God looks after South Africa

, 21 June 2010

[tweetmeme] Having lived in South Africa for a while I am more than glad to see lots of reports & documentaries about the country these days when I turn on my TV (especially with the World cup excuse).

For many years, South Africa has been intimately related in people’s minds with words such as violence, racism, corruption, rape… and maybe diamonds for the eldest. Even though recently many others are starting to appear … like  from now on “soccer”, those massive gigs with African artists and a word unknown before and on its way to find room in our encyclopedias : “vuvuzela”. If we add some toponyms such as Polokwane or Bloomfontein, we will then reach the conclusion that our collective image & idea about South Africa has radically changed overnight.

South Africa, Johannesburg: Worth as much as diamonds
South Africa: Worth as much as diamonds (photo by kool skatkat)

If South Africa doesn’t seem to generate many top of mind images or collective representations it may be because of the incredible disparity of population, languages, customs, habits & landscapes this country has.

Because in the end, what is South Africa like ?

On one side, we shall consider it the richest country in the oldest continent; where gold and platinum are extracted massively. Composed of 9 provinces that are: Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape (ex Transkei), Kwa-Zulu-Natal, Free States (ex Free States of Orange), North-West, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng (ex Transvaal all 4) that includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria; South Africa is also the state with most official languages, not less than 11 : Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, English, North Soto, South Soto, Ndebele, Tswana, Siswati, Tsonga and Venda. And we should also consider it a very cosmopolitan country, with lots of migrants from the whole world who’ve brought their customs and nurtured this way a very broadened south African culture.

Now we’re reaching the interesting bit about South Africa : how can we even talk about a unique South African culture in a country that has been through so many dominations, migrations and such a rich history full of mutliculturality ?

Historically, South Africa has been an important land for many cultures : the Bochiman who occupied this territory for several thousand years and then the Bantoues who moved from Niger. The cohabitation of those two tribes is not very well known, like the history of many other African tribes, but this cohabitation resulted in lots of miscegenation and a stable civilization: the emerging of the Xhosas who created States to protect themselves from invasions, and the linguistic cross-breeding between Bochiman (Khoisan tribes) and Bantoues (Xhosas and Zulus for the biggest tribes) that resulted into the click sound, very extended erstwhile, which is now limited to 3 remaining sounds.

Later on the Westerners (us) arrived: Portuguese, Dutch, British who regularly fought over the control of South Africa. Two Boers Wars and many victims later, new waves of human, linguistic & cultural cross breeding occurred: like for example the birth of the “coloured” population who would be extremely badly treated by the coming Apartheid system or the Afrikaans language: a mix of Dutch, English, Portuguese and Khoisan languages and dialects…

Apartheid Museum (photo by Fanz)
Apartheid Museum (photo by Fanz)

We shall remember again at this point the resistance of the Zulu tribes to the British attacks. The great Zulu king Shaka organized a very powerful and well structured military society that vainly but bravely struggled against the invader. The domination of whites in South Africa which led to the Apartheid system that lasted from 1948 until 1994 amplified the strong gaps between communities and created an extremely politicized atmosphere between them. With the release and the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994, the country started a new era, according to the “Rainbow Nation” concept as Desmond Tutu called it.

So where in its own process is the Rainbow Nation now ? Well, 16 years after the end of the Apartheid, communities have had to find & develop new ways of communicating together and get over the racial grudge. Recent violence against migrants from Zimbabwe and other African countries have exposed the high unemployment rate and demonstrated that many social problems and racial gaps still remain. On the other hand, the new generation who almost didn’t live under the Apartheid system are more and more open to the otherness South Africa is so rich about.

To conclude this incomplete first article about South Africa, I’ll let you enjoy the level of interculturality embedded in the last verse of Enkosi Sikelel Iafrika (God bless South Africa), national anthem written in the 4 most spoken languages in South Africa :

Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom,
In South Africa our land.