Plenty of expats constantly roll their eyes, and chant T.I.A., (This Is Africa), when things don’t function as they should do here in South Africa. But for those of us who have lived elsewhere on the Dark Continent, we are a little more sanguine. In fact, we smugly role OUR eyes and reassure them that as African expat postings go, South Africa is Africa Lite.
In South Africa, the tap water is safe to drink rather than putting you at risk of cholera or dysentery. The shops are well stocked and you can often buy everything you want in one place rather than scouring the city for enough ingredients to follow a complete recipe (additionally, stock is in date, in mostly pristine condition and the chocolate isn’t mottled). The main highways are smooth and the traffic rules generally obeyed. There are numerous shopping malls with ATMs, cinemas and restaurants.
SA is a desirable tourist destination offering safaris, wine lands, the great outdoors, beaches, great weather and great people. It’s also a melting pot for immigrants from all over Africa seeking a better life.
Jo’burg itself is malaria free, has theatres and museums, big ticket concerts, a thriving sports scene, pleasant markets where you can sit and have a coffee (rather than hopping over open drains and sewers via rickety plank walkways).
For now South Africa is as Lite as Africa gets, but at the same time it’s not too hard to imagine how quickly things could deteriorate here. Politically, the African continent is volatile and although SA has long been the shining beacon of development, it’s a country facing challenges on multiple fronts at the moment. There is a glaring wealth gap, education standards are poor, further exacerbated by xenophobia, tribalism, racism, corruption, crime, the scars of apartheid, major infrastructure concerns with the last gasp postal system and crumbling electricity supply.
There is concern about where things could be heading especially with infamous “bread basket, to basket case” Zimbabwe looming just over the border serving as a stark warning of what can happen.
However, South Africa’s fate is not yet written. Many South Africans are positive about the future. Determined to overcome their country’s growing pains they are aiming towards a bright and prosperous tomorrow. As well as great problems, there is so much potential here.
In the meantime, I’ve said before that sometimes it is easy to forget and hard to believe that we are in Africa. I’m reminded daily with little unexpected jolts. For example, I recently phoned for directions to a children’s party, the lady gave me nice clear instructions on how to find her nice clean residential estate. “You will see the airport on your right, then you will pass the squatter camp on your left.“ It is at the same time Africa Lite and Africa after all.