This is the part of the blog where I get us in trouble. We’ve only been here five weeks or so, but it’s hard to leave here without making a comment about the racial tension in this part of the world, and it comes from both directions. From the white Zimbabwean who corrected us by saying that he was “Rhodesian”, to the Black South African who informed us that when watching a soccer match he always pulled for the team with more Blacks (bonus points if they were from Africa) it’s impossible to escape how much things are defined by skin here.
First, I have never met a group of people as humorless and vaguely unfriendly at all times as white Southern Africans. Maybe it’s a result of being a ruling minority for over a hundred years, maybe it’s just the German blood coming out, but it’s hard to get a response from many of them even when you (try) to look them in the eye and wish them a good day – and I’m white like them! Somehow this hasn’t effected our (generally) good opinion of them.
And we’re constantly surprised at how many whites we see here. Everywhere we go, there they are: Namibia – full of Germans, Zambia and Zimbabwe – full of English and Dutch, South Africa – All of the above and a huge number of Portuguese for good measure. Many are members of old families that have been here for generations, and they consider themselves Africans, despite whatever problems they face this is their home.
But for how long will they be there? It’s apparent that there’s white flight, but one person we spoke to was taking it to the next level. One of our drivers in Kruger was a white Namibian living and working in South Africa. When we spoke to him about the future he shocked us by pointing at the back of his hand and saying “This isn’t a racist statement, but I’m just the wrong color for this continent.” Now, that is a racist statement, but what he said next was even more shocking to me. He was living and working in South Africa just long enough to qualify for a South African passport, then he was picking up the family and moving to Australia. It’s much easier to immigrate to Australia from S. Africa than Namibia as S.A. is a member of the British Commonwealth like Australia.
Almost as shocking is how Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s leader, is held on high among African governments. Despite the fact that the country is a shambles and it’s estimated that 1/4 of the population has fled into neighboring countries illegally there are a surprising number of monuments to him around Africa.
In Johannesburg, where there are over a million Zimbabwean refugees, the main square in downtown is named after him. It’s not uncommon to look for an address on “Robert Mugabe Street” either. It seems that while most people will admit that he’s a bastard and not helping his country or his people he is “Their” bastard, and that is preferable to the alternative.
I’m not trying to talk anyone out of coming here, far from it. Many of these issues are the same that we encounter in the US, but here unlike the US people are much more open about their prejudices and much more determined to stick to their guns. It’s awful and interesting and familiar all at the same time.