When people hear of South Africa, the first thing that comes to mind is Apartheid. People generally ask me if it is still racist or how it is doing after Apartheid. There is no more systematic discrimination in that a person of a different skin has to sit on a different bench or go into different bathrooms. However, there is obviously inequality. When a group of people have been neglected an education it is impossible for them to come out of it equal to those who had it all. So, no I do not think it is still racist and there are inequalities in job opportunities but slowly there is growth. There are people trying to bridge this gap. Apartheid ended a mere 17 years ago and so changes are not so drastic but are certainly on their way.
I was taken to the township of Langa by a teacher in training at Leap. First we drove around and there was a creative aspect to the houses. Each house was a different color. In Toronto, houses do not vary much in their colors, they are generally grey or some form of very subtle colors. Here, there are houses that are green , orange, pink and it surprisingly does not look odd at all. It describes the people of South Africa perfectly,.happy , bubbly and spontaneous. Some of the houses even have a black dish hanging outside their house stating that a famous person lives or lived there. One house said Chris Hani lived there. He was part of the anti-apartheid movement alongside people like Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu.
We get out of the bus and at first it seems a little daunting. I have been on the streets in Kinshasa but generally have a local with me. But Congo does not have the devastating crime rates that South Africa does. Anyways I do have Andisani with me so I should be fine. However, there is always a little voice in my head asking me why I look for adventure or tend to take unnecessary risks ( that may have to do with my father’s disapproval of my ideas like diving with sharks or skydiving). Anyways, I know I am fine.
It has been raining and so the streets are full of puddles. They are not exactly streets such as we have inbetween the houses in Canada and that opposite it. It is enough for one car to pass so if there are two cars going in opposite directions one has to wait for the other. There are little kids roaming about. It does not seem unsafe at all anymore. However, I am obviously a stranger to this place. I am the only non-black here roaming the streets..haha. But Andisani has brought others here to show where the kids of Leap come from. If I am walking and my eyes meet with any other person we acknowledge each other say hello just as if you were taking a jog in the evening in your own neighborhood. They ask me where I am from and I reply, ” Canada” and they ask me if it is cold there and make small talk. I also saw a group of kids and took a picture of them because I know children enjoy seeing pictures of themselves. After the picture I impulsively hugged one of them and before I knew it they were all hugging me.
The thing about the Africans is that they are very outgoing people. They are not afraid to say what they feel though and most of the time there is no bad intention so there is no problem with that. As Andisani, the driver and another visitor sat down to eat ( at a place which was basically a bench and had a barbecue grill and the meats to be cooked) the griller asked me why I was not eating. I told him that I was fasting and he answered ” Oh are you Islam?” and I nodded. I did not feel awkward or weird for being the other. There were women sitting there and they asked me when I was going to break my fast and how much longer it was. There are no prejudgments here. They do not link me to the Muslims they see on TV. They do not feel sorry for me. If it’s my religion then it’s my religion.
After lunch we walked around a little more.Some shacks had satellites on top of their roofs. Men were sitting outside playing chess. Girls were hanging their laundry dancing to music from another house. They are making the most out of what they have and have the strength to smile at the stranger in their neighborhood. There is so much I want to do – I want to build houses for them,schools, I want to give them everything I was ever given. I also ask myself how I can wake up some days not being happy or putting a smile on my face. I wake up to the warmth of my heater and my blankets, I have a university degree, I have unconditional love from my family and yet some days I abuse those. Living in Canada, I take it all for granted. Everyone has a car, everyone has a warm house, everyone has the basic necessities yet people are often unhappy. There is always someone else who has more than them or there is just one more thing they want. They will work like crazy to get more, have a faster paced life style to get that but sacrifice the quality of their everyday life.
It is truly the mystery of the human being. You give him what he wants but he will always want more. Even when he comes from a difficult past he sometimes grows to forget where he truly came from. He speaks of it like he never came from there. The true way to a bright future is to create a cycle whereby a child becomes educated and can come back and invest in a new generation.