My first day in South Africa, I was talking to some young Afrikaners in my dorm room and, right away, one of them said “I hate black people” and they all started ranting about it. This was completely shocking and appalling to me. Growing up in Canada, where even thinking racist thoughts is socially unacceptable, has sheltered me from racism and I found it incredibly disturbing that these guys think this and that they so easily and comfortably talk about it with anyone.
How can you hate 80% of the population of the country they live in? I realize that that’s not how all the white South Africans feel, but it seemed to be a major trend that other backpackers and I noticed.
Both South Africa and Namibia are beautiful countries, but socially, they’re both extremely messed up due to the racial issues, and these issues take away from the enjoyment and appeal of traveling in these countries. The official apartheid is technically over there, but it’s still suffering from a major apartheid hangover because these issues cannot be solved overnight.
While black people in South Africa and Namibia are not slaves anymore, they’re still servants. Every shitty, minimum wage job in South Africa and Namibia is worked by a black person and their job is to serve the wealthy, entitled white people. I never saw a white person working any of these jobs. Everyday, black people commute from their townships to the city, where they will never be able to afford to live, to serve at these minimum wage jobs. What’s even worse is that the black people that work these jobs are the educated ones because they actually speak English. I felt guilty because I was one of the white people they were serving and I’m a foreigner who will have enjoyed the luxuries of their country more than they ever will.
In Swakopmund, Namibia, I was convinced to go on a township tour that I wasn’t morally interested in at first. What is a township? Townships are deplorable places that consist of overcrowded tin shack shanty town shit holes that lack running water, where the black people were shoved into and forced to live during apartheid after they were evicted from their properties in the “white areas”. And this is where they continue to live, even though apartheid is over. The tour guide said the government is building small houses to help the people move out of the tin shacks, but they’re still in the same area as the township, so the segregation is still very much there, whether it’s still enforced or not. These new houses cost $30,000 NAD (about $2,100 USD), which can be paid off over 40 years. What. The. Fuck. The fact that it could take 40 years for someone to pay off such a little amount, due to the system that’s been created, is atrocious. While everyone on the township tour jumped out of the cars to take pictures, a few of us refused. And I will never forget the look and the tears on a tourist’s face when she saw the township and realized the magnitude of it all.
Once you get out of South Africa and Namibia and go to Botswana and Zambia, that’s where you experience the real Africa and it’s a much happier place. Yes, they have their issues too, with economics and corruption, but nothing like South Africa and Namibia, with regards to the racial issues. The grass huts and the happy, waving people on the side of the road in Botswana and Zambia is what life in Africa is supposed to be like. And while the people don’t have much either, there’s a huge difference between a simple, happy life and crippling poverty in a system where they’ll never get ahead.
At first, I wished I had more time to travel South Africa (I only visited Cape Town), but now I’m in no hurry to go back because I find it that upsetting and depressing. Ethically, I have zero interest in traveling to places like that, which is a shame because they are beautiful countries, but the social issues are far too great and I can’t just turn a blind eye and enjoy my time there. I felt ashamed and guilty for being white.
Care to share your thoughts and experiences?