Monday, April 10, 2017

Unravelling Apartheid

I am a privileged South African. The nature of the connected world means the comparisons 'my bubble' make is not only to other South Africans. The sports I grew up caring about were Cricket and Rugby. This connects me to the other colonial scatterlings in Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc. I heard a British comedian joke about the 'World Cup' of Rugby, 'The problem with Rugby is that half the teams are us'.

South Africa is one of the wealthier African countries. Depending on the methodology, somewhere in the Top 5 (behind Mauritius, Seychelles and Equatorial Guinea). It tops the global list of income inequality though, along with Namibia and the Comoros. That means that poverty lives right alongside places that feel very much like Melbourne, Vancouver or London. Unemployment levels are structurally at the levels of the Great Depression.

One of the easiest ways to irritate a South African is to refer to Africa as a country. When you say you are from SA and someone responds, 'I love Africa, I was recently in Kenya.' Cape Town is 4104 km from Nairobi.  That is about the same as London to Baghdad. London, Baghdad, you know... same, same.

Inequality doesn't vanish when you hop on a plane, whether your destination is Cape Town, Nairobi, Baghdad or London. Global Apartheid does make it easier to ignore Cape Town though. Out of sight, out of mind. As a Soutie, I don't have that luxury. I will always consider bits of the world that are very far apart home. The contrasts will always be vivid. As someone who grew up in Apartheid South Africa, I viscerally feel the importance of awareness.

The challenge becomes balancing treating people the same with the broad brush of 'Global Citizen', 'African', 'Londoner' or 'Capetonian', and being aware of local issues. I can walk down a street in Cape Town, London or Chicago feeling completely out of my depth because of local Apartheid. I can arrive in a city in a foreign country and feel at home.

How do we get the balance right between focusing on our own issues, and not losing touch with reality? Our comparisons tend to be relative, and aspirational. We compare up. Knowledge also tends to be local, so that is where our actions are most powerful. But we are interdependent, and if we pull our focus in too tightly, reality will bite. Hard. When we look 'down', it will be because we are all falling. 

We rise together or not at all.
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