Monday, October 18, 2010

South Africa

Morning all!

So sorry that I didn't post yesterday, but my PC decided that I should not be able to blog at all on Sundays. Sigh.

Anyway, Jen, you are more than welcome to ask some fun questions.

I decided to rather use the questions as blog topics, but I need a few more (even silly ones) for me to blog about them all week.

Since Nevets's and Colene's questions fell into the same theme, I decided to answer both of them today.

Nevets asked:

1) Best and worst thing about living in South Africa?
2) Is there anything distinctly South African about what you write? If so, what?

Colene asked:

1) I work for a South African family and they're always telling me about how bad traffic is there, is driving always such a pain?
2) Is it scary (because it sounds scary there.)

A word of advice: For those of you that would rather not see the bad side, rather stop on question number three. I didn't pull punches on number four. I know that this isn't particularly celebratory of me, but the question was asked and I would insult the memory of thousands if I shied away from it.

I knew from the moment that I read these questions that there are no short answers to them. What few people understand about South Africa (henceforth referred to as RSA) is that we are actually a very complicated nation. Reason number one for this is our history. Reason number two is the fact that we are a nation consisting of at least eleven nations - and all of us don't really get along with each other. Reason number three is that RSA itself is quite big and varied - so much so that even people from within the same nations but from different regions don't really understand each other. I think one can compare it to the difference between Northern Italians and Southern Italians or, say... the Union vs the Confederacy before the Civil War.

In fact, in the 1800's, thousands of Afrikaner farmers and their families moved into the at that time untamed North to escape their British colonists. They established two separate countries. This community actually functioned quite well - except for the fact that they basically intruded onto the Native people's (e.g. the Xhosa, Sotho's and Zulu's) land. (I'd say that the move at that time was at a smaller scale similar to the migration West in the U.S.). Point is that neither the settlers nor the natives were happy with each other's presence on what each considered to be their land. And these feelings were left to escalate for more or less a century until we were saddled with the mother of all Snafu's. Namely: Apartheid.

I'm not really going to go into all of it, since I believe that we have moved well and truly past that and since certain segments believe that as a White person, I am supposed to apologize for something that happened at a time that I was a) NOT BORN or b) too young to have anything to do with it - with every reference to this chapter in our history, so I'd much rather just glance past it, if it's all the same to everyone.

Still. I think you guys have enough of an idea as to our background to understand why we as a nation are where we are. I could go on and on about this, but I might get round to ranting, and you might get bored. SO I'll just rather move on to the questions.

The best and worst thing about living in South Africa?

Well, there are many great things about living here. One of the best would be our geography. Our climate tends to be gorgeous. Most of the year, the sun shines. Although it does snow, the blizzards tend to be limited to be limited to mountain tops. We rarely get earthquakes,  and when we do, the tend to be mild. I don't think we've ever been hit by a cyclone - although I think there has been two sizable tornado's (I think they were F-3) and one smallish tsunami. When the Boxing Day tsunami hit, I think that seven people died, because our tides were higher than usual. So overall we're pretty safe from Mother Nature's extreme moods. We get in the Cape areas is a wind that literally blows you off your feet - but that only happens every five or so years - and floods, since it rains a lot in the winter and the towns tend to be built in valleys. 

Another geography related plus is the Stunning scenery. Most of you will know about the beauty of Table Mountain. In my opinion, that is probably only the fifth most beautiful place in the Western Cape only. And there are a wide variety of climates. We have cold oceans and warm oceans. We have tropics and deserts.We have pretty much every single climate in between. So I could spend years travelling through South Africa and I'll still be surprised. 

The worst thing in South Africa will be covered in the second part of Colene's question. 

Is there anything distinctly South African about what you write? 

I used to think not, since I write mainly fantasy and romances. Although, I'd like to one day write a novel set in a) the Great Trek which I mentioned above or b) the Boer War. But I'm not so sure that it will find a widely appreciative market.

Still, I realized that certain things that come from my experiences living in South Africa make their way into my writing. For example, I'm pretty good at describing fear for reasons described below. I don't know if that counts though, since I'm sure you can get similar experiences elsewhere. 

