Monday, 22 July 2013

Johannesburg: Perceptions about South Africa

I have not disappeared off the face of the earth.
I am, however, back in South Africa.

And it had taken longer than expected to source electronic parts with which I could construct a workable computer. I then had to brave the wild, ferocious African animals to reach a mountain high enough to transmit this message from. I have trekked over vast deserts and dry grasslands, running from hippos and hiding from hyenas. Luckily my pet lion, Simba, stayed close to my side to fend off dangerous animals and keep me company during the long solitary days.

If you are South African, you are probably reading this from your iPhone, chuckling to yourself while sipping on a cup of Nespresso. Because chances are that you have told, or at the very least had the urge to tell, a similar story to a foreigner you've encountered on another continent. It is not that us South Africans want to purposefully mislead foreigners when they ask about our country; the general perception about South Africa is just so skewed that we almost cannot help it.

One of my fellow (American) passengers on the 11 hour flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg was a case in point. 
The gentlemen wore a proper safari pakkie for the whole duration of the flight: Khaki pants, hiking boots with knee-high khaki socks, a wide-brimmed sun hat, sunglasses and even a bandanna tied around his neck (because you never know when the sun can sneak through those tiny aeroplane windows and burn your neck to a crisp). If security had not confiscated his hunters knife at the checkpoint, he would have probably had that strapped to his chest to fend off the lions on the runway.

I assume he was slightly disappointed to step out into the lights, traffic, and high-rise buildings of modern Johannesburg and discover that his lion fight sighting might have to wait until later.


Sandton, Johannesburg

The incident, like so many others I have encountered during travels to both America and Europe, has inspired me to write down the top five hilarious questions that foreigners have asked me about South Africa. And also the answers I might have given, or at least wish I had. Just to be fair, I'll also include the truth so that all non-South Africans can learn a little more about our country. (Yes, South African is a country in, and not a state of, Africa).

Question 1:
Do you have a lion as a pet?

Answer:
No. I have two cheetahs though.

Truth:
We do not have lions, cheetahs, or any other wild animals as pets. We tend to stick to pets that won't attack you from behind and chew off a limb just for the fun of it.
If you want to see wild animals, you can find them in, well, the wild. In the Kruger National Park and other game reserves you can gaze at them from the safety of your car and in Johannesburg you can visit the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve or the Lion Park to see lions up close and even touch the cubs. Don't forget that they are and will always be wild animals - you might very well leave with a torn shirt after they have clawed at you playfully...

Question 2:
Do you have celebrities in South Africa?

Answer:
You mean you've never heard of Kurt Darren?!

Truth:
Like any country we have local South African artists, actors, musicians, sport stars and comedians. We have local TV shows, soap operas, music, magazines, and movies
We have many celebritiesWe have Nelson Mandela.

Question 3:
Can you say something in African / Africanese / Zuid-Afrikaans?

Answer:
No. I cannot say anything in a language that doesn't exist. 
Ek kan wel iets in Afrikaans se, want dit is wat my moedertaal genoem word.

Truth:
Afrikaans, my first language, is the youngest language spoken in the world today. It became an official language in 1925 and has 6.9 million native speakers (most of them based in South Africa) and around 20 million speakers in total. 
Everything can be described with the Afrikaans word "lekker": The weather, the weekend, the food, your mood. 
Afrikaans is a lekker expressive language.

Question 4:
I've met someone from Africa once. Do you know Liezl?

Answer:
Of course! She lives five huts down from mine. We go berry-picking every day and braid each other's hair around the fire at night.

Truth:
There are 50 million people in South Africa. There were five Liezl's (or rather Liezl, Liesl, Liezel, Liesel, and Lizel) in my high school year group alone. So no, I do not know your Liezl. And chances are I never will.

Question 5:
Why are you white?

Answer:
Because God made me that way.

Truth:
Because God made me that way.
There are 4.5 million white people in South Africa (9% of the population). Other ethnic groups include African, Coloured, Indian, and Asian.
We might be different but we are all South African.

And that, my friends, is the truth about South Africa.
I might not have a pet lion waiting for me at home, but I do have friends, family, amazing weather (even in winter), and many braais and kuiers with loved ones.
Here's to time spent in South Africa!

Home Sweet Home

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