I’m getting really antsy to spend some time outside of Johannesburg, partly because the constant reminders of extreme income disparities are incredibly unnerving. I’m aware that economic inequality is not a uniquely South African condition, but the acceptance of the disparity here makes me terribly sad and uncomfortable. As someone explained it to me, “You have a first world society within a third world country, designed that way during years of apartheid to create cheap labor. No one is going to rush to change that – newly rich Black or always rich White.”
A perfect example of the juxtaposition is a comparison of Jo’burg’s so-called Downtown CBD and the current location of most corporate offices, Sandton. Downtown Jo’burg looks like the place time forgot. Dilapidated office buildings, pot-holed filled roads, and chaotic taxi ranks suggest the area was once a business center, while simultaneously evoking a complete lack of care. As the pictures tell the story:
In contrast, Sandton, as I’ve mentioned, looks like Beverly Hills. Below are pictures of the place I’m staying. Considered your standard “nice Sandton home,” I can’t even capture the whole thing in one shot (although again, not complaining).
Perhaps it’s not only the juxtapositions that do exist, but also the ones that do not that are making me a bit anxious. American movies, American television, American restaurants, American clothing stores – all part of my daily life here. I didn’t come abroad to get away from those things necessarily, but I was certainly looking for something a little different. And it’s not that differences don’t exist, it’s just that I often have to look really hard to find them.
Part of the lack of difference, I believe, is that the uniquely “South African” story, as I’ve mentioned before, is still developing. (ie. The government tried to introduce a national pledge. Though a good idea in theory, the actual words were greeted with much controversy: “SA Battles National Identity Crisis” http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx? articleid=332519&area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__national/ ) The other part of Americanized Johannesburg, I think, is the city's apparent xenophobia and its deep desire to be to be Africa’s “most Western city.” Often I’ve heard South Africans tell me that they’re going to “Africa Africa” when headed to another African country. Even Black South Africans do not consider themselves to be “African.”
In the end, maybe my personal anxiousness is based in expectations, and I need to stop looking for or at “juxtapositions.” Perhaps instead I should learn to be more fully present in the moments that are. Not really sure either way. But in the meantime while I figure it out, I just booked a trip to Mozambique. =)