Tag: politics

Field of canola blooms

Why We Travel … Ah, but both our lands are beautiful …

Oliver on top of Table Mountain, South Africa's Empire State Building.
Oliver on top of Table Mountain, South Africa’s Empire State Building.

It was finally cool enough this week to hold my laptop in, yes, my lap. Love your comments and questions … keep ’em coming … by email please.

First, a bit of common histories between the Republic of South Africa (SA) and the United States of America (US):

Europeans – namely Portuguese – discovered both the southern tip of South Africa and the southern island of America while looking for a way to spices of India in the late 15th century.

Bartholomew Diaz rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1487, looking for India.

Christopher Columbus landed on the Bahamian Long Island (a great SCUBA destination, if you prefer great grey groupers to great white sharks), looking for India.

Vasco da Gama actually got to India not long after… Howard and I can show you where he landed, where he was buried, and immerse you in spices and tales of ancient Jews who pursued the spice trade an incredible 2500 years earlier – details here.

Europeans nearly wiped out the aboriginal San people; Europeans did that to the Native Americans, too.

Two weeks ago, Aenki Kassie, one of the last three people to speak the oldest surviving San language, died of chicken pox in Upington in the north of South Africa at the age of 71. She was of the Khomani people of the Kalahari Desert. Her N/uu language is the last of the !Ui language family, which was aboriginal to South Africa, and is represented by the Xam language used on the national motto: ǃke e: ǀxarra ǁke (diverse people unite.)

Jessie Little Doe, a Cape Cod social worker and member of the Wampanoag tribe has been working recently at MIT to reclaim her ancestors’ extinct and until recently incomprehensible language. (See documentary “We Still Live Here” for her amazing story.)

In the mid-17th century, the Dutch sent their ships around the world looking for spices and treasure, and established what were to be enduring settlements at the southern tip of Manhattan and the southern tip of Africa.

Both settlements “employed” and traded slaves. Slavery was abolished in South Africa in 1834 but not until 1865 in the US. In some ways, it still continues in both places.

Britain colonized the Cape beginning in 1795. (She needed to replace tax revenues after losing the American colonies in 1783.) On arrival, Britain drove the Dutch out of New York and the Boers out of the Cape. So we both survived British colonial bullying.

In the 19th century the Boers trekked east and north while American pioneers trekked west.

The Zulus defeated the British in the last quarter of the 19th century, while a century earlier, the French helped the Americans defeat the British.

The British defeated the Boers (local white SA farmers), winning important mineral rights, among others in the early 20th century.

Back in the mid-19th century, both countries saw mineral rushes – gold and diamonds financed the development of SA – gold provided riches for many in the US. The US dollar has replaced the gold standard; the rand is still in SA today, but no longer backed by gold.

And some cultural comparisons:

Main language in SA is English – but there is a surprising amount of Afrikaans at home. English is the main language in the US, too, but a surprising amount of Spanish is spoken at home. Most South Africans are bi or tri lingual – 11 official, plus signing. If some have their way, Zulu or Xhosa (extra credit for the click!) will replace Afrikaans as number two. Some say Spanish will be the official US language before long.

Racism lives everywhere in both places – in SA it seems to be more openly discussed. In the just-ended “festive season,” alleged racist talk was reported on the front pages of SA newspapers – about the beaches, in bank economic presentations, and on SABC news casts. And in our (granted) still-limited experience, segregation still lives. In the sports events, theater performances, restaurants, farmers markets, and outdoor festivals that we have attended, non-whites are rarely seen. Some would say it’s economically induced… There’s a free opening concert for the Darling music festival this Friday night – I will report to you next month who was there and what excuse was used this time by those who were not.


Everyone asks us … Aren’t we afraid to travel in South Africa, let alone live here?

Fact: the highest gun ownership by far in the world at 113 per 100 homes is in the US; there are fewer than 8 per 100 in South Africa. Why the bad rep for South Africa? Enough said.

Good news for both countries (and Trevor Noah!)

Trevor’s Daily Show ratings are increasing. Now Americans can finally learn something about South Africa; South Africans already know much more about America. (For a fabulous insiders’ South African reading list, we might have to charge you.)

Festive season vs holiday season:

To begin, it’s a 4 week work holiday in SA vs 3 days in US. In SA, there are far fewer decorations and significantly less gift giving, thank goodness.

I know that the festive season falls in the SA summer, which explains long holidays, but come on – government regulation requires at least 2 weeks paid vacation – how much does the US government guarantee?

Year-end holiday traffic:

We’ve both got it! Americans go to FL vs SA’s going to Mozambique on two-lane highways with speed limits that slow you down from 100k’s to 40 k’s within about 100 yards, complete with camera-triggered police stops writing tickets for huge pay on the spot fines (and unofficial lower rates if you can get along without a receipt) when you miss one.

Ah, but our land is beautiful.
Ah, but this land is beautiful.

Ah, but our lands are beautiful.

Endless open roads, awesome mountains, two ocean coastlines and uninterrupted white sand beaches, straight highways across plains that go on forever before finally a curve … Some day we will actually get to drive across the US the way we have driven four times across SA.

Here in SA, water is lacking everywhere …

It is the driest year in SA in recorded history. Insects and snakes are invading houses looking for water and food. There is no water to grow corn and wheat and other staples, or to feed the animals. Food must now be imported at ever higher prices, impacting mainly on the poor who spend 50% + of their income on food already.


