posted on Tuesday, August 26, 2008 05:23 PM
I was fortunate enough to be in South Africa for Nelson Mandela's birthday on a Saga Holidays press trip. Capetown, Kwazulu Natal, Pretoria, Johannesburg, like most visitors I was a little anxious about my visit, mainly due to my preconceived ideas about the people and the country, most of it from the News and my knowledge of the country's racial segregation history. The irony of blogging about my trip on 121 (a website set up to provide alternative takes on countries to challenge negative perceptions) was not lost on me. As the trip drew closer I became very uneasy about my anxiety, mainly due to the fact that I moan more than anyone I know about the image of Africa in the West and people's lack of willingness to challenge the negative perceptions they have of our beautiful continent. My fears were laid to rest on arrival in the country, the warmth, hospitality and humour of South Africans I met everywhere added to a luxury trip that ended up exceeding all my expectations. The country and the people felt like home and family. I now know how the negative images we see repeatedly of a country and it's people form our opinions even though we ought to know better.
The Triumph of Ubuntu
South Africa on Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday can only be described as 'an African dream realised'. Mandela's dream.
The world cup in 2010, a thriving tourist and hospitality industry, economic and political stability, integrated schools where children only learn of their segregated past in history books, a free press that encourages political debate and one of the most progressive Constitutions, one which contains more guarantees of equality than any other in the world. The Constitution is proudly handed out in booklet form to visitors at most tourist attractions. Anyone with even a brief knowledge of their history could never begrudge them that pride. Theirs is a testament to the impossible possibility, and achievement of a country that only less than a decade and a half ago suffered from one of the worst forms of racial segregation.
The last country in Africa to gain independence, South Africa has come a long way in the 14 years it's been a democracy.
It now plays a father role in Africa, acting as mediator in conflicts throughout the last decade and offering refuge to brethren from troubled regions around the continent.
The beautiful weather, glorious sunsets, world class cuisine, adventure sports, breathtaking natural attractions are all fantastic reasons why visitors should make South Africa a destination of choice, but most importantly South Africa is witness to an Africa that works because 'Ubuntu'- the profound African sense that we are human only through the humanity of others, dictates the way the nation lives. For an increasingly cynical world it provides proof that a peoples will can triumph over any political adversity, to bring about desired change.
''During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people, I have fought against White domination, and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a Democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if it needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.''
Today a grateful people reflect as they celebrate the 90th birthday of a simple man who brought them a hope higher than hope, jubilant that he lives to witness his dreams for their country realised, aware that many other loved political activists did not live to see the free South Africa their struggle brought.
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