If someone had told me that any country in Africa resembled Europe or America, I would have laughed it off. Not because it can’t (so many of them are on their way to) but because it shouldn’t. This is Africa. The indomitable Sahara, the unbelievable safari, the eons of history and veritably, the cradle of civilization.
I had time and joblessness on my side, so I decided that I would finally take the long overdue trip to Nigeria — my original desh. And two months later, when I landed at the OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa; I knew I was in for a surprise.
South Africa has heartbreaking history and it is palpable in every corner, every eye that you look into and on every street. Jo’burg or Jozi as Johannesburg is popularly known is the big throbbing heart of South Africa. As soon as we checked in, I was raring to go. A nice nip in the air, I set out to get to know this city that has been the stage on which the epic of this spectacular country has been played out. Busy streets, packed restaurants, construction in full swing to welcome the FIFA World Cup 2010, Jo’burg is a fascinating city. A multitude of restaurants to eat at, malls, China towns, parks, skyscrapers, Jozi tosses up quite the buffet. While one night we were clinking our glasses to ice cold South African wine, the next we were relishing an array of South African titbits; samosas, boerewors and bobotie spring rolls. The government was encouraging citizens to welcome visitors with characteristic South African hospitality; welcome them into your homes with some nice authentic curry bunny!
While the scars of 20th century South Africa are apparent in Johannesburg, it is obvious that the healing has begun. What hit me instantly were the stark inequalities but the amazing confidence in the South Africans. The trip to the Apartheid Museum was an eye opener as was visiting Hector Pieterson’s museum. At the entrance of the Apartheid Museum, we were given cards stating ‘Non-white’ or ‘White’. Walking around the museum, one feels like they are thrown back into the 70s and the 80s. Police bullets, teargas canisters, the marches, scores of school children, metal cafes, newspaper snippets, film footage; all tell you a traumatic story of what this nation has endured.
South African has come a long way from those days. The young are singing and dancing to groovy marabi beats and KFC is round the corner. The old are telling stories of a time that is gone and the corporates are banking their millions on the World Cups and such.
Ask an American about his/her heritage and they will say they are Irish, Swedish, German, Italian, Korean etc. Ask a South African, black or white notwithstanding, and they will simply state – Africa. And that is the difference.