Both our constitutional democracies started with revolutions; both cry for good leaders to keep them going?

“I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville

In Democracy in America, de Tocqueville based his US travels upon the year 1831. Change United States to South Africa … change the date to 2016! And, add good women candidates in both, too! I wonder what would de Tocqueville have written had he visited SA?

SA has its Zulu-loving Zuma and the US has its anti-humanity Republicans.

Both constitutions support “free speech,” but how is that defined? What’s acceptable to our societies? Are people in SA freer to speak their minds? Will it jail people for homophobic, racist speech?

Both have a two party system. SA has two major parties – the ANC and the Democratic Alliance. In US, of course, we have Republicans and Democrats. It’s ironic that the ANC, the original freedom fighters (and sometimes communists), are now behaving like Republicans, who behave like the SA pre-1994 Nationalists. We won’t get into Republican goals now – we know them well. People say the ANC keeps all SA tax receipts for its members through inflated cronyism and corruption – and is the reason SA isn’t making sufficient progress in education, housing, infrastructure, and the overall economy. President Mandela hired a purposely diverse staff – Zuma hires Zulus.

On human rights …

Happily, two abortion foes were indicted recently (1.25.16) in the US – the beginning of the end of using malicious misleading media to change public opinion? “These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme anti-abortion political agenda,”  Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said.

SA was the first to allow gay marriage. All people are protected by its 20 year old constitution. Sometimes, the US treats human rights like driving rights – every jurisdiction decides who can make a right had turn, who can pass on the left, who on the right … who will die by electric chair, who will spend a life in jail. Nothing much has changed – states’ rights rule.

And our economies …

SA and US are both first world and third world, with extreme class and economic disparities. US has a dwindling middle class – SA’s is hopefully growing. Will the US be reduced to developing world status? I’m not sure of the definition but it could happen. Anyway, what’s in a label?

Trade subsidies by US to SA nearly came to a halt because some negotiator in SA didn’t want SA to be known as a developing or third world nation. Third world status is required by the US to grant certain trade subsidies. Just think if this immense pride causes all that wonderful South African wine to go up in price in the US! Horrors.

The US government prefers to hide its economic problems – in SA, threat of recession makes government-released headlines seemingly daily.

We both measure job creation. Are new SA subsistence-paying jobs at MacDonald’s, Walmart or newly arrived Starbucks any better than the same in the US? None can support a family.

Good news, perhaps, SA farm workers have just had a minimum wage increase – to something like $1 per hour – bad news – wine may have to be more expensive, here, too!

What happens if illegal farm labor in the US become legal? Who will pay the increased cost of labor – and our food supply? What will cost more – legal pay for legal work or border fences? The cost of our NY and California wines just might go up. More horrors.

China …

Both economies depend on it. The Chinese buy half of SA’s wine exports; Americans would have nothing to buy (well, I’m exaggerating a bit) if China stopped producing cheap goods. And with the Chinese economy slow down (if you can call 8% slow growth), it may stop buying all that wine – and natural resources – from SA. (Actually, if you ever saw all the grapes growing up near the Orange River near Upington, you would realize that grapes are a natural resource, too, sold by the huge cardboard containers for who knows what use? Remember Gallo?)

And a few random social issues:

Both countries have unfortunate “no child left behind” curricula leading to sub-standard education programs in many geographic areas. Both countries are playing catch up from its racist pasts and presents. De-facto segregation leading to inferior education still exists in both. Is it any surprise that the most successful schools are in the wealthy zip and postal codes and not in the inner city neighborhoods and townships?

Prisons – do we both lock up politicians or only criminals? Perhaps the US doesn’t have a history of jailing as many people for treason or revolution …

One interesting difference – Trials are decided by judges in SA rather than by juries. Might it stem from the relatively small number of available jurists in a country that until recently only allowed non-whites to vote? Can it be judges and juries might be racially biased, regardless?

Sexual inequality? Lots of that in both places – I’m actually not sure which country provides more opportunity, or lack thereof, for women. A recent study by PwC in SA reports that SA women earn 28% lower reportable income that men; I leave it to Catalyst to do the same reporting in the US. The numbers are probably very similar.

And on a lighter note:

Let's eat! ... New York or Cape Town? The food looks just as good.
New York or Cape Town?

Both SA and US have their share of foodies – not sure where there are more. Cape Town seems to open a new restaurant every week.

And both have their share of hipsters. They don’t dress up much here – but they do love their pork pie hats … baristas, mixologists, craft beers and, of course, local wines.

And since we’re talking food – both countries have bagels, pastrami, coca cola, good local gin and Schweppes tonic – only in South Africa, they all cost us Americans only half as much.

Iris's fabulous South African blonde Pilates instructor at Stellenberg Gardens, Cape Town.
My fabulous South African blonde Pilates instructor at Stellenberg Gardens, Cape Town.

Women in SA have the healthiest looking bodies and the most gorgeous long blonde hair I have ever seen, anywhere.

Even with Pilates and yoga 4 times a week, and the wonderful hairdresser I discovered in Cape Town, I will never ever catch up.

And finally, a reminder of the weekend that just ended – when the US has snow blizzards, SA has blizzards of heat and wind.

Dear friends, when you finish digging out, come see for yourselves. It takes less time than you think – perhaps even less time than it took to read my blog.