Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Perception versus reality - South Africa's open arms

Fear is a terrible thing, especially when it is so overwhelming that it cripples your experience of life and prevents you from broadening your view of the world.

Coming to South Africa I'd made a conscious effort to delay my perceptions until I'd breathed the air, tasted the food and drank the beer of a local Joburg hideout. Despite being warned that death, rape and at best - robbery, awaited me in the rainbow nation.

I'm glad to say, only two incidents of robbery have happened to people around me and none of them violent. I'm not deluded however, I'm well aware that South Africa has its horror stories, more frequent (according to the statistics) than most other places.

But the statistics cannot account for the all the good a place has to offer, for example, I read today that SA has a murder rate of 18,000 per year - but with a population of 48,687,000+ that reads to me as 48,669,000 not murdered per annum and for all of those people left behind, a high percentage of them are worth care, attention and are definitely worth getting to know.

This short account of reality's triumph over perception, written by Afrikaner Journalist Rian Malan [see below] tickled me and encapsulates the sentiment I've been feeling these past two weeks whilst living smack bang in the middle of Johannesburg.

In The Spectator, Malan writes:
At around 10 p.m, we hove to outside a nightspot [in Soweto] known somewhat inexplicably as The Oz Club. Inside, 200 dark-skinned punters were chortling to the jokes of a black stand-up comedian who greeted our arrival with howls of glee. ‘Look!’ he shouted. ‘White men!’ Two hundred heads swivelled in our direction. The joint fell dead silent. We felt like missionaries bound for the cooking pot, and verily, we were in for a roasting. ‘These whites all have penis-dimension anxiety,’ declared comedian Jordan Mazibuko, aka Jay Boogie. ‘They stand next to a black man at the urinal and their eyes cut sideways and you can see they’re thinking, “Christ, this just isn’t fair.” And you know what?’ he cried, pointing directly at me. ‘That’s exactly how we feel when we go into a bank!’ The joint erupted. When we laughed too, everyone slapped us on the back and offered us drinks.
I laughed out loud when I read this, you can picture the scene perfectly and it reminds me of the "free hugs" campaign- When you great a person with open arms, more often than not, you will find that people respond in-kind, sometimes surprising themselves. The funny thing about humans is that we are wired up to mirror each others' behaviour and to a certain degree, we have to consciously choose not to.

Against all odds, South Africa has opened its arms and is proving that it really can welcome the world on its doorstep. It breaks my heart to think that so few of you are here to bear witness.

- Mr Devo

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