Saturday, May 31, 2008

Rage of the unprivileged poor

A whole world has witnessed the drama in which poor South Africans attack poor immigrants in the townships of South Africa. My shocking memories from visits in Alexandra and Soweto near Johannesburg in October last year provides a deeper understanding of how acts like these may happen. A visit to South Africa does not only offer the tourist breathtaking views to unspoilt nature and a glimpse of a fascinating culture. It leaves images of poverty beyond your wildest imagination burnt in your consciousness. A country that has achieved so much in a very short time, still face challenges that may seem insurmountable to most of us.

South Africa’s transition from a racially segregated society to a multi-ethnic modern democracy has few parallels in modern history. Through a painful reconciliation process the new democracy has come to terms with its past and all groups in South Africa moves forward together. Still the legacy of Apartheid remains so visible for everyone to see. Driving along the ultra modern high ways, the sight is the same – large townships in shacks made from scraps of wood and metal, or even people living right on the ground. This is beyond anything you may encounter in anywhere in Europe.

We visited Alexandra, and witnessed the daunting responsibility resting on the shoulders of the new democracy. The migration from the countryside to the cities keeps the planners of new urban development busy. As one project to house the poor is finished, another group of unprivileged creates a new street of shacks in the townships. In the townships you find numerous small enterprises created by the inhabitants. Taverns, hairdressers, tailors – small businesses thrive in the townships. In spite of this, the large majority of Alexandra and Soweto are unemployed. And just a mile away you find affluent neighbourhoods behind bars and fences. These conditions create a breeding ground for hopelessness and despair.

My travel to South Africa has left a mark. The contrast in nature, culture, and wealth is a wake up call for a wealthy European traveller. I sincerely hope that the future provides the progress necessary for this beautiful country to a flourish.

Here is a short film showing the grim reality facing the population of South Africa

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