A Travellerspoint blog

Optimism about South Africa

Holding the land together

sunny 82 °F


Our friend, Harriet Odlum, asked if we were more optimistic about South Africa now than when we last visited it. Too quickly I recognized my basic pessimism about this splendid country. It is gorgeous, in a fabulous location with 2000 miles of coast. Rich natural resources abound. South Africa exports diamonds, gold, chrome, and iron ore, and we see hopper cars full of manganese ore riding by on railroad tracks. There is a strong eco-awareness and responsibility here: the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town has a large WaterShed, a splendid space with 150 boutique shops. One sells upscale purses and bags, many made of recycled tires. One sells vests and parkas with linings made from plastic ocean waste. We go to beautiful beaches and fine vineyards; we pass well-established universities and ..... still the place is riddled with crime and corruption, poverty and racism. We ask why and there are no clear answers. We listen to fine lectures by experts in SA's geopolitics; they are very good at delineating the questions and telling the country's history, but they have no answer to "Why?"

There are two sides to EVERY story here. We docked next to the Christiaan Barnard Hospital in Cape Town - remember the first human heart transplant in 1967? Medical care and research is excellent, but .... there is more AIDS here than in any other country and the disease affects more blacks (14%) than whites (0.4%). So there are many orphans. There was no AIDS treatment for years because President Mbecki (1996-2008) insisted that the disease was caused by malnutrition and poverty, not HIV. So he gave a boatload of $$ to his cronies to fix that problem.

On the other hand look at what has happened here: a nation of blacks (80%), whites (9%), coloreds (9%), and "others" functions well. At least some swords have been turned into plowshares. Somehow through the grace of God, Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years in prison and signed an agreement with President FW deKlerk (the last white President) to end apartheid (Miracle!). Representatives of many peoples worked to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu, and designed to name and carefully open the wounds here and heal them. No Nuremberg trials adjudicating wrong doing, just confession of the truth with amnesty. What an amazing idea!! It recalls the nine words that are the basis of a good marriage: I did wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me.

So why the agave photo above? We see this plant all over the place, usually smaller than this, usually more bruised, always growing in soil that looks like it last saw a nutrient 20 years ago. Apparently this agave can tolerate poor soil - and seems to balk at OVER watering. It likes full sun, but can also grow in shade. It sends out a flower every ten years or so. But it holds the land together. It holds the land together. And guess what, this agave has strong antimicrobial and antioxidant qualities and is a natural snail control and tape-worm medication. The agave is my new symbol of this land.

So I have changed my mind about South Africa's future. I am a patient optimist.
Hope (both nominative and imperative)

Posted by HopeEakins 12:35 Archived in South Africa

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


My heart thanks you for your long insightful response to my question. Hope and prayer are what I and we can do, not only for South Africa but also for the beleaguered people of Ukraine.

by Seabury

Oh such a lovely post Hope. I could not agree more. Michael

by Moolie


by JaneKline

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.