Is traffic really that bad?

Well... that depends on where you are. If you're in the countryside, then no. But even as I say that, I have to qualify that it also depends on which province you're in. For example in the Free State - where I was born - your number one concern would be dodging the numerous and deep potholes and ruts made by the millions of trucks that drive through. This is in part due to the fact that infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate and that the cross country trains either don't run or aren't reliable. Why? Because people steal the copper wire in order to illegally connect to the power grid. I kid you not. Or... they sell the wire as scrap since they have no other way to make money. 

Traffic is a lot worse in the cities, since for as far as I noticed, they only started with a reliable and safe public transport system in the 2000s. Of course, most workers must travel into the cities from the suburbs and so we tend to get lovely snarl ups at about seven in the morning to about nine and from five in the evening until everyone manages to get home. 

Is it scary? 

Once again, that depends on where you live. Things are pretty tame in the Western Cape countryside, but there are certain places in Cape Town that you don't go to after a certain time. Gang violence is rampant in the poor sections of our cities, same as everywhere else. But in the Western Cape, you're pretty safe for as long as you are not stupid. For example, going into some of the informal settlements at twelve at night is... well... pretty brain dead. 

Things are a lot worse in the other parts though. Johannesburg and Pretoria are infamous throughout the world for the rampant crime. 

But then there is something going on in the Free State and other rural areas that is kept very hush hush. I guess some of you are aware of the crisis in Zimbabwe in 2000 where hundreds of farmers were killed. So I guess that you will have an idea as to the scope of the situation when I say that murders of that nature has been taking place since the late seventies early eighties. Sure, a lot of those early casualties could be considered casualties of war. But they have grown in intensity in the nineties and has gone on unhindered. And then the government made a law to limit the amount of fire-arms in South Africa. Great idea in theory. Not the best of ideas when the people with traceable firearms and therefore the only people getting sent to jail and getting slapped with huge fines, are those that had been en regle before the laws were made. So the murderous psychopaths get pretty much free run. Especially since the Commando - the rural civilian guard armed and trained by the army - has been forced to disband. Couple this with the fact that we already don't have enough cops and that most civilians don't trust those that are there...

We have a freaking problem. But it's much easier to consider instituting a media tribunal to limit what the press may or may not write about. You know man, hide the problem. Heaven forbid that we should fix it. Think I'm lying? Try researching how many farmers and /or their family members have been killed in South Africa. Any number above a thousand in total is buried deeply. No one knows how many people have been killed. But if it has actually been five hundred per year for the past twenty years, it wouldn't shock me at all. There isn't a farmer or farmer's family that doesn't know a farmer and/or his family that has been murdered. I know about ten families touched in some way by farm attacks. I know of children orphaned because they were lucky enough to hide under their beds when they heard their parents scream...

Maybe it's because I grew up in the Free State farmer's community, but I consider it to border on State Sanctioned Genocide. To many of our boys being killed while trespassing on farms? Let's take away the farmer's defences. If some have to audacity to keep legal firearms, let's put those that kill trespassers away for life. Let's conveniently forget that said trespassers were armed and had trespassed with intention to do harm.

Let's allow our boys to attack and maim that old white bastard (Incidentally I was eight when I heard him screaming and begging for mercy. There were two attackers. One tortured the septuagenarian while the other kept the two way radio's button in so that every one on the circuit could hear it. My parents taught me to shoot that weekend.) Let them stitch his eyes closed and pour boiling water over him. After all. He's part of the Old Guard.

Let fear and hatred and bitterness permeate the communities that supply us with food. If they clear out from the land they've been working for generations, we can give them to the families of those very people that killed the farmer and/or his families.

We can do everything we want.

As long as we don't let the tourists know...

F*cking scary. Isn't it?


  1. Every country has their problems and crime and issues to work through based on history. Sounds like a beautiful country.

  2. It is a stunning country.

    I agree what you mean about countries having to work through the problems. Too bad that people are dying while someone decides to officially consider to decide whether it is worthwhile to decide if something can be done.


  3. I've heard a few news reports about the shootings of farmer, but now that you mention it they did all lack much detail and it's been a while since I've heard an update. Terrifying stuff, from what I can tell. It freaks me out to even think about it.

