Friday, October 18, 2013

City of Contrasts, Country of Unity

A delegate from Moldova, in a conversation we shared on the bus one evening, used the word contrasts to describe Johannesburg. That word turned out to be, in fact, the most accurate description of the impression I had gotten from Jo’burg as well as an idea that was confirmed again and again as more observations were made about the city. Johannesburg is a city where men with expensive suits and brand new Jaguars, Lamborghinis, and Mercedes drive by beggars and poor children on almost every street. Johannesburg is a city where the downtown Sandton City is as polished and clean as downtown Miami but you drive away from the Sandton Convention Centre in the wrong direction and start to see trash lying around in the fields, houses that look like shacks, people that look homeless, and most despairing of all – children that look abandoned. Speaking to school kids in Johannesburg, I one day listened to horror stories about what’s happening to their classmates that are making horrible choices and are referred to as “devil worshippers”, only to watch other kids running around the fountains and sharing their interests and talents in sports, music, and poetry the next day. But here’s the deal: these are a type of contrasts that to some degree or extent can be seen in every big city. Meanwhile, what struck me most about not only Johannesburg but South Africa in general is how strongly united the people were. I’ve never seen such devotion to one’s country in any other nation. I could be talking to a South African about the weather or their beautiful wildlife and receive a response that would make anybody want to stay in South Africa forever. Yet I could also ask them tough questions about the high rates of violent crime and youth unemployment in South Africa and a representative of the Ministry of the Police Force would take the time out of his busy schedule to be present in person, and not only openly admit those awful numbers but also respond by laying out the essence of the National Development Plan that is currently being brought up for popular discussion, information being spread so that the areas truly in need of help and development are properly reached. In the words, actions, and achievements of some South African youth activists, I’ve seen so much passion, hard work, education and energy that could build a whole new county in the middle of a windy, waterless desert if need be. Seeing this kind of potential, and given their hearts lie in education reform as of right now, we can expect to see even further improvements as a result of South Africa’s battle against unemployment and crime in the near future.

I am immensely inspired by the South African spirit for development and the paths the people are carving for themselves. I have to admit, other nations could learn more from South Africa about unity and passion for change than South Africa could from them. I certainly did.

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