22:20 pm and there is still enough light on the Dutch sky. I am watching my girlfriend study, enjoying the sight I could not enjoy for 4.5 months. In the background the gentle rhythm of “Shosholoza” flows with my thoughts of Africa. The song that united black Africans in their time of struggle, the song the verses of which I still need to learn. I arrived back to Europe yesterday; to one of many places I lately call home. These 4.5 months changed me as a person, pushed the limits of many aspects of my life and made me wiser. I say wiser because every new experience we go through marks us in one way, but South Africa left the greatest impression till now.
More than a day ago I was sitting crammed on an airplane from Johannesburg, flying over the African continent. My mind was engulfed in a state of nothingness, a point of transit between a world I left and a world I was going back to. In the media files offered by the flight company, I stumbled upon “Invictus”, a movie depicting South African reality after the 1994 elections which brought the end of ‘apartheid’. There are few moments when a tear leaves my eyes, but the resonating sound of “Shosholoza” did its effect on me. It was the moment I felt mature enough to watch such a movie, depicting a country I had the privilege of living in and a country I had the privilege of knowing during my stay.
It is the ‘rainbow nation’, a land of wonders, outstanding natural beauty and wildlife, 11 official languages and every type of people imaginable, trying to share a young common identity. The driving economic force of the African continent, still plagued by racism, social discrepancies and a multitude of social issues, including the highest level of murders and rape in the world and the rising HIV epidemic…A country that still baffles me, a sociologist’s wet dream, a travelers paradise.
I had the chance and the luck of living, interacting, talking and understanding whites, blacks, coloureds. And my conclusion is that the deficiencies, the scars and plague of the old regime are slowly eradicated. But the wounds of apartheid will take many generations to heal. I saw a great amount of progress, but dividedness is still present and it will take many generations until this young nation can call itself a true nation. My understanding of hatred among people, a personal mission, grew and I still don’t find the answer to why people opt to hate and not understand. This experience has pushed my own limits of human understanding, whether I had to experience racism among white Afrikaners, racism between lighter skinned and darker skinned blacks, the guilt of the past and the corruption of the new government. But I feel privileged to have taken part in my own personal social experiment.
In these 4.5 months I was on the road for 56 days, 3 overland trips and 14 weekends of travelling. I can say that I managed to see almost every facet of South Africa, almost every corner of that country, whether the rich and predominantly white Stellenbosch; or Vooslorus township in Johannesburg; Cape Town which by far I consider the most beautiful city I have visited, Johannesburg the melting pot and economic drive force of Africa, the dry Namaqualand and Kalahari, or the green hills and ocean cliffs of the old Transkei; the sunsets over the Karoo, the beauty of the Garden Route or the endless roads of Botswana.
I thank the people I met, who helped my stay be a memorable one. Whether it is MZwakhe, ma brada and passionate revolutionary; Mrs Mars, my host, personal dietician and part time grandmother; Olivier, the most understanding and best travel partner I ever had, or gym partner and disciple Fabian. Many more people deserve a Thank You, a Baaie Dankie or a Siyabonga.
I thank you South Africa for the treasures and the realities you made me see, for the chilly desert mornings, the sweet wines of the Wineland, the warmth of the Indian Ocean and the chill of the Atlantic; the sands of the Kalahari and the forests of Tzitzikama; the long African nights and the amazing Sunsets; the Lions of the Kalahari, the freedom of the open road and the incredible African sky. I thank you South Africa…
Maastricht, 10th June 2011