Posted by: passedportsnyc | October 21, 2009

First Impressions: South Africa

1. World Cup Fever. South Africa will host the 2010 World Cup Tournament next June and July, and everyone here has World Cup Fever.  Everywhere you go there are signs hanging from streetlamps and windows.  Companies are eager to publicize their sponsorship.  New construction and infrastructure upgrades are proceeding at breakneck pace in anticipation of World Cup events and tourism. South Africa has a long history of being excluded from international sporting events during the apartheid years, including being banned from the Olympics for nearly 30 years.  Add to that that 2010 marks the first time that any African nation will host the world cup, and the symbolism of the South African selection becomes clear.  They certainly have reason to be proud.
2. This place is just like Texas.  Lots of ranching, lots of really big things: big cars, big trucks, big stores, big houses, big guns.  Fast food joints with names like Steers and Spurs seem to be the most popular dining option.  Meat is king and hunting lodges abound.  I expected South Africa to feel far more westernized than the rest of Africa.  I just didn’t realize it would feel so mid-western.
3. Is there a therapist around? Because just about everyone here is in need of one.  It has only been 15 years since the end of apartheid and despite the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other initiatives aimed at cultivating the “New South Africa,” the scars are still raw.  Racial tensions, crime, and paranoia are high.  Within our first day or two, several South Africans prophesized the collapse of their country within the next five years.  They did just elect a president accused of rape and corruption, but the Rand is strong, and the World Cup will be a seminal event for the nation. So perhaps such fatalistic predictions are overly pessimistic, but one thing is sure: South Africa is the brink.  Which way it goes is yet to be determined.  Right now the door of opportunity is open, but it won’t stay open forever.

1. World Cup Fever. South Africa will host the 2010 World Cup Tournament next June and July, and everyone here has World Cup Fever.  Everywhere you go there are signs hanging from street lamps and windows.  Companies are eager to publicize their sponsorship.  New construction and infrastructure upgrades are proceeding at breakneck pace in anticipation of World Cup events and tourism. South Africa has a long history of being excluded from international sporting events during the apartheid years, including being banned from the Olympics for nearly 30 years.  Add to that 2010 marks the first time that any African nation will host the World Cup, and the symbolism of the South African selection becomes clear.  They certainly have reason to be proud.

2. This place is just like Texas. Lots of ranching, lots of really big things: big cars, big trucks, big stores, big houses, big guns.  Fast food joints with names like Steers and Spurs seem to be the most popular dining option.  Meat is king and hunting lodges abound.  I expected South Africa to feel far more westernized than the rest of Africa.  I just didn’t realize it would feel so mid-western.

3. Is there a therapist around? Because just about everyone here is in need of one.  It has only been 15 years since the end of apartheid and, despite the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other initiatives aimed at cultivating the “New South Africa,” the scars are still raw.  Racial tensions, crime, and paranoia are high.  Within our first day or two, several South Africans prophesied the collapse of their country within the next five years.  They did just elect a president accused of rape and corruption, but the Rand is strong, and the World Cup will be a seminal event for the nation. So perhaps such fatalistic predictions are overly pessimistic, but one thing is sure: South Africa is the brink.  Which way it goes is yet to be determined.  Right now the door of opportunity is open, but it won’t stay open forever.

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Responses

  1. I can see the Texas connection, the father of the South African family I stayed with for a night in Durban was actually from Kentucky. Still, to me Cape Town is like Southern California to me….

    maybe all these analogies are off.

    loving the blog. read it ALL the time.

    • we haven’t made it to Capetown yet, but i can’t wait til we get there. i hear it’s very different from the Afrikaner dominated northeast where we entered the country. thanks for reading! send me an email one of these days and tell me all about YOUR new life!!

  2. Hey Sarah, I live in Montreal and will be in Cape Town on Jan 15th for about a month, during which time will travel to Namibia and all around the Cape area.
    Still toying with heading up to Johannesburg area, however, have been warned about the higher crime rates.
    I”ll be following your blog…also travelling alone so if you have any advice, let me know
    Christine Curtis

    • Christine – We didn’t go to Johannesburg proper for exactly that reason, but we did travel in the region – Kruger, the Klein Drakensburg area, and we had to go to Pretoria for onward visas. All through South Africa we heard horror stories, which I think made us a bit more paranoid than we needed to be. In the end, just use common sense and most likely you’ll be fine. Namibia was absolutely fantasic, striking beautiful, and also felt much safer (though not Windhoek so much). On Namibia you’ll probably want to join a tour, it is a very difficult place for independent travel, especially solo. Much easier in South Africa.

  3. Thank you so much Sarah. I have one month in SA before I head up to Kenya where I will work. Will likely spend most of my time in Cape area…apparently there is enough to keep me occupied for the entire trip! And yes, I plan on going to Namibia with a friend who lives in Cape town.
    Is it expensive to visit Kruger???
    Often traveling alone can be costly…
    Thanks
    Christine

  4. To All SA visitors,
    Land in Jo’burg – leave Jo’burg head for Kruger Park (still affordable and no thugs in the bushes) or Botswana next door. They have wonderful safaris,and try the Okavango Swamps. Clean, crystal clear with lots of wild game. Then down to Cape Town, the Winelands with their tours, wine tastings and boxed lunches and views to die for and then up the Garden Route – Mossel Bay, George, Knysna (check out The Knysa Heads). Buses are best, but if driving by car avoid nighttime travel if you can. Unless you are a soccer fan, get to SA well before (“The Gouge”) of June 2010 or afterwards. It will be the trip to remember forever.
    Enjoy!

  5. Great thanks for the advice! I’ll be arriving in Cape Town on Jan 15 and will be traveling alone. Perhaps take the train to Johannesburg. Is Kruger park expensive??? I’m on a budget…but who the hell isn’t
    Cheers
    Christine Curtis
    Montreal

    • Dear Chriscurtis 99,
      Have fun in the sun in SA – it will be hot!
      As said in my my posting, Kruger isn’t that pricey compared to the private safari lodges in the area, altho’ they are fantastic. Also, your Canadian Dollar is $7 to 1 SA Rand, which helps. Do your online homework and network. Have wonderful friends and family you can connect with for advice and/or accommodation if you so wish, in Jo’burg and Cape Town. Leave the driving to others so you can enjoy the views. This is a Bucket List trip
      depending on your age – not sure about Namibia, Botswana or Mozambique (oh those piri-piri prawns in Maputo!) would be my choice.
      Enjoy keep in touch.
      Peter.

    • Christine,
      I forgot to mention the train to Jo’ burg – check out the famous Blue Train. It is an incredible trip, great food and luxurious accommodations and well worth it.
      Peter.

      • Thanks for the advice Peter!! I fly into Cape Town on Jan 15th and leave on Feb 19th…so during this time I should have plenty to keep me occupied. I also have a place to stay in Cape Town as “base” while traveling around. I will now look at the Blue Train with thoughts of visiting JNB…but I’m alone and have concerns about the crime rate there.
        Apparently there is so much to do in the Cape that one month may not be enough. I have also hear that Durban is great….
        Have a wonderful trip…it is snowing now in Montreal!!
        Best regards
        Christine Curtis


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