In less than 24 hours, I’ll be boarding a 15-hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa with 14 fellow travelers on a 10-day trip through Emory University’s Journeys of Reconciliation program. I am wide awake with nerves and excitement.
A series of major events have rocked the so-called “rainbow nation” of South Africa since I found out I’d be going on this trip, back in Nov. 2017.
Cape Town has been racing against the clock to avoid reaching “Day Zero” – the day when the city is estimated to run out of water due to drought.
Oh and, by the way, the president of the country, Jacob Zuma, was forced to resign in Feb. amid allegations of corruption. He has been charged with 16 counts of fraud, racketeering and money laundering. His successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, is now facing the challenge of restoring credibility to the leading party – the African National Congress.
Zuma’s downfall appears to be part of a wider public reckoning regarding politicians handling business deals and state funds with sticky fingers. As a new student of the country, I’m only taking a stab in the dark here, but maybe it’s not a coincidence that South Africa has been identified as having the highest economic inequality among 149 nations in a 2018 World Bank review. Of course, a number of other factors are at play.
To what extent are the entrenched effects of slavery and apartheid to blame? What will a new generation of South Africans do with their parents’ unfulfilled promises to reverse those effects, carry out reparations and find reconciliation? Where are the most promising signs of progress and innovation? And what, if anything, can the U.S. learn from them?
On a more personal level, my list of questions and curiosities has become unwieldy. As I’ve read essays and articles, listened to podcasts, and watched documentaries about South Africa in the past few months my questions have run the gamut from silly to serious, and everything in between.
Like, where do I fall in the racial categorizations of today’s South Africa? Where would I have fallen during apartheid? What do South Africans think of the pronunciation of Xhosa in Black Panther? Does ostrich biltong really taste like beef jerky? In what ways do traditional African values and culture influence daily life for people in my generation?
Well, just a moment while I hop across the pond to try and find some answers. Stay tuned…