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How to get a false impression of South Africa

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    Nat Quinn

    Wherever I travelled in South Africa I saw only prosperity and racial harmony. I experienced only clean, safe, punctual, world-class public transport. The shops were a match for any in the world and crowded with rich people pushing full trolleys. All the public services worked efficiently and well, and all the people I dealt with were honest and responsible. The restaurants offered excellent food and excellent service. The streets I walked were pretty, clean and safe. I never suffered any electricity shortage. The weather was marvellous; the scenery was fresh, green and lovely; and the media showed how healthy our democracy is.

    The paragraph above is completely accurate in every detail. It is perfectly true, but it is a preposterous misrepresentation of a country in a state of decay – a country suffering mass poverty, economic decline, widespread filth, rampant corruption, and criminal violence; a country with collapsing public services, terrible, dangerous public transport, rotten state-run enterprises, failing electricity supply, and an infrastructure in ruins; a country with 43% unemployment. The first paragraph describes seven days in my life last week when I travelled from my home in Cape Town to Johannesburg, stayed there a while, and returned. Here is what I saw.
    I live near Fish Hoek in the southern peninsula. A friend drove me to Cape Town Airport on excellent highways. Cape Town Airport, like Jo’burg Airport, is a match for any in the world. I have never had trouble in either, and I certainly have had trouble in airports elsewhere in the world, including Heathrow and Lusaka. I flew Safair, which was excellent. Coming to think of it I have only had good experiences with every South African airline I have ever flown, including SAA, Sun Air, One Time, and Mango. A pity most of them have gone bust. But I have had bad experiences with non-South African airlines, including BA and Virgin. From Jo’burg Airport, I took Gautrain to Rosebank Station.
    I know I’ve gone on a bit about the wonders of Gautrain but I’m afraid I’m going to go on a bit more. After ten years of operation, Gautrain it is as clean, safe and reliable as it was on the day it opened. No torn seats, no litter anywhere, not the slightest sign of anti-social behaviour, let alone crime. No eating, drinking, smoking, bubblegum chewing, preaching, loud music, or trading allowed anywhere on the trains or platforms. For me this is transport heaven. The security staff are all in immaculate uniforms and all friendly, and were quick to notice when, as an old fart, I might be a bit baffled as to which platform to use, and they were always ready to help me. The trains arrive on the minute they are scheduled. This is according to the electronic notice boards, which is all I ever go on, since I know the trains are frequent and regular. This time I heard a station announcement that there was a “four-minute delay between Hatfield and Park”, which must have been relative to the standing timetables. A four-minute delay! Imagine the luxury of a four-minute delay in other passenger train in South Africa! I have never seen a better train service than Gautrain, and only the trains in Japan have I seen to be its equal.
    From Rosebank Station I had a pleasant walk to the house of a friend in Oaklands. The streets were lined with lovely trees and I felt completely safe. Much of the northern suburbs of Jo’burg are now a manmade forest, filled with beauty and interest, with spectacular trees, glorious flowers and colourful, exotic birds who, from a great height, make loud and tuneful claims for love and territory. My friend’s garden is just like this. From her house we took an Uber to the Johannesburg Country Club to attend a little jolly there with colleagues. The Uber driver was friendly, interesting, honest, and the fare and cheap. The Country Club is magnificent of course. I then departed via Gautrain again to visit another friend who lives in a rather sumptuous walled estate in Midrand. We visited splendid shopping malls there and ate in splendid restaurants. At a charming country pub, a Zimbabwean barman from Bulawayo gave us a most interesting explanation of the history of the Ndebele in southern Zimbabwe.
    The reason I suffered no electricity shortages was that both friends had expensive backup electricity supplies, one with a gigantic diesel generator, the other with a big bank of batteries. The signs of a healthy democracy came from all the media reporting, very loudly, on Phala Phala. The sure signs of a healthy democracy are when the media are free to criticise the political leader and ruling party, and when it is possible to depose the leader and replace the ruling party at an election. South Africa has never tested that last requirement but has tested the others. We have had five presidents in the 26 years of ANC rule, all replacements having been done democratically. Zimbabwe had one president for 27 years, and he was removed in a military coup. Cuba had one political leader (a rich, bourgeois, white man) from 1959 to 2008. The media have been quite free to make any criticism they liked of President Ramaphosa over Phala Phala.
    In Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Lenin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, socialist Venezuela or socialist North Korea, any such criticism of the Great Leader would have resulted in torture in a prison cell and then a bullet in the back of the head. A day before I left Cape Town, I bought a copy of Jacques Pauw’s new book, Our Poisoned Land at my local bookshop. There is not a hope in hell that any of the countries in the previous sentence would have allowed the equivalent of this book to be published about themselves.
    Why did I experience lovely weather and see green beauty wherever I looked? Simply because I was in northern Jo’burg in December. I believe Johannesburg has the best weather in the world, and the trees of the northern suburbs are a triumph for man and nature. Summer rain usually greens the highveld, and it has certainly done so this year. The northern suburbs are where the rich live and are quite unlike the sprawling townships where most people live.
    Different lessons
    My first paragraph above is disturbing. The fact that it is true makes it more so, and sends out a warning to be very careful about what you read. Personally, I get two quite different lessons from it.
    First, I realise I must be very cautious when I read any report of travel to a foreign country. The reporter might be honest or dishonest, might be lying or telling the truth, but might still give a totally false impression of the country being visited. The most spectacular example is from people reporting on the bourgeois coup in Russia in October 1917 – often referred to as “The Russian Revolution”. A tiny group of bourgeois terrorists, led by Lenin and Trotsky, seized Russia in a putsch, and immediately instituted a reign of terror, which resulted in brutal oppression, mass poverty, famine, and even cannibalism. The working classes were crushed and starved. Various “intellectuals” from the West, who hated capitalism and longed for socialist domination of their economies by people like themselves, whom they compared with Lenin, visited Russia, and gave glowing reports of prosperity, bumper food crops, bounty and freedom.
    George Bernard Shaw, clever, sharp, entertaining, hopelessly gullible and a complete liar, reported on the wonderful advance of the people of Russia under Lenin at the very time starving workers were selling human body parts, sometimes of their dead children, for food in Moscow markets. Shaw and his kind wanted to be deceived. When I visited Moscow in June 2016, I did not want to be deceived, but I can tell you, truthfully, that in one week there I saw only the things that I saw in South Africa in my opening paragraph. But I know perfectly well that Moscow in the summer of 2016 was not representative of Russia.
    Bounty of natural resources
    Second, and deeper, why can’t the 99% of South Africa be like the one percent I have described in the opening paragraph? Our country has a bounty of natural resources. We have clever, industrious, resourceful, inventive people of all races and colours. We have shown over and over again that we can be the best in the world at almost anything we choose. So why are we failing 99%?
    Take my obsession, Gautrain. I love trains. I always prefer rail to road. Gautrain is superb and shows what South Africa can do. But it is unique. The rest of our trains, passenger and freight, have fallen in decay and crime. They are collapsing. In Our Poisoned Land, Jacques Pauw describes the horrible looting and destruction of our passenger train service, PRASA, by the ANC’s gangsters and ministers (who seem much the same). How is it that Gautrain has escaped their evil clutches? How does Gautrain deliver a wonderful service, even if it is only to the comparatively rich, when PRASA can’t deliver a good service to anyone?
    I said my opening paragraph was truthful. This was slightly misleading. When I said, “I saw only prosperity”, this would have meant that I never looked out of the car window on my way to Cape Town Airport. If I had done so, I should have seen the outskirts of the fetid slums that fill much of the Cape Flats, where more people live than in “beautiful Cape Town” near the mountains and the sea. The Cape Flats include black townships and squatter camps with about the highest murder rates in the world. None of the ANC ministers or EFF leaders would dream of living in these black townships. All of them would be horrified at the prospect of sending their children to schools in these townships – they just want poor black people to send their children to them.
    South Africa has all the natural resources and all the talented people needed to bring prosperity and decent lives to everyone. Only politics prevents this from happening. Not race. Only politics.


    How to get a false impression of South Africa – Daily Friend

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