Can’t resist a holiday blog from here – still early spring and not too warm. I was last here three years ago during a sabbatical from work – looking at it the ‘miracle’ of political change through slightly envious Northern Ireland eyes. So it’s interesting to see how it has moved on. It still feels good, flexible and positive – the talk radio is still optimistic where the equivalent in Northern Ireland is still angry, bitter and full of recrimination – unless BBC NI’s Talkback programme has changed.
It is, of course, about colour. But more often I find that I experience South Africa as a series of collisions between first and third worlds – and the gaps are felt as economics as much as race. We have Mark with us – he took us back to a donkey farm on the Cape Peninsula where he spent a summer volunteering two years ago. Turn left off the tarmac opposite the township and suddenly your pure white Avis Polo stands out as a first world alien being. We met the redoutable Sonia who runs it. I gave her some plastic ties to replace the orange string which holds together all the pens and the 17 donkeys. Mark intends to go back to have a few beers with some of his friends – one was orphaned in Namibia at an early age; the other fled Rwanda when his father who was a judge was murdered – now living in a windowless building next to the farm. We’re also going to visit the massive Khayletisha township to see an Aids project with which we have links.
There are some impressive signs of progress – the townships/shanty towns are gradually being replaced with prefab buildings and there are new schools. But it must all seem painfully slow if you are living in a packing case. We debate the massive over employment. Drive into the filling station and several black workers rush forward to help you do what you could perfectly well do for yourself. Is it good for their self-respect to have what – to first world eyes – appears to be a non-job? My view is that, if we are as wealthy as we must appear to them, we have almost no right to a view. At nearly 14 rand to the pound, South Africa is cheap for the visitor even if it is expensive to get to.
For the rest, it’s tourism in a place of staggering beauty. Mark and I walked the hills of the cape on Sunday with James and Mike. We’ve just been down to Hermanus to see whales – Hermanus is a bit of a Bundoran but the whales are amazing.
And finally – given my recent preoccupation with the position of the lavatory seat – I have to report that the only bit of non-PC material I have encountered was in the Harpic ad [I think] on TV. Smiling white housewife and smiling black domestic worker rejoice that Harpic has brought them a shining white toilet. Could they really be serious?