Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jimmy and Johannesburg

As an African-American student, my thoughts about spending a few days in South Africa were mixed. Although Apartheid has been abolished, I am cognizant of how behaviors of a country tend to take decades to catch up to laws and policies enacted (think about the evolution of civil rights in the US, for example). Questions about how I would be treated swirled in my head. Will there be occasions where I may be treated differently than some of my classmates?? ?Will the distinction between races be extremely evident??
Flying to South Africa, I noticed that the majority of our crew members (except for the pilot) were African and not your standard American size 0 (another topic, another time). Landing in South Africa was not very different than landing in Detroit Metropolitan airport. The airport was modern with nice shops and easy access to transportation.
Since we were time constrained in terms of really experiencing South Africa, we were fortunate to have a tour guide to show us the good, the bad and the ugly in Johannesburg, South Africa. Without a doubt, the highlight of our tour was the tour guide himself, Jimmy, the CEO, Owner and operator of the tour company that we were fortunate to have.
I was lucky enough to be the front seat rider and recipient of the many comments and lessons about Johannesburg (except for the,
see can we miss the pedestrian
driving techniques that I never became accustomed to). According to Jimmy, he spoke about 18 different languages (we were privy to at least hearing at least 4 of them) and had traveled to most states in our very own country. One thing for sure, he knew enough about most topics to either have experienced them first-hand or possess a skill that most networking students would die for.
Jimmy promised us that we would see the
good, the bad and the ugly
of Johannesburg and Soweto and he didn't disappoint us. We could have gone on a typical tour that would not give you an indication of how most people live in the area. With Jimmy, we saw evidence of all walks of life. We saw shantytowns, but we also saw very nicely manicured brick homes. He took us to what he called Zulu-land, which reminded me of a small flea market. People in this area were of Zulu descent and spoke a few different languages based upon their region of origin. He introduced us to men with scarring on their faces and told us of rites of passage ceremonies. The spirit of entrepreneurialism was alive and well in this area.
One of the highlights of my time in South Africa was the visit to the Apartheid Museum. Although, it was both emotional and uplifting to see the progress South Africa has made as a result of abolishment of this tyranny, I couldn't help to think of the long lasting effect this type of oppression has on a people. I read a summary during my visit that described how students were not to be educated to the level of their white peers because they were only to be employed in subservient positions. I think this was more emotional for me than the room of nooses for some reason. The long-term effect of years and years of opportunities loss through the purposeful ?under-education? of a people based on race alone was too much for me to absorb. It made me sad on so many levels. On another note, Jimmy and I discussed the idea of opening a museum for the mine workers; his stories about them were intriguing.
The good news is that my initial fears about visiting South Africa did not come to fruition. Spending only a few days in this country, I did not personally see or experience any discrimination. I wonder if this would be true if I stayed for months.