    Thanks for your honest and well-rounded answers, Misha. I know a bit about South Africa but all from an outsiders' perspective so I appreciate hearing from someone who actually lives there.

  4. WOW. Wow..So scary. Sounds beautiful but it might be one of those places I just don't go lol.
    Thanks so much for answering the questions in such depth. I like knowing WHY things are the way they are not just that it is dangerous and scary.

  5. Thanks guys I'm glad you liked it. I was worried that I went into a bit too much depth. ;-P

    Nevets that's always the thing isn't it? Even my perspective on the history and present situation of other countries are based on other people's perspectives on it. So I can't say I know every aspect of what's going on. But I must say that there are certain things about South African history that very little attention is paid to by the world. For example the German concentration camps in WWII were based on a system of concentration camps implemented by the British during the Boer War. They rounded up the farmers' wives and young and female children and burnt down their houses so that the Boers (who were among the first to use guerilla warfare)couldn't access food and horses. Stuff like that is conveniently forgotten in time. I only know of it because I have a deep facination with history read up about it.

    Colene, I would seriously suggest you come see the Cape. It's truly a beautiful place. The holiday costs are quite inexpensive since our exchange rate is quite low. Roughly speaking, one Rand is equal to seven US Dollars, 10 Euros or 15 Pounds. And as I said, it's quite safe as long as you don't do something stupid, for example going into poor areas covered in jewelry and with an easily accessable handbag...

    Also... NEVER get into minibus taxis. If you ever come here, it will take you about ten minutes on a road to see why. ;-)

  6. Yeah, that is scary! It's so sad to see conflict continue and continue and continue. And such extreme violence--it's just awful.

    On the other hand, I'm sure there are just as beautiful things in RSA as there are horrible--pretty much goes for the rest of the world too, though in varying degrees.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Wow. A "problem" doesn't begin to describe that, really. You must be one of the strongest women to grow up in that kind of fear and still brave the world with all your heart.

  8. Oh definitely LB. Like I said, the climate and scenery is probably among the most beautiful in the world. And the people (when they let you get to know them) are usually wonderful.

    L.T. it's how I grew up. I think it might be a large part of who I am now. Not so much the fear as standing up to people that cause it. Intimidation is something I refuse to tolerate. If people try to manipulate me through fear, I'll do my utmost to remove their power to do so. It's overcompensation, I guess. :-D

  9. Great explanation of the problems that plague RSA.

  10. Wow. This was absolutely fascinating. My sisters boyfriend family is from south africa and its really interesting to know even more about it. Thanks!

  11. Thanks Patti, although sadly that's just a summery. few people realize that we had to recover from the effects of sactions and war. Things are a lot better, but we are pretty much still dealing with the after-effects of past events.

    Melissa you can ask me about the RSA at any time. I promise that I'll be honest, but I also promise that I spit too much vitriol. ;-)

  12. Wow. What a scary, intriguing and thought provoking post! Thank you so much sharing.

  13. Thank you for your honesty. I'm sorry to say that aside from events that made world headlines, I don't know very much about South Africa. I appreciate hearing what it's like from someone who's grown up there. I'm glad that you're still able to see and appreciate the beauty in your country through some of the terrifying things that go on.

  14. I'm glad you appreciated it, WritingNut. :-)

    I'm glad you like it Kelly. Seeing the beauty around me is one of the ways I've learned to cope with the bad things - that and a very sharp sense of humor. ;-)

  15. A fascinating description of life over there. Thanks for explaining. Good luck with the writing.

  16. Thanks Nick. And thanks for dropping by. :-)

  17. Some of what you describe sounds like Los Angeles--the gangs, traffic, and people stealing the copper wire. With the potential incursion of Mexican cartels we may start having some of the scary violence problems like you describe as well.

    Tossing It Out

  18. That's actually such a scary thought, Lee.

    In South Africa, people fear the Nigerian gangs that are entering the fray. The local black population tend to absolutely despise foreigners, which triggered the Xenophobic attacks that made international news.

    Thanks for commenting. :-)


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