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South Africa 0 - Rest of Africa 10

17 January 2012, 13:01

Due to my work I have the opportunity to travel around the world including the African continent quite extensively. During my last travels around Africa which included Central, Eastern and Southern Africa I was baffled why countries such as Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and last week even Swaziland seemed so different. Thinking of the rest of the African continent in particular one imagines poverty, infrastructure collapse and a general apathy within its population due to lack of governance and the so called “evils” of post colonization on the continent. But this is not how I experienced Africa.

On a recent week visit to Rwanda I did not meet a single person from immigration and police officials, hotel personal, drivers, airport staff to the lady at the till who were unfriendly or incompetent.

Leaving South Africa at Golela Border Post and arriving on the “other” side in Swaziland at Lavumisa it was as if I had stepped from rudeness and arrogance to friendliness and politeness.

Baffled I started a discussion at the dinner table with the crew I was travelling with – and astonishing all felt the same. Upon our return at the same border post we were kept for over an hour as the Health Official made up her own rules and wanted to see our Yellow Fever Certificates, which one does not require when one travels to Swaziland. When she finally lost her argument and higher intervention resulted that we had to be let go, her argument was “Oh you only doing this because I am black”. When I pointed out that I left Swaziland on the Jan 12, 2012 and arrived in South Africa on Jan 12, 2011 I received another snubbing look. 

We could not understand being the power house, one of the richest country on the continent, with every resource available; why has South Africa become so different from the rest of Africa.

Apartheid came to mind – but seeing what happened on the rest of the continent, Apartheid seemed to be a tea party in comparison to the brutality of other colonial powers.

Rwanda 1 Million dead within 100 days due to the colonial blunders. The Belgian colonial past and King Leopold's ghost in Central and Central West Africa left 13 Million people dead. The Germans butchered their way around South West Africa and German East Africa. The Portuguese Colonial Wars left scores dead and resulted in two bloody civil wars in Mozambique and Angola, and the French also did not run their colonies as Health Spas with brutality and death of the local inhabitants. Britain in the 1950's dunked their hands into blood with the Mau Mau Wars where castrations, death and brutality in Kenya were the daily order and the list goes on for every corner in Africa. With this history as whites we should be hated in every corner of the continent - but we are not. 

Yet travelling to any of those countries regardless of how poor or unstable they might be displayed in the media one is surprised by its people. In Rwanda driving at 5:30 am in the morning from the Tanzanian border to Kigali the locals swarmed around like bees getting their produce to the local market. In Swaziland last week I was stunned in Manzini and Mbabane about the activities in their commercial centres. In Maputo I visited a township of refugees who started a cleaning project, to clean the mess off their doorstep. And in Bujumbura on the last Saturday morning of each month forget to do business as everyone in the country takes a broom and cleans Burundi. The list is endless.

The question is simple. Why on earth has our society after 18 years with the most solid constitution on the continent; with education, resources, infrastructure and an economy gone so rotten.

The answer is as simple when one reads the local newspapers. President Kagama of Rwanda never promises its people anything, but encourages them to strive, improve, get educated and to ensure Rwanda's economy increases. President Sata of Zambia encourages its farmers to work harder even in trying situations. President Kibaki of Kenya turned the entire economy and mismanagement of his country around, not with empty promises but with hard work.

From Kigali, to Lusaka, Nairobi, Bujumubura, Mbabane, Addis Ababa, Accra and Dakar and many other cities and towns on the African continent people each and every day try their hardest to improve their lives. And in most cases without or with limited support from their governments.

South Africa has become an “I want” society. Democracy in South Africa was achieved with empty promises. Once democracy is here everyone's life will be the same as of the “whites”. Each and every day one can read in our papers about what we want; but never what one should achieve; to work harder and to set the goal post up. We want more and we do not want to give anything. Sadly our leaders give the prime example.

I mentioned the toilet saga in South Africa to my driver in Swaziland. He laughed and his answer was “If we want toilets here we have to build them ourselves”. My driver in Rwanda asked me about crime in South Africa and was stunned when I told him how ineffective justice and police has become. In a game lodge in Zambia I saw the barman read Shakespeare and in Libreville the porter in my hotel studied law.  Even in Kenya there is a law as to what official cars ministers can purchase. Within all this turmoil on the continent there are so many examples of how individual people make a change and make this continent shine.

I do not compare our country with any parts of the world but as a white African I compare it with the rest of our continent. And sadly the only conclusion I can make is that if our leadership and society does not make a 360 degree turn very soon we will find ourselves in the pit of Africa. Investors are not knocking on our doors any more, yet they do so North of us.

The GDP per capita shows it clear, South Africa's has fallen in recent years, unemployment exploded, investment decreased, tourism arrivals decreased and our entire economy is sluggish. Compare to many countries on the continent where employment is being created, investment rolls in, tourism arrivals are up and their economies regardless of the economic turmoil around the globe are up; this excludes the few countries where turmoil still governs such as Zimbabwe, Somalia, DRC and a few more.

And regardless of the bloody colonial history in any of those countries I have never been approached with any form or racism or been told “you are only saying this because I am black” the typical race card a la South Africa.

Time to do a conscious reflection of South African society; and more so to our leaders in any political party. One cannot live in the past and succeed in the future. Society regardless of colour has to make sacrifices to move forward. And the literal "chip on the shoulder" attitude experienced in this country day in and day out will not move us forward. South Africa's clock stands at 5 to 12....

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