartheid ended, but the constant reminder of it is excessive. Roads and City names are being changed to unpronounceable indigenous names to erase the legacy of apartheid; it has gotten so bad that my GPS is struggling to keep up. Soon a road and city reference book will need to be published in order for the general public to translate the new names to the old ones just to know where the hell you now life. (As example: I use to live in Pretoria but the name has since been changed to Tshwane).

In Africa there is also no sense of urgency to complete tasks on time. This is fondly referred to as the “African Time Mentality”. In Africa people see no need to finish anything today that can possibly be left for tomorrow; things take as long as it’s going to take and never ask for a projected time frame as that too will take long to determine. Another curious African belief is that no Black or Arabian persons are gay, and that homosexuality is a European disease, brought to our shores by the Colonialists. Therefore, homophobia is still rife in most of our rural African communities and still illegal in many African countries. It is firmly believed that it’s a deviant choice individuals make and most gay people live their lives in fear of being discovered.

This all being said, South Africa may not be a first world country but we do have many first world qualities. We are proud people who take pride in our beautiful country, our rich tapestry of cultures and our heritage. We are also becoming the country of choice for tourists who bathe in amazement of the beauty of our landscapes, comforting climate and diversity of people. We have a first world constitution and are the first African country to legalize gay marriage. The basic human rights of all citizens, whether deserving or not, are protected. Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transsexual people enjoy the same right as everyone else and “officially” discrimination based on sexual preference is prohibited (unless you are the religious right, but that is a whole other article). As a country we still have a long road ahead of us to achieve our ambition to enter the sphere of the elite economies. We face many challenges with our young democracy, sociological issues and crime. When ever I get discouraged by events in South Africa I always find solace in the fact that at least I don’t live in Zimbabwe under the reign of terror of Robert Mugabe!

Till next time.




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3 comments:

Rebecca said...

Pierre, your country is beautiful and is certainly capable of being a "first world" country. My own has just survived it's first fourth world president, so there is always hope as long as there are people like yourself and others who believe that all humans deserve equality.
Thanks for the thoughtful post.
R

Pierre said...

Thanks Rebecca. All countries have their respective problems, but the way in which problems are solved show the true character of a country.

Pierre said...

South African Voters Abroad:

The Constitutional Court ruled on 12 March 2009 that South African citizens outside of South Africa who are registered to vote may vote. You must send your completed VEC 10 form to us at vec10@elections.org.za by Friday 27 March 2009.

For more information please visist:

http://www.elections.org.za/

or

http://www.facebook.com/groups.php?id=645599934&gv=4#/topic.php?uid=6433252801&topic=7306

or

http://www.facebook.com/groups.php?id=645599934&gv=4#/group.php?gid=42839308